Sunday, December 3, 2017

Agents of The Black Lotus



They who believe in the influences of the stars over the fates of men, are, in feeling at least, nearer the truth than they who regard the heavenly bodies as related to them merely by a common obedience to an external law. All that man sees has to do with man. World cannot be without an intermundane relationship... No Shining belt or gleaming moon, no red and green glory in a self-encircling twin-star, but has a relation with the hidden things of a man's soul, and, it may be, with the secret history of the body as well. They are portions of the living house wherein he abides. 

Phantastes, George MacDonald

Sometimes when an orphan disappears in the City State, or when a criminal is sentenced to death but never appears before the executioner, who waits impatiently by the cutting stone with his great axe slung useless on his back, this is what happens. Taken blindfolded and bound by nondescript men, he is led by secret tunnels to a forgotten chamber beneath the Cryptic Citadel. His hands are loosed as a door suddenly closes behind him. So it is that he finds himself in the chamber of the Black Lotus.

A queer stone of a hue impossibly black rests upon an altar of purest white marble. Its majesty is terrible to behold, drawing in the gaze even as it repels. Although unmoving, it seems to turn upon itself folding like the petals of a trembling black flower. Then its song begins. One in ten leave the chamber to begin their training as a new member of the Order of The Black Lotus, the Invincible Overlord's society of monk assassins, secret police, and agents provocateur.

The Order of the Black Lotus was formed long ago, during the period known from obscure markings on the great calendar obelisk as the Cycle of the Black Sun. This heavenly body appeared at first to be an unpredicted solar eclipse, a disk of black surrounded by a solar corona. This lasted for ten days of hideous waking darkness, before the black disk separated itself from the sun, assuming for a period of seven years its station as a counter-sun in the day's sky, casting an eerie grey light with white shadows.

Manuel Tinneman

During this time unknown demons stalked the earth, and the principles of natural philosophy were stood upon their head. Alchemical processes were subject to strange and deadly alterations in the light of the Black Sun, and many a scullery maid's stew was ruined, or hands burnt by the sudden boiling of water, when the strange grey light fell upon their kitchen. Mass hysteria led to numerous inconclusive but bloody revolutions.

The Order of the Black Lotus arose at this time, one of innumerable apocalyptic cults. How this group came to possess the Black Lotus is not known, nor its relation to the Black Sun; whether it is a fragment of that other sun, or its effluvia, or even its seed, or whether it bears no relation at all. The cult was brutally suppressed and the Black Lotus interred in the undercity and forgotten for many years, until a pair of goblin engineers stumbled upon the chamber (and their doom) while excavating old tunnels beneath the Cryptic Citadel. With some research, the Overlord's sages uncovered smudged and torn copies of the cult's holy text, Gospel of the Alien Sun. From these the meditative practices of the cult were reconstructed.

In addition to their earthly training in arts of stealth and deception, the agents draw from their esoteric communion with the Black Lotus strange powers over density, gravity, and the void. These powers are harnessed in their weirding martial art, and in a variety of disciplines that initiate alchemical processes within their body. The limit of their power is unknown, but the Gospels speak of disciples whose open palm strikes with the force of a comet, and others who are able to survive the void of space.

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Requirements


Only humans may become agents of the Black Lotus. To survive their ordeal with the stone, they must possess certain remarkable qualities. They are the following:

Strength:       15
Dexterity:     15
Wisdom:       15
Constitution: 12

They must be Lawful Neutral or Lawful Evil.

Hit Dice


The HD of the agent of the Black Lotus is 1d4. However, an agent begins at first level with 2 HD.



Class Abilities and Limitations


Combat and Movement

Agents of the Black Lotus may use any weapon, but cannot wear armor. They fight as thieves of like level. They do not receive strength bonuses to hit or damage, nor dexterity bonuses to their AC.

However, as their meditative journeys penetrate deeper into the labyrinths within the stone their ability to control the density of matter, gravity, and other less well-understood forces increases. Through constant training they learn to weaponize these abilities and employ them as fearsome defenses.

As a result of these defenses, their AC decreases by one for each level above first. They may also save vs. paralysis to avoid normal missile attacks, and save vs. spells to avoid magical missile. Finally, if an attack (e.g. dragon breath) indicates that they would take half damage from a successful save, they take no damage.

Offensively, they receive +1 to damage with weapons for every two levels; and they gain extra unarmed attacks that do increasing damage as they progress in their weirding. (See the chart below.) Furthermore, if they roll 5 more than is required to hit a foe, then the foe is stunned for 1d6 rounds, with a base chance equal to their opponents AC +1% per level over 7 to kill them outright.

Every level above first their base move increases by 10'. 

Thief Abilities

As the secret police of the Invincible Overlord, agents of the Black Lotus receive extensive training in arts of stealth and deception. Like the houri, the agent of the Black Lotus employs +Chris Kutalik's B/X thief variant, which resembles the LOTFP specialist. Thief skills require rolling equal to or under on 1d6 modified by circumstances as the DM rules. The agent has starting skills equal to the following, and receives one additional point to distribute per level.

Stealth         2
Climb           4
Hear Noise    2
Disguise        1
Pick Locks     1

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Requirements to Advance in Level


To ascend in levels, the agents of the Black Lotus must perform certain actions. To go up in any level, the agent must withdraw to meditate for a period of time, delving further into the Black Lotus. If you are not using training rules like those in AD&D, then the agent must miss one game session, where it can be assumed he is deep in meditation. (During this time, the player is encouraged to play a henchman or hireling.) In addition, to reach certain levels further tasks must be accomplished:

To reach 3rd level, the agent must win a minor victory for the Invincible Overlord. Minor feats might include disrupting or temporarily setting back an enemy's plan, sewing temporary discord between two of the Overlord's enemies, or delivering a piece of genuinely useful information to the Overlord.

To reach 5th level, the agent must win a moderate victory for the Invincible Overlord. Moderate victories include permanently ruining an enemy's plan, delivering a useful object (magical item, map, etc.), acquiring a piece of major intelligence, or significantly advancing one of the Overlord's plans.

To reach 7th level, the agent must win a major victory for the Invincible Overlord. Major victories include assassinating a minor enemy of the Overlord, sewing lasting discord between two of the Overlord's enemies, delivering a powerful magical object, or achieving one of the Overlord's major goals.

To reach 10th level, the agent must win an epic victory for the Invincible Overlord. Epic victories include assassinating a major enemy of the Overlord, starting a war between two of the Overlord's enemies, recovering an artifact (in the AD&D sense), or gaining a major asset of decisive significance of the Invincible Overlord.

To reach 11th level, the agent must slay the current Master of the Fetid Calf in unarmed combat, for there can be only one.

To reach 12th level, the agent must slay the current Master of the Gelid Membranes in unarmed combat, for there can be only one.

To reach 13th level, the agent must slay the current Master of the Five Voids in unarmed combat, for there can be only one.


Special Powers

At second level, his special secret training in resisting magical interrogation allows the agent of the Black Lotus to mask his true thoughts from ESP with 70% success. This percentage increases by 2% per level.

At third level, his meditations allow him to enter the first of the chambers within the Black Lotus. There he will encounter the Rippling Torus. If he is not overwhelmed, he may now call on his uncertain bond with this entity to create distortions in the gravitational field, allowing him to jump, as the spell, once per day.

At fourth level, his mastery of the Rippling Torus deepens, and he no longer takes falling damage if he is within 20 feet of a wall or other vertical surface when he falls.

At fifth level, his meditations take him beyond the first chamber, to the threshold of the Labyrinth of the Echoing Shadow. Across the threshold drifts the Wind of Five Crystals. By inhaling this incense, he may cease breathing for 1 hour plus 1 hour per level over fifth level.

At sixth level, the agent may enter the Labyrinth of the Echoing Shadow. But to do so he must take it into himself, consuming it in a great psychic feast. After this, he may at any time enter the antechamber of the labyrinth within. Here he will hear the buzzing of the Hive Bells. By silencing them, he may slow his heart beat and other vital functions, feigning death once per day, as the spell.

At seventh level, he may penetrate further into the Labyrinth within the Black Lotus, wandering many turning ways in the darkness. When he is ready, he may follow the paths of his own whimsical memories, which lead to the White Room. The great Alabaster Map there charts the flow of alchemical forces through his body, allowing him to slow poison in his blood, as the spell delay poison, once per day.

At eighth level, he may follow his painful memories of rejection to the Frozen Apse, where the cold of space bleeds through the perforated masonry. He may now travel there once per day, allowing him to resist cold, as the spell, for 1 hour plus 1 hour for each level over seventh.

At ninth level, he may follow the trail of his guilty deeds to the Heavy Priory, where the churning of the space is a crushing weight. He may now travel there once per day, allowing him to survive in high pressure environments for 1 hour plus 1 hour for each level over ninth. During this time he may act as normal.

At tenth level he may he may return to the Alabaster Map, opening its hidden ways to travel throughout the byways of his body. This allows him to neutralize poison in his blood stream, as well as cure his own diseases once per day.

At eleventh level, he may follow his childhood fears through the Labyrinth to reveal the Sanctum of the Fetid Calf. Here he will encounter the Rippling Torus in its true form. Should he survive the contest, he will master the torus, gaining the ability to subject his enemies to crushing gravitational effects with a deliberate blow. He may now slow an opponent with a successful strike of his palm, as per the spell, once per day.

At twelfth level, he may follow the path of his lost memories to the Nave of the Gelid Membranes. This is a terrible place of no consciousness. He may now go there one per day, allowing him to inflict blindness and deafness on an opponent once per day with a successful strike of his palm, as per the spells.

At thirteenth level, he will finally begin to hear the reverberations of the Echoing Shadow. They will come to him unbidden, and will fill him with terror. Should he find the courage to follow them to their source, in the heart of the Black Lotus, he will find the Transept of the Five Voids. This will allow him to deliver the dreaded touch of the void once every two weeks. If he successfully strikes an opponent with the palm of his hand, he may plant a void seed within their body, bringing it to fruition at any point in the next two weeks. The victim must HD equal to or less than the agent. When the void comes to fruition, the victim will be swallowed from within, disappearing utterly.

It is not known what powers or perils those who choose to delve further into the Black Lotus. For, it is thought that to go beyond the station of the Master of the Five Voids is to come face to face with the Echoing Shadow itself.



Level


Title

XP

Required Task

1


Informer

0

Meditation

2

Interrogator


2451

Meditation

3

Saboteur

5241

Minor Victory for Overlord


4


Infiltrator 

11025

Meditation

5

Initiate of the Labyrinth 

20075

Moderate Victory for Overlord


6

Disciple of the Labyrinth


50051

Meditation

7

Wanderer in the Darkness


102301

Major Victory for Overlord


8

Eye of The Overlord

214501

Meditation


9

Hand of the Overlord

374001


Meditation

10

Blade of the Overlord

616001

Epic Victory for the Overlord


11

Master of the Fetid Calf

858001

Slay the Current Master of the Fetid Calf


12

Master of the Gelid Membrane


1100001

Slay the Current Master of the Gelid Membrane

13


Master of the Five Voids

1342001

Slay the Curret Master of the Five Voids


14+

?


?

?





Monday, November 13, 2017

Punishment by Puppet, Splendid and Terrible


Original art by Dirk Detweiler Leichty

The Inquisitors judge all men by the crooked law of Zyan. Like the assayer marking the invisible boundary of each plot, so the Inquisitors divide a life with their casuistry, saying, "this action was permitted, that forbidden". For each transgression, they weigh culpability with nuance, reckoning up the punishments. Justice is to be seen as well done, and when done right, justice is a splendid show. In reality, the sheer volume of cases elicits standardized responses with wry wrinkles around the edges. Most creativity is reserved for the class of acts deemed "iniquitous abhorrent". For it is only acts of this singular severity that are punishable by the puppet shows for which the Inquisitor's Guild is beloved.

Such shows are relished by all ranks of Zyan. Young and old, from clans high and low, they stream to the Theater of Justice in the tilted neighborhood of Cusp. They come bedizened with orchids in their hair, carrying picnic baskets, and bottles of the ochre wine of Chimes, or jugs of the spicy grog of Gutter. Filling the seats of the open-aired theater, for a time, they forget their cares. Laughter and breathless chatter ripples through the crowd, as they comment eagerly on the wretched occupants of the small gilded cages below, and wager on the puppets they are to face. With great morbid anticipation, their glance is drawn to the massive doors that stand opposite the cages. These are painted in gaudy colors, and decorated with images of sacred Afatis, the many headed queen of puppets. When the festival horn sounds it clarion call, the cages are opened by boys who run to the edge of the stage to be pulled up by ropes. To gay drum beats, the massive doors swing, and the punishment puppets step forward from the darkness into the light of the arena to deafening cheers from the crowd.

Dirk Detweiler Leichty

No two puppets are the same, although crowd favorites resurface from time to time.  Sublime products of antique art, they possess stunning elegance, cruel caprice, or comedic wit. Fiendishly clever machines, they are constructed of the finest materials: patterned silks and damask, draped atop polished wood with bronze and copper flourishes, and cables of twisting white metal. In a city where mask-making is the highest art, the masks born by the puppets are rare splendors. Some bear masks front and back, two opposed puppets in one that turn now this way, now that, fighting in contrasting styles. Some conceal masks within masks, peeling back to reveal new layers and inner transformations, others masks dangle as grapes from elegant chains, or peer from many places within the swirling silks that cover the puppets mechanical core. Some are gruesome weapons, slaying with flicking tongues, or sprays of pink acid, or pouring from their smoldering eyes killer wasps enraged by the heated metal that surrounds their hive.

The puppets' modes of locomotion vary. Some contain performers, skilled acrobats on stilts who fight with wild leaping abandon. Others are giant marionettes, operated by performers in the roof beams of the stage. Still others are arcane in nature, linked to the movements of a mime on a separate stage high above, or operated through the changing pitch of a string choir. The most perilous are those possessed by an ancient malevolence, moved by the cruel whims of a demon of Afatis, or guided by an intelligence from beyond the nighted gulfs of space. Such puppets are used with great caution, for they often run amok with bloody catastrophe.

Dirk Detweiler Leichty


The guildsmen fashion smaller puppets too, man-sized automata that guard shrines or assassinate guild foes. Some of these life-sized horrors are despatched to terrorize the Guildless, the exiled mutes who dwell in the sewers of Zyan Between. Like relentless clockwork nightmares, these automata whir and stutter through the blackened tunnels bringing red pain and desperate pursuit to these lost souls.

The siege puppets, fruit of another branch of the Inquisitor's baroque art, are suits of armor, encasing an acrobat pilot, usually on stilts. They often have the appearance of fearsome beasts, like the numinous jellyfish of the Endless Azure Sea, or the crystalline apes of the White Jungle. Armed with baleful weapons to break shield walls, they are guarded by sigil-covered lanterns that project ethereal fields of evanescent beauty. The art of the siege puppet is now fading, and the suits are passed down as a precious inheritance within prominent guild families. The noble scions of these clans are trained from youth to operate the twisting cables in leaping combat on stilts.

Samples diverse
of these exquisite murder machines:





Flaccid Leviathan, "Squatting Man"

When the huge head of the Flaccid Leviathan, with its vacant staring black sockets, and expressionless stitched face, rears like a nightmare deity from behind the proscenium, throngs swoon, reason dissolving like a swirl of sugar in a tincture equal parts thrill and terror.

This great being was brought from Phantamoria, the dreamlands of the dreamlands, when Zyan was young and the ways were still open through subtle sorceries. The substance of the Leviathan is strange: skin papery like wasps nests, organs like luminous jellied plastic. It emits a smell, sweet and acrid, like caustic anise, and occasional sounds that fill the mind, like the call of whales drowning in an oxygen starved sea. Whether the Flaccid Leviathan is one of a whole race of that alien realm, or a singular entity, whether something created, or something slain and preserved through necromantic abominations, is not known even to its handlers. It is brought out but rarely, only once or twice in a generation, for grand occasions with huge numbers of the guilty. For its preparation and repair is the work of many years.

The Flaccid Leviathan is operated by threads that run between a harness of moonstone set directly into the beast's cerebellum, and a small puppet above that wears a red wig. Elsewhere, a carefully selected child, cruel and imperious, is fitted with the wig's sympathetically attuned twin. This callous youth is presented with a toy simulacrum of the Theater of Justice, complete with little clay figures that replicate the desperate movements of the guilty, who run screaming or hide uselessly in quaking terror at the child's questing fingers. The delighted child plays with these toys, producing in the limbs of the Leviathan the like movements: placing the guilty where it will, posing and undressing them, making them fight, enacting strange shows and scenes. And always in the end, when the novelty of the game wears thin, pulling with great satisfaction the limbs from their bodies squishing their little heads, or mashing their bodies together. (This child is always quietly sacrificed afterwards in the Grand Abbattoir of the Fleischguild.)

The Flaccid Leviathan
Frequency: Unique
No. Appearing: 1
Armor Class: 3
Move: 24" Squatting Walk
Hit Dice: 30 (200 total HP, 40 HP per arm)
No. Attacks: 1
Damage Attacks: 10-60 squash 15" area
Special Defenses: Immune to paralysis and mind-affecting spells; DR/5
Magic Resistance: 50%
Intelligence: As the child (Low Intelligence)
Size: 30' tall when squatting, 50' erect


Original art by Dirk Detweiler Leichty


The Sword Crone, "Old Lady Snip"

Her large form comes onto the stage, stumbling, abject and praying, a parody of religious devotion. She wears a corset of metal, bulging as though with sagging flesh. Her wooden mask, with gray hair over a severe and matronly face, is lifelike and subtle. It is fixed in an expression of intense obedience, as she constantly glances over her shoulder, as though seeking direction from what follows. For the object of her supplication, the strange deity of her singular faith, is never far behind.

This alien god is a tangled mass of tentacles that moves octopus-like, its slender coils caressing the Sword Crone and pushing her forward. Gripped in its many divine pseudo-pods are the instruments of its brutal ministrations: long razors, probing swords, and enormous shears.

The Sword Crone always presents the god of her fawning obeisance to its victims, entreating them by gesture and example to prostrate themselves before their savior and accept its surgical attentions. Should they stubbornly refuse, she becomes enraged, using her coarse hands and inhuman strength to pull them towards their bloody salvation. In reality, the puppeteers sit within the deity, moving the Sword Crone by controlling the tentacles that caress her at many points.

The Sword Crone
Frequency: Unique
No. Appearing: 1
Armor Class: 2
Move: 15"
Hit Dice: 8+8 (56)
No. Attacks: 1
Damage Attacks: 3-12 Pummel or Grapple
Special Attack: None
Special Defenses: None
Magic Resistance: Normal
Intelligence: As the puppeteer (Very Intelligent)
Size: 10' tall

The Deity
Frequency: Unique
No. Appearing: 1
Armor Class: 5
Move: 15"
Hit Dice: 10 (60)
No. Attacks: 5 x slice
Damage Attacks: 1-8/1-8/1-8/1-8/1-8
Special Defenses: None
Magic Resistance: Normal
Intelligence: As the puppeteer (Very Intelligent)
Size: 12' tangled ball

Dirk Detweiler Leichty

Disgorger, "Worm Gullet"

The disgorgers move with relentless purpose through the abandoned tunnels, catacombs, and sewers of Zyan Between, stalking the lost souls that haunt these liminal spaces. The guildless, who have been rendered speechless with the acid "wash" and exiled to the darkness below, call them "Worm Gullets" or "Terrible Ones" in their queer sign language. When they find themselves driven back against rusting bars, or caught in a sudden ambuscade as the disgorgers rise from the black sewer water, they scream silent screams their ruined vocal chords can longer clothe in sound. But the disgorger understands. For it was built to speak the silent language of their fear, and it faithfully provides the response their cries anticipate.

The attack of the disgorger is most terrible. In place of the intestines and lungs, their hollowed torso contains a coil of wire tendrils. With a raspy heaving and metallic panting, they disgorge the tendrils that surge towards the head of the prey, strangling, choking, bleeding, and decapitating. Retracting the severed head, drawn back like a flopping white bellied fish caught in a net, into its jaws, unhinged, impossibly large, and down it goes to its distended belly. Here it rests in an alchemical bath, shrinking and hardening in a days span, acquiring a shiny surface like black lacquer on iron. Thus it takes its place among the coils as a memento. Those disgorgers who have hunted long in the tunnels have many such blackened doll's heads among their coils.

In combat the disgorger strikes with two weapons, often scavenged from its hunts. Provided it has not yet ingested a head, it may instead choose to disgorge its coils. If the attack hits, the target takes 3-12 damage and must save vs. death or be instantly decapitated. It the target saves, he will take 2-8 damage automatically every round, until the disgorger is slain or the target manages to extricate himself. Whatever the result of the attack, once it ends, the disgorger must spend the following round retracting its tendrils.

Disgorger
Frequency: Rare
No. Appearing: 1d3
Armor Class: 3
Move: 12"
Hit Dice: 5 (30)
No. Attacks: 2
Damage Attacks: By weapon +1 to damage
Special Attack: Disgorge Tendrils
Special Defenses: None
Magic Resistance: Normal
Intelligence: Average
Size: 6' tall


Sha Sha Higby

Child of the Sun

This sublime suit of armor was fashioned long ago by Helicanto at the decadent zenith of this strange art. It was one of a series of celestial siege puppets--gorgeous objects of a baroque genius--each representing an alchemical figure associated with one of the astrological houses. The Child of the Sun was constructed for Delandes, third son of the head patriarch of the Clan of Bilateral Hermeneuts, whose trade is and ever was the interpreting of contracts.

The Child of the Sun is lustrous, glinting with hues of burnished brass, red copper, and glistering gold. The helm is a serene face of the sun, around which has been affixed a corona of effulgent rays. The massive limbs trail streaks of metal that spark when struck against stone. Alchemical symbols are loving painted across its now tarnished surface, where many ersatz repairs have left a patchwork appearance.

In one of its hands holds the Searing Star, whose massive ball of polished yellow quartz is spiked with metal flames. It is a terrible weapon made for scattering foes and smashing defenses. It's other arm wields the Solar Lash, a cord of flexible metal that glows with an internal heat, made to ensnare and sear foot soldiers. When the Solar Lash hits a target, the target must test 4d6 under dexterity or become entangled, taking automatic damage for each round after until extricated. When the Child of the Sun is attacked by magic, its projectors produce ethereal shields, that glow like many-hued clouds of cosmic gas as they absorb and nullify the magics.

Child of the Sun
Frequency: Unique
No. Appearing: 1
Armor Class: 0
Move: 12"
Hit Dice: 6+2 (50)
No. Attacks: 3/2
Damage Attacks: Searing Star 5-20 + Solar Lash 2-12
Special Attacks: Entangle
Special Defenses: Spell Absorption
Magic Resistance: Arcane chassis absorbs up to 10 spell levels
Intelligence: The Puppeteer (Normal)
Size: 10' tall

Siege Puppet Pilot
Frequency: Unique
No. Appearing: 1
Armor Class: 6 (padded + dexterity)
Move: 12"
Hit Dice: Assassin 3
No. Attacks: 1
Damage Attacks: Khopesh 1d8 + poison
Special Defenses: None
Magic Resistance: Normal
Intelligence: Very Intelligent
Size: 6' Tall