Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The Red School of Masks

Wearing masks is a common enough feature of worship all across Glorantha. Priests and initiates don masks and costumes and re-enact the old legends of the gods for the edification of worshippers all the time. In the Lunar Empire the mask has assumed a special religious significance, with various aspects of the Red Goddess being referred to as 'masks' and the various occupants of the Imperial Throne as 'masks' of the one true Red Emperor, whose soul lies behind all of them.

Most masks used in rites to depict gods and their legendary foes have a standard(ish) format and many are old, part of the ritual equipment of the temples and tribes, and if a new one needs to be made it is closely modelled on the old.

The following is partly drawn from the Tales Of the Reaching Moon #15 article on Moonbroth by Mick Brooke and Malcolm Serabian.

The Red School of Masks based in Moonbroth in Prax treat the idea of masks differently. They are a sect made up up of a motley crew of native and Lunar shamen, Lunar mystics and the 'moon-struck', lunatics from all backgrounds and walks of life who have been called by the red light of the moon. Non-members tend to call them 'Loonies'.

They all wear masks, but not the conventional standardised types used by most religions but their own original creations based on their own peculiar visions.

To become a member one must first have a vision. Cultists achieve this in various ways, drugs, reckless shamanic delving into the spirit world, fasting, inhaling the peculiar fumes in the volcanic caves around Moonbroth and dancing oneself into an exhausted trance is popular. The Red School is pretty anarchic and any method will do.

The key text of the cult is the Ode of the Wandering Moon, allegedly written by the Red Goddess herself, which described her descent into Hell and what she saw and did there. It is written in extremely obscure and symbolic language and interpretations of it vary widely. It is not considered part of the 'Rufus Scripts', the official liturgy of the Lunar Way, penned by Takenegi, the first Red Emperor, and most Lunar scholars consider it a blatant fraud.

The ideal is to follow the path of Teelo Estara into the underworld, achieve illumination and re-emerge, as Teelo Imara did, as a living god. But so far no one has actually done so, but they have emerged with a vision of the god they are destined to be, if not in this lifetime, then in another future one, and these are the masks the members of the School wear.

They take many forms. Praxian shamen tend to come out with some 'Lunarised' form of their previous tribal beast or one of the Great Spirits of Prax, Jakaleel and other Lunar shamen with strange demons and beasts found only on the moon, the various mystics and madmen with almost any damned thing.

The cult mask colours are usually black, red and white and they can be anything from a simple piece of leather up to a baroque confection of wood, metal, horn and glass. All will detect as being magical and all are supposed to give some hint of the god-like powers the user will one day command, but very few do anything practical. Members may make multiple versions of their mask, refining their vision, and take multiple trips into the Otherworlds, seeking to strengthen their potential god-hood.

The Red School of Masks

Lay Member
The School will take absolutely anyone, their dedication to the principle of Inclusion is impeccable. Whether a lay members previous cult or tribe takes kindly to their dabbling in a wierdo cult of dubious provenance is another matter, even many Lunar cults regard the Red School as dangerously heretical and outright bonkers.

Being a lay member is easy, hang out with the cult and help with the many experimental rituals, if you have not had a vision yet your turn will come. The main cult site is the ramshackle Temple of the Wandering Moon at Moonbroth, a collection of Praxian lodges and wattle and daub enclosures roofed with a mixture of skins and thatch to create a warren of small rooms. This spreads into an even more ramshackle camp site where dozens of Loonies jabber, shriek, dance, sleep, fornicate and eat in between altering their consciousness and importuning passing travellers for alms.

Can you spare a moment to talk about the MOON?

Initiate – Masked One
To become a Masked One, you must have a vision. Devise a method for breaking through into an Otherworld, the more outlandish the better. The basic roll ought to be POW plus two other characteristics, which might be POW again (depends on method – straight shamanic trance might be POWx3, massive doses of Hazia or other drug might be POWx2+CON, lying in a fire ant nest under the blazing sun with no food or water might be POW+CONx2, dancing frantically POW+CON+CHA etc.) Failure at this point results in loss of one point of a stat.

This is followed by a minor heroquest which will challenge 2d3+1 skills or stats. This may be entirely spiritual and take place in a trance, or be partly or wholly physical in which the candidate wanders around the desert, cave, city streets etc. being assailed by obstacles and enemies. The participant must also roll for Illumination, and if they get a critical success in any roll they permanently gain +1% to their chance.

Failed rolls:
If ALL rolls are failed the person becomes insane for 21-POW months, plus the effect as below.

Seven fails – gain a (D6) 1-3 Chaos Feature, 4-6 Anti-Chaos feature. The Red School are fine with chaotic and insane members, sadly the rest of the world is not so 'Inclusive'. Roll vs POW x 5% or become a (D10) 1-2 Broo, 3-5 Ogre, 6 Were-creature, 7 Gorp, 8 Strix (a kind of Lunar Harpy), 9 A hive of chaotic wasps, 10 Something else entirely.

Six fails – Attacked by a Moon-spirit with an eye to possession. The person is deemed to have been cursed by the moon and even if they succeeded a roll they are thrown out of the cult and have until the next full moon to get away or be slain. All chances of Illumination reset to 0%. If possessed by a moon-spirit they become a very odd NPC with mental health issues.

Five fails – Memory loss. Lose 5% or one point in all the skills or stats challenged. Cannot recall most of the vision. Lose 21-POW points of intelligence, regained at one per day, if INT becomes zero remain catatonic until it gets back into positive points.

Four fails – Lose 1 permanent POW or one runespell or one spirit becomes unbound and wanders off into the 23 Delayed Realm or lose one sorcery spell. Lose 21-POW points of intelligence, regained at one per day, if INT becomes zero remain catatonic until it gets back into positive points.

Three fails – Suffer a geas, which if broken results in attack by a moon-spirit.

Two fails – Infected by Brain Fever, roll for severity as usual, may be cured as normal.

One fail – No effect.

Successful rolls:
Seven successes – While wearing your mask you increase in stats by 1d6 points, no more than 3 in any one stat. This may include SIZ – the person physically grows towards god-like stature when wearing the mask. POW points may also be sacrificed for a re-useable Rune spell that can only be cast while wearing the mask, including any cult special from any Lunar cult whether a member of not. Gain 1d6% towards your chance of Illumination.

Six successes – The mask acts as a power crystal of the users choice, but half the strength of the crystal. May only be used while wearing the mask.

Five successes – The mask acts as a battle magic matrix for any spell up to 2d2 points. Any spell may be chosen, the caster does not have to know it already, and cult special spells may (at the GMs discretion) be chosen.

Four successes – Mask adds +1d3x5% to a non-combat skill, but carries a geas which only affects person while wearing the mask.

Three successes – Mask adds 5% to one non-combat skill. If fails outnumber successes Mask detects as magical, but does nothing.

Two successes – Mask detects as magic, but does nothing. If fails outnumber successes, no mask vision is gained and person remains a lay member.

One success – No effect.

Masks add 1 point of head armour, and may be made so as to give additional protection if money is spent on their creation. May not be worn with a closed or full helmet. All add +1 CHA when dealing with fellow members of the Red School of Masks, the six success version gives +2 CHA, the seven success gives +3 CHA.

The vision quest may be tried again to get a better mask, but each vision is different and will challenge different skills. A person may only have one mask at a time.

As yet there are no rune priests or rune lords specifically of the Red School of Masks, and it is not known whether such a position is even possible. You would in effect be the priest or lord of your own personal deity who happens to be yourself. There are supposedly members who have undertaken difficult quests in the Otherworlds to enhance the powers of their Masks, and members who have died and been reborn with the magic powers of their mask as innate special abilities, but members are vague as to who they actually are.

There are priests of other cults who have undertaken the mask quest and become initiates and they have senior positions in the Temple of the Wandering Moon for what it is worth, since trying to organise the Loonies is like juggling cats in a room full of rocking chairs. Most notable are:

  • Mama Jaga, a Jakaleel Witch, who has some clout with fellow Jakaleel cultists within the school as she is their Coven-Mistress. She sees the School as a good way of increasing the numerical strength of her coven, though the quality of the new recruits often leaves much to be desired.
Mama Jaga's Mask

  • Yoros the Quiet, a minor sorcerer of the Irin School who has been making a bit of a name for himself fighting the nastier manifestations of Chaos in Pavis County with his band of somewhat more sober and sensible Loonies, and thus doing a lot to improve the reputation of the cult and Lunars in general with the Sartarite population. Mama Yaga hates him, a crusading sorcerous prig who thinks he's a tough guy because he beats up on a few snivelling broo. Yoros wants to find and slay Bleb the Talking Filth (see below) but his little band wouldn't make it a mile into the Chaos Marsh, he needs an army.
  • Zanzar Wahanzar the Spinning Man – a proper shaman of Waha who devotes himself to continual dancing and who knows the rites of many Praxian great spirits. Spouts blood curdling prophecies at anyone who will listen and repeatedly goes on vision quests to learn more. Other Praxian shamen respect him as an undoubted master of their craft, but few are keen on following his example and trying to tame the spirits of the moon as they have obviously driven him nuts. Too involved in his own efforts to divine the future to be an actual leader of the Loonies, though he puts on some wicked dance, drum and drug shindigs that have helped plenty of lay members have visions to find their own mask.
The Mask of Bleb

  • Bleb the Talking Filth – Bleb was a missionary priest of Etyries called Arikanthus who joined the Loonies as a way of understanding the shamanic mindset and whose first vision quest went badly wrong and turned him into a Gorp. He made it on his second try and now supposedly lives in the Chaos Marshes south of the Block, an amorphous acidic blob who created his own mask by etching a slab of bronze into beautiful androgynous human face stained with multicoloured corrosion. He is utterly mad in all kinds of interesting ways and his broo followers bring captured humans to him to be harangued in unknowable divine languages mixed with Tradetalk expletives, salacious gossip and really obscure and dark prophecies. A couple of Loonies at Moonbroth have met him and bear the physical and mental scars, lucky that Bleb decided to let them loose to spread his disjointed words rather than let his followers fuck and eat them.