Leviathan Blood, Lightning Oil, and Electroplasm

oil

Let’s take a look at the iconic energy sources of the shadowed city of Duskwall, host to the Blades in the Dark game. These three substances seem related, but not interchangeable. What is their relationship? There is no official stance on this question, so here is a possible answer.

What are they?

Leviathan blood is a thick, black, iridescent oil harvested from the demon whales of the deep. Leviathans are incapable of dying, and when their blood is harvested, it lives on. The blood is taken by massive ships that lure the leviathan in close, puncture it with tube cables, and drain as much as possible before the giant demon escapes.

Lightning oil is a plastic liquid that glows bright blue in the presence of life, and is otherwise milky and opaque. The oil acts as a battery, draining to charge energy-driven devices, and able to recharge somewhat when underused. It does not exist in nature, but must be refined through alchemical processes.

Electroplasm is a residue of life energy from all living things native to this dimension. It is ethereal and wispy, it feels like a cold mist, it glows. It reacts to currents and breezes in the adjacent reality, not this one. (Some call it the Veil, others call it the back of the mirror.) In times past, this residue would evaporate into the background energy of the dimension each time something dies. Now that the Gates to the Land of the Dead are ruptured, electroplasm has saturated the background. Now when something dies, its energy can pool and collect, or even concentrate, until it can again affect the living.

How do they interact?

Lightning oil can be refined out of electroplasm or leviathan blood. There are also other ways to refine it, based on demon secrets and astrological calculations. The lightning oil drives the massive train network that connects the major cities, and many different manufacturers have top secret refining techniques.

At its simplest, lightning oil is compressed life energy. This life energy is fed into machines that combine runic patterns with frequency dials, tracing out the underpinning connections between elements of reality then dumping energy into them to achieve an effect with explosive power.

This energy runs lightning fences that can repel ghosts. This energy runs the massive trains that move between the cities. This energy is the foundation for the industrialization of the world.

The quality is often uneven, burning at different rates or with different amounts of “static” that can be distressing to those not accustomed to working with the industrialization of ancient alchemy and necromancy. Duskwall’s leviathan blood makes remarkably bright, clear, steady lightning oil, and it is highly prized in the wider world.

Leviathan blood is still alive. It is placed in special tanks, then doused with various chemical formulations that eat away at it. As the blood defends itself, it draws in electroplasm from the background, concentrating it in an effort to restore integrity. The tanks siphon the blended lightning oil (from the attempted melding of the blood and the electroplasm) away from the blood, so it shrinks over time and eventually loses all coherence, becoming leather and slag. Processing centers are moved often because the background electroplasm gets exhausted in an area where the process is working.

Before industrialization, shamen and other lunatics had various rituals and methods that combined human sacrifice with leviathan blood, refining it in a way until it was potent for warding, necromancy, and other peculiar purposes. These practices are now illegal.

Electroplasm is life energy. First it was discovered that certain distilling processes could reduce it from super-gaseous down to an almost-solid plastic called plasm. This material was considered an ideal resource for explosives and firearms. The process also accidentally created a form of lightning oil when the “brewer” skipped a couple steps.

Tortured ghosts create unrefined lightning oil; the electroplasm they pull into their forms has a fraction of a second before it joins with them where it is flexible enough to do anything, and harvested at that moment and condensed and alchemically charged, it can form lightning oil. Also, super-compressing space between the back of the mirror and the breathing world so that ghosts must condense destroys the thought pattern that gives a ghost its shape and will, but frees up all its electroplasmic material to flow into a lightning oil form if properly treated.

In summary, lightning oil is condensed and distilled life (whether from people or demons.) It fuels the machines of the empire, and also loads their guns. Lightning oil is widely used and taken for granted; there will always be more life to sacrifice for energy.

leviathan

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Crime and Punishment in Duskwall

gallows

I don’t think it does much good to have complex lists of crimes and their statues and punishments. Instead, some general guidelines should do the trick.

One important element to keep in mind is that the whole system is utterly corrupt. Those with money and power have trials turn out their way in 90% of instances. Only those with enemies of similar stature face anything like fair odds.

As for the poor and downtrodden, they don’t stand a chance. Nowhere in the whole system is there a whiff of justice. It is about money and power and punishment, that’s all.

Prisons

The wealthy go to Farradan Prison, an unpleasant but relatively safe establishment on the cliff overlooking the south of the city. More like an austere mansion, the massive building has many layers of basements for those who irritate the staff. Those who play along and keep the bribes flowing can live a relatively comfortable life during their stay.

Everyone else goes to Ironhook Prison, which has the Leighter Wing for non-violent offenders, the Pendell Wing for scum and thugs, and the Morvoria Wing for the criminally insane. Those who commit crimes related to spirits and fuel (glowder crimes) are assigned to the sublevels. Kala Level is for those who mess around with electroplasm, lightning oil, and leviathan blood illegally. Simrek Level is below, for those driven mad by contact with ghosts kept there for their own good and the good of society. Then there is Felderstone Deep, buried below everything, where the worst criminals (and the most capable) are put in solitary.

Most of the guards for the Felderstone Deep are ghosts, sometimes hollows. Three people have escaped in the four centuries since the Deep was built, and no one can be sure how they did it.

There are dozens of other prisons through the city. Each bluecoat station has holding cells, and they feed into a neighborhood gaol. Only after conviction and when dealing with significant sentences are people sent beyond those neighborhood gaols. Most of the neighborhood gaols have haunted sections for punishing or killing offensive prisoners. Rats are also a pernicious problem, often causing cuts and lacerations that get infected and risk killing prisoners.

The city also maintains two prison hulks in the harbor, known as the Humps (Greater and Lesser). Both are over a century old, fitted with iron and warding, haunted. In times of massive civil unrest or rioting, hundreds can be detained there. When the authorities have a prisoner who is not to be identified and is to receive especially unpleasant treatment, sometimes that is where they end up.

Some lesser offenders and debtors are warded. They are assigned to an aristocrat, who is responsible for rehabilitating them over a period of years. They are indentured servants, and their level of freedom is determined by their ability to get on the noble’s good side. They are assigned work that will benefit society. This system is heavily abused and can lead to cushy sentences for cronies and absolute hell for those who get on a noble’s bad side. The judges tend to know the nature of the various aristocrats that serve the system by taking wards, and the sentencing can therefore be fairly nuanced. The system is subject to favor banks and political pull.

Levels of Offense

For “lessers” (minor crime), the trial is perfunctory. One lawyer to a side, the judge decides. Punishments include public lashings, fines of up to 1 coin, and gaol time up to 1 year. This is for things like chronic disturbing the peace, petty theft, assault, disrespecting a noble’s coat of arms, injuring someone’s property, and so on.

For “vitals” (major crime), the trial involves a lawyer on each side, three honored aristocrats that render the verdict, and the judge that renders the sentence.  Punishments include maiming, torture, fines of up to 5 coin, execution, and hard prison time of up to 30 years. This is for things like killing, major theft, impersonating officials or aristocrats, sex crimes, acting against the government, and so on. The net tends to be cast pretty wide; anyone involved in such acts (even if not the direct perpetrator) can be severely punished.

Then there’s the “glowder” offenses. Any offense that involves using spirits, electroplasm, leviathan blood, lightning oil, or alchemical compounds involving any of those elements escalates in magnitude. The four main categories of glowder crimes are trafficking, assault, compelling, and blurring.

Trafficking is moving, storing, selling, or buying the substances illegally. Assault is injuring or killing someone using methods enhanced by those substances. Compelling is using those substances to force someone to act against their will or unknowingly, mind control or influence or possession. Finally blurring is using those substances to change your own capacity, whether to give yourself an advantage or to change something about yourself.

Glowder offenses open the criminal up to supernatural torture. Executions for glowder offenses sometimes make the criminal into a hollow to serve the state, or serve as a death for powerful state-sanctioned rituals, or other deeply secretive and unpleasant applications. Involving materials that are the life-blood of the city and that keep it from falling to the howling undead wasteland outside means giving up any shreds of humanity the law still has.

For lesser offenses, a criminal can be forced to do some unsavory things. Hefting is the term for carrying the spirit of a victim, who can whisper in the mind. A criminal can be forced to gate a certain number of times, a process of having spirit wardens force a ghost into a person for questioning and torture the ghost can physically feel.

Trials for glowder offenses involve a whisper and a spirit warden in attendance. Together they collaborate with the judge on the penalty for the crime.

A whisper accused of a glowder crime replaces the three aristocrats with three state-friendly whispers.

Spirit Law

When ghosts misbehave, most are simply discorporated and destroyed. However, some ghosts have protection as aristocrats, allies of the state, or vouchsafe from a state-sanctioned whisper or spirit warden.

Ghosts capable of remorse can be punished by serving the state in various capacities while anchored in spirit traps.

Incorrigible ghosts who are lucid but evil are given to the spirit wardens. They are taken to a secret location underground outside city walls, where they are tormented. This location is known only as Purgatory. As they suffer, they draw latent electroplasm into themselves, which is distilled down into useable doses. The state then uses this energy to help power the lightning walls.

This is Gameable

The idea here is to have stuff that can make your game better. Knowing about glowder offenses provides useful context for misbehavior. Plus, now there are punishments your crew can interact with. Are they assigned these punishments? Do they need to help out an ally who is assigned these punishments? Are they part of sentencing or carrying out punishments for others?

Consider the warding sentence. Now under the thumb of a noble, who could be soft-hearted and wanting to help reform (and what if the noble succeeded?) or cruel and vindictive, carrying out brutal tortures on their new toy? Or is the noble just greedy and putting these criminals to work in a sweatshop and working them to death?

What if the crew gets jobs regularly from a content aristocrat who retired in Farradan and networks with roguish nobs there, so they can be part of the endless fencing between noble houses that is conducted from inside and outside prison? Or what if a noble hires them to clear his name in exchange for the location of the treasure he stole? With access to visitors from outside, and some freedom inside, this could be a great backdrop for lots of adventures. What if they are hired to break someone out, who is protected in the prison and does not want to leave?

A bit more detail on Ironhook allows you to know where PCs may have been imprisoned before, where their friends and influence lie. Probably only in one wing per influence, rather than the whole prison. There’s room to riff off that for prison tats and old cellmates and that sort of thing. And, if a character is imprisoned, then the character can be an NPC for a bit feeding out news of scores and possible targets while the player runs someone else.

I hope this helps you come up with fun ideas for your Blades in the Dark game!

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The Trouble with Rogues

I’ve been playing a lot of Blades in the Dark recently. I like the setting, the rules are intriguing, and I can find people online who want to play. As I have thought about this game, and tinkered with it, another lesson I learned long ago has nudged at the back of my mind.

Organized crime monetizes suffering. Seeking wealth through crime is collecting on misery.

Let me unpack this a bit.

Thief-Video-Game-PS4-Wallpaper

One mainstay of criminal enterprise is addiction. Feed existing addictions, create new addictions, and keep the whole thing rolling. Profit is the main thing, so as addictions start pulling people down and destroying lives and families, you shrug; more lives and families will feed into the machine. This relates to drugs of all kinds, gambling, sex trade, and so on. Target the broken, and offer them sensation instead of healing.

Intimidation is the beating heart of stability. To keep a protection racket profitable, people must believe the criminals to be willing and able to inflict violence uninhibited by compassion or morality. To keep the forces of law at bay, to silence those who speak for the powerless, and to prove effectiveness to other more powerful factions, you must be able to quell dissent. If enemies prove stubborn, there aren’t many tools in the toolbox to shut them up that don’t descend into violence. For the good of the criminal enterprise, those who resist intimidation and violence must be crushed. Sooner or later, like it or not, you’ll have to eliminate genuinely good people to protect your profit.

Take from the poor and give to the rich. Society protects the rich; they have the attention of the law, and can hire on additional assets to look after the rest of their assets. So, the best and most stable money comes from the poor, the downtrodden, the weak, the broken. Those ruled by pain and desperation will pay to escape it. Whether it is a protection scheme, gambling, drugs, human trafficking, or whatever, the easiest and most lucrative target is masses at the bottom of the food chain. Loan sharks know that the rich can borrow from family or friends, or fend off creditors. The poor live in a much harsher world with fewer choices.

“But wait!” some may cry. “I am a thief who works the rich, stealing from those who won’t miss it! No one gets hurt!”

Perhaps. Sometimes. But it all rolls downhill. Security guards are fired. The help are punished and/or fired. Even wealthy families may face unpleasant consequences for their losses.

But we don’t care about them. And that’s the root, that’s where it starts, and spreads through the criminal enterprises. Who don’t we have to care about? Violence and intimidation  have a deadening effect on compassion as they bolster confidence. Boo hoo, some rich people are less rich. They had it coming. Cry me a river for the animals that go to the brothels and taverns along the dockside; no one would miss them if they vanished, and they want to spend coins to get diseases and lose themselves in drugs. At least those who work for us get a place to sleep and some food; better than being homeless, probably even better than being enslaved toiling in a factory. My tribe is my concern, and the rest of the world can burn. They deserve it.

Compassion is dangerous and expensive to organized crime. Reserve it for taking care of the right people, to ensure ongoing loyalty from those safeguarding vulnerabilities.

If you can think of a form of human misery, you can turn a profit on it. The reverse of this is also true; those who wish to reduce human misery will threaten profits. They must be corrupted or taken out of the equation for the good of the criminals.

There are ways for organized crime to appear heroic. An oppressed population is marginalized and powerless, so organized crime emerges to police and protect and provide a kind of social service. Wealth distribution has a yawning chasm between the ultra-rich and the abject poor, so stealing from the wealthy is more like back taxes. Corruption in government and the police is pervasive, so the only justice available is the justice you take by force or guile.

Sure, that all sounds good. But when you scratch the surface, when the pressures mount, the strength and wealth of criminal organizations flows from misery and the vulnerable people.

Sometimes a criminal organization may seem like the least worst option, and sometimes it may well be. Still. Never lose sight of what it is, and what fuels its strength.

ANYWAY, it is not necessary to agree with me! Applying this thinking to Duskwall, what kind of misery is unique to this setting that we could monetize if we were clever scoundrels? Here are just a few possibilities.

Enduring Lockets. Shortened from “Enduring Presence” these lockets are designed to provide an anchor for a ghost. Bereaved families seek out back ally dealers with the skill to bolt a ghost to the locket. This practice is highly illegal, in no small part because the longer a ghost is trapped in this world the less clarity of thought it possesses, and the more dangerous its emotions become.

Ghost Riders. Some people find ecstatic release in being possessed by ghosts. Those with the ability of mediums set up parlors for ghosts to “dip” into people for a brief time, with pre-set expectations of what they’ll do. “Stablers” are mediums who keep a selection of ghosts on hand for this use; favorites include insane murderers, passionate lovers desperate to embrace once more, and artists twisted by their time pressed up against the back of the mirror. This practice can lead to ritual murder, worship of Forgotten Gods, orgies, killing frenzies, and all sorts of other mayhem. It may start off harmlessly enough, but it often escalates when possession-prone people come into contact with meat-hungry ghosts repeatedly.

Iridescent Oil. A shimmering rainbow on black! Humans try to turn ANY substance into a drug. Leviathan oil, lightning oil, and electroplasm are all used for experimentation. Several stable drugs have emerged over the years. (That warrants its own post.)

Traplite. The name for a practice of ramming a ghost into a physical object involuntarily for the purpose of punishing the ghost. Examples include putting a husband’s ghost in the face on the headboard so he can watch you romance and bed his widow, or putting an inspector in the knife of his killer as the bloody work goes on. Sometimes this is done for revenge, sometimes to distill a person down to a ghost, and further down into that white-hot spark of fury that makes a specter. Infusions of electroplasm during this process can make a truly formidable spirit assassin.

Hollowalker. These experts (usually but not always whispers) use ghosts in hollows as assassins, couriers, spies, and other roles. Even expert whispers working with law enforcement find it extremely difficult to trace their identities (unless the ghost is caught) and even if authorities can guess who is behind it, proof is difficult to deliver. These experts are also often craftsmen who make spirit anchors, spirit masks, spiritbane, and other useful objects. One unpleasant application is for the expert to send a spirit into a wealthy person, who then goes and divests his or herself of all money and jewelry at a designated drop point, then resumes walking and is left by the ghost.

Spirit Bottle Fights. These experts (usually but not always whispers) collect spirits in bottles. They sometimes train them to be extra fierce by tormenting them. On fight night, two (or more) spirits are released into a common bottle, and they do battle like tatters and streams and clouds of smoke. The winner destroys and/or absorbs the loser(s). This is an event where betting revolves around what was known about the spirit in life, what is known about the trainer, and what odds the house lays. It is rare, but sometimes the bottles at a site like this are smashed, releasing dozens of crazed and insane ghosts hopped up on killing power.

Think about who is miserable because of Duskwall-specific elements, and how that can be monetized, and there’s LOTS of exciting new underground enterprises. Here is a selection of sketches.

  • Chickers. A corruption of “chicken exit” from a dangerous endeavor. A person agrees to be burned out to a hollow in exchange for a cash payment to family; psychic suicide for money is a viable “out” for those trying to feed their kids.
  • Vengers. Th0se who are wronged and cannot get revenge go to experts who help them commit ritual suicide to become very powerful ghosts who have a chance to do what they could not while alive. They are undead curses.
  • Radyites. They steal radiant metals and plants (infused with glowing life energy from leviathan oil and used to nurture plants.)
  • Sketchers. They make drawings loosely based on portraits of those who died in mysterious circumstances. Then they show the portraits to bereaved families, claim to have seen the body as a hollow, and take a commission to put the body to rest; it’s a con.
  • Exorfists. Weirdly skilled boxers who train to attack the energy in a body. They fight hollows occupied by ghosts, trying to knock the ghost out of the body before the hollow (which is immune to physical pain, and extra strong because it is possessed) knocks them out. Heavy betting on these illegal fighting events.
  • Charmfish. Forgers who make amulets, charms, and trinkets then put a patina of electroplasmic paint over them so they seem effective. They sell them to the credulous for shameful mark-ups.
  • Ravishites. [unsuitable for most campaigns] Unscrupulous and despicable, these experts (usually whispers) cultivate a collection of wanton and powerful possessing ghosts. For a high price, they send a spirit to invade the object of the customer’s crush, to then consummate passionate lovemaking. The customer can often choose whether the victim is conscious of what is transpiring or not during this violation.
  • Subscribers. Aristocrats who make secret deals with orphanages and other similar institutions. They keep a spirit of a child, and cycle the child through a new vessel every few days (so it doesn’t get locked in and become a vampire.) Continue educating the ghost, focusing on mental discipline to resist the maddening effects of being pressed against the back of the mirror. Use older bodies as appropriate. When the child is “of age” then the child can choose a body and bond permanently to become a vampire.
  • Drowners. Expert butchers with specialized gear; they can take a captured spirit and compel it into an animal, force it to bond with the animal, and kill it. This method of exorcism is illegal for a variety of reasons in Duskwall, but the meat is referred to as “twice killed” and is a delicacy among the decadent. They are called “drowners” because they drown a spirit in animal blood.
  • Zingerpriests. These experts (usually whispers) lock spirits into chambers the size of a matchstick or bullet. The “chamber” is carved with maddening runes that feel like constant cacophonous screaming to the cramped spirit trapped inside. The chamber is left for decades, ideally, driving the spirit totally mad and condensing it into a single impossibly focused spark. When the chamber (now a zinger) is struck against a ward or other supernatural binding, it releases all that pent-up insane spirit force in a single disruptive blast, breaking most magic. (You can guess why this is extraordinarily illegal.) Zingerpriests are usually part of a family business with generational supplies of zingers.

Hm. Seems like pretty soon we’ll need some reflections on punishment and how the law sees this sort of crime.

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My blog’s fourth anniversary.

MeatheadTime flies when you are having fun.

I started this blog because I was inspired by the OSR blogs I was reading. I wanted to give something back for all the good stuff I was receiving.

The blog didn’t connect with an audience doing that, and was faltering on the edge of folding. Then I found Old School Hack and started hacking it. Later I found World Between. Having something to talk about and some people listening put the blog on much sounder footing.

Then conversation largely moved from blogs to G+. I followed the migration. My design focus has shifted over time too.

Now the blog is less about having scheduled posts and building enough readership to have interesting conversations. The blog is more about having a place to put things so I can link to them from where the conversations are taking place. If I’m playtesting a game, or designing custom content for it, or sharing a resource relevant to a conversation, the link comes back to my home online, right here.

Obsidian Portal has become more of an irritation and less of a resource, so I find myself putting more game reports on the blog. I love having a record of all my rpg sessions since 2012 listed in order on the blog, that’s delightful now and will continue to be into the future.

I wonder how the blog’s use will shift over the coming year. I’m grateful to have such a versatile tool at my disposal.

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Blades in the Dark: Professors Interruptus

BitD Title_01 by James Dudli

The crew:

  • Katharin Arran. Whisper. Akoros. Collects occult texts and materials. Academic background, somewhat celebrated scholar. Best friend is Scurlock, a vampire.
  • Percy Addleton. Hound. Akoros. Supports the Thistlewilde orphanage in Seven Shallows run by Sister Terrence. Academic, archeologist. Has friends in the Ministry of Provisions, and has irritated the Church of the Weeping Lady. His best friend is Casta, a bounty hunter. His pet is an Akoran Hunting Bat named prophet, a beast with a 5 foot wingspan; you wear a hawking gauntlet, and it hangs upside down, slung out to the side to be sent off hunting. Its echolocation sounds like spinning a revolver’s barrel. Percy brings a 1 point enterprise, Chambrin Alley. It’s a fencing operation for antiquities, managed by Lionel, an ex-archeologist mentor. Percy has known Arran for about 5 years, and is pulled into the criminal enterprise both for his expertise and because his beloved orphanage is weeks from closing its doors forever; he needs cash.

Sword in the Stone

They needed some quick coin. Checking around, Katharin heard that there was an upcoming masquerade ball at Lord Wakewood’s estate. There were several enemies of the family that would pay top coin for something no one had yet managed to steal; the sword in the stone.

It stood in the family gardens in a place of pride. The enchantment on the stone was designed to recognize Wakewood blood; only a blood relation could draw forth the sword. Lord Wakewood used it to identify his bastard children, as had his father and grandfather before him. The sword was deeply connected to the Wakewood blood, and could be used as the focus for a curse to affect the whole family, or divination magic to spy on them, or many other nefarious uses.

The crew considered whether to hit the estate in the dead of night at some random time, or to go during the masquerade ball and nick it from under the noses of security. Both methods had their advantages and disadvantages; the crew decided to move on it during the masquerade.

Percy contacted Valeris, his spy friend, looking for possible masquerade costumes. They couldn’t get in if the outfits didn’t cost at least 1 coin each, after all. They borrowed matching outfits, black and white elegance alternating. Valeris only asked for help with a minor matter after the mission. Percy willingly agreed.

Percy also quietly contacted the under-butler and bribed him, getting the guest list and indication of which members who were attending were blood relations of Wakewood (and candidates for drawing the sword.)

Katharin conducted a ritual with a borrowed invitation to the masquerade ball, creating a “ghost” of some invitations using electroplasm. The ritual was mostly successful, but the copies might fizzle before the event if there were delays.

Getting In

They approached the estate on the rain-slicked street, and saw a crowd. Lord Wakewood was on a podium speechifying before the party began. Meanwhile, Spirit Wardens were moving through the crowd, their brass masks bright and their somber dress dark. They carried staves topped with crystals, that arced to electroplasm, which they investigated. The crew hesitated before joining the crowd; this could be a problem.

Interruptus

At this point my wife reported that my daughter was having breathing problems. We dropped everything and took her to urgent care. Turns out it was the croup (?!?) but unlike anything we’d heard before. They gave her treatment, and it seems she’ll be fine. 

maddie dungeon crawling

My little dungeon crawler.

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Blades in the Dark: Hidden Depths

BitD Title_01 by James Dudli

We played for 3 hours, with only the loosest plan ahead of time that was immediately used up and/or discarded.

Initiate of Carrow

Wolfram was invited by his Carrow contacts to iron out some details. He went to the Sorvale Crypt in the cemetery of Seven Shallows, where he met a young woman. She wanted him to sit with her and wait, and he did.

Meanwhile, twins from Carrow (Fergus and Child) went to Adelaide’s to meet with Aldo. They went downstairs to the secret rooms with him, then pounced on him and poured leviathan blood all over his torso and face.

He had a horrible moment, then hallucinated he was outside time and space in the Void. There he spoke with a figure called the Outsider, who told him he was pivotal in the coming times, and he would be observed by the Outsider. The otherworldly creature gave him power, but no instruction in how to use it; it was Aldo’s decisions the Outsider wanted to follow with interest.

the_outsider_s_mark_by_redspark_reno-d62msyvAldo woke, the leviathan blood soaked into him. It left a tattoo of the Outsider’s mark on the back of his left hand. The twins bowed to him and called him master, and he protested. They thought they would unwrap a gift for him, but the gift unwrapped him. The blood was meant to allow him to pass through the enchanted crypt door, but it did much more. They were in awe, but left. They told the girl in the crematory about what Aldo became, and Wolfram just picked up “Chosen” out of their muttered ancient Iruvian.

Aldo called Wolfram and Vincen’s Coven in to a meeting, and told them what transpired. Both the coven and Wolfram felt honored to be witness to this moment, and what would come next. They went out drinking to celebrate.

Stealing the Bard

Setup

Bazso Baz, leader of the Lampblacks and good friend to Aldo, called them in to see if the crew would be interested in helping take down the remains of the Red Sash operation. Of course they were interested!

The Red Sashes ran the Tenpenny Court Upstairs Network. It was built when regulations required buildings be no more than three stories tall. When regulations changed later, 1-3 new floors were added on top, but they often did not communicate with the floors below. This warren of high construction became an interconnected series of rooms where drugs and prostitution became entrenched.

The operation was run by Lysander, an elegant bard pimp. Lysander hated Baz, who tried to take over the operation three times, and would die before helping him run it. Also, Lysander was friends with many networks, and without him the clients and service staff and connections would dry up and the business would no longer be profitable.

Baz brought in the Unrecommendables to try and sway Lysander over to working for them; not the Red Sash, and not the Lampblacks, but out of the line of fire and no longer supporting the beleagured Red Sash.

Introduction

They found out Lysander was performing at the Thrice Fried Chicken, a theater pub where unwashed masses were at the bottom, skilled workers in the middle, and elite on the top floor.

They checked their contacts, and found that Wolfram’s friend Dr. Kepp was Lysander’s personal physician. He could get them invited to see Lysander. Also, to appear respectable, Aldo took Arlynne, his tavern owner friend. She agreed to be on his arm for most of the night, but planned to bed (and rob) a noble before the night was through.

Things went as planned. They got through the guards, to see Lysander. Their plan was to convince him they were investors who wanted to see him have a bigger stage to express his personal and directorial talent; then work into the conversation that they wanted him to work for them and not the Red Sashes. (Two big deadly Red Sash duelists served as Lysander’s bodyguards.)

The Pitch

Wolfram was utterly convincing as a star-struck fan, a hard man just opened to the world of art and beauty. Aldo played his role as investor and devotee. Even though they suggested they would fund an opera, certain it would return its investment, Lysander balked. His friends the Red Sashes were in trouble, and he didn’t have time for such a project.

They revealed more of their true nature, offering to protect his operation and give him freedom in the way the Red Sashes would not. (They thought theater was low.) Right in front of the bodyguards, Lysander told them if they could get rid of these bodyguards (who were now witnesses) he could claim it was an assassination attempt, and he would consider working with them.

If they did make it out, he would work with them if they would secure for him the Worldstage Theater, an abandoned theater under the Tenpenny Row upper rooms operation. He could then stage his production there. They agreed.

The Guards

They flashed back to ordering their adepts to get hired as wait staff; the adepts were too manky and weird. So, Aldo flashed back to bribing a waiter, and arranged for the two bodyguards (who were closely watching Aldo and Wolfram, unsure how to react to this new situation) some drugged wine.

One guard passed out, the other was too big and tough; Wolfram blew Aldo’s trance powder in his face, then ordered him to heft the other guard, and the four left happily together. The doctor enjoyed the rest of dinner with Lysander, and Arlynne went noble hunting.

Once out in the night air, Wolfram and Aldo delivered the two men to their Carrow contacts (to be disappeared and used however they liked.) They sold their swords and jewelry to Amancio for a fine profit.

The Worldstage Theater

Aldo asked around to see who owned it and what it would take to get ahold of it. He heard a bloody story from nearby building managers. Hiesmann and Jelyn were critics that were savage hecklers. One night as they were attacking a performance, someone laid into them with a machete and cut them apart, spraying their blood everywhere. Since that night, they lethally haunt the theater; first they heckle, then there are accidents, then the blood sprays.

In better news, the theater was available for back taxes only. If they could get the money together, they could buy it fair and square. Then they would have to clear the ghosts.

Meanwhile Wolfram began vetting people to put together a gang of thugs. And he didn’t care who knew about it!

They also scraped together the funds to rent a small shop space. Aldo asked Amancio if he would do them a favor and expand his business on their behalf, and Amancio graciously agreed. Now their fence runs a pawn shop!

Wanting to demonstrate there were no hard feelings, they decided to go talk to Jettilyn. Sure they invaded her space and stole her boyfriend, but that was then and this was business. They approached her at home, and told her of the job. She agreed to work for them for a small fortune, and consider whether she still felt vengeful or not.

Not wanting to borrow money from the Lampblacks or work out any other loan, they decided to pull a heist to raise the money to buy the theater. They checked to see if the Dimmer Sisters had any work for them.

The Aspect of Tsathoggua

Setup

The Dimmer Sisters’ assistant Marcy led them through gates, past giant invisible guard dogs, and into the house to meet the sisters as they knit spidersilk with their fingernails on their thrones. The Dimmer Sisters offered them a way into a secret forgotten temple space; the actual space was filled in, but there was a memory of the space under a Temple to the Ecstasy of the Flesh. The Sisters gave them the combination of stairs down, up, and down to get into the memory. The Sisters wanted a statue, the Aspect of Tsathoggua.

Aldo got acolyte outfits and figured the temple’s public open hours. Then he slipped in with Wolfram. Jettilyn agreed to help, if she could keep one item (besides the Aspect.) They agreed.

Going In

The adept gang threw horse manure at guards to lure them away from the break-in. Jettilyn tried to get through the locks magically, but they were warded; she borrowed some of Wolfram’s life force to help.

They went into a back corridor in the dark, with candles. They found a door, triple barred but unlocked. Going through, they descended, then ascended, then descended, as proscribed. Moving through increasing dankness, they found themselves in the half-remembered lair. It was a feeling of lazy hunger carved into reality’s sense memory.

While the others fought off the feel of Tsathoggua’s mind pressing into theirs, Wolfram accepted the touch. His worship of the Forgotten Gods demanded it, and he was curious to see what he would learn.

In the dim candlelight (the candles burned low and green) they passed big mushrooms haunted by large centipedes. Then they crossed a mud flat. Jettilyn animated dragonfly jewelry to light up and fly, to find their goal; they saw a column rising out of the mud. It was like an extruded intestine made of stone.

Climbing it, they found the top had a square hole down into blackness, four ceremonial sacrificial daggers, a ceremonial frog-man mask, and the Aspect. The Aspect kept changing perception and size, and Wolfram tried to grab it only to find it was as big as he was. Jettilyn splashed it with electroplasm then grabbed the statue and Wolfram, and when it seemed to be the size of a head she swept it into a bag. She broke the spell on the daggers briefly, and they grabbed those and the mask.

Escape

Then they heard the croaking! Huge things shuffling and jumping in the blackness. Jettilyn smeared both of them with glow paint, so they could see as they sprinted for the exit. They managed to get out without seeing what pursued them.

Moving up to the temple, they then put on acolyte outfits and Aldo shepherded them out. They were stuck in traffic, but eventually won free.

After taking long, thorough baths, they took their prizes to the Dimmer Sisters. Jettilyn kept the mask, but they turned the rest in and got paid enough for the theater and some left over.

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Blades in the Dark: The Professors

BitD Title_01 by James Dudli
We played a 3.5 hour session with two players. I improvised their heists based on their characters and entanglements.

  • Mialee Keel. Lurk. Akoros. Collects masks. Academic background, linguistics professor. Best friend is a noble, Roslyn Kellis.
  • Katharin Arran. Whisper. Akoros. Collects occult texts and materials. Academic background, somewhat celebrated scholar. Best friend is Scurlock, a vampire.

Both scholars operated out of Kandaralis University, where they had offices in the Carmichael Building. They also had a basement studio apartment in a massive building that was once a noble miser’s townhouse, but was subdivided into a dozen apartments upon his death. They got the basement apartment because it had a vault, so they can protect their collections. The apartment is in Verek Block, in Seven Shallows.

Mialee had a translations service as a level 1 enterprise. Making some coin on the side using her linguistic skill and contacts, and keeping an eye out for possible scores. Weaver, an efficient teaching assistant, ran it for her.

Katharin had the Hauptman Research Grant as a level 1 enterprise. The university funded her ongoing research into various occult matters; a prestigous award that came with a small office and a nervous intern named Jenkins.

Both enterprises start out legitimate, fees and taxes and such paid up, and so absorb their own profits.

The Sealed Coffin

Preparing the Way

They caught news of an unopened sarcophagus being shipped in from the Dagger Isles. Lord Crichton had a purchaser there who bid on it, and shipped it to Duskwall. If they could get to it and open it and steal the grave goods, then seal it back up, no one would know that it arrived fully loaded.

Katharin knew that Lord Crichton had great security in a compound built by his father, but she also knew that there was a ghost neighborhood she could find her way into, and out of inside his defenses. His secure building was built over an old slum that endured in Duskwall’s memory.

She found her way through the shadow of the Willamach Tree, stepping between the shadows of branches (some of which had been cut off long ago, but still projected a shadow.) Then she was in the old Shallowstep Slum, where she did some scouting so they’d be ready to infiltrate when the time came.

Meanwhile Mialee checked around until she found a disgruntled former staff member of Lord Crichton’s estate. She talked to Theresa, a former maid who had only one arm. Theresa told her that she lost her arm to one of Crichton’s traps, and he paid her off and dismissed her; the money is gone and she’s trying to work with one arm. Look out for the diamonds worked into the woodwork, they reveal the presence of a trap. It’s a tell built in to help the staff navigate the place. Theresa coldly asked Mialee to shake Lord Crichton’s hand for her.

Mialee also did some research into the old plans for the place. She noticed that the outer defenses were brutal, with living guards and machines and tall thick walls. But once inside, the defenses dropped off significantly. This gave her hope that their ambitious infiltration could work.

The Infiltration

It was a windy night. As the rogues waited for night to deepen, sitting in the Hogtied Tavern near the Crichton Estate, they heard a commotion of a big group arriving. Lord Crichton was home two nights early! By all accounts, he was eager to get into his prize. Now it was a race, to see if they could break in and check out the sarcophagus before the noble got through all his homecoming responsibilities and freed himself up to check it out.

They hurried to the Willamach Tree, where Katharin led Mialee through the steps and into the memory of the Shallowstep Slum. They scurried through, their steps soundless but the shadow of the slum around them reverberating with every step like a spiderweb as half-blank bright-eyed spirits drifted in to watch them. The most aggressive closed in, hungry for the memory of flesh and bright hot blood.

The rogues evaded them, and managed to navigate the twisting and half-remembered streets. They felt something closing on them, like the spider from the middle of the web, but they plunged into the boat landing at the far side of Shallowstep, and escaped.

They slogged up out of the ink-black waters in a channel of water under the Crichton estate, where barrels were floated in. The portcullis was down on both sides, and the water level raised by the locks, so it was inaccessible by normal means. Still, they were inside, beyond all the outer defenses!

The Prize

They wound their way through the labyrinthine corridors and chambers under the Estate, until they found the secure loading bay. It was closed off from outside by a vault door, but inside was safe and did not need that level of security. The sarcophagus itself had stone knobs in a combination lock along the side, as well as niches for organs, and arcane writings of various kinds.

Katharin sussed out some of the curse patterns, that were designed to strike through a bloodline and persist for three generations if triggered. Mialee figured out one of the niches was not for organs (and not cursed) and it contained instructions for a priest to open the sarcophagus without desecrating it. Together they followed the instructions, opening the stone box without triggering the curses. Katharin read the prayer chiseled inside the lid,  then the rogues set to plundering.

Rings, a jeweled belt, a shield, a sword, a mask, and more! But they had to be careful, as the body was on pressure triggers, and there were dime shaped holes beneath it. (Fortunately they never found out what THOSE were for.) By now they heard approaching voices, and saw lights flickering in the corridors. They closed up the sarcophagus, and stole away into the dark hallways, dodging the traps and orienting on the portal to escape.

The Getaway

They plunged into the supply canal’s inky waters, sputtering up in the half-remembered Shallowstep Slum. They instinctively felt that the predator at the center of this place was much closer than it had been before, so they raced through the twisting streets as fast as they could. Hungry dead pounced on Mialee at one point, trying to hook into her cloak, but she shrugged them off and kept running. The predator was near, but did not catch up to them.

They dove out of the shadows in the Willamach Tree (which was just a young thing in the slum shadow.) They were clear!

Downtime

Reading and Relaxation

They fenced most of the grave goods, keeping only the choice bits for their collection. Then they immersed themselves in the delights of their collections, cataloging and corresponding and researching and such.

The Break-In

Unfortunately, a gang broke in and trashed Mialee’s translation office, putting fear into her intern (who did not show up for work anymore.) The Carmichael Building manager informed her that her officing privileges were revoked because she brought in an  undesirable element.

Furious, she checked with Six Finger Smythe. He was the head of security for the university, but he also had many illegal contacts. He was a fixer, keeping the noise down and business continuing as usual. He would know who wrecked her office, or he could find out.

He offered them a job in exchange for the information, with some coin to sweeten the deal. He helped a faculty member’s daughter escape with her student paramour, so he couldn’t fetch them back. However, the father was prominent at the university, and wanted them back. Smythe was looking for someone to carry out the errand. The rogues turned the job down, as that wasn’t their style, and paid him off instead.

He reported that the office was trashed by Cronen and his gang, Black Eyes, answering to the Lampblacks. He did not know why the office was a target, however. Cronen and his people could be found at the Severance Tavern, the last stop of disgraced teachers and students expelled from the university, by the west gate.

Planning Next Steps

Katarin and Mialee did not like their odds of handing an interrogation by physical force. They agreed Katarin would compel a ghost to question Cronen for them. Now to pick a suitable specter for the job.

Katarin did not want to revitalize a ghost for the job, she decided to find one that would be suitably useful and bind or persuade it to help. Considering her various options, she decided to consult with her good friend Scurlock. He agreed to help her out if she would be the “plus one” for one of a number of socially hopeless friends of his at an event. She agreed with a smile.

Scurlock steered her towards the Lodon Estate, where Karl Lodon is a ghost. He was ruthless and intimidating in life, he drove his servants to hang him from the balcony of his master bedroom when he eventually went too far. His ghost still haunt the Lodon Estate; normally that’s illegal, but a number of aristocrats pooled their ghosts together there as a sort of museum no one visits, where powerful previous generations could continue on in relative peace. The estate was walled off.

Scurlock also gave her a signet ring of the Lodon family, which would help persuade or bind the powerful ghost.

With that objective in place, Mialee checked into the neighborhood. There was a waterfall down onto the Lodon Estate that flowed through then dropped into the Vasilly Family Gardens. She figured they could get through any grating that remained at the top of the waterfall, and slip in unseen.

Retrieving Karl Lodon

The Approach

They entered the Vasilly Family Gardens in the late afternoon, taking in the sights. Many aristocratic families had idiosyncratic approaches to topiary and garden works. The radiant bushes shaped the growth around them, glowing and brightening when living things approached. The particular color and brightness blends were proprietary to the Vasilly family.

(Radiant plants have electroplasm integrated into living plants by alchemists and whispers. They glow, giving off life-granting energy that feeds the plants around them. This is hauntingly beautiful and a bit disturbing, but makes for amazing works of art in a garden, and useful food in a garden.)

The guard did the last round and closed the garden up for the night. The rogues approached the waterfall at the end, where the last third of the waterfall had radiant plants behind it so it glowed.

It took a false start, but they climbed up to the mouth of the waterfall and Mialee hacked through the grating. The rogues pushed against the current on the slippery stone and dragged themselves out on the stone bank inside the Lodon Estate.

Finding Karl Lodon

They heard the clotted howl of dead hounds, and quickly slipped through the thorny mounds of growth that grew around the fainting remains of radiant plants. Through the kitchen windows, into the estate house proper. Katharin focused through the signet ring and picked up three ghosts who might answer to it; one in the crypt, one in the master bedroom, and one in the basement. They chose the one in the master bedroom.

As they stalked through the house, Katharin tried to diffuse their life energy’s scent. However, one ghost spotted them, then others swarmed towards them. They raced to the master bedroom, which had a plasm-laced door. They rushed in and closed it behind themselves before the ghost horde caught them.

There they faced Karl Lodon himself, still imposing in death. (Drifts of drained and half-disintegrated servant ghosts mounted the walls on all sides, his revenge continuing.) Katharin persuaded him to help, if he could have a hollow to conduct his business for a week afterwards before returning here.

Karl’s ghost put the signet ring on, then shook Katharin’s hand, the ring slipping onto her finger and her arm going numb and painfully tingling with the (magnitude 5) ghost that would ride her life energy out of the prison.

Escape

They raced past the ghosts, mounting the wall, and trapped between a mass of starving spirits and a thirty foot drop. They leaped down and got away, then vanished into the city with a powerful ghost.

Downtime

Finding a Hollow

Katharin met with a hollow seller, and as she was offering each to Karl to see what he might like, bluecoats burst in to arrest the seller; she barely escaped, and lost the money she had paid in advance for a hollow.

Frustrated, she returned to Scurlock to see if he could help her out with a hollow. (It did occur to her that this spirit was FAR more powerful than what she needed, and he was being AWFULLY helpful. It surprised no one that he might have an ulterior motive.)

Scurlock provided a hollow who was a great great nephew of Karl’s, who burned his mind out with drugs refined from leviathan blood. Karl flowed into the body; it would do fine.

Academic Troubles

Katharin tried to expand her career as a scholar, building on the grant as a foundation and offering talks on some of her radical theories. She did manage to get some good speaking engagements, but she also provoked a reaction from the Dean of Faculty for pushing; she irritated someone more powerful, apparently, and she was forbidden to do speaking engagements for at least a time.

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