Sunday, November 27, 2022

SIGNALIS (feat. LSTR Unit Class for Mothership)


 ACHTUNG------ACHTUNG

Signalis is a survival horror game in the style of classic Resident Evil and Silent Hill where you play as 90s anime cyborg lady descending into a mining facility gone to hell on a faraway planet and it's the sort of game where, if you like Mothership - or survival horror at all - and have 20 bucks to spare, go buy it immediately. It's on literally everything. Play it, then come back to this post when you're done. Steam's telling me it took 9.7 hours to beat on normal difficulty.

That's it, that's the pitch. This is a recommendation without reservation. The only negative thing I can say about this game is the restrictive inventory, but the devs have said they're looking for a solution and even without a change it is a survivable frustration greatly outweighed by everything else.

The post will wait. Play it.

If you are really impatient or only care about the Mothership component but still care about spoilers, ctrl+F "equipment". This is your only warning.

***


Right then, done? What a fucking ride. I have thoughts.

In a lot of modern Lovecraftiana, the King in Yellow / Carcosa is used as a sort of infectious idea that carries with it a sort of ontological breakdown. The Delta Green Handler's Guide uses the phrase "slurry of thought and quantum possibility" and while I have my problems with DG (and people over-explaining their spooky shit in general), I must admit that this is a fucking strong concept.

Signalis is the only game I've seen where the constant, unsubtle references to other works are part of the thematic core. Fragments and memories, ideas and symbols, suspended in a slurry of thought and quantum possibility. It could have just stopped with picking up a copy of The King in Yellow, plenty of lesser games would have. But the title sequence that follows, whirling together East German numbers stations, obscure Lovecraft quotes (no one's read "The Festival", come on), flashes of Die Toteninsel, Chopin's Raindrop Prelude - perfect encapsulation of what you're getting yourself into.

And it just keeps going. So much from Resident Evil. "Some parts of this game may be considered violent or cruel." Silent Hill's blinding red save screens and much more besides. The carpet from the Shining. The Major tearing off her arm. Gestalts and Replicants from Nier. The fucking 'THIS IS NOT A PLACE OF HONOR' warning.

It just keeps on going.

And if that's not fucking enough, it's not just the references and details of it all - Elster's mind is decaying from being copied over and over again. All the Replikas' minds are. Memories from different people are blurring together, cycles of actions are repeating, dreams leaking out and mingling.

A slurry of thought and quantum possibility.

Something might live beneath the ice.

There are visions of a coastline and of still, black water.

***


I recently ran a game of Mothership, where the players found a pair of misshapen, naked humanoids standing ankle-deep in a stream. They didn't do anything besides stand there and point out towards the western horizon. One of the players, a longtime friend, said "Dan this is such a fucking you thing" as soon as I was done describing it, and she was absolutely correct. My favorite horror is that of the indelible, inexplicable image. Can't stand jumpscares and gore, tension can often be too much, but imagery, pump that directly into my veins. The uncanny, the anomalous, the unsettling, the unheimlich, the inexplicable, the fundamentally wrong. If doesn't have to do anything but exist, if the image is good enough.

***

You'll notice, in the medical files, that most of the people have some sort of permanent lung damage or long-term infection.

***

I do have some story analysis, of course, cobbled together into a rough timeline.

1) A soldier from the Vinetan (Earth) war is used as the basis for the LSTR line of Replika units. (This event is likely some years in the past)

2) Ariane Yeong is born on Leng (Pluto), moves to Rotfront (Ganymede or Europa), lives with her mother in a radio station for a time, attends Mandelbrot Polytechnic, works part-time in a photo store owned by the Itou family. After graduation, she applies to join the Penrose Program - the documentation states that if she is rejected, she will be assigned to the S-23 Sierpinski mining station on Leng.

3) A Penrose vessel is launched from Jovian orbit via mass driver with Ariane Yeong and LSTR-512 on board, aimed at the Oort Cloud with the intention of finding icy bodies that can be Klimaformed using bioresponant technology.

4) Roughly 14 years pass as the Penrose 512 mission heads towards the outer system. The mission is revealed to be a death sentence, and is subsequently stretched out long past its intended end by Ariane and LSTR-512. The ship begins to fall apart, Ariane's health fails, and is kept in cryo to prevent her from dying.

5) Penrose 512 crashes on an icy body and god damn it I cannot figure out where. My initial thought was that it crashed on Leng, but that's looking less and less likely the more I think about it. The sticking point is this line in the REPLIKA OVERVIEW: LSTR document.

New LSTR units have been produced based on a decommissioned unit from the Penrose Program.

And this is the sort of note that plants a link between LSTR-512 and Elster in our brains. But then how did the Nation recover LSTR-512? I have settled on two major options, which will have major ramifications down the line.

  • Option A - Penrose 512 crashed on Leng. Potentially caused by either LSTR-512 or Ariane, or both, redirecting the ship to the nearest safe location. it would even be possibly to turn the ship around with Ariane's help - we know that bioresonance is used in artificial gravity it would be possible to generate a slingshot orbit around an artificial gravity well. The Nation physically recovers LSTR-512.
  • Option B - Penrose 512 crashed on an unknown planet. Let's call it Carcosa. The Nation recovers LSTR-512's consciousness through Ariane's bioresonant projection. More on this later.

6) There is Something under the ice of Leng / Carcosa, and it, being what I presume is an enormous bioresonant flesh monstrosity, is stirred awake by the presence of the dying Ariane. With bioresonant fuckery in play, they might not even be in the same place. Even more confusing, there might be MULTIPLE flesh monstrosities, if the Moon bit of the tarot card puzzle is to be taken literally, as it describes an entity living in a subglacial ocean as one would expect to find on Europa or Ganymede...

Actually, multiple entities, or multiple nodes of the same entity, makes everything so, so much cleaner.

Regardless if Option A or Option B was picked last step, the Entity serves as a bioresonant amplifier for Ariane.

7) The opening of the game happens. LSTR-512 steps out onto Leng / Carcosa, finds the Gate and the Pit, and already starts tumbling into the Nowhere hellscape that has been formed by the dying Ariane projecting her thoughts and memories through the Entity.

DIVERGENCE POINT: It is entirely possible that the entirety of the game takes place within the Entity+Ariane's mindscape. I don't find this likely enough to subscribe to, but if Ariane was, say, born and spent early childhood inside Seirpinski station, it might bleed through into the Nowhere. But, as I prefer the train of thought where Seirpinski is real, I am mentioning this only for thoroughness.

8) Ariane dies in the real world, but continues to exist (constructed out of her own memories) via the Entity's projection. LSTR-512 reaches the end of her operational lifespan (possibly while plunging through Nowhere). (Ordering of deaths is important, and uncertain)

9) LSTR-512 is recovered, either physically or through Alina's Entity-amplified projection, and used as the base template for all future LSTRs.

10) TIME PASSES

11) Alina Seo arrives at Sierpinski.

12) Excavations at Sierpinski disturb the Entity (or an Entity), and it notices that Falke (a powerful bioresonant) is present. Entity starts projecting Nowhere as a defense mechanism against Falke. (Unconsciously, like an immune system response)

13) The entity's normal response carries the imprint of Ariane's dying mind on it. This shapes how Nowhere manifests (as the Entity itself is not conscious)

14) Shit becomes fucked at Sierpinski. Falke won't die, and so the Entity just keeps the projection up. Cycles begin. Nowhere starts bleeding over into the facility. Everything gets very Wibbly. Falke starts taking on memories and traits of LSTR-512. Alina Seo starts taking on traits of Ariana Yeong. Isa Itou is formed from Ariane's memories of Erika and Isolde Itou.

15) An LSTR unit (we'll call her Elster) - already suffering from mental degradation and carrying forward the memories of LSTR-512 - arrives at Sierpinski base, treating Alina Seo as a surrogate Ariana Yeong (as the old memories are corroded and repressed and are leaking through strangely, plus Entity influence and dream-bleed). It is possible that the Entity's influence has drawn her to Leng.

16) The events of the game keep playing out, over and over again. Elster dies again and again, trapped in the Entity's bioresonant immune system. (Also possible: multiple LSTR units have arrived at Seirpinski)

17) The cycle where we get an end happens. The end reflects, perhaps not entirely accurately, what happened to Ariane and LSTR-512, as an expression of Elster trying to reach some sort of catharsis between her memories, and the remaining imprint of Ariane on the Entity's bioresonant field. With Falke dead, and imprint-Ariane dealt with, this might (in at least one ending, perhaps) end the Nowhere incursion into Seirpinski base.

Memory Ending - Imprint-Ariane is so degraded by time and the Entity that she does not remember Elster. Elster dies.

Promise Ending - Imprint-Ariane remembers Elster. Elster fulfills the promise and kills Imprint-Ariane. Elster dies.

Leave Ending - Elster is unable to fulfill the promise, returns to the surface of Leng, and dies. Throwing a wrench in the works, we see a crashed spaceship...but it's not a Penrose one. Possibly the one LSTR arrived in. 

Artifact Ending - Elster takes some potted lilies to a location in Nowhere, and dies. Five other Elsters have already arrived and died. There is a cube. Possibly frees Ariane from the Entity? Not a fuckin' clue.

***

If you thought I was going to get through this post without making MoSh-compatible material, you got another thing coming.

LSTR UNIT REPLIKA (ALTERNATE ANDROID)

LANDVERMESSUNGS / SCHIFF-TECHNIKER REPLIKA
Land Survey / Ship Technician Replika 'Magpie'
Generation 5 Kosmo-Pioneer Specialist
Biomechanical with carbon fiber-reinforced polyethylene shell and titanium skeleton
178 cm


A versatile combat engineer unit.

STATS: +15 COM +1 WOUND
SAVES: +60 FEAR +10 BOD
SKILLS: Industrial Equipment, Mechanical Repair, Computers, Firearms
TRAUMA RESPONSE:

  • Allies make FEAR saves at [-]
  • You may turn a failed roll into a success by spending SAN at a 1:1 ratio
  • You gain INSTABILITY (see below)


STARTING EQUIPMENT: Revolver (3d10), shoulder-mounted flashlight, shortwave radio module, cyberbrain (computer link, file storage, text log), cybernetic diagnostic scanner module, eidetic record module (6 slots, 1 minute each), AP 5 armored carapace (+2 AP if wearing armored vest overtop).

STARTING TRINKET: Damaged photograph of [FIELD INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK]

INSTABILITY: Operates similarly to THE BENDS in Gradient Descent. You begin play with 5 INSTABILITY, and gain it as follows:

  • 1d5 points for failing a SAN roll  
  • 1d5 points for encountering any triggering stimuli regarding [THE WAR], including: film footage, visual or auditory propaganda, photographs, music, interactions with veterans, and open conversation.
  • 1d5 points for encountering a bioresonant enemy

You may decrease INSTABILITY by 1d5 by spending a full day in a stabilization chamber (standard issue on all ships with a LSTR unit on crew)

INSTABILITY rolls can be triggered by:

  • Encountering a bioresonant enemy
  • Critically failing a SAN save
  • Waking from a period of unconsciousness
  • Losing a Wound


INSTABILITY TABLE

  • 00-09 - [SCREEN INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK] - Gain 1 Stress when seeing triggering stimuli (see above)
  • 10-14 - MEMORY BLEED - Experiences not your own overpower your awareness. Gain 1d10 INSTABILITY.
  • 15-20 - SAFE ROOM - This place is safe. You will refuse to leave it for 24 hours.
  • 21-24 - WAKE UP - You are dreaming, you are dreaming inside a dream. Gain 1 INSTABILITY every round you do not pass a SAN save for 1d10 rounds.
  • 25-29 - DREAMS OF THE BLACK SHORE - Your waking hours are filled with visions of cold, grey sand and still black water. Gain 1d10 INSTABILITY.
  • 30-34 - WE HAVE DONE THIS BEFORE - Rooms with encounters now have a 50% chance of containing your own corpse. Others do not seem to notice.
  • 35-39 - ACHTUNG, ACHTUNG - Codes over the radio. Voices from beyond. Keep your radio tuned and listen carefully...
  • 40-44 - DETERMINATOR - You endure brutal injury without flinching, without slowing down. Allies gain 1 Stress / round from watching you in combat.
  • 45-49 - FATAL ERROR - Bluescreen. Reboot. Restart. Reload. Lose 1d5 SAN.
  • 50-99 - REMEMBER OUR PROMISE - You know what you must do. You know where to find her.

***

There is a perfectly smooth pit in the ground. Metal slats, unconnected, spiral down to the bottom. There is a crawlspace at the bottom - just enough to drag yourself through on your belly. You cannot turn around, you cannot move to the side, you can only go forward. there is a room at the end. There is a desk, with a computer console and an old radio. There is a cot with thin sheets, and a safe bound in chains. Three padlocks. Faded propaganda posters of the Nation on the walls. A red door. The crawlspace is missing. There was a hole here - it's gone now. On the desk there is an ancient book, black cover with a gold figure. Crown and sword. You pick up the book, and the katakana title is THE KING IN YELLOW. The radio crackles to life. Three notes ascending. Three notes ascending. A woman's voice. Achtung...achtung...

Friday, November 4, 2022

4 More Mothership Backgrounds, Plus Inventories

 A sequel to this post.

Rogue Paracoita

Cyborgs built for the pleasure of others. Common among the entourages of the corporate, political and religious elite. Common aboard ships whose owners are unwilling to pay the fees for a union sex-worker. The arrangements are entirely legal, you see, right down in the fine print. In ones and twos they escape - by guile, violence, outside aid or circumstance - seeking their freedom on the Rim or in more just corners of the cosmos.

1. Forged visa / ID papers
2. Cyberbrain spoofer
3. Receipt (Facial reconstruction surgery)
4. Multitool w/ bottle opener
5. Loyola-5 'hand cannon'
6. Takoyaki skewer
7. Self-maintenance kit
8. Anti-rejection medication
9. Jacket (Military surplus; winter camo)
10. Yokai of the High Frontier trading cards
11. Chemical hand-warmers
12. Faraday messenger bag
13. Glow larvae (Hair decoration)

Great House Footman

Soldiering is the same wherever you go. Moments of terror interrupting long stretches of nothing. Pomp and circumstance and standing at attention. The uniform changes, the marching songs change, but the soldiers stay the same. The Great Houses, for all their airs of nobility, can't escape this.

1. Dress beret (Hidden pocket)
2. Friend-or-Foe ID implant
3. Boarding cutlass
4. Long coat (Blue, stab-resistant)
5. Torso scarring (Laser burn)
6. Disinfectant foam spray
7. Butterfly hairpin
8. Energy-drink shots (Mango)
9. One-time cipher pad
10. Tattoo gun
11. Emergency tightbeam transmitter
12. Distillery flask (illicit)
13. Baliset

Android Proxy

The aliens were native to the shorelines of hydrocarbon seas on a frigid methane world. They were old, cold, and terribly, impossibly patient; possessing of such a brutal R-selection strategy that the gentlest among them would still be counted a sociopath among humans. Still, they were close enough. Formal relations went ahead carefully. A limited exchange program was authorized. Somewhere in the ship, in a pressurized chamber so cold that oxygen is as stone, the alien tele-operates an android body.

1. Science officer badge
2. Hand-tooled brass buttons
3. Packet of unanswered correspondence
4. Lapis lazuli lip stud (x2)
5. Novelty jester hat (Gift)
6. Interactive cultural exchange presentation
7. Tablet computer
8. Book: The Annotated Brothers Karamazov
9. Monitor and translation module
10. Mahjong set
11. Silk smartsuit
12. Kigarumi crochet (In-progress)
13. Wall art, hand-painted (Xenographical)

Longshoresren

The shipyard unions are ancient organizations, heavy with the weight of history, tradition, and superstition (nearly so much so as their spacer cousins). The sprawling clans of laborers are one of the pillars gears of interstellar civilization; without the longshoresren, there would be no one to load and unload the ships, no one to repair them, no one to manage and direct traffic as it comes in and out of port. They are a lynchpin, and have weaponized it in the past. Their strikes can cripple the economies of entire planets and bring corpocrats to their knees, as they find that the futures they were trading will never arrive in time to make good. Walk with your head held high - for the spirit of the working ren shall not die so long as you persist.

1. Union member token (Bristrova Clan)
2. Universal systems diagnostic tool
3. Spool of optical cable
4. Sleeve tattoo (Irk Batig)
5. Religious amulet (Small gods)
6. Tool box (Heavily stickered)
7. Magboots
8. Subdermal heat protection (Hands & forearms)
9. Polarized welder's mask
10. Plasma torch (Cutter/welder)
11. Coveralls
12. Thermos of soup (Vegetable)
13. Pet gremlin (Smart lemur)

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

MSF: Dangers of the World

The thought process that goes into these is the same as in my post on the Champawat Tiger - the great dangers in the world of Mother Stole Fire come from a disruption in the machinery of the world.

 

Swine-Things

Feed a pig enough human flesh and it will learn how to hate. Its bones will snap and knit themselves back together in poor imitation of a man. Great tumors will grow in its bowels and buboes and sores will open up its flesh. It will slouch forth in a knuckle-walking gait that mocks the gracefulness of apes. It will learn nothing of kindness, nor love, nor mercy, nor any of those traits that make human life endurable. Its mind will become a whirlwind of demons, swirling around in shadowy legions like a great school of blackened fish. It will hunger, and no matter how much it eats it will always hunger for more.

Swine-things rarely occur on their own - few pigs will eat enough humans for the transformation to take root. Their creation is nearly always intentional; sorcerer-kings and other tyrants looking for a convenient way of translating their pogroms into monstrous hoards that can be unleashed on their enemies.

If an individual swine-thing is allowed to reach critical mass, it will metamorphose into a hive-queen and begin spawning new swine-things on its own. At this point the danger is greatest, as the primary cap on population (the amount of human flesh needed to create each individual swine-thing) has been removed and hive size is now limited only by availability of food.

Swine-things show no signs of higher faculties - no symbolic thinking, no magic-working, no tool use beyond the occasional sharp rock.



Manticores

A tiger that devours one hundred humans will transform into a manticore, often called "the king of monstrous beasts". They retain the black stripes and deep orange coat of their former lives, though they will grow far larger than any other great cat (closer indeed in size to an elephant). Great shaggy manes fall about their shoulders, and their faces are like that of a man, though their jaws are far too wide and bear rows of serrated teeth like a shark. While they possess the ability to speak the languages of humanity they will rarely do so, except perhaps in mockery. They might be mollified through tribute, though treasure will always remain secondary to sacrifice.

The residual souls of the devoured are an irritant to the manticore, and will form pearls in its gut over time. These are a potent reagent, can be crushed and ingested to imbue the eater with a temporary rush of vitality, and are otherwise valuable simply for their rarity. Unlucky hunters (of which there are many) hoping to come home with a handful of pearls are the leading source of manticore-related deaths.



Ghouls

A slouching, pallid, scabrous creature, hardly recognizable as the human it once was. Lank, stringy hair, a long wedge-shaped snout, serrated, yellowing teeth, blind eyes. The stench of rotting meat. They are not the only monsters formed from habitual cannibalism, but they are the most systemic of them all.

Ghouls dine exclusively on human flesh, and so will not only live in those places where food is plentiful, but will encourage, in whatever way they can, the generation of corpses. So they will make deals with tyrants and despots, offering their support from the shadows in exchange for the bodies of the undesired. When there are wars, they benefit. When there is plague, they are pleased. When there are pogroms, they celebrate. When the worker dies in the factory, they are there, claws rap-tap-tapping upon the secret door, to ask for their share. They offer in turn the secrets of the deep crypts, of ages long past, of treasures and rites buried by time.

 

Wizards

Phenomenal cosmic power has a tendency to corrupt phenomenally. Not because the practice of magic is inherently corruptive, or inherently addictive, or anything of that nature - it's simply the fact that if you give a human being an easy means of fulfilling their desires and exerting their will over that of others (that is to say, give them power), it is often an arrow-swift shot right to the bottom.

It's not very useful to think of good wizards and bad wizards: there are wizards that currently pose an active threat, and those that pose only a passive one. The safest are those that become so consumed by their personal projects and their solipsistic distractions that they lose all interest in - or even awareness of - the world outside their tower. History is peppered with the others, those wizards who sought to conform the world to their visions. A cycle of would-be sorcerer-kings, emerging as if from nowhere, starting a war, carving out a personal fief for a time, and then dying. Only the ruins, again and again.

Regardless of the incredible power available to wizards, death remains unconquered. Thousands have tried and failed in the quest to overcome the end - and many will become monsters themselves in the process. They have tried and failed to create the Magnum Opus, they have tried and failed to develop a means of extending the life of the body, they have tried and failed to transfer the soul to another living body, and they have failed still in their efforts to create an artificial eternal soul, or to kindle their own eternally through the consumption of other souls. Yet they continue, and the death tolls rise ever higher - for the wizard's mind is fueled by the unquestionable belief that this time, it must certainly work.

Of the monstrous beings created by wizards there are a great many, and they include:

  • Swine-Things - See above.
  • Chimeras - Any creature that has been transformed from its natural state by a wizard's magic.
  • Miles Agnotes - The "unthinking soldier", a human modified for equal parts docile obedience and unthinking violence. In the past, it was seen as good sport among the wizards around the Mare Interregnum to engage in intentional breeding programs of their miles, as some might do for their hounds.
  • Teratoma - A wizard who has attempted to extend their life indefinitely through endless growth of the flesh. The body swiftly deteriorates from an ordered whole into a mass of muscle, bone, cartilage and half-shaped organs, eventually growing so large that it is rendered sessile.
  • Vitabibor - A wizard who has attempted to extend their life indefinitely through absorbing the souls of others. Their bodies wither with the ravages of age, but they will not die. They will swiftly become dependent on their servants, and will eventually become unable to move or speak.


Of the Magnum Opus, much has been written but little needs to be said - it is the dream of something from nothing, and wizards seek it firm in the belief that no cost is too great.

 

Devils

The heart is the seat of the soul; the lungs keep it kindled and the stomach keeps it fueled. If the heart can be removed without stopping it, and it is properly sealed away, the subject might remain alive while divorced from their soul: a devil.

To devils, there are no people - only objects. Even their own persons are mere matter to them. So separated from human connections, they are greatly skilled in the calculus of risk and resource, of gain and loss. They are without empathy and possess only the barest remnants of internality. They may be bound and set to a task, which they will perform with speed and precision, but if the binding be loosed they will be cut adrift, and resort to the trace memories and desires left behind when their soul was taken.

The art of devil-making has been developed only twice: once in Atri-Tun (from where it passed to the sorcerer-priests of Wend and from them taught to the wizards of Tanniclen), and again in Pelai. Of Atri-Tun, nothing can be said. In Wend, devils are used as part of mystery cults but we know little more. In Bensael-Tanniclen, they serve in the dual city's bureaucracy, with their hearts safely sealed away in a great vault carefully monitored by both wizards and non-wizards alike. In Pelai, the Adzat and Obet councils keep a legion of war-devils as a means of deterrence.

 

The Restless Dead

The dead shall forever outnumber the living, and in solemn procession their endless shaded ranks march silently down to the dark places below the world. And while they are beyond all thought and memory, they shall still rise up in anger if their places of rest be desecrated.

The restless dead come in too many forms for categorization to be worthwhile. Each is unique, shaped by the manner of their death or the manner of the desecration, though patterns will emerge. Some will take physical forms, animating the bones or bodies they once possessed in life, or forming bodies out of spirit as the Folk and sagani do. Many remain only as ghosts, unable to interact with the world of matter and energy and thus limited to attacking the spirit with curses and maladies of the soul.

The most common form of the restless dead is the angry shade - either acting on their own, or possessing an improperly-prepared corpse and forming an ambulmorte. Either might be dealt with through a simple exorcism and restitution - cleaning the grave or making one if there had been none; naming the dead; recovering the remains and interring them properly; a sacrifice - incense, libations, paper charms, food. And so on.

However, this becomes increasingly difficult with greater forms of the restless dead - those formed from grisly murders or great tragedies. With these more powerful dead it is often necessary to combat them directly. This will not solve the problem - the shade will simply form a new body or possess another, or redouble its curses - but it might buy the living the time they need for the sanctification.



The Angered Spirits

Not all spirits of the world are friendly to humanity. Indeed, it is only those who have agreed to the Compact (or are at least neutral towards it) that we call the Folk. Many of the rest bear us no mind, and there are those opposed to us no matter what offerings we might make.

But even friendly Folk may turn against us if the Compact is broken, if we mistreat their holy places or seek to dominate the world that is rightfully theirs. Their memories are long, but they understand innately the great cycles of give-and-take. Even if the damage is severe, it is still possible to make repayment - but repayment must be of equal measure to the damage made. The spirits of the world will not be shorted what they are due, and their patience will not last forever. Sooner or later they will take their due.

Fighting an angry spirit will accomplish little, for they live as long as their loci lives, and further desecration of their holy places will bear only greater retribution. Thus it is best to begin the work of healing, and to begin it now.


Demons

A shadow cast by the fire of the soul. A parasite of the spirit. Evil deeds given form. Fears given flesh. Reflections of the worst parts of ourselves.

In the end, definitions do not matter. They are as varied as the depravities and terrors of mankind, but you will always know them by their works.  


Hell, and the Lords Therein

There is always more to say about Hell.

Two thrones sit in the great palace at the center of Dis. The greater throne remains empty, save for the sacrifices thrown to the furnace in its belly. The lesser throne is that of the Tyrannos Pangaea, head of Hell's civil government and chief priest of Moloch. As it was in the Maid's day, the Tyrannos of Hell is the sorcerer Kouros - previously court wizard to the Tribune of Coreolana. He is the Speaker for Moloch, interpreter of the will of the Devouring Machine.

Below the Tyrannos there is the Lordly House, consisting of all the many barons, marquises, and dukes of the city-nation. Here they quarrel and scheme and war amongst themselves in a great game with no end.

Below the Lordly House, there is the vast edifice of the military. Without a war to be fought, those legions that are not stationed on Hell's side of the DMZ remain in the city and enforce the laws of the Lordly House on the rest of the populace.

Below the military, there are those who are called freemen - not because they possess freedom, but because they are not legally enslaved. Most of Hell's population, even the ever-suffering commonality, would call themselves free if asked - it is a most fervently-believed lie. False-freemen serve as much of the bureaucracy of the city, though they cannot own any property of their own.

Below the false-freemen, at the very bottom of Hell's crushing hierarchy, are the enslaved masses. Here they toil away their lives and die in their droves, all the while believing that the great Dispaterian machine is necessary - necessary to drive back the chaos of the outside world, necessary to ensure the survival of humanity. They live in terror of the mad goddess Lu and her bestial hordes, fearing that at any moment the walls of Dis might crumble under the onslaught of the savage world beyond.

The Lords of Hell - Darvatius, Mammon, the Forge Baron and others - do not directly influence the day-to-day workings of the machine as much as one might expect. They might pull men and institutions into orbit around their vast masses, but they slow to break the inertia of their solitude - Darvatius, despite being the lord of conquest, took to the battlefield only hours before the end of the War of the Bull.

  • Of the Tyrannos Pangaea, we have already spoken.
  • Mammon - Keeper of the accounts. His appearance is akin to that of an enormously fat spider, shining and golden, thousands of arms perpetually busy at ledger and abacus as he feasts lavishly on the spoils of Hell. A traitor of the Hundred-Handed Ones. Status: Active. In the wake of the War of the Bull, it seems that Mammon has become the favored Lord in Dis.
  • The Forge Baron - He is such a small man, such a weak-looking man with his reedy voice and hacking cough, his dusty suit with tattered coattails, his decrepit silk hat. And yet it is his factories that fill the sky with their burnt offerings to steel and sword, lead and labor. Status: Active.
  • The Butcher - A warrior from an ancient people long-lost to the wheel of years. Enormous beyond even the greatest of humans today. Mindless from long centuries - millennia - of endless violence. The spears and swords of countless failed slayers rust where they are lodged in his body, from which he will tear their broken and corroded blades to make new mountains of the dead. His wounds sew themselves back together, but the pain does not cease. From, it is thought, an ancient civilization that suffered its own emergence event. Status: Uncertain. Last seen wandering the wastelands of the far north over fifty years ago.
  • Agrimas - A demon firm in the belief that they are an abandoned child of Lu and Tubalkhan, they travel the outside world in disguise, offering false visions and committing acts of anathema while wearing the form of the true gods. Status: Active, though their influence is small in scope.
  • The Sun-Eater - Intends to do just that. She never got on with the others, never even pretended to willingly cooperate. Status: Unknown.
  • The Worm - Thirty cubits wide and much longer still, it is a thing of soft, segmented flesh - cherry red - with mashing, grinding mouthparts at one end. Thought of some nature churns inside it, unknowable to the outside. Status: Complicated. The Worm spends its days in the sewage-flooded tunnels deep beneath Dis, and has always seemed more kin to an animal than the other Lords. It feasts upon attempted escapees and those others exiled to the depths as punishment, but otherwise does little.
  • Barbarlares - A ghoul grown so fat on corpses that it has taken to moving about with the contractions of a slug. Absurd, enormous powdered wig, useless limbs like little twigs, twitching and sputtering. Chief of the slave markets and the business of corpses. Status: Active.
  • Harastra, Queen of Heaven - The remains of a true dragon, animated by a legion of demons so great that not even the Tyrannos knows their number. Status: Inactive. Harastra saw battle during the War of the Bull and was damaged to such an extent that it can hardly keep itself together. In any case it has no coherent mind


There are, of course, others, who sit neatly in the box once belonging to Schrödinger that I have labeled "Narrative Convenience".



Dracolarii

The Dragon Cults have already been written about at length, and so instead I will focus on these notable members. The dracolarii - typically drawn from the wealthy of the Dracon Republics - are those who seek to transform their souls into those of dragons, using certain rites and methods derived from the mysteries of An-Hehm.

A problem arises: humans are omnivorous social primates. Dragons are solitary apex predators. To become dragon-like is to reject human bonds and human kinship, to view those who were so recently your brothers and sisters as a cat might see mice. And so often the dracolarii sow the seeds of their own undoing in rivalry with each other or cruelty to their servants. 

 

Deep Powers

There are forces beneath the earth and under the earth, in the black deepness of the waters and the deepness of the sunless sky. Distant powers, nameless powers, unknowable powers; vast beyond measure, greater than belief. Of them we say only that it is best for us to leave their places of power well alone, for they are not ours to worship.

 

Leng-Men and Moon Beasts

Every so often, one will hear tales of some poor soul abducted by the black ships with fuligin sails: A man or woman is caught unawares, bound and gagged up by a band of masked assailants, and carried out into a desolate place. Then the Leng-Men come down in their ship, and they will nod their head yes or shake their head no. If yes, they will offer payment to the kidnappers - a king's ransom in precious jewels. If no, the story typically ends with the abductee killed by their kidnappers - though some who tell these stories claim that they were able to escape through luck, guile, or the aid of the gods.

We know that the Leng-Men speak of benefactors.

We know that they gladly take people in trade.

We know that they sell icons and idols of the New Gods.

We know of a few fragmentary, terrified accounts of great pale beasts lurking in the holds of their ships.

We do not know what they want.