The Emperic Masquerader

The question here was how to do a “Chameleon” style build – along with a few queries about how to match a variant build from a forum over HERE. That’s easy enough, so here we have the Emperic Masquerader – also known as the…

  • Adaptive Copycat
  • All-Embracing Understudy
  • Competent Quack
  • Elusive Mimic
  • Masterful Chameleon
  • Mercurial Stand-In
  • Opportunistic Mountebank
  • Persona Impressionist
  • Protean Pretender
  • Resourceful Impersonator
  • Splendid Imitator and…
  • Weathercock Mocker

This character is built around a rather old notion – an individual who’s so flexible and generally competent that – when they get into a role – they can effectively stand in for almost anyone. While the notion was most celebrated during the Renaissance, it’s been a standard of popular fiction ever since, growing ever more popular as it became less and less possible.

An Empiric Masquerader draws on the power of the great archetypes, much as a spirit binder might channel the power of an elemental or nature spirit – tapping into the strengths of a warrior, or a guardian, or a mage, or a shaman, or what-have-you to temporarily assume some of the abilities of such an individual. Sadly, this ability is limited; while each such archetype or “mask” is reasonably formidable, they’re no match for a true master of a field who has permanently internalized those abilities – and no mortal soul can temporarily host more than two such archetypes at a time.

Still, the approach does offer considerable flexibility.

The original d20 implementation of this idea was a prestige class requiring at least five levels in another class or classes first – so we can expect to see the use of a number of the high-efficiency options to start a similar build at level one. Ergo, we can assume the use of…

  • Duties, granting an extra 2 CP per level. An Empiric Masquerader may be talented, but they will always owe SOMEONE for all the training they require.
  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Hit Dice. The Empiric Masqueraders physical training means that they can never entirely slack off in their physical development (6 CP).
  • Adept. Empiric Masqueraders pay only half cost for Bluff, Concentration, Disguise, and Use Magic Device – all skills often vitally necessary for imitating other classes, an ability which effectively provides +2 Skill Points per level (6 CP).

Since the original version was presented as a ten-level prestige class, creating a reasonable match means setting up a ten-level base base class – which gives us a grand total of 262 CP (L10 base) + 20 CP (Duties) + 20 CP (Fast Learner, for Hit Dice Only) +10 (Restriction; at least 30% of the character’s base points most be invested in Mask abilities, no more than 6% may be expended on any one mask) = 292 CP.

For some basics we’ll want Fast Learner and Adept (as above, 12 CP), +7 Warcraft (BAB, 42 CP), 20 SP (plus the virtual SP from Adept, 20 CP), +9 Saves (27 CP), d8 Hit Dice (40 CP), and Proficiency with All Simple Weapons (3 CP), Light, Medium, and Heavy Armor (15 CP), and All Shields (3 CP) – at a net cost of 162 CP.

That leaves 130 CP with which to buy special abilities. Of course, we’ll need to stretch that a bit…

Getting Into The Role: Innate Enchantment, Specialized for Double Effect / the bonuses only apply to subgroups of skills, saves, and abilities suited to the user’s current mask or masks, Corrupted for decreased cost/requires appropriate props and gear to work. All abilities Spell Level One, Caster Level One, Unlimited Use Use-Activated, and Personal Only – for a net “virtual cost” of 1400 GP per ability.

  • +2 Competence Bonus to All Skills (The Practical Enchanter).
  • Sidestep/Reflex +2 Competence Bonus to Reflex Saves (The Practical Enchanter).
  • Sidestep/Will +2 Competence Bonus to Reflex Saves (The Practical Enchanter).
  • Sidestep/Fortitude +2 Competence Bonus to Reflex Saves (The Practical Enchanter).
  • Enhance Attribute +2, Six times, for each attribute (The Practical Enchanter).

The original writeup provided a Competence Bonus to one attribute. The fact that this would stack with normal attribute enhancements, and thus allow some absurdities, once again calls for a tweak. I’m using Enhancement Bonuses rather than Competence, but this does allow two attributes to be enhanced.

  • At a total of 14,000 virtual gold, this selection of Innate Enchantments costs 10 CP (5 CP at lower levels, where it’s specialized for reduced cost instead of double effect) – and would cost a lot of XP, save for…
  • Immunity/the normal XP cost of Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Minor, Trivial [only covers first level effects at caster level one], Specialized/only to cover Mask-enhancing abilities, 1 CP).
  • Immunity/Dispelling and Antimagic (Common, Major, Great, Specialized and Corrupted/only protects innate enchantments that provide personal augmentations, 6 CP).

Floating Feat: Enthusiast x6, Specialized for Half Cost / cannot be used to gain skill points, add to caster levels, buy spell progressions, etc; only for classical feat-type abilities (9 CP).

Turn Undead 3/Day at +4 Levels (12 CP).

The Masks:

The entire Masks package is corrupted; Only two “masks” can be used at a time, and the user may only change his or her selection three times a day, at the cost of ten minutes of meditation. Thus the user is has a broad selection of powers to choose from, but cannot use more than two-fifths of them at a time. Three twenty-eight point masks and two twenty-seven point masks thus cost (5 x 28 x 2/3 = 92 CP).

The Mage’s Mask (28 CP).

  • Role Bonuses: Concentration, Knowledge/Arcana, Knowledge/The Planes, Spellcraft, Will Saves, and Intelligence or Charisma.

Spellcasting is the expense here; the original version got 4/4/4/4/4/3/1 spells of levels zero through six and could get bonus spells for both Int and Wis. It also went from a caster level of 2 at level six, to 20 at level fifteen, and then – if you continued with the epic rules – went up two levels per additional level in this class and eventually far, FAR exceeded the caster level of a dedicated spellcaster.

Er, wait, what?

I think that I’ll just dump that into the “badly thought out class features” bin and use Inherent Spells; those have a caster level equal to the used’s hit dice, and so will start out more useful and then continue to improve much more reasonably.

  • Inherent Spell I through Advanced III (24 CP): Greater Invocation/Any Arcane Spell Effect of Levels 0, 1, 2, and 3 with +4 Bonus Uses Each (24 CP). All Specialized and Corrupted as below for one-third cost (Net 16 CP).
  • Inherent Spell, Specialized and Corrupted for triple effect (level nine Greater Invocation. Any Arcane Spell Effect, 6 CP), with +10 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for one-third cost (7 CP).

As for those Specializations and Corruptions… the “Greater Invocations” simply provide daily spell slots that…

  • Must be refreshed with sleep and then filled with prepared spells from arcane spell books.
  • Must be “cast” fulfilling all normal requirements – including dealing with armor-based failure.
  • Can be interrupted, counterspelled, and dispelled like any other spell-like ability.
  • Are limited by the user’s effective caster level (maximum level usable = level/2, rounded up as usual – although, by grace of the GM, this goes by the level of the spells being cast, not by the theoretical level of the greater invocation spell effects creating them).
  • Are – for those upper-level slots – limited to 5/4/2 slots.

That gives us a final progression of 5/5/5/5/5/4/2 spells, cantrips through level six – and, for the sake of simplicity, simply provides one more spell of each level instead of fooling around with bonus slots.

Now this is substantially cheaper than buying a normal spell progression that good – but it relies on the game master allowing the character to have a great big slice of cheese; access to spells at levels far lower than is normally allowed. I’d probably allow it – it is an interesting character concept – but it might not be best to count on it.

The Priests Mask (28 CP).

  • Role Bonuses: Diplomacy, Heal, Knowledge/Religion, Knowledge/The Planes, Fortitude and Will Saves, Wisdom or Charisma.
  • This uses exactly the same setup as the Mage’s mask – changing out “arcane” for “divine” and making a few other small tweaks – to cover access to some divine spells.

The Warrior’s Mask (28 CP):

  • Role Bonuses: Bluff, Craft/Weapons and Armor, Ride, Survival, Strength and Constitution, Fortitude Saves.
  • Additional Innate Enchantments: Immortal Vigor I (+12 + 2x Con Mod HP), Aura of Favor (+1 Luck Bonus to Attacks and Damage), Inspiring Word (+1 Morale bonus to Saves, Attacks, Checks, and Damage) (3 CP). Note that, at higher levels, these effects are doubled.
  • Berserker (6 CP).
  • Proficiency with All Martial Weapons (6 CP)
  • Skill Focus/+2 on a chosen Martial Art (4 CP).
  • Smite with +2 Bonus Uses (9 CP)

This is actually a good deal more powerful than the original version – but the original version wasn’t especially well balanced against the spellcasting options. The Masks of the Knave and the Wild are similarly improved. 

The Knaves Mask (27 CP):

  • Role Bonuses: Disable Device, Hide, Move Silently, Open Lock, Search, Dexterity, and Reflex Saves.
  • 3d6 Sneak Attack (9 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus/Adds (Int Mod) to (Dex Mod) with Dex-based skills (6 CP).
  • Awareness (6 CP).
  • Fortune/Reflex Save Variant (6 CP)

The Mask Of the Wild (27 CP):

  • Role Bonuses: Climb, Handle Animal, Jump, Knowledge/Nature, Survival, Charisma or Dexterity, and Fortitude.
  • Celerity, +10′ Ground Movement (6 CP).
  • Lore/Animals, Specialized for Double Effect in “how to get along with them” (3 CP).
  • Martial Arts / 1d6 Natural Weapons (6 CP).
  • Shapechange (6 CP).
  • Traceless/Travel, Specialized/in natural surroundings only (3 CP).
  • Travel/Forest (3 CP).

This comes out to 292 CP – exactly the number of character points available. It does use a few cheap tricks to do that, but also trades raw power for flexibility and has a number of improvements over the original build. It should be very effective in the hands of a clever player, but there are certainly far more overwhelming Eclipse builds out there.

Next up; a look at the additional abilities for the twenty-level forum build.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXIV – Alchemical Factions

Martha Jones

Mercurial Bane Of Deception Pretending to be an Actress on Dr Who…

With everyone else quietly leaving Martha and Ethan alone to talk for a bit, Charles got towed along down the hall to the executive break room – where they waited. People started getting antsy (and nervous) pretty quickly, but no one was going to crack the door open and go back into the conference room – or try to get Charles into casual conversation. After all, if you said “yeah, I like good views” you might come home to find half your house hanging out over the grand canyon or something. That much raw power and willingness to oblige was… rather frightening.

Charles soon got bored – people seemed nervous and didn’t want to talk to him for some reason – so he produced a workbench and started drawing on the factory-cathedrals and manses again to make a few minor (two dot) peaceful helpful things in sets of three hundred at a time… Essence Gliders were always fun, so he made some of those, and then some redesigned Bracers of Shared Life (attunement cost of one mote and a limited link to a manse that would bestow some creation-normal “mutations” – Immortality, Exalted Healing, and Awakened Essence – after a few months, after which the bracer could be removed and passed on), and was just finishing up with some Rods of Cleansing The Body when Martha and Ethan Morgan came in.

Martha had wanted to talk to him next… While he’d been looking at HER, she’d been looking at HIM. Even in the great Metropolis’s where she was from, treating young boys like a big deal was something significant – and her findings had been most unusual even BEFORE the boy had casually created an artifact. Even in the finest workshops of the Great Metropolis’s of Autochthon she had never seen such artificing skill! That could not possibly be mere god-blooded power, no matter what guise it used to cloak itself! And that Thaumaturgy! That strange essence… It matched some of the essence coming from him! The stuff that kept… going off by itself to do things! What in Oblivion, the Underworld, and the Wyld was going on with the child!?!?”

Still… the boy was so good natured, and so absurdly helpful, that even considering that trap’s strength… he was still comforting to have around.

That trap was another matter though; no charms, no spellcasting, no apparent artifacts, just… raw geomancy, erupting out of Elsewhere to reshape reality to oblige him. Come to think about it… a lot like those chairs that popped up whenever he wanted to sit down, and the way that his cell phone worked with no battery, and a dozen other little things. The geomancy of Creation seemed to… go rushing around to keep him comfortable and do what he wanted.

Was it possible to just be so nice that even the universe would rush to oblige you?

OK, that was silly – but STILL.

She knew of Gaia – the Tome of the Maker was one of the oldest texts of Creation, and people who tried to change it often wound up mysteriously vanished or dead, presumably by the Maker’s will. But the Tome said nothing like this about the Maker’s siblings – except, of course, for Gaia.

No, wait, that would be silly. Gaia’s preferred form was described in the text. When she was feeling nice she tended to appear as the Emerald Mother… On the other hand, a child-jouten who bent the local geomancy to his gentle whims seemed plausible enough. What had she stumbled into here!? This had been supposed to be a simple scouting mission – and, while those were never as simple as planned, the potential complications were never like THIS!

At least the Terrestrials seemed oddly unwilling to gainsay her.

Charles – as usual – finished up his work before paying attention to anything else, despite his carefully-watching audience of Terrestrials, Awakened Aspected, and trusted mortals. There would be much examination of the Bracers of Shared Life later – since it would soon become apparent that they meant health and long life for entire extended families – but for now there was some quiet applause.

He let anyone have some who wanted some. After all, he could just make more.

(Peter) “Well, Howard, I have to give you credit. You stumble into the most interesting people.”

Then he saw that his father and the Alchemical had left the conference room.

(Charles) “Oh, all done? Er… I’ve made things crowded haven’t I? Sorry about that!”

(Martha) “Thank you for listening to me, Mr. Morgan. You will consider my words, yes?”

(Charles) “I got bored!”

(Ethan, stepping on one of the rods and looking down) “Someone please sort and bin these… and yes, we are done. And our guest would like to speak with you, next. (To Martha) And yes, madam, I will consider them.”

Normally he’d have asked one of the thaumaturges to put up a privacy ward at this point – but he was fairly sure that Charles could put up a much better one.

(Martha) “Mr. Morgan says this is the point where someone normally puts up a privacy ward for me.”

(Charles) “Oh! Ok!” (And did so).

Martha sat down again, and smiled – and Charles sat down in another obligingly-appearing chair.

(Charles) “What do you need?”

(Martha) “This has been a confusing day, if I must say so myself. He says I’m not supposed to reveal what I am in front of the mortals. What an arrogant way to refer to humans. And I was going to ask you a little more about your abilities.”

(Charles) “Well, pretty much everybody is mortal… That really does need fixing!”

(Martha needed a moment to take that in. Was he SERIOUS?) “I must admire your ambition. Excuse me for a moment…”

(Charles) “OK!”

Martha… underwent a metamorphosis. Flesh bubbled, things inside of her whirred, and what seemed to be implanted artifacts formed out of, or emerged from, her flesh. Charles observed the process with some interest… It only took a minute or two, but the woman who could pass on the streets before was now clearly something more than human. The implanted artifacts were made of moonsilver, appeared more grown than forged, and a beautifully faceted diamond had sprouted from her forehead. Her flesh was clearly clay, and no sign of breath came from her.

(Martha) “I’m fairly sure you’ve guessed by now, but I am no human.”

(Charles) “Hm! Soul-containment and… an artificial body. A bit like a Raksha in a shaped form! The minor artifacts are simply channels for the power that’s been bonded to you! Not a bad way to do it!

(Martha) “Then you realize that I am much like them. It’s not quite the same process, but the end results are quite similar.”

(Charles) “Why not? Bodies change all the time, and you certainly have a human soul there! The Kickaha are still quite human, and so are the totem-bonded, and a lot of the others…

(Martha smiled) “And how rude of me. My name isn’t Martha; my designation is Mercurial Bane of Deception. Most of my associates call me Bane.”

(Charles) “Nice to meet you! I have several names, but my usual one is Charles!”

(Bane) “Is that what’s crawling around in there? I had thought nanites…”

(Charles) “What? Oh! No, no… There’s plenty of room!”

(Bane) “Then that means only a few things, and if one of those is true…”

There had been no taint of Malfeas on Charles that she could see, so that eliminated one possibility…

(Bane) “Could you . . . show me?”

Charles… decided that, if he was coming out, he might as well do it in style – he’d keep all the attention focused on HIM and let his Guardians get on with things!

He went ahead and opened a gateway in the air.

(Charles) “This way! “

(Bane, blinking) “Not connected to your body, at least materially… fascinating.”

She did a bit of detection to be safe, but once she determined that it was clear, in she went!

(Charles) “It’s best to use this gate! I keep losing track of where the smaller ones have wandered off too. They keep scooping up people who are in trouble and bringing them in to visit anyway!… And here we are!”

They were overlooking the singing forest again. It WAS one of the prettier arrival destinations!

(Bane – with a bit of a blank look, but then a shrug) “By the Maker… how long has this been in existence? Trees and birds are not supposed to sing like that… unless I’ve missed a species.”

(Charles) “Since I dreamed it up! It went well with the crystal peaks! And the trees and birds were made for here! See, they do their own luminous patterns and such to go with the music!… They’re still not as good at composing as the great masters though!”

(Bane) “Incredible… and the sky is just like the sky in Creation. And yet you appear to be no older than a child… How many years has this been in existence, exactly?”

(Charles) “The forest? Uhm… fourteen months I think! Longer if you count from when I started thinking about it; that was several years ago I think.”

(Bane) “So you didn’t start your existence with this… why an inner world?” (Smiling) “Was that the most efficient way you could think of to assist others?”

(Charles) “Well, it works very nicely!”

Good! She was startled enough not to realize yet that “this area” might just be the forest – and that he’d neither confirmed nor denied starting off with OTHER areas in his inner world… She’d probably think of that later. Things would get even more confused once she met a Deva… Even the Alchemicals probably didn’t know how new primordials came into being; they just had more direct experience with one of them.

(Charles) “And people can come and visit while I make places for them!”

(Bane) “Well, it is a fascinating way of dealing with the issue. I’m curious about how you gathered the Essence to do it – if you wouldn’t mind telling me…”

(Charles) “Well, once you start manifesting your own geomancy, Essence really isn’t a problem; it arises from the stresses between the underlying chaos and the level of structure that geological structures impose on it. So when you have geology, it creates essence, which gathers into dragon lines and demesnes and can be focused through manses!”

That… sounded oddly similar to the process that colossi used to become metropoli and patropoli: find the most geomantically-auspicious area in the Maker’s body and set root. Yet the boy was moving around just fine it seemed, with his larger body subordinate. An odd blend of the Raksha she’s only recently encountered and the urban settlement process to be sure, but it seemed to have worked well for him. Was there much to the place beyond the forest?

Some of the Living Starships passed overhead – and the expression on her face was wistful – so Charles cheerily beckoned them down to visit and say hello!

They were actually quite curious. While there were automata in Aden, none gave off the kind of power aura she did.

She petted them much as a human would pet a horse or a sheep.

(Bane) “So friendly…”

(Charles) “Well… Mercurial Bane of Deception, these are… Enterprise 1701, the Millennium Falcon, and Excalibur!”

There was more blinking.

(Bane) “What, like the audio-visual transmissions?”

(Charles, to the ships) “I promise! I’ll start the colony-planting soon so you have more to do!” (to Bane) “Uhm… Why not? Everybody needs a name!”

(Bane) “Of course. And colony-planting?”

She continued to pet all the Living Starships – a lot.

(Charles) “I’ve been terraforming planets, and getting them ready for people. There are lots of barren rocks that no one is using and Gaia said I could!”

(Bane) “So… I see. This day gets stranger and stranger, but at least benignly so.”

(Charles) “Was that what you wanted to know?”

(Bane) “More or less… and I appreciate your patience. But where in Creation did you meet the Maker’s sister?”

(Charles) “Yu-Shan! I wanted to ask before I used too much of her stuff…”

He wanted to ask a Primordial for permission… and got it? He was obviously being a bit cagey about whether it was before or after – formal logic training would obviously come in handy in dealing with the child; he appeared to be reluctant to lie, but entirely willing to let people make false assumptions – but he ASKED. With his apparent power… She had to wonder how desperate things were… and what this “Yu-Shan” was.

(Bane) “I must confess, I’m not what they thought I was. All that deference was… confusing.”

(Charles) “What did they think you were?”

(Bane) “That… I would rather not say for certain until I’ve spoken to more of these ‘Starbreaking’ clans. But I suspect something has gone deeply awry… No, I KNOW something has gone awry.”

(Charles) “Oh yes! Starting long time ago! That’s why I have so much fixing to do! But Gaia said she’d help on some of the big projects, so that’s all right! “

(Bane) “Well… once I’ve done some more investigation and reported to my superiors, I’ll see about your assistance. (Sigh) I wish I could tell you more, but it’s a matter of security… And I don’t want to leave this place just yet – it appears to be quite large – but it’s peripheral at best to my mission, and I really should report back.”

(Charles) “Aw… But you haven’t even met anybody!”

(Bane smiled sadly) “As much as I would like to… I’m running behind schedule as it is. These starships were fascinating enough. Perhaps some other time?”

(Charles, with just a touch of disappointment) “OK!”

He opened the gate to go back while Bane bowed respectfully to the starships.

(Bane) “Thank you for showing me, though. Do you let people in, or can they just come in?”

(Charles) “There are some ways in – but since I’m basically suspended in Elsewhere, you have to either be let in or use a way of traveling that would reach alternate realms of existence!”

(Bane) “I see… well, thank you, Charles.”

She re-adopted her innocuous human form before going back out.

Hm… Charles estimated that it must have required untold amounts of the Magical Materials to make her body. These “Alchemicals” must be VERY expensive!… Oh yes! He’d better check with Gramps and Lytek! Should he ask her not to share his confidences for the moment?

Lytek – of course – was mostly interested in the Alchemical herself, and left it up to Charles. Gramps advised caution – although he was sadly well aware that Charles had very little of that particular quality.

Her estimates were a little different… Considering how quickly the child created artifacts, and how much could be installed in a pocket dimension… The potential was incredible. That desire to fix cosmic errors… might not be out of the boys reach. Perhaps it was no wonder that Gaia herself was taking an interest.

Charles did ask that she please try to keep things quiet. If she had to make a report so be it, but there was no reason it had to go very far. It might interfere with his work!

(Bane) “I assure you that my superiors are quite discreet.”

(Charles) “Oh good! Because as long as the Sidereals are debating, I can fix things without any red tape!”

Bane smiled… She was quite sure that none of her reports would be going THERE.

The Morgans gave Bane some gifts – which made her look mildly confused, although she accepted them since it was apparently customary…

(Bane) “I apologize for not bringing gifts of my own…”

(Charles) “I could get you some!”

The Morgan’s looked a bit awkward – although Mr. Morgan less so.

(Bane) “Oh, that’s all right, Charles. I think you have given them enough for both of us.”

Well, they were only rank two – but there were nine hundred of them altogether after all. That probably was quite enough – and Bane suspected that her fellow Exalted had had enough surprises for today.

Bane departed – not at all sure what Charles was, but reasonably sure that he was not a normal primordial – if there was any such thing.

After the manse guards had escorted her off the premises…

(Ethan, after Bane was gone) “That was educational. Peter, Howard, Raymond… and Charles. A word with you, please…”

They all headed back into the conference room.

(Howard) “What is it, Dad? You were in there a really long time.”

(Charles) “More privacy wards?”

(Ethan) “Yes, if you please…”

After they were up… it was surprising that someone who was already ruddy could blush.

(Ethan) “I’ve been duped.”

(Both sons, nearly simultaneously) “What do you mean?”

(Ethan) “She wasn’t Starbreaking… and I think my next meeting with them will not be pleasant.”

(Charles) “If you need to ask for help and the wards aren’t too strong I should hear you!”

(Ethan) “Charles, what’s the best armor you can craft?”

(Charles) “Uhm… Let me see… (he fished out of the Behemoth Cloaks) Would this do?”

(Ethan) “I would prefer something as concealable as possible – even more than what I’m wearing.” (That was a suit of the Terrestrial transformative armor.)

(Charles) “Well, the cloaks can look like anything of course.”

Raymond handled the detections.

(Raymond) “Um… I think that will do, sir.”

(Ethan) “Thank you, Charles. I should need it only for this meeting, if you have a limited supply.”

Unless the folding boat wasn’t a hardship for him, and it sure hadn’t looked like it.

(Charles) “Oh, I made a batch of them! Lots of people like armor!”

(Ethan) “Then… would it be all right if I kept it?”

(Charles) “Sure!”

So lavish a gift giver…

(Ethan) “Thank you Charles, and there is some business Howard has to discuss with you before you go. I must plan for my meeting with the Starbreakers… so everyone but Peter is dismissed.”

Charles, of course, tended to rate gifts according to “how much time does this cost me?” – and so a lot of things were “less important than  a lunch from McDonalds”. After all, he didn’t really have to worry about resources and facilities like they did.

Greed of the Cabal Campaign Setup

Greed of the Cabal

A Champions! Campaign 

Inspiration comes from the strangest places, and this is the second time I ended up creating a character based off BlazBlue. If you haven’t heard of it, BlazBlue is a fighting game with the most absurdly intricate and nonsensical backstory the Land of Anime can produce. They also have extremely inventive and colorful character design, that for some reason frequently inspires new ideas. So there’s reason that Nu-13 shows up. Remember: It’s not a rip-off as long as you can call it an homage with a straight face.

Beyond fun character design, the reason I came up with this campaign is because I wanted to see a superheroic campaign where all trouble couldn’t be solved by simply punching the enemy. Many of the best superheroic stories feature the heroes facing enemies which they could defeat, but the heroes know that simply beating up the villains won’t win the day. They have to get past the villains, or sometimes ignore the visible threat to deal with the real problem.

That’s why the Cabal won’t go down easily. Their best fighters could be beaten, particularly if the characters know what’s coming and prepare. Their bases can be destroyed. But just beating up a few baddies won’t end them. They can rebuild, and unless the characters are wiling to kill, even winning a fight against the Cabal’s minions will do not permanent damage. They aren’t commiting any visible crimes – in fact, the characters will be invading their property! And if the characters do kill, the Cabal can turn that back against them with a well-orchestrated media campaign.

This group isn’t designed to be the entirety of a campaign, and in a superheroic game, that’s usually boring anyway. There’s plenty of space for other enemies and other challenges. In fact, the Cabal might well aid the heroes when it suits them.

In fact, the best way to use the Cabal is to make the characters work for it, and realize it exists on their own. If they can draw their own links and conclude an unknown villainous organization exists, they’ll be that much more invested in combatting it.

What is the Cabal?

The better question is who, not what. In one sense, the Cabal doesn’t exist. It’s simply an association of powerful figures manipulating events to best advantage. There’s no membership roll or corporate ledger, just an informal association. The campaign only details one of the Cabal’s leadership: The Chairman, Senator Kyle Stevenson; you can create any of the others to your own satisfaction. Every one of them will bring resources to the table, and may not have any superpowers whatsoever. Those resources may vary: contacts, soldiers, influence, or money. But every leader of the Cabal must be a leader of some sort, not simply a thug with an energy blast, no matter how potent.

Much of what they do isn’t illegal, or it falls into the category of relatively minor crimes such as stock-market manipulation. They don’t care about conquering the world, or having costumed superheroes kneeling at their feet, or posessing alien technology, or dominating strange magical creatures. They care about the material: wealth and power over people.

That should lead you to the kind of plots the Cabal will try. They prefer the simple and the relatively straightforward, just at a considerable distance. One member of the Cabal will do what another can’t, or at least can’t be seen doing. And with completely secure communications, they coordinate very effectively. This could be as simple as ensuring good press or as complex as pushing down the price of a specific stock on a certain day.

How Does it Operate?

The Cabal works very hard to obtain and maintain control of the media, from long-established newspapers to today’s hottest blogs. It’s not simply a way to manipulate events, but also to gain information quietly. If they need anything investigated, it’s easy to send reporters during the day as well as spies in the night. Through the media, they can influence public opinion and support political candidates they favor. Perhaps most importantly, they can kill news unfavorable to the Cabal – or delay it.

Equally important, the Cabal seeks to control local governments, especially the police. Local influence is far more useful to the Cabal than national, at least for the moment. The ability to hinder business rivals or create a tight-knit supporting organization is worth more than trying to steer the destiny of nations. Of course, down the line that may change, and nations do fall within the Cabal’s ambitions.

That said, this is a superhero game and they certainly use supervillains to do their dirtiest work. They have assassins when they need to kill, enforcers when they need muscle, and super-scientists when they need super-science. They simply use these as tools, not ends in and of themselves. Not surprisingly, they prefer agents with similar motivations as the leadership: materialists and mercenaries. They’re much easier to predict and control, although they’ll accept anyone powerful and willing to serve. The Producer and Nu (Dreizehn) are cases in point.

Finally, the Cabal does not and will not act like like cartoon villains. They won’t casually kill their agents (though slaves and grunt laborers are another story), and they don’t need to demonstrate pointless cruelty just to establish how evil they are. They don’t think of themselves as evil at all, in fact. They’re simply smart enough to view sentimentality, patriotism, and “good” as mere self-serving nonsense, and act accordingly. Loyalty only goes to a point, however. Any leader of the Cabal would  sacrifice the rest to save his own skin, which is one reason the organization is made of independant cells.

Where is it?

In a manner of speaking, this question is meaningless. The Cabal is where it needs to be. When they need a base or operations, they create one. When it’s no longer useful, they scrub the location and send the personnel elsewhere. They have no permanent operations, just a plan of action and a lot of escape routes. Every team acts on its own when sent orders from above.

However, the Cabal always has operations near where its members operate, and New Jersey is a huge center of action. Jersey has a great deal to recommend it to the Cabal. It’s highly urban, wealthy, has a great deal of commerce including active ports, and close to several cities important to the Cabal’s plans. Sure, New York is important, but they want to control the media networks rather than slugging it out atop the Empire State Building. Apart from New York, they have easy access to Philadelphia (a key area for Senator Stevenson’s ambitions) and Baltimore, with Washington D.C. not far down the road. New Jersey also has the advantage of being unfairly considered a backwater. Heroes and villains alike are drawn to New York, meaning that operations in New Jersey attract far less attention. The Cabal enjoys the privacy.

Major Goals

Obviously, the Cabal’s leaders want ever-greater power and wealth for themselves and the organization, but that’s a rather vague statement. Specifically, they want to dominate parts of the world as dictators, or as close to it as they can manage. Each one wishes to grab total power in one corner of the world or another. Their work in controlling local government is the first step in this: undermine a nation or region locally, and when the time comes it will fall apart without a struggle. More concrete steps they’ll take on that road might include…

Calling for more controls on superheroes. The Cabal doesn’t actually want superheroes stopped or even hindered from pursuing supervillains. They just intend to delay or distract the heroes when they interfere with the Cabal. Those other supercriminal organizations and world-conquering villains are competitors, after all. Finally, it will definitely be in the Cabal’s interest to have superheroes around once they take over in their respective regions. To achieve this, they might try to frame superheroes, or cover them with an unfriendly media spotlight. Most supers aren’t media-hounds and don’t know how to handle an unfriendly reporter. They can, and will, raise questions with tabloids, spread them with blogs, and then follow-up with a campaign in the mainstream news.

Best of all, the Cabal tailors its actions to individual heroes, granting favorable coverage to some and nasty reporting to others, to achieve the appearance of balance. The “lucky” recipients of favorable reporting, of course, will be heroes not bothering the Cabal.

Kidnapping, blackmail, and reprogramming. The Producer is a key agent of the Cabal. In addition to controlling information security, he also helps build its media network. He has intimate knowledge of how the media works, and how it spreads messages. Thus, he knows exactly whom to target for pressure. The Cabal prefers to buy their targets off, but failing that they quickly resort to intimidation or even programming hypnotic suggestions. Even in such cases, they will make sure the target accepts pay as well: it makes the victim more compliant, and gives the Cabal an easy way to target the police on the victim should he or she try to rebel!

Half-way legitimate business. The Cabal frequently engages in trade and buying out existing businesses. Of course, they’re as bent as possible in doing this: They use smuggling to bypass tariffs and improve their profits, deal in illicit drugs, and use every dirty trick they know to turn the best bargain, from strong-arm tactics to blackmail to media manipulation. Disrupting these operations would certainly put a crimp in their plans and cash flow.

Controlling gangs, but from a distance. The Cabal has a definite interest in street crime, both in using it themselves and avoiding trouble. They don’t own an army of soldiers like Dagger, so having criminals act as lookouts and thugs is essential. One common gambit is to insure their legal merchandise, let gangs “steal” it in exchange for payment up-front. The Cabal doubles it profit with little-to-no risk. Better yet – they often insure with their own companies, allowing an increase in premiums for all clients based on the high risk of theft!

Developing their own super-technology. Given its wide-ranging interests, the Cabal feels that posessing technology capable of standing up to, or at least hindering, superheroes is a worthwhile investment. To that end, they’ve worked on developing basic powered armor prototypes and some very dangerous weaponry. It’s nothing that couldn’t be built elsewhere, but the Cabal continues work.

Ironically, magic brought the Cabal its greatest successes. They distrust magic in general, but it’s a potent force they feel cannot be ignored. To that end, Doctor Vitus not only proved to be an extremely useful agent for his administrative talent alone, but has immense skill in creating magical artifacts and devices suitable for those not magically inclined. Regardless of their concerns, the Cabal understands it cannot ignore such power, and that it would prove extremely useful when properly abused. If magic works, magic they’ll use. Which leads to the last point:

Building a golem army. “Army” may be the wrong word. The Cabal doesn’t want to build a a large armed force, so much as an extremely dangerous group of immortal machines who can be hired out as mercenaries. It’s easy for super-mercenaries to move around the world, as they’re not generally wanted for crimes. At the same time the Cabal can then position them as “aiding the revolution” when the group does start to overthrow certain nations, or conquer regions outright. In short, the golems will be assassins, guards, and soldiers bringing profit and security to the organization.

Integrating with DC

Of course, not every game uses the generic Champions background. Should you prefer a D.C. comics-based game, you must contend with the fact that there’s a semi-centralized network of ridiculously powerful heroes, arguably mightier than all the villains put together. In such a case, the Cabal will assume that a superhero will breach their operations eventually, and try their best to stay out of the way of the most powerful and legendary. They really do not need the Man of Steel coming down on their heads.

When it does happen, they simply intend to scrub all visible operations and start over. Moreover, they’ll try to keep branches of the organization even more secret and separate. In this concept, the Cabal will focus much more intently on getting their golem army activated. They’ll feel an intense need for more protection and that’s almost the only way to get it. Even if the heroes never discover their facilities, they’ve far too many espionage tools at their disposal for the Cabal to ever feel secure. (Also, if the Dark Knight or Question ever discovered they didn’t know about a secret criminal conspiracy, they will be pissed).

Integrating with Marvel

Marvel doesn’t project quite the same centralization that DC does. There are definite powerhouses, but no one group that brings so many heroes together. Equally, many of the more famous heroes are much less powerful, or have one potent ability instead of the Honeymoon Suite of superpowers. In this case, the Cabal will spend less time trying to get a golem army, and more on manipulating events and supplying other supervillains.

Major Characters

These will be posted and in the coming days. For now, a few notes on who the important are.

Martyr: A paranoid drug-abusing homeless murder suspect – and he’s the good guy! (Jersey is so screwed.) Despite rough appearance and the not-unjustified belief that the Cabal has infiltrated every level of government and media, Martyr is trying his best to expose the Cabal. Right now, he knows little more than its name and the pattern of their operations. That’s still enough for him to track down one hidden base after another. Martyr needs help, badly, and his biggest problem is not being able to trust anyone. If he knew a group of heroes were fighting the Cabal, he might reveal himself and everything he knows. He’s definitely aware that the Chairman exists, but not his true identity. He’s also met Myrmidon in combat and lived to tell the tale, and has beaten enough information out of Cabal minions to know about Doctor Vitus.

The Chairman/Senator Kyle Stevenson: A respected Pennsylvania politician, the Senator founded the Cabal and still excercises the greatest influence. He intends to use it to fuel his ambitions in the political arena, as well as one day giving him a nation of his own to rule. The Chairman has a disturbing amount of psychic energy, though it’s focused inward and he requires a public audience to fuel it.

Doctor Vitus: The Cabal’s top researcher, The good bad doctor is a master of mystical enchantment, particularly attuned to the creation of Golems. His ultimate weapon is almost finished. All he needs now is the soul of a hero strong enough to bring it to life…

Eraser/Carla Hawkins: An aging assassin with an unstable personality, Eraser is the loyal enforcer of the Cabal’s will, as well as its most accomplished killer. She’s extremely dangerous in personal combat, but not quite as spry as she used to be. But age and treachery beat youth and skill, and she’s equally good at treachery and skill.

The Producer/Gary Stevens: A warped cartoon-show creator, Gary Stevens controls the Cabal’s information network, and he’s extremely good at what he does. His powers of hypnotic suggestion may require bulky reprogramming units, but they’re undeniably effective. Martyr fears him more than any other Cabal agent, because he’s a master of electronic surveillance as well as mental manipulation.

Myrmidon: Myrmidon is one exceeedingly dangerous mercenary, and not one to be trifled with. The Cabal hires him when it needs extra muscle, or to defend a specific location, and it’s been a good business arrangement for both parties. Myrmidon does not ask questions not related to his specific duties, and he doesn’t accept pay unless he carriers out his task correctly. The Cabal’s leaders place considerable trust in him, although he isn’t part of the group. He has a particular dislike of Martyr, and is extremely frustrated by the wily man’s ability to avoid capture.

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXIII – Primordial Jouten On A Bicycle!

Raymond Island

Yes, I’ll install about a thousand of those too…

Back at the Water Tower, there was a discussion going on…

(Ethan, Elder Terrestrial Fire-Aspect and Family Head) “He casually created a Rank-5 manse for you, in minutes, starting with a demesne-3 that hadn’t even FORMED yet – and he’s coming to see us on a BICYCLE?!?!”

(Raymond, Awakened Wood Aspect) “And he didn’t even use that spell the Insidious are supposed to have either… it was THAUMATURGY.”

(Ethan) “You’re kidding, right?”

(Raymond) “I REALLY wish I was.”

(Ethan) “You cannot POSSIBLY do that with thaumaturgy! It would take near-limitless power!”

(Raymond) “Well, it felt like thaumaturgy. My Essence senses aren’t nearly as good as yours, so I could be wrong – but I’m not sure how we could arrange a safe demonstration, though…”

With it put that way, Raymond did indeed hope that he was wrong. He wasn’t READY to have an cosmic entity with near-limitless power cruising around Atlanta on a bicycle…

(Ethan) “Bah! The way you’ve reported him acting… we could probably just ask! After all, he’s created a Manse for you – and one of legendary power – simply because one of your mortal students said that you’d like one!”

(Raymond) “He is ridiculously open.”

Huh. Maybe the child WAS a cosmic power! It was hard to see how any entity so naive and obliging could have survived up to this point without being under somebodies control already otherwise!

(Peter, Terrestrial Fire Aspect, sighing) “He DID come by and fix our manse for us… without asking for anything in return. For that matter… whatever he did, the hearthstone is still enhanced, and the place is still radiating some sort of geomantic prosperity blessing effect that covers most of Atlanta – and it’s boosting both our finances and those of everyone else in the city! And we can’t even tell how he did THAT!”

(Ethan) “Well… there are a few charms which will let one of us add some elemental boosts to a manse that matches our elemental aspect – but blessing the entire city in the process is far beyond any geomancy I’ve ever heard of! At the least, we know that he’s SOMETHING bloody powerful!

(Raymond) “Definitely, sirs.”

(Ezmerelda, a militant aunt, Terrestrial Air Aspect) “Well… he’s either naive enough to stroll right into our stronghold in front of all of us on the strength of a request to talk – or he’s not worried about all of us put together!”

(Raymond) “It has to be the first. Nonetheless, I’m happy to help prepare for the second if you want… though his behavior so far shows little interest in fighting.”

Ethan and Ezmerelda were not so sure about the naivete… There had been reports of an Insidious presence at a local school, and they’d send some people in – and it had somehow turned into a HORRIBLE embarrassment. First they’d no success at all, then they’d somehow wound up with piles of drugs in their agents cars and a drug laboratory appearing in the basement of one of their safehouses just as the police arrived to search. Charles and a couple of friends had casually strolled into their fortress, used their own defenses against them, converted every attack against them into annoying mischief, and captured the entire family council. They’d been given a polite request that they stop harassing the school and a brief tour of heaven before the trio had wandered off, politely healing up all the incidental injuries on the way out – all without actually using anything but a bit of…

Thaumaturgy.

OK, maybe that wasn’t quite as embarrassing as it had seemed at the time.

Raymond hadn’t been at the tower for the assault, although he’d read the reports – but the people writing those had tended to downplay just how big of a mess and embarrassment the entire episode had been.

(Raymond) “My current ideas are a powerful spirit, a raksha feeding subtly, or something I don’t have clearance to know about.”

(Ethan) “ Hmm… I’ve never heard of a Raksha building manses, but I suppose it’s possible… I’ve never heard of a spirit or raksha with so much power either.”

(Raymond) “Could be a new Incarnae, but I know that’s ridiculous. How would they get out of Heaven without the Insidious noticing and doing something?”

Although, according to the boy, the Insidious didn’t actually hold Heaven hostage; the celestial gods just didn’t get summoned much… Could that really be true? Had there been thousands of years of near-silence from the celestial gods just because they were, well… using an outdated phone book and their calls were not getting through? He hadn’t brought that up before – after all, the Morgans were a Starbreaking clan – but maybe it was time…

(Raymond) “Well, the boy DID say that the Insidious weren’t holding heaven hostage – it was just that the Celestial Gods were rarely properly invoked any longer.”

(Ethan, sighing) “This was highly classified – but when the boy and his two friends strolled in through our defenses… They called a god who specialized in transport and… took us on a quick tour of heaven.”

(Raymond) “What!? Well… how was it?”

(Peter) “Impossibly splendid – and filled with legendary beings. and swarms of gods. It was as self-absorbed as Mardi Gras and had poor quarters reminescent of the back streets of New Orleans in comparison with the rest of the place. It was still utterly fantastic compared to Earth – but it was obvious that something was wrong. From what the god we were traveling with said… a lot of the old links with Earth were broken during something called the “reshaping”, and now it was much harder to visit earth without a proper summoning to serve as a link. Anyway… the Insidious – or Sidereals – seemed to be… simply overworked functionaries in one department. It was… part of the tour.”

(Raymond) “Well, I’d better fess up then… that’s what the kid told me about Yu-Shan, and the Sidereals. He said… that the number was constant; when one was killed, the power that created them simply… transferred itself to someone else, although the new Sidereal then needed some training. That’s… pretty consistent with Starbreaking findings, to be sure…”

(Peter) “What, they just… reincarnate if killed? So all this work was just… harassment?”

(Raymond) “Well, I never killed one, and Howard sure wasn’t in long enough to… but I feel pretty guilty about my involvement.”

Howard’s encounter with that Chosen of Journeys was still a source of light ribbing in the family.

(Ethan) “Things happen. And it’s not like the Starbreaking ever had much success… There hardly ever seems to be more than a few of the Insidious on Earth at any one time.”

(Raymond) “With all due respect Sir, I never thought I’d hear you say that.”

Had the initial show of force frightened the Sidereals away from Earth? Or had they just stopped sending anyone who hadn’t yet mastered that weird ability to simply vanish that had been reported on so many of the later Starbreaking missions that weren’t simply false leads?

Wait. “A hundred”. And an entire universe to look after, even if Earth was presumably an important bit. That… sort of sucked! Poor guys! Exaltation should be a privilege, not a drudgery!

(Ethan) “So when is the… “child”… due to arrive?”

(Raymond) “From what Howard told me, in half an hour. Said he was (he took a deep breath, even if it wasn’t news) bicycling in.”

(Peter) “Bicycling? You were serious earlier then? He has power on the scale we’ve seen and he’s traveling by BICYCLE?”

(Raymond) “That was what Howard said when he called me…”

(Peter) “If he really is a child… what’s he going to be like when he grows up?”

(Raymond) “As much as I hate to say it, that might be “if.” Somebody like that can probably control his aging without a gem of immortality.”

(Esmerelda) “Peter Pan, the Cosmic Entity. Oh by Oblivion…”

(Raymond) “Hey, I just know what I’ve seen him do.”

There wasn’t much more to say – and it wasn’t long before Charles turned up. He was pleased to see that the Beech Street Manse was functioning just fine post-upgrade! And Howard was coming out to meet him now that the manse guards had confirmed that it was him!

(Charles) “Allo!”

(Howard) “Good evening! Uh… did you really bicycle in?”

It was a silly question of course – the boy was still folding it up to put away – but it was just so WEIRD!

(Charles) “Why not? I like bicycles!”

(Howard) “Okay… anyway, l don’t want to leave Dad waiting much longer. Let’s head upstairs.”

Charles did – although he did keep the dodge charm ready to go, just in case.

They headed on through the lobby, and up the stairs; the meeting was going to be several floors up, near the top of the tower – and well above the general business and clan offices below. The ascent proceeded normally – until Howard pivoted to his right and attempted to grab the air next to him. The Manse guards with them went on alert; they had their guns out anyway, but were not yet firing.

Charles turned on his essence sight… That had been silly of him! He should have had that on anyway!

Hm… It was pretty hard to make out – but there was a faint shimmering moving at more-than-human speeds about ten feet to the right, heading away from the group.

Gothmug promptly threw up a box – but whatever-it-was moved with deadly speed, slipping past the encasement. It looked like it was capable of “perfect” defenses . . .

Gothmug simply sealed off the corridor at the far ends and created a confined place; even with a perfect evasion you wound up in one area or the other when an enclosed place was subdivided, and eventually you’d have no room to evade in…

That got whatever-it-was into a solitary box eventually. Howard ordered the Manse guards to surround it at a safe distance.

(Charles) “Hello!”

There were sawing noises – but Gothmug simply made the walls indestructible, which put an end to THAT.

(Charles) “Hello! Want a sandwich? Or tea?”

(Female voice, after a bit – and in English, but with a VERY weird accent) “Tea. No, a sandwich… no – which makes less of a mess?”

(Charles, feeling that that was a little odd) “Well, sandwiches are solid, tea is liquid…”

(Female voice) “Uh… tea!”

(Charles) “Tea then!”

(Howard) “Tea’s nice… but what in the blazes are you doing here… invisible?”

(Female voice) “May I please be let out first?”

(Charles) “That’s up to the people who own this place! You were kind of sneaking!”

(Howard) “Well, let her out… (to box) but we’re keeping an eye on you!”

Gothmug grumbled a bit – but he let the interior subdivisions disappear while leaving the outer-level containment, revealing a slender, apparently unarmed, young woman in dark but practical clothing.

(Charles) “Were you coming to the conference too?”

(Woman) “Err… thank you! I wasn’t expecting you to spot me…”

(Charles, slightly mystified) “You’re welcome!”

(Howard, looking somewhat confused by the accent) “Well, she’s coming to the conference now. We can’t let her run around unsupervised in here.”

(Woman) “Oh yes! I am here for the conference!”

(Charles) “Oh, I’m Charles! What’s your name?”

(Woman) “Martha.”

(Howard) “Well… Martha… if you’re here for the conference, what was with the cloaking?”

He motioned for the guards to keep walking… and she went along, but got deadly serious, and said something in a language similar to Old Realm – but not Old Realm.

Howard looked somewhat afraid – while it took Charles (who had a good deal of practice with Old Realm) a bit to make it out… The linguistic distance was similar to that between the High Realm and Low Realm tongues – although this was obviously a living language, rather than being nearly dead. Given the far greater time interval… that pointed to a culture with sophisticated ways of passing on information, probably including recording systems. That limited things a lot! There hadn’t been many high-tech cultures that had persisted since the end of the first age or before!

Oh yes, it had been; “I wish to talk to your father about his recent investigations.”

The conference room was on the seventh floor, and Raymond was waiting.

(Raymond) “Is everything all right? Who’s that?” (Indicating Martha).

Howard whispered something into his ear, and he forced a smile.

(Raymond) “Well, come in. You too, ma’am.”

He took extra care not to touch Martha as they headed into the conference room.

Charles had been considering Marth’s essence-aura; it wasn’t too much stronger than that of an experienced mortal thaumaturge’s – rating three – but he’d never seen one quite like that before! It was… strangely orderly, and mechanical! That was rather neat! Could she be one of the “Alchemicals” he’d heard about? They were… well, he really didn’t know much – but they were supposed to be really good with magitech!

The conference room was lavish, with mahogany, plush carpet, and fine paintings on the walls. It would appear perfectly normal except for the numerous wards against Terrestrial anima flux. There were quite a few people waiting; most of them apparently the entourage for the two men standing on the far side of the table. One of them (Peter) looked normal, with only his red hair to distinguish him. The other, older gentleman (Ethan) breathed out a puff of smoke. Waves of heat radiated from him – and even Charles couldn’t help but notice that neither of these men looked a lot like Howard.

(Charles, cheerily) “Hello!”

(Peter) “Hello, Charles.”

(Ethan) “Yes . . . It’s good to meet you.”

(Charles) “Nice to meet you too! What was it you needed?

(Ethan) “I’m Ethan Morgan, and this is my son Peter. Hmm, getting to business already! I like that… I was going to ask you about the Manse you constructed for Howard’s aide, Raymond. Could you tell me more about how you did it so fast? (To Martha) And madam, won’t you please sit down?”

(Charles) “For most things – like the survey – it’s just harder to do it fast, so you just have to be clever. For the engineering and construction… I just mass-manufactured the necessary components, and assembled them. Once the manse-potential was in place and the components were channeling it, you just let the matter build itself along the essence flows!”

(Martha) “Shouldn’t we all sit down?”

(Ethan, raising an eyebrow, but doing so) “Mass-manufactured… but every Manse I know has to be built for the demesne… which was only forming in the first place, and only third-rank!”

Charles cheerily sat down in an obligingly-appearing chair – supplied by some obliging geomancy.

(Charles) “Oh, the design has to be individualized, but components – things like shaped blocks, and essence-conductive structural members, and that sort of thing can easily be mass-produced!”

Everyone sat – and everyone but Charles seemed to agree with the house head from their looks: this was not normal.

(Ethan) “How long did it take you to draft the design?”

(Charles) “Well, the potential designs are implicit in the geomantic survey; you simply need to select a possibility to realize from among the potential patterns.”

(Peter) “All good and well, but just planning a Manse of that rank normally takes years – and I believe Father asked you a direct question there.”

(Charles) “It’s not really a separate step doing it that way; the possible designs are apparent; you just need to select one. Long enough to choose I guess. A minute maybe?”

(Howard) “He… he actually said that, right?”

(Charles, with some puzzlement) “Uhm… yes?”

(There was a rather imperious look from Ethan…) “YOU were the one who reported how quickly he repaired this Manse. I would think you would be the one LEAST surprised by his capabilities.”

(Howard) “But… that’s just… how do you do that? That would take ridiculous amounts of Essence for the demesne alone!”

Meanwhile, Martha was just listening… and taking everything in, from the looks of her.

(Charles) “It’s not all that much!”

(Howard) “I bet you did the same thing, or similar, for this place. And you still haven’t told us HOW you do that! You can do a lot with the right facilities these days, but that doesn’t take care of the geomantic shaping. Not with any magic available to us!”

(Peter) “Which is why we’re curious. Frankly, we’re willing to pay good jade for the process. We can outbid most clans and houses in the Southeast.”

(Ethan) “Or a smaller amount of artifacts. (Quickly) But only if Madam approves!”

(Charles) “Well… I don’t know if you could use it. I suppose I could make something else while you watched. Would that help?”

(Ethan) “Certainly…”

(Charles) “What do you need?”

(Ethan) “Hmm.”

Wait… Had the boy REALLY just been asking what they NEEDED when he arrived? Not just what they WANTED to know? Was he seriously prepared to… create things on request?

(Peter) “Oh, why don’t we let Howard decide?”

(Ethan, dubiously) “All right. Ask the boy for an artifact, son.”

(Howard) “My own artifact folding boat!”

Well, those were… a massive challenge, without being impossible! At least to any artificer that they’d ever heard of…

(Charles) “Any particular styling or other features?”

(Howard) “Umm… I don’t care as long as it’s okay for river travel.”

(Ethan) “Raymond, if you would run Essence detection while he does this. And Madam, if it’s not too much trouble, could you as well?”

Charles was briefly considering… He had the design ready, so that was easy…

He tucked his tongue in the corner of his mouth and pulled on his various factory-cathedrals and their material stockpiles and requirement-bypassing systems. He stuck with adenic thaumaturgic acceleration instead of his native acceleration charm so they could get a better view – but flurried it massively to make up for it only being about 20% as efficient.

It took a couple of minutes – and, of course, turned out a set of five. He HAD been tapping into Dudael after all.

(Charles) “Here you go!”

(Howard) “Um… wow, thanks…”

Ethan raised an eyebrow at Raymond – and understood the slight gesture… Raymond agreed; they had prepared every form of analysis they could for this – and that had been…immensely skilled and powerful thaumaturgy backed and amplified by the networked geomancy of many manses, and the powers of several artifacts and hearthstones, and… raksha grace magic? – but while that implied vast resources, nothing there was inherently beyond their power save, possibly, for the Greater Thaumaturgy – and the boy seemed willing to simply… give that away!

Beyond that however… there had been traces of at least two new types of Essence. There had been the helpful, obliging, stuff that the boy bestowed on people when he… upgraded their thaumaturgic powers – and there had been just a hint of boundless space, endless time, and the darkness between the stars clinging to a shimmering trace of essence that was almost impossible to see or pick out of the rest.

And all of it seemed to come from… inside of him. Where there was indeed… personal geomancy, held together with more-than-Terrestrial power – but that power was… passive. It linked and guided the other powers, but was not manifesting itself directly. Was it the boys, or merely something bestowed? The boy… was still not reading as much of anything! Not even as a god or an Exalt! Just as a god-blood! He wasn’t even expending much of any personal power!

Martha was not so well-prepared for analysis – she hadn’t perceived the traces of Nocturnal essence or the more-than-mortal internal powers – but she, at least, recognized the action of… an internal factory-cathedral when she saw one. But only a full-scale metropolis could mount THAT charm! How was the child hauling around so much equipment? Was he a manifested city-spirit or some such?

(Martha) “Amazing…”

Ethan’s heat aura had reduced in radiance.

(Ethan) “I… see that we probably won’t be able to copy the geomancy or the thaumaturgic skill. That’s a shame… perhaps we could do something with the artifacts though. Would you care to share the plans with us?”

Most people would have heard the tone and recognized that it might be most unwise to refuse that request.

Charles, of course, recognized no such thing – but was perfectly happy to share some plans for artifacts. The major ones he was using at the moment were the Orb of the Archmage and the Wonderworker’s Mantle…

(Ethan) “Interesting… this item can store sorcery beyond what we are capable of without spiritual assistance! And… this one requires material from Heaven.” (Martha looked over at that comment, and he lowered his eyes.) “I would assume you use the higher-powered thaumaturgy most of the time, as it seems to be equal to Celestial level. With that level of proficiency, you must have studied the greater sorceries sometime.”

(Charles) “A little! I generally don’t bother with them much; Thaumaturgy will usually do the things I need, and it’s much more flexible!”

(Ethan) “And at that level… How much do you want for the artifact schematics? I would rather not keep Madam waiting longer than necessary…”

(Charles, rather blankly) “Want? I mostly just make what I need… And here they are!”

(Ethan, blinking – and then smiling) “Excellent. Thank you for your generosity. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must discuss things with Madam. I might have more questions for you afterwards.”

There was just a hint of nervousness there – although Charles was, of course, oblivious.

(Charles) “OK!”

He could spare a little more time… At least here the people with questions can’t bother him… except on his phone, bother it!

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXII – Manses and Morgans

Charles Howard Hintons (1853–1907)

After a few centuries you just give op on fashion and wear what makes YOU comfortable.

Howard had been speculating – after all; the boy had a rank-five manse with gates modeled after the “Stargate” movie – meaning the gates, at least, were new and were likely his own work – and he was experimenting with other universes, and thought that Raksha Nobles were cute and fun. All by itself that sentence pretty much eliminated any even remotely “normal” possibility. Sure, Raksha nobles COULD be all kinds of fun if they wanted to be – but “cute” was not exactly in the cards!

Still, that got put to one side when Raymond wandered in to start paging through the library almost at random while muttering. The shocked, blank, look – and the complete absence of any sign of injury or strain that might have produced it – was rather disturbing. What could have thrown him for that much of a loop?

It didn’t take much effort to get it out of him – but his story was quite frankly unbelievable… Charles had initiated him into an entirely new level of Thaumaturgy in minutes? And had then erected a powerful manse in a few more minutes? On a demesne that hadn’t even FORMED yet? With THAUMATURGY? Certainly the boy was an incredible expert at geomancy – and probably something more than a mere god-blood unless his parent was an Incarnae – but manses required… days or weeks of work, even with the most powerful spells on record. Had the boy just been speculating and thrown up an illusion of a manse that he thought could be built? He was probably skilled enough that he wouldn’t even realize that most witnesses would take such a thing for a reality!

Still… the Thaumaturgy boost was obviously real enough, and there was no real reason to doubt that it did what Raymond said it did. The power… was practically boiling off of Raymond – and adding “He hands out a massive thaumaturgy boost that includes rapid healing, virtual immortality, protections against numerous effects, and coming back as a god if you die, as a minor gift to anyone who asks – and wants feedback on it because it’s still under development” and “does decades worth of geomantic engineering and erects impossibly potent manses in minutes” (if that was to be credited) in with his original information… What on earth had he – and his apprentice – gotten themselves into? Hunting Sidereals was stressful enough before that last encounter.

It COULD be some sort of trick, or prank, or some such – even if Charles hardly seemed like the type. He was such a SERIOUS child.

Howard prevailed on Raymond to take him out to see the place.

It… bridged galaxies, and was funneling enough power into the earth to… be strengthening the dragon lines on a massive – possibly global – scale, marking them out with burgeoning plants as the wood essence spread across the world. A tree of worlds indeed, offering access to endless space and resources – and equipped with a crew of helpful gods to offer assistance and harvest it’s resources. It warped reality around it to conceal itself…

And Charles had… created it as a present because a mortal acquaintance had asked him to help out.

What was it that was loose upon the earth?

Howard promptly consulted his older brother, Peter – also a full Terrestrial Exalt – who was at least as shocked as he was…

(Peter) “That child made THIS?!? HOW!?!”

(Howard) “As if I would know? Raymond said… THAUMATURGY. I couldn’t imagine how that was possible, so I called you. You’re much better at magic than I am!”

(Peter) “It’s NOT. This manse… I’ve never heard of anything like it outside of legends! There are supposed to have been sorceries that create manses quickly – but if they ever really existed they’re a lost art, or perhaps are beyond our power entirely – and even they supposedly required days of planning and work! NO ONE can do this!

(Howard) “Well, he DID fix the Water Tower in minutes…”

(Peter) “Yes – but a relatively minor repair… he COULD have just been a god-blood with very special training and some specialized charms – but no god-blood could possibly do THIS. The whole area is still ringing with the essence that was poured into it! And he did this… as a small favor for a MORTAL THAUMATURGIST. What could he do if he felt a real need?”

They consulted their father, Ethan – who, for once, abruptly felt small.

Dyson spheres did that to most people, but for elder Exalts – even Terrestrials – it was a most unfamiliar and unwelcome feeling.

The Morgan’s had been an established power in the area for several centuries now – since the colonial era – and had quite a few supernatural allies, some of them very peculiar indeed. There were minor gods and elementals, geomancers and sorcerers, and even a few Raksha (although consulting them meant risking the wrath of his wife) – and none of them had ever heard of such a thing.

Such a resource must be guided into NOT being that casual about it! He could readily destroy the entire system!

Of course, to Charles, Manses were just really neat architecture and more things to stick in his world-body. They were neat! There should be lots more of them! All over the place, for all to use! On Earth at least, the spread of magical knowledge had nowhere to go at the moment but up.

The stargate was a bit of a shock too… The Morgans were Starbreaker-allied, and had heard of such things – but they were usually restricted to alchemical colossi, not manses.

Eventually Howard gave up; there was nothing to do but call.

(Charles) “Oh hi!”

(Howard) “Hi, Charles! How’ve you been?”

(Charles) “Pretty good! Lots of things are coming together!”

(Howard) “Well, that’s good… hey, have you built anything interesting lately?”

(Charles) “Uhm… Lots of things! That’s mostly what I DO of course!”

(Howard) “Yeah… of course. I heard you gave Raymond something pretty nice!”

(Charles) “Well, he’d been wanting one for awhile! And I’ve been practicing!”

For a moment Howard just didn’t know what to say. The boy… really did think of Manses of vast power… as simple little things you threw together on a whim. He’d thought – or had at least been hoping really hard – that Raymond was overstating the case when he said that it didn’t seem like such a big deal to Charles.

(Howard) “He said it was lavish… and top-of-the-line. You did a good job on it.”

(Charles) “Well I wouldn’t do a SLOPPY one! That would be just wrong!”

(Howard) “Well, yeah. You can’t explain explosions that big. Anyway… guess who wants to talk to you now?”

(Charles) “Urm… All kinds of people… Everybody wants me to answer questions these days!”

(Howard) “Like museum people? Anyway, my dad wants to chat with you! I never thought he’d warm up to you after that incident at Beech Street, but fixing the place, combined with this, has gotten his ear.”

(Charles) “Well, OK! I think I have a little time today…”

(Howard) “That… soon? You’ve GOT to be busy.”

(Charles) “Well… the Guardians handle a lot of things now, and they’re saying that I need to get out and talk to people more!”

(Howard) “Great, because he insists on meeting with you in person.”

(Charles) “Anyplace in particular?”

(Howard) “How about the Beech Street place, since we all know where it is?”

(Charles) “OK! What time?”

(Howard) “Hey, I’m willing to negotiate, but the sooner the better. Dad can be . . . intense about waiting.”

(Charles) “About half an hour then? I’ve just got to finish up here!”

(Howard) “Right… need a pickup or anything?”

(Charles) “Hm… I don’t think so! I’ll just ride my bike!”

(Howard) “Uh… OK. I guess you’ll just be thaumaturgying up then.”

Well… that was consistent with what Raymond told him about how Anderson got up to the demesne.

Oh well. Sometimes you just wind up with a short session…

The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice LXXI – Meeting the Nocturnals

English: River diggings at Gong Gong. Gong Gon...

Yes, I think we can squeeze in another manse here!

The Nocturnals, for a wonder, only wanted an opinion… They wanted to show him one of their basic tricks and see what his thoughts were on it – although Catherine didn’t want to be too specific in public.

Or even in Dudael, for that matter.

Charles offered to set up a meeting in the privacy manse – after all, he was doing the coming-out thing anyway – but they had their own place set up (although Catherine did admit that it was probably not as good). Still, Charles was quite willing to use theirs.

Catherine took him to the borders of a mortal slum – and to a back-alley access-way to the passageways below. She quietly looked around, making sure that there were no observers – and Charles cheerily set some concealed privacy wards. When she was satisfied that no one was spying and the bystanders were too busy at a nearby market to pay any attention to them, she pried up the cover – revealing a ladder – and headed on down.

Charles cheerfully followed along…

(Catherine) “Think you can get the cover? I don’t want to leave any sign of us being here, and since I don’t want anything to get you, I need to go first.”

Charles reached up and pulled it back into place – slightly startling Catherine, who’d been expecting him to use Thaumaturgy as he did for so many things; the appearances of god-bloods were often pretty deceptive – but he certainly didn’t LOOK like he should be able to heft a massive jade slab that easily!

Oh, of course. He probably had some artifact that gave him strength. He did seem to have an artifact for EVERYTHING after all. It was surprising that no one had tried to nab him just to raid his collection!

(Catherine) “Thanks.”

The ladder led down to a well-used access tunnel. The adamant glowed faintly as usual, and the area had been warded against deiphages (that was reasonably common beneath settled areas). While the warding was not nearly at Charles’s level it was definitely Exalted-tier…

Catherine looked around again, and led the way down the corridor, past various blocked-off corridors (some blocked by rubble, some by actual barricades) until she reached a dead end – or what looked like one. Charles could sense the workings of a Private Plaza of Downcast Eyes just ahead.

(Catherine) “Okay… one moment while I let them know we’re here.”

She knocked on the adamant… After a few seconds it disappeared… It looked rather like a transmutation, much as he’d done before. The room was actually well-furnished, with a large table, around ten chairs, and cushions for twice that number. There was a refrigerator in the corner, and even a television set hooked up to a generator. Vaal, Mr. Montague’s Comet Caste partner/door guardian, was watching that. Argentia, daughter of Moonsbane and Nebula Caste, was checking the wards. She waved at them… Vaal turned, saw them, and waved as well.

Charles cheerily waved back and let the TV power up without the noisy generator…

(Vaal) “Um, thanks… hey, Catherine, wasn’t Astrid coming too?”

(Catherine) “Territory business… anyway, did you scout out a new hideout like I asked?”

Vaal nodded.

(Catherine) “Yeah… what we’re about to show you is… well, I’ll let Argentia explain. She’s got the most talent for it.”

(Argentia) “Me? Well… okay. Charles, what’s your favorite food?”

(Charles) “Peanut butter!”

(Argentia) “Hey, Vaal! That’s more your domain! Stop watching that silly cartoon and give him some peanut butter!”

(Vaal) “What? Uh… OK!”

Suddenly, reality started unraveling around Charles’s hands. He could see the strands unwinding… then rewinding… and forming into a jar of peanut butter. They finished weaving themselves together, and there it was!

Hm. A bit of a fate disturbance, but no essence.

(Charles) “Oh neat! Hmm… Working on the deep chaos level would requires an unbinding and respinning of the threads, but overdoing that will create the same kind of disturbances that the higher-order sorceries do! That normally calls for some active essence though… This seems more like… an inverted equivalent of Sidereal Astrology! Reweaving the threads to bring a localized “what if” into reality!

(Argentia) “Actually… the Sidereals say that it does indeed work on the Loom! When Vaal did that, a pattern spider might have lost its balance from the vibrations.”

(Catherine, bringing over some bread and a knife.) “And I’d make a sandwich and eat it . . . it’ll unweave in about half an hour.”

(Charles) “That’s one way to stay skinny!”

(Argentia) “And that’s one of the weaker things we can do. I had to try some stronger things involving… you, actually.”

(Charles) “Oh? Why?”

(Argentia nodded towards Vaal.) “His partner asked me to. It didn’t work, though. We needed you present.”

(Charles) “So what do you need”

After all, it wasn’t like he was entirely “present” NOW.

(Argentia) “He wouldn’t say why, but he wanted me to restore your earliest memories.”

Vaal shrugged.

(Charles) “Oh! He just wanted to know where I came from…”

Hm. Could that work? You’d have to be… reaching for the results of a divergence that had magnified over many years, and affect a massive scale – he was kind of large now – and he was mostly outside of fate and the loom anyway these days. It would have to be quite a divergence too! It was extremely natural for early memories to be fuzzy or absent entirely…

(Argentia) “Well… I’m not sure I can do that for him, anyway. Going that far back is rough.”

(Charles) “Well… if you’re operating on the loom directly, you’d be temporarily manifesting a bit of an alternate reality as an overlay on this universe, right? Thus the further in the past, the greater the divergence, and the greater the strain?”

(Argentia) “That’s pretty much my thoughts on it too. The Sidereals don’t want us doing ones that strong, but he’d gotten permission for it.”

(Catherine) “Yeah, reshaping reality like this puts a lot of strain on the Loom. They don’t want us using even the weakest shapings willy-nilly. It’s a pain… I can do stuff that’d be pretty useful at Dudael.”

(Charles) “And rather than unraveling an area to get at the deeper chaos like high sorcery you’re basically removing a chunk and pulling in a temporary patch… I can see where they’d have problems!”

(Catherine) “Yeah, we’re allowed three of the weakest ones, and one medium one, per day. Jose’s pretty mum on why. (She looked somewhat annoyed by that.) I guess it’s to keep things from unraveling, though.”

(Charles) “Well… they’re having a really hard time keeping up with the repairs now.”

(Catherine) “Yeah… been weeks since I’ve seen him. Gods know he doesn’t need MORE work… Anyway, Argentia, did you prepare those materials?”

(Argentia) “Yes… I think I got everything in here.”

She removed what appears to be a yasal crystal from her dress.

(Argentia) “This contains more information. Catherine and Astrid didn’t want to keep you too long, since they know you’re busy. They just wanted to show you what we’d found and get your opinion on it.”

(Vaal) “It… won’t blow up the Loom, will it? Argentia and Monty say that would be bad.”

(Charles) “Information doesn’t usually! But I suppose it could if it was fundamental and paradoxial enough… Reality does depend a lot on just ignoring some of the dicier bits!… Hm. It might be best to forget I said that!”

Vaal gave Charles a blank look, then went back to watching TV.

(Catherine) “I hope not… well, too bad Astrid couldn’t make it. She wanted to ask you something, but couldn’t tell me more beyond that.”

(Charles) “I could ask her!”

(Catherine) “Well, okay. She said you’d visited while she was off on patrol once, so . . .”

Charles dodged around the privacy effects by placing the link from his manifestation in Aden.

(Astrid, sounding somewhat winded) “How on all the worlds – oh, Charles! That would explain it. How are you?”

(Charles) “I’m doing well! But I was told there was something you wanted to ask me if this link is private enough for that?”

(Astrid) “Knowing you, I don’t think even Gus would complain about privacy. It’s about that prototype gate. Has Catherine told you about the Fluctuations yet?”

A quick check of the yasal crystal indicated that was what had Vaal demonstrated.

(Charles) “Just started too!”

(Astrid) “I see. I’m sorry I couldn’t meet you as well, but we’re just finishing up a raid repulsion over here. Anyhow… I was wondering if you could make those work with abilities other than the Mirror-Shattering Method.”

(Charles) “Hm. Well, the principle is sound enough… Is it just the specific charm effect? I could probably make do with divination or geomancy! And do let me know if you need help with a raid or something!”

(Astrid) “Divination would work… or maybe fortune! The effect I’m talking about actually uses our fluctuations. It’s powerful, but has some strange side effects.”

(Charles) “Hm. Is the mirror-shattering method causing a problem, or do you just want ones you can influence more directly?”

(Astrid) “Goodness no… by all means, keep the Mirror-Shattering Method in there! I was just wondering if you had some means of affecting more… probability-based travel. And if we actually have a siege around here, I’ll call for your assistance. I hope that day never comes; those are always vicious.”

(Charles) “Oh! You want to access alternate realities?”

(Astrid) “Argentia does say that might be possible, but… hmm. Gus said you liked science fiction . . .” (She takes a quick moment, presumably to refer to something.) “It’s something like a probability drive, but without the ship.”

(Charles) “Well, for that I’d need to unlock the Phase of the Moon Generator! I was leaving that locked out for the moment because I don’t really have any coordinates for “safe” alternates, and opening gates at random can really mess things up!”

(Astrid) “If it would cause too much trouble, by all means keep it locked until you’ve worked out the bugs. The side effects are more annoying than dangerous. And I would hate to cause you trouble after all you’ve done for us.”

(Charles) “ Oh, it’s not ME… But opening full gates into alternate realities can let all sorts of things through, and there were plenty of places to go in this reality already – so I was leaving alternate realities for later. You should be able to navigate them though, so unlocking a few would be easy enough!”

Wait, the boy had ALREADY installed trans-dimensional capabilities? Unlocking a “few”?! Did he mean just a few worlds? No, that couldn’t be it; he’d said that he didn’t have coordinates for alternate worlds… On a “few” gates then? Could that possibly mean that he had multiple gates completed ALREADY?

(Astrid) “We’ve been practicing. So far the results have been promising, particularly on the time end.”

(Charles) “Well… it looked to me like an awful lot of the nearby timelines terminated in the Wyld. It seemed like at one point there must have been a LOT of serious threats to the survival of Creation!”

(Astrid) “That’s probably one of your many theories on things… but with little more than Wyld in those Creations, reality would be as malleable as putty and quite easy to cut through with one’s will.”

She carefully considered her next statement.

(Astrid) “Even with all the risks… what would you do if I told you that we had found a potentially near-instananeous form of interstellar travel?”

(Charles) “Those are always good!”

If it were possible to smile over a link, Astrid would be doing it.

(Astrid) “Then we have a bit more to talk about… but that can wait until you’ve done more work on the prototype you already have.”

(Charles) “OK! It does seem to work, but there are occasional bits of weirdness!”

(Astrid) “Wonderful! You’ll have to demonstrate to everyone some time.”

It didn’t really occur to Charles that it would probably be a shock when he spontaneously installed two dozen of the things in the great plaza…

(Charles) “I should be able to get some ready fairly soon!”

(Astrid) “Well, I shouldn’t keep you much longer. I’m sure you have many things to do . . . and I need to supervise this cleanup. Nothing too bad – just a bit of bloodshed outside the wards.”

(Charles, sighing) “Well, I’m trying to do something about that! Hopefully it will work out! I hope that it will go well!”

(Astrid) “So I’ve heard and seen. Your armor and sword were quite helpful, by the way.”

(Charles) “Oh good! If you need any more armor, do let me know!”

(Astrid) “I’ll definitely consider it… and thank you.”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

(Astrid) “Goodbye, dear, and . . . please don’t overextend yourself.”

(Charles looked rather doubtful on that one) “Well… I’ll try not to!”

(Astrid) “And I’ll try to do the same…”

She dropped the link at that point.

(Charles, to the rest) “Was there anything else you needed?”

(Catherine) “Well… not right now, but I’ll ask when I do.”

(Argentia) “No. Thanks for visiting us!”

(Charles) “You’re welcome! And do let me know if you need help with something!”

(Vaal) “Oh yeah! I just remembered!”

He handed Charles what appeared to be a work order… for that adamant short daiklave he had that didn’t technically exist yet.

(Charles) “Oh, that was for… about another three years out on my initial reading. Of course since then that might have changed; the future is a bit indeterminate anyway!”

(Vaal) “Yeah, he just wanted to get that in while he could. He says if he doesn’t, someone else might outmaneuver him on the reservation. I’m fine with it… somewhat existing? I try not to think about it too much; it makes my brain hurt.”

(Charles) “OK! I’ll file it in the Que for the appropriate time! I don’t think it’s wise to unnecessarily tamper with temporal loops!”

(Vaal) “Great! Thanks!”

(Charles) “You’re welcome!”

(Catherine) “Well, let’s go back up, Charles… another way, just to be sure.”

Exalted – Twilight Voyages and the Reborn

Nozdryov. Illustration for Nikolai Gogol's Dea...

What do you mean “I’m Dead”? I don’t FEEL dead… I want a second opinion you Quack!

The “Reborn” got mentioned in the Chronicles – so a little bit of explaining is in order…

What is Death?

“You cannot resurrect the dead” is one of the common mantras of Exalted.

  • Yet even mere Thaumaturgy can transmigrate human souls into animal bodies, granting an extension of life even in nonhuman form (The North, Page 97).
  • Plants can be returned to life by a simple Hearthstone (Song of Life Stone, Oadenol’s Codex, page 100). Ergo, plants… simply cease to work, which apparently isn’t the same thing as dying. Evidently plants – having no souls – cannot die.
  • A higher soul may continue as a ghost without a lower soul, yet is not alive.
  • A higher soul may be grafted onto an animals soul, turning the animal into a familiar with a human intellect (Scroll of Kings, Page 61).
  • A lower soul may continue as a hungry ghost without a higher soul, yet is not alive.
  • Gods… do not have souls in the same way as humans, yet a human who gains essence four burns away his or her mortal shell to become a god. A creature that IS more or less a naked – unbound, and living – soul. Evidently there are less-than-vital bits of the soul that can be discarded while remaining alive.
  • The Ebon Dragon has a charm which allows it’s user to attune to the necrotic essence of the underworld and reverse that attunement.

Ergo, the body… is not important. Only the soul is – and it can move from body to body, and into new incarnations, without dying.

Thus Death – permanent and irrevocable – occurs when the bond between the higher and lower souls is broken. Lower souls normally soon decay or change irreversibly, dissolving into a burst of random motes unless somehow stabilized.

But a higher soul that passes through Lethe will emerge without memories, yet with a new lower soul attached and once more living – ready to be embodied once more.

So; now we know what Death is, and why “Resurrection” is impossible; once the bond between the higher and lower soul breaks, the character is dead – and the lower soul changes irrevocably, soon either becoming a monstrosity or dissolving.

There’s a brief period between the death of the body and the breaking of the link between the two pieces of the soul, but it may only be a few seconds long. That’s enough for a soul-transfer (or perhaps for emergency medical treatment of some arcane sort) – but not for much of anything else.

What is a lower soul?

  • According to the material about Autochthon, it stores the power a mortal accumulates through life.
  • According to the material from the Underworld and about Hungry Ghosts, it is the seat of emotion and instinct.

Connecting a new lower soul to a higher soul thus creates a new being, without the accumulated power of the higher souls previous life, with subtly different instincts, and with entirely different emotional commitments.

That’s not resurrection; it’s a new incarnation who happened to get some old memories.

That’s probably not a healthy thing. Remembering old emotions without feeling them has got to be difficult. Lethe… may not be nearly as obnoxious as most people think. Without Lethe some part of them might make it into their higher souls next incarnation – but THEY would still be dead. Memories are important, but – shorn of the emotions that give them meaning – they are not
enough.

So; you can’t make a ghost “alive” again, you can just create a new being that happens to have it’s memories.

That’s probably fairly easily – but who cares? Most ghosts recognize that “ceasing to be” is indeed “ceasing to be” – and that there may not be much to choose between oblivion and rebirth through Lethe; sure, your wiped-clean higher soul may be being recycled – but so is your old flesh, and the worms feeding on it aren’t “you” in any meaningful sense either.

Some mortals… are not content with that.

And it’s hard to blame them.

Twilight Voyages (Terrestrial Martial Art)

Twilight Voyages is slow, drifting, meditative form related to Tai Chi and the Rejuvenating Manual. It focuses on inner unity and control, rather than on flashy external abilities. It really isn’t any use in combat – but it is one of the ultimate forms of self-defense. It allows the user to strengthen the bond with his or her lower soul – and even to bind additional lower souls to his or her higher one – so as to avoid actually dying unless they’re then eliminated by effects that kill spirits.

Most of the rest of the “charms” it offers revolve around nothing more than learning to use the options that having additional lower souls offers.

Exalts can learn this art if they wish – but their Exaltations take up all the places where an additional lower soul could bond to a higher soul. Ergo they can’t practice most of it – and if an early practitioner exalts, the exaltation will displace any extra lower souls he or she may have.

Extra Lower Souls  1  2  3  4  5
Minimum Will  6  7  8  9  10
Maximum Essence  3  4  4  4  5
Mote Pool Bonus  +10  +10  +20  +20  +30

Whether fortunately or unfortunately, there are side effects:

  • With one or more extra lower souls it becomes difficult to resist your instincts. All virtue checks lose one die. On the other hand, the user may have one extra motivation per extra lower soul and three more intimacies than usual per lower soul.
  • With two or more extra lower souls, the character is no longer human enough to Exalt. On the other hand, the user is considered a supernatural being – and thus stunts, heals, respires, and resists injury, as an Exalt.
  • With three or more extra lower souls Reborn become unable to work together; their emotions are now so strong, and their personalities so intense and complex, that they invariably clash.
  • With four or more extra lower souls all your virtue checks lose two dice, and instincts begin to dominate – and it will become obvious to everyone you interact with that you are extremely unnatural. On the other hand, each lower soul now respires independently, allowing you to regain motes more quickly than usual.
  • With five extra lower souls your personality is so dominating that you are guaranteed to make enemies – and powerful ones. You gain the Enemies flaw at ****, but do gain the ability to create combos; you are no longer even remotely human.

And here are some quick descriptions of the charms…

  • Transmigration Of Souls -> Spirit Binds The Flesh
  • |
  • Spirit of Freedom -> Sight of the Soul -> Pearl of Chi
  • |
  • Inward Host -> Thief of Souls -> Draught Of Darkness
  • | ……………-> The Inner Forge
  • |
  • Imperishable Union -> The Furies Within
  • |
  • Passing Through the Dark Sea

Charm Effects:

  • Transmigration Of Souls (Essence 2, Martial Arts or Occult 2): You may transfer your soul into another body, normally ejecting the soul of the old owner. Fairly easy with animals and the very young, quite difficult with adults.
  • Spirit Binds The Flesh (Essence 2, Martial Arts or Occult 3): You gain extra health levels based on the number of extra lower souls you have. At one you get a -4. At two you get a -2 and a -4. At three you get a -1, a -2, and a -4. At four you get -1, -2, -2, -4, and -4. At five you get -1, -1, -2, -2, -2, -4, and -4.
  • Spirit of Freedom (Essence 2, Martial Arts or Occult 3): You no longer require a physical body. Being killed simply releases you as a free spirit – and you may use Transmigration Of Souls to claim another body. You may also opt to use Transmigration Of Souls to simply engage in “Astral Projection” or to interact normally with immaterial entities.
  • Sight Of The Soul (Essence 2, Martial Arts or Occult 4): You now see as much with the eyes of the spirit as with those of the flesh. You can see spirits, essence constructs, spells, and similar things.
  • Pearl of Chi (Essence 2, Martial Arts or Occult 5): You may add (Essence) dice to any thaumaturgy check you make, may spend three motes in place of a point of will to work thaumaturgy, and may spend motes both to reduce the resource costs and time requirements of thaumaturgy.
  • The Inward Host (Essence 3, Martial Arts or Occult 3): When you take a new body with Transmigration Of Souls you may retain the original owners lower soul until you leave it. This makes it easy to adapt to using an animals body; the instincts come with it – and also allows the animal to survive the experience. On the other hand, with a sapient creature’s body… their intimacies and motivation come with it.
  • Thief of Souls (Essence 3, Martial Arts or Occult 4): You may bind a lower soul from a creature that has just died in your presence into your body, taking on their instincts and motivations to add to your own (the possible origin of some animal-themed martial arts). The soul will remain bonded to you until Calibration, when it must be replaced – although this will also reactivate any
    other abilities that were no longer usable due to an insufficient number of  ower souls.
  • Draught Of Darkness (Essence 3, Martial Arts or Occult 5): You may inhale a creatures dying breath, and take it’s lower soul for your own – also taking on it’s instincts and motivations and healing anything that happens to be wrong with you. The soul will remain bonded with you until the new moon rises, when it will go free and must be replaced – although this will also reactivate
    any other abilities that were no longer usable due to an insufficient number of lower souls.
  •  The Inner Forge (Essence 3, Martial Arts or Occult 4): Your extra lower souls begin to act as artifacts, although there is no repair rating or attunement cost and they cannot be unattuned. The user may design his or her own artifacts or use ones from the books – although these have no physical existence; they’re simply innate powers. When the user increases his or her number of lower souls, he or she may add new “artifacts” or upgrade old ones – but old abilities may not be simply discarded. Choose carefully!
Extra Lower Souls  1  2  3  4  5
Equivalent Artifacts  1x*  3x*  3x*

1x**

 3x*

2x**

 3x*

2x**

1x***

  • Imperishable Union (Essence 4, Martial Arts or Occult 4): Even passing through Lethe will not break your bond with your personal lower soul(s) – and will add another, up to the limit of five lower souls acquired over five rebirths. Sadly, even Thief Of Souls and Draught Of Darkness will not allow this limit to be exceeded – although Draught Of Darkness will still provide it’s healing benefits when used. On the other hand, the basic benefits (and penalties) of your lower souls – your enlightened essence, will score, essence score, mote pool bonus, and the side effects – will remain with your soul until it’s destruction.
  • The Furies Within (Essence 4, Martial Arts or Occult 3): As a committee, you are difficult to sway. You may add your number of lower souls to the difficulty of using mental influence against you and multiply the effects of any will you spend to resist it by the number of lower souls you possess.
  • Passing Through the Dark Sea (Essence 4, Martial Arts or Occult 5): You may “back up” your memories and personalty on your lower souls, where Lethe and all other current memory-altering or wiping powers were never designed to reach, From there they will gradually be restored after the user is reincarnated or if they are somehow modified in some other fashion. Your abilities, charms, occult lore, and – in fact – pretty much everything except your physical possessions, physical attributes, and physically-based merits, will now survive “death” (which doesn’t really happen to you) and rebirth.

Perhaps sadly, nothing here really gives the Reborn character much access to any special charm list; they can gain Terrestrial Circle Sorcery and Terrestrial Martial Arts as normal for an enlightened mortal, and may accumulate a great may spells, forms, and skills and get their essence up to five – but there are rather strict limits there.

In the game the Reborn can be quite effective allies, aides, and tutors to the Exalted, and can be incredibly skilled and powerful for mortals – although Exalts using training charms can build up a mortal in a similar fashion far, FAR, more quickly. On the other hand, they can’t work together more than briefly – and, without access to general charms, will never be able to truly rival the Exalted.