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.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Charelle, the Happy Planet

Been trying to fill in a few of the gaps in the Aquila Sector for my Known Space homebrew Traveller setting. 


Aquila 071 B 966 517 6 Agricultural, Garden, Non-Industrial

Charelle is a pleasant world, warm and temperate, with a thriving native ecosystem and a growing population. Unfortunately local law stipulates that no-one may leave the starport and no inhabitant may leave the planet without government permission.

Charelle might be called a psychiatric dictatorship. The founders, Robert and Cynthia Charelle, were psychiatrists from the USA on Earth who migrated to Aquila and gathered a cult-like following for their unconventional theories on mental health, moving on to found the colony of Charelle around eighty years ago. To become a colonist one must undergo a battery of psychometric tests and a month long stay in their assessment centre and sign an impressive wad of legal documents committing them to stay on the planet for at least ten years.

For PCs determined to get in the base pass roll is 12+

Add all stat modifiers (the Charellites say their tests are purely psychological, but they currently havent got the resources to look after the potentially unhealthy)
+1 per level of skill in Diplomacy, Carouse and Jack of all Trades (they like sociability and self-reliance),
-2 per level of skill in Deception (they really are good at spotting wrong'uns),
+2 per level in Social Science (Psychology) (the tests are supposed to be unbiased, but if you have a basic knowledge of psychology you will know what answers they are looking for),
+2 if a family member is already a settler,
+2 if aged under 30, +1 if under 40. 

+1 if named Robert or Cynthia
+2 if named David or Davinia
+1 if member of a religion
-3 if formerly worked in Marketing or Human Resources
Automatic acceptance if former Scientologist

Those with any cybernetic or biological enhancement, including New Men and Hobbits, are automatically barred, and those with a criminal record have -1 to -10 penalty depending on severity of the crime.

The tests are, it is claimed, to measure sociability, community-mindedness, intelligence, honesty and integrity. They have a nice colony here, a utopia of specially chosen kind and considerate people, they don't want any flies in their ointment. Once beyond the confines of the starport, it is indeed pleasant. A bit primitive maybe - information technology is restricted to administrators only, communication is by wired telephone, transport is by electric light railway and the odd internal combustion truck, entertainment is team sports, barn dances and a two hour per night radio broadcast and electricity is unfortunately rationed until they can get the hydroelectric dam project sorted. It is all rather reminiscent of the 1950's as seen by Norman Rockwell, with a bit of idealised Soviet collective farm as seen in a Pravda article.

Everyone sees a psychiatrist once a week for a private session and council meetings are essentially group therapy. Freedom of religion is respected up to a point - there are Churches, Mosques, Synagogues, Temples etc. but all the clergy are trained psychiatrists and paid by the state. The state keeps extensive records of sessions and permission to vote is only allowed to those who, in their opinion, have shown good judgement and intelligence, and even then the Clinical Council, the ultimate authority on the planet, is made up of psychiatrists selected on merit by their peers.

The selection process weeds out most potential malcontents, but those having difficulty fitting in are offered alternative jobs and a move of settlement based on their psychometric test results. There is a prison out in the woods, but it is a pretty mild place, more a therapeutic community where inmates can work out their issues or even set up a cabin alone in the wilds to meditate upon their problems.

If none of this works inside the ten year minimum stay then the person is asked to leave, passage is booked on a passing merchant vessel and they are let go, but in the last decade only three people have left in this way. The Charellites are obviously pretty good at persuading people to conform.

People with a long track record of loyalty and stability can be given permission to work in the starport (situated on an island) and deal with the selfish, awkward and frankly pretty barmy outsiders. It is not an assignment most Charellites relish, but someone has to do it. They may also be given a leave of absence to go to another planet on business - the Charelle Institute still has branch offices in the colonies of Aquila which need staffing.

For a supposedly peace loving people the Charellites can be pretty militaristic. Everyone over 18 has mandatory militia training, and 1 in 20 of the 60,000 inhabitants is in the security service. Every settlement has an armoury where citizens can be issued with TL5 rifles and pistols if the need arises, and shotgun licences are easy to obtain for those on frontier farms where wild animals may roam onto their property. Target shooting is a popular sport, though actively hunting the local wildlife is discouraged. The security services have TL7 assault rifles and TL8 stunclubs, have some rather rickety APCs and operate a few TL9 system defence boats and armed shuttles.

The greatest fear of the Charellites is that another colony will be set up on their beautiful and mostly empty planet and 'neurotic' outsiders will ruin the utopia they have tried to create. And it certainly is an enticing looking planet, a true garden world with fertile soils and a wide diversity of quasi-reptilian and crustacean fauna. The authorities know that a determined settlement effort by a well armed outside force would blow their low tech militia away and are seeking a treaty with the Aquilan League of Nations to defend them in return for land grants and an understanding that no one is to settle within the vast tracts they have claimed for themselves to expand into.

Adventure Hooks

Rumours about what the Charellites are really up to and what the colony is really about abound. Any, all or none of the following may be true-

  1. The Charellites do not 'own' the planet. There is no way a bunch of cultish kooks could afford to buy the sole exploitation rights to a planet this large and desirable. If you trace back through the web of front companies and trusts the place is in fact owned by the US government and a consortium of American and Swiss pharmaceutical firms. Cynthia Charelle worked in a lab for Jewell GmbH on psychotropic drugs, and though the Charellite shrinks claim to use no more than the odd sedative or mild anti-depressant they are in fact drugging the whole population up to their eyeballs in a nefarious chemo-control scheme the US government is intending to roll out back home. Do not drink anything in that fancy starport of theirs, bring your own water and beer.
  2. It's psionics dummy! Bob Charelle investigated the claims of those Psionic Institute frauds back when he was a lecturer in Psychology and Sociology at Le Grand Ecole Polytechnique d'Aquila, and while the official report said they were talking bollocks, Bob saw they were onto something. The Charelle Institute is running a long term breeding/indoctrination programme to create real actual psychics! Some of those psychiatrists can really, genuinely read your mind! Think only happy thoughts while visiting, or the fuckers will take you that camp in the woods and wipe your mind.
  3. Those Charellites seem such nice folks, cheerful, straight talking and honest to a fault, but they have some dark, dark secrets. They are paranoid. They have this huge planet they only occupy a few dozen square miles of, yet I hear they refused to let a bunch of refugees from the Orphean War in to set up a camp in a spot well out of their way, other side of the planet even. The Orpheans landed anyway and over the next few weeks the Charellites shot down their ship and hunted them down.
  4. The Chinese are going to rub them out sooner or later. The planet isn't theirs, the original survey was by a Chinese State Planetological expedition and the Charellites are mere squatters. The Chinese are overstretched as it is and currently the farthest colony they are seriously investing in is on St Anne which has more easily exploitable minerals. But one shipload of marines and these wallies are toast, and it will come.
  5. The Clinical Council has gone the same way as all self-perpetuating oligarchies, with internal factionalism, corruption and official ideology a mere stick to beat each other with. Know a guy who took a high mucky-muck psychiatrist or two off world secretly, there had been an internal coup or some such and they had to leave before they got shot or reprogrammed. There's a real issue with introverts, people scoring low on the EI scale are sent off to out of the way projects like the hydro-electric dam, the ruling faction on the council don't trust them. But someone out there is giving them extra militia training.
  6. It's the local fauna you got to look out for. There's ruins in the forests, real lost cities. The official line is that there was a failed colonising attempt, some Argentinian squatters who lacked the numbers, equipment and support to become self-sufficient. But though they aren't marked on any map you can see big lines and patterns from orbit, hundreds of miles across. There was an alien civilisation here, and the holiday camp they send their maladjusted folks to is in the middle of it. What wierd alien tech have they uncovered to use on them eh? What became of those aliens? Still there, degenerated into something innocuous looking maybe, but wanting these squishy human interlopers gone...
  7. One thing the Charellites won't tell you is that they believe in the Quantity Theory of Insanity. According to this, in any human society there will always be a certain amount of insanity, usually spread wide and shallow in the form of minor hang-ups and neuroses. The Charellite system is to off load all of this insanity on a few individual scapegoats who become deeply screwed up. The 'therapeutic community' they show you in the brochures is a sham, there's some very disturbed and dangerous psychopaths and paranoid schizophrenics, made that way by Charellite social manipulation supposedly to ease the burden of neurosis on the others, and they are kept in a very high security installation. The first inmate was Robert and Cynthia's own son, David, deliberately driven crazy by his own parents in the name of this wonky theory, and for traditional reasons any settler named David or Davinia is singled out for the same treatment.
  8. Being very into psychiatry the Charellites are seen as Engrams incarnate by the Scientologists, despite the rather obvious parallels between their psychiatric sessions and their own auditing, and the Charellite aim of elimination of neurosis and going clear. The Cathedral of Scientology in New Dorset on Aquila has a special branch of Sea Org set up in the woods where they try and train Scientological fanatics to fool the psychometrics of the Charellites and infiltrate their colony to commit acts of terrorism. They are the source of most of the paranoid conspiracy theories about Charelle. For their part the Charellites see the Scientologists as massively deluded and any they catch at their assessment centre are admitted and immediately sent to the Therapeutic Community for cult deprogramming. PCs may find themselves asked to rescue Scientologists from this facility, or to infiltrate and disrupt the colony on their behalf. One hysterical conspiracy theory put about by the Scientologists is that Charelle is the home of the 'Engram Generator', and visitors to the world are mentally poisoned with infectious psychological memes designed to suppress or even kill their Inner Thetan. Outsiders listen to this with the appropriate degree of scepticism.