The School

Right, so I just wrote this thing for a player of mine’s background for a campaign I’ll be running of Monte Cook’s fabulous game, Numenera.

He wanted the school to be one of scientific study and understanding, but still be sort of “dark side”. I said “Hogwards, but evil,” and he agreed. So here’s the stuff:

Many of the older students felt a chill up the back of their necks as the headmistress sauntered in through the big double-doors, guards in glassteel armour holding the doors open for her. The younglings cowered behind the legs of their elders, who stood at attention. Anything other than the correct discipline shown would lead to “corrections.”
Juro stood with a back so straight it started to spasm slightly. He willed it to stop. He’d been at the “school” – for what else could you call this perverted place of learning? – for maybe four years now. He knew most of the other students by name, and knew the headmistress by the sound of her soft, melodic voice and the tapping her shoes made as she made her way around the school. He watched in half-terror, half-longing as the strict woman slowly made her way down the stairs towards the speaking platform. As he’d learned recently, an artefact in the podium made it so that her voice was forced into everyone’s heads. None was to ignore the headmistress. He looked over at the man at the end of the room. The one with a cloak to cover his skin. Juro knew why. The scales on the man’s skin were enough to put many off, but the fact that he never seemed to breath either made him distinctly alien. However, he’d come to know this Voltair figure as a man of science during the last year. Always curious about whatever he’d find, constantly poking and prodding the various numenera objects they were allowed in the dorms. He never could get a straight answer out of Voltair what he thought of the headmistress. Maybe he too was scared? Or maybe he just didn’t care that much? Juro didn’t know and didn’t much care.

The headmistress had her daily discussion about the advancement of science and at the end had a question time with the students. Then the new arrivals, the kids, were escorted to the back of the complex. It was an odd building any way you cut it. A large triangle, piercing throught the ground into the world above. He’d been told that the actual name for this was a pyramid. Strangely, while from the outside one only saw the dark blue material the pyramid was made of, from the inside you could view the outside perfectly clear. If the headmistress or her guards allowed it, that is. Since he’d been here, Juro had only been allowed to walk the soil he was born on three times. All in missions to find more technology for the school. Because he’d worked his way up to Auron, through two years of hard work and arse-kissing. Auron was the second-highest title for students. The first was Invero, the new recruits. Mostly children, but some of the older ones that didn’t subscribe to the headmistress’ teachings. Secondly was Fostare, the initiates. This was his rank of Auron, the seeking. Highest of the student ranks was Ondore. Voltaire was one of those. The scaly man had been here much longer than Juro. Besides the scales and the lack of breathing, there was also something peculiar with the crystal on his forehead. He said nothing more than that it had been implanted on him. Apparently it gave him some sort of mental power that allowed him to communicate with other people. He did it with Juro once, but Juro absolutely hated the experience. What he knew of Voltaire was that he also had been abducted as a kid, to be brought here. Voltaire didn’t remember the ones that took him, though. The automatons with empty faces, held up by what seemed a cornucopia of stin strings. So many strings. And their leader. The one with coloured robes, and an etched face. A face filled with hate. Endless, ferocious, judging eyes. Judging you as unworthy. She’d glided up to him. Places her long, sharp fingers on his face.

Yesssssss, you’re like THEM. Young, potential. The planets align for us, once again. Bring this one to the school. Tell them we expect results.”

His skin crawled as he remembered her voice. Like a hundred wailing women whispering at once. That sad, yielding whispering that his mother would try to stop his father with, when he had one of his tempers. First thing he’d do when he escapes this place, was kill that old man. Fuck him, and his heritage. He smashed his fist against a wall, and could see the guard down the hallway raise an eyebrow at him. He hurriedly opened the door and went inside his room. Tomorrow they would bestow a power unto him, is what the headmistress had told him.

Juro walked into the headmistress’ chamber with trepidation. He wanted to run so badly, but feared the consequences. A slight sweeping sound behind him caused him to turn, and so he faced the creature that would change his life. The huge, cloaked figure with only a large blue crystal for a face stared at him. No eyes, but Juro could feel its piercing gaze.
“’tis a Philethis, boy. Ever seen one before?”
Juro shook his head. His breath was ragged, his muscles straining themselves hard to keep him in place while the creature walked up.”
“You’ve seen the strings,” the creature stated as a fact. It turned to the headmistress. “Mistake.” Juro could hear the headmistress squirming in her leather seat.
“It’s not my fault. The one we usually get to perform the rite on the young tried to leave. The Mother…” the headmistress’ voice trailed off for a second and returned, “strung him up. It took weeks to clean the gore from the chamber.”
Juro could tell the creature was looking at the headmistress. It seemed almost sad, somehow. Then it inclined its posture slightly towards Juro, and something came at him. Into him. Juro screamed as the constantly colour-shifting and shape-changing stone was forced past his snapping ribs and into his chest. He passed out, but not due to the pain, but because of all the voices echoing in his head.

Juro woke up to only one voice. And for the first time, he didn’t disapprove of the way he heard it.
“Are you okay?” asked Voltaire’s echoing voice, as Juro felt a cold, wet rag on his forehead. It felt like he was burning up. No… The surrounding air felt like fire. He was cold. Voltaire sat a little bit away with a lit candle by his side, casting some light of his features not hidden by the hood he wore. The headmistress said not to disturb you, so I’ll just leave this here.”

Juro sat in near-complete darkness, with only the light giving any vision. Now that Voltaire had left, though, the voices returned. Well, not quite voices, but definitely whispers. Calling out. Crying. Juro listened in, and tried to hear what they were saying. Where was it coming from? Then he realised, and looked down at the floor.
“Who’s there?” he called out hesitantly.
“Kaïra,” replied the floor, and Juro felt a hole in his stomach. It expanded with every syllable spoken from the floor. The feeling remained as he found a pickaxe in one of the storage rooms. A Fostare boy asked him what he needed it for, but he swept the younger lad aside. He returned to the room and swung the tool over and over. Over and over. When the floor tiles broke, so did he.

Built on the hard-work of those before. The headmistress had used those words to describe the school before. Literally on those who came before, Juro spat as he held Kaïra’s skull in his hands. He remembered when they told him of her disappearance during a mission. She and him had been partners when on cypher hunts. And when doing research in the school. And after hours. In bed. Juro sighed. He knew she was dead before. Not confirmed, but he knew. She was Ondore. They don’t just disappear. Now that he thought of it, he was Ondore as well. It seems those who aren’t seen as fit to advance to Sistiyel, the first adult rank, are disposed off.
“The Mother refused me,” Kaïra spoke again. Juro was still trying to figure out how he could hear his death friend’s voice. The feeling in his chest was probably part of it. Whatever the creature did to him, it seems to have tuned him into the other side. Voices from beyond the grave. “The headmistress gave us to her. For inspection.”
Juro grimaced. “Us? There’s more here?”
“Yes. It was in a dark room, with ugly tiles.”
“Wait, she- no, it, was in this room?”
“Yes. Some, they took. For what, I don’t know. The others were shoved into the floor.”
“Alive?”
“Yes. Their screams still echo in the graves next to me.”
“So the headmistress is giving away students to those things? Why?”
“I don’t know. She seemed sad. Then she left. She left us in the dark with The Mother. There was something…”
“What?”
“She said they were looking for believers. To spread the message. She hates so much. She burns me.”
“Not any longer, honey. You’re safe now.” Juro felt drained. He could hardly think. He knew what needed to be done. The school had to burn. But not now. He wasn’t strong enough. The day would come. So he shoved the skull of his former lover in a carrier bag and sprinted up the stairs. Then through the hallways. Then into the research labs. He shoved a researcher down and stole his keys. She fought back, so he silenced her with the swing of a chair. He took a couple of cyphers and jammed them into his bag. Then he grabbed one he’d collected himself. He knew what it did. He heard the guards breach the door, as the cupboard that was blocking it was toppled over and glass shattered. It didn’t matter, as he was already on his way out through the window. Shards of glass whirled around him as he fell. As he was approaching the ground in horrifying velocity he twisted the cypher around and his momentum ceased comfortably and he sunk to the ground at will. The cypher fell apart as he landed. He ran as fast as he could into the Forest to the North, where he hid for a few days. He finally reached Storui, and the seedy city was easy enough to navigate. He sold a couple of the cyphers for food and armour, as well as an aneen.

It took him several weeks to get to The Great Reach, the portal through which there is apparently a whole other continent. The thanked his teachers for telling him to read so often, or he wouldn’t have known what it truly was. A bagful of shins made the guards look the other way, and he continued for the portal. Then he felt it. A tug on his shoulder. As if a fishing-line had caught his jerkin. He turned, as he heard a scream. Then his blood froze, if his cold blood could indeed solidify.
The Mother of Strings, in all her hateful glory, moved into the far end of the camp. Following her, her mad minions with bland faces were cutting down the people around her. He could hear the maddening chorus of a sort of battle hymn as the cut a swathe through the meaty guards and their mounts. He knew what he’d done. He’d led her here. He could see the string connecting him to her and yanked it hard. It was sharp enough to cut his skin open, but came off. He witnessed her levitate forward with impossible speed, carrying two full-grown men that she’d impaled on her sick figure that hurt to look at. Her presence, that tore at the fabric of this world, and yet forced it to hold together, contorted for the first time with delight as it looked past him and saw the same lands he did. Juro shrieked and burst through the mouth of the portal. The people on the other side looked at him confused, then their faces froze as they looked and saw the thing that shouldn’t be fly after him. He ran through a valley and left as fast as he could, while the sounds of the slaughter echoed behind him. As he dragged his tired legs out of the valley, he set his sight on a village in the distance. Finally he had a future. And he wouldn’t stop until he took everything from the school that tried to take it from him.

School structure (ranks)
Headmistress (highest rank, word is law)
— —
Garellon (adult rank 3, researcher – part of the circle of scholars that carry out the headmistress’ orders)
Hasterad (adult rank 2, high seeker)
Sistiyel (adult rank 1, recruiter)
— —
Ondore (youth rank 4, researcher’s assistant)
Auron (youth rank 3, seeker)
Fostare (youth rank 2, initiate)
Invero (youth rank 1, recruit)

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From behind the GM Screen: Getting to know your friends again

RPG terms for the unknowing:
RPG: Role-playing game
GM: Game master (basically <the narrator>, the gm’s job is to keep track of the rules, explain the surroundings and events and play the side-characters)
PC: Player character (the players are the main characters of whatever story you’re telling)
OP: Over-powered (a rule of action or whatever that’s too strong to make much sense, and can end up breaking a game)

So, I’ve been running a campaign of Noir, a Swedish RPG for a couple of months now. I think we just passed 25 sessions, but I kinda lost count a ways back. Noir is just that, a Noir game. It’s set in a city where the state is everything and decides the fate of all. A world were most people can’t stand living and just blow their heads off. Most of the common man works in the gigantic factory districts or scrape by doing other jobs. Obviously there are detectives, crooked alcoholic cops and femme fatales. There just wouldn’t be a Noir setting without them. It’s got a nice, dark setting that’s great for character development and generally torturing your PCs. (Noir is a Swedish RPG and you can check for more info here: http://www.noir.nu/ Sorry to the non-Swedes, it’s only available in Swedish and the developers seem done with the product, so I doubt they’ll ever release a translate version.)

In Noir there’s a thing called “The Defilement”. It’s basically magic that used the caster’s life force. It’s extremely rare to be a Defiler, but some exist. The users suffer severe emotional traumas the more they use it, and I like fucking with my players, so of course I decided to center the campaign on characters that are Defiler and are trying to get rid of their affliction. So in general it’s a mix between investigation and action, finding the dudes that can help them figure out what to do, and drop-kicking evil in the face.

During the campaign, I’ve noticed that my players have a larger fancy for the action, and as such I’ve leaned towards more evil-punching than I had planned, and made the story into more of an epic struggle. Plans have rarely been made, and it generally goes like this when a plan is suggested.

  1. Look over the gathered information.
  2. Think up a basic plan, such as flanking or feigned charges.
  3. Disregard plan – kick down the door.

As a GM that doesn’t shy away from harming the PCs, I don’t complain much about it and reap the following results. I think there’s been 3 PC deaths thus far, and many occasions where players got just short of bleeding out. So it’s obviously ot the most lethal campaign ever, but I’ve been holding back a bit.

With just a few sessions to go, I decided to have a more social game, because I had to write an essay during the week and couldn’t be arsed to write up a slew of dudes to feed to the power-gaming PCs.

I thought the game went so-so. A common problem for GMs: Getting players to bite the plot hook. Mine just weren’t going for it, initially, so I kind of had to force interaction with NPCs to give them story information. It worked, and the show was on the road again. A thing I’ve noticed during the campaign is that The Defilement is ridiculously OP. It’s basically everything two of my players ever do. One of them has a Defilement that lets him become practically invisible, and the other one has one that lets him dominate NPCs (read: mind-control). Basically, The Defilement is the central game mechanic in this stage of the campaign. Which is fine, since this is just a thing I did to play-test The Defilement. Instead of talking to NPCs, they usually capture them, kill them or dominate them. That’s a problem, because The Defilement becomes a crutch to lean on instead of role playing.

Anyway, the players end up at a sort of gala for the famous aristocrats they have a problem with and infiltrate (of course, by dominating a nobleman to gain entry) and find information from an earlier antagonist. As trigger-happy as these guys are, I’m surprised they didn’t just pop him instantly. They find out that one of the party guests is an opponent of the real bad guys and they find him. Guess what: They fucking dominate him as well. Well, whoop-de-do, several hours of coming up with the character and dialogue go out the window and mind-control gets one more point.

Anyway, the session ends in bloodshed, as the old antagonist decides to fuck the place up (which was mostly me being an arse-hole, but whatever.

Anyway, what surprised me, was that after the session one of the players hit me up on Skype and thanked me for “a very good session”.

“A good session?” I thought to myself. I though it was a cluster-fuck of me fumbling over myself to throw the story at my players without them biting and making contrived plans, but I’ll take the compliment. Apparently at least he thought it was a nice change of pace to have a slow, talky session instead of shooting the place up all the time.

I’ll tell you this: If you think you know your friends exactly, think again, mate. Throw them into an RPG and be shocked at what they’ll do. I’ll get a post up on the amazing game The Quiet Year, by Joe Mcdaldno, soon. That game will have your head spinning at what your fellow players do.

PS: Funny thing, the players lack of planning bit them in the arse again as two PCs bit it in the last session. Going into a random boss battle before the Big God Damn Boss Battle cost them dearly, as one character got killed by a grenade, and one was mortally wounded when the boss battle arrived. Hopefully this’ll lead to some better planning in the future, but who knows? All I know is I’ll still get some sadistic pleasure when I snuff their three-step plan.