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[Charnel Gods] The Fall of Sarantium

Started by kalyptein, February 08, 2006, 08:22:04 PM

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I posted a little about the initial work on this game some while back, but it was stillborn at the time.  Recently it got dusted off and last night we had our first (short) session.  This is my first attempt at doing anything with Sorcerer, or even particularly in the Nar vein.

The epoch is that of the Sarantine Empire (many details lifted from the pages of Guy Gavriel Kay's Sarantine Mosaic books).  Basically it is a faux-Rome/Byzantium in the last throws of decadence, with barbarians massing on the borders.  The game was originally conceived of as a con-game, so I came up with a set of pregen char concepts/Fell's Desires which the players would then flesh out.  The game is now being run as a weekly ~2 hour Skype (internet voice chat) session, but we decided to go ahead and work with the pregen stuff.


The General

  • Tiberius - just returned from his glorious conquest of a distant nation; the toast of Sarantium.  He loathes the decadence, the fops, and the two-faced politicians and believes the only way to save the empire is for a hard-headed man of action to take control before its too late.  Among his obstacles is the the populace's belief in the divine bloodline of the emperors.
  • Zansatsu, Blade of Slaughter - the General's Fell is single-mindedly dedicated to slaughter.  Its Desire and every last one of its powers are to kill, kill, kill.  Its need is to be bathed in hot blood.  You get the idea.  With it, the General is pretty much unstoppable in battle, but he has no extraordinary aid in subtler matters.
  • Kicker - After showing his trophies to the adoring court, the Emperor requests that fascinating weapon (Zansatsu) as a gift to be mounted in the palace.

The Leper

  • Tragus Nemo - As a rising young judge, Tragus was struck down with leprosy.  He lived for years as an outcast in the North Quarter (old, ruined section of the city turned into a kind of open air penal colony/homeless shelter).  He stumbled down into its depths, into the old pagan catacombs, and then into the Carrion Fields.  There he found his Fell and learned sorcery from the whispering shadows.  He stayed for a year and day, but returned only hours later.  He believes in the Creation Myth and the need to feed the Corpse Wall.  He wants to promote an ideology espousing as careful and compassionate a feeding of the Wall as possible.  This is to be handled by the "Wretched" (the sick, deformed, mad, etc) who have embraced the suffering of life and earned the right to be its executioners.
  • Uthril, Hammer of Pestilence - Uthril can sense the truth of words spoken by one who touches it and it can infect people it touches with a plague (basically a spawned possessor demon, giving Tragus some measure of power to command those he infects).  Tragus uses this to bestow his "blessing" on the pure.  It also has the power to heal (sort of, a good example below).    Uthril's Desire is Desecration, its need is to be buried in earth.
  • Kicker - The public execution of a popular magistrate (widely believed by the public to have been framed by rivals) is witnessed by a large angry crowd, including a number of undesirables from the North Quarter.  The man's last words are about public corruption, but he is silenced before he can say a whole lot.  When his head is severed, Uthril sustains his life.  He picks up his own head and continues his speech about corruption.  A riot ensues.  Tragus finds himself occupying the courthouse as the nucleus of a new cult.

The Inquisitor

  • Gnaeus - Part of the enforcement arm of the True Church (this post faux-Christianizing of faux-Rome), he has seen the slow descent of the empire into sin and corruption.  The inquisitors have a great deal of pagan lore regarding the Fell, even if they don't full understand it, as well as some of the Fell themselves.  Gnaeus has decided to force one of these demons to serve the will of Leto (God) and give him the power to restore the empire and the Church.
  • Andvaranaut, Scepter of Sixtes - A flanged mace.  It grants its wielder supernatural persuasiveness and political subtlety.  Its need is to bask in the pain of others and its Desire is Oppression.
  • Kicker - The current Thearch (pope) is ailing, and after torture a heretic reveals that his heir apparent, Niraemius, is both corrupt and a wielder of another one of the Fell.  Gnaeus and a fellow inquisitor are the only ones to hear it.  His comrade is hell-bent on revealing Niraemius for what he is, regardless of the turmoil or damage to the church it will cause.

So far so good.  I tried to give each of the Fell a Desire not directly opposed to the goals of its wielder, but rather a corruption of those goals.  We finally got everything knocked into shape.  Far more detail is available at:

I'm not normally one for using a lot of props, but we got into the swing of things working on the wiki and it really ended up stirring our interest and imagination.  I had each player come up with a supporting cast for his character, which the other players can take over when their characters are not on screen.

First Session

We made it through the General's and Leper's kicker scenes.  Valerius, the corrupt and half-mad emperor, was jealous/frightened of the popularity of Tiberius, so he decides to test/demonstrate his mastery of him by demanding what is obviously a favored trophy (he has no idea about the Fell).  The General gets all weaselly.  He claims there's a pagan curse on it that strikes down those who don't win it in mortal combat with the current bearer.  Valerius has a priest dragged in to bless it, scoffs at the General's impure faith, and requests again.  Further weaseliness.  Finally, Tiberius draws the sword and shows its simple-but-solid craftsmanship and eternally blood-tarnished blade, suggesting that he has many better trophies to offer the emperor.  Valerius finds the blood distasteful, ribs the general again about his care of his weapons, and opts for the shiny-with-gilt substitution.

Bonosus, speaker of the senate, talks with one of Tiberius's ambitious officers (a supporting cast character), hinting that the emperor is likely to break up Tiberius's legion to "spread the veteran's experience around" and incidentally rob him of a legion full of men with personal loyalty to him.  If the officer (Marcus) is smart and knows who to side with, he could find himself promoted into command of one of these legions.

Finally, Zoticus, the court astrologer, talks with Tiberius, asking all kinds of pointed questions about Zansatsu.  Zoticus is the master of a coven of nobles who dabble in sorcery (the pacting with Pagan Things type).  He recognizes one of the Fell when he sees it and covets it.  He offers to try to use alchemy to leech out the stain on the blade, and Tiberius agrees, but wants to witness the process (Zoticus wanted to get the weapon alone and try to bind it to himself).  The scene ends with a messenger rushing in to announce that a riot has broken out and tells garbled rumors of a miracle. the execution.  I narrated through the beheading and resurrection of the magistrate.  The riot breaks out.  Tragus preaches his gospel a bit, and the executioner (a supporting cast player) becomes his devoted disciple, and also the first to be marked by the hammer.  Most of his followers at this point are vagabonds, who will hardly notice a few more pox, but he has attracted some more ordinary people by dint of his obvious supernatural power.

He retires into the dungeons of the courthouse to bury Uthril (its need).  He is called out by some of his followers who have captured and beaten some soldiers who were trying to suppress the riot.  The captors are vagabonds delighted to be part of a powerful new force and they want Tragus to "pass judgement" on the men.  Tragus condemns the corrupt empire they serve but not the men themselves.  He forges (using the warp power) their swords and helmets into a statue of a headless man as a demonstration of his power and tries to get them to join him.  They refuse but are cowed and promise to leave and trouble him no more.

Game called on account of homework at this point.  I felt like it went ok, but not great.

Did I wuss out on the General?  If I'd kept demanding the Fell, I could have forced him to choose between rebelling then and there and handing over his ticket to power.  I shrugged off his first couple of attempt to be placating, since I wanted to force him to make a choice (this is Nar, right?)  Then I started thinking that I was bottling him up in a choice with only two predefined options, which seemed lame.  So I left him off the hook and decided that his weaseling had 1) left Valerius certain that he was up to something and determined to put him in his place later on, and 2) damaged his glorious conqueror image in the eyes of the court (not only was he less that utterly loyal, but weaseling is not the way of a great man).

Can Tragus really be a "compassionate killer" in the name of preserving reality?  I'm fairly sure that theoretical good does not assuage the need for humanity checks.  So long as he sticks to infecting the willing and killing in self defense, he's ok.  Should his mercy on the soldiers have warranted a humanity gain check?  It seemed like "not killing you" wasn't enough to deserve it.

Some things I'll probably Bang them with:

  • the General will be asked to put down the riot
  • a pagan rabble-rouser is claiming Tragus' miracle to be the work of the Old Gods
  • the Inquisitor will hear word of the miracle and the pagan-rumor
  • Tragus will be confronted by the lover of the executed magistrate, who is not happy with his unnatural state
  • a barbarian army will show up and besiege the city at some point
  • Zoticus may try to assassinate the General to steal his weapon
  • Valerius is not going to accept some leprous messiah running his judicial system
  • The leper's vagabonds want someone to kick ass and take names for them, he will probably find his more apocalyptically-minded followers demanding more substantial actions from him

I don't feel like I'm really putting the pressure on them: they haven't had to do anything heinous-yet-pragmatic.  I'm not normally a high pressure kind of guy, but hopefully I can muster sufficient nastiness.

Advice and suggestions for Bangs and so forth is most welcome.


Lisa Padol

I don't know whether you're wimping out or not, but I love the idea of Sarantium + Charnel Gods. The characters sound nifty, too.


Ron Edwards


It sounds like a great first Sorcerer session as you guys find your feet. Heinousness will arise, I'm sure. Why am I sure? Because this:

QuoteI'm fairly sure that theoretical good does not assuage the need for humanity checks.

... indicates your awesomeness as a Sorcerer GM. I agree with your call about the soldiers, too. Keep on with that sort of thinking and you're good.

Oh, and play those demons hard.



We finally got our second session in.  It went ok, but I find myself with huge, important, point-of-the-game humanity questions.

Gnaeus, the Inquisitor, got his kicker scene.  He is torturing a heretical scholar who confesses to providing forbidden texts on the Fell to no less of a figure than Niraemius, next in line to become Thearch.  Niraemius implied to the scholar that he actually had one of the Fell himself.  Gnaeus's junior inquisitor, Publius, wants to blow the whistle, but Gnaeus convinces him to speak with Darius, the current elderly Thearch, before doing anything rash.  They head to the Thearch's villa and meet none other than Niraemius coming out.  They exchange a few polite words and Niraemius leaves.  A servant rushes out and says that the Thearch's illness has worsened and he is no longer responsive.  Gnaeus rushes in and examines him.  Upon learning that Niraemius was with him alone, Gnaeus sends Publius to get a contingent of guards and meet him at Niraemius' home.  He intends to get there first and have a private confrontation with Niraemius.  Stepping out into the street, he finds himself swept up in the riot.

Meanwhile, Tiberius receives orders from the emperor to take his legions and put down the riot.  He assigns some commanders and sends out the troops, joining one group himself.

Gnaeus encounters a crowd in the street listening to a pagan rabble-rouser wearing a crow mask.  He is exhorting the people to return to the Old Ways, claiming that death and ruin are coming, and also claiming that Tragus' miracle of resurrecting the decapitated man (which sparked the riot) was the work of the Old Gods.  The Inquisitor gets into an angry debate.  One of his Fell's abilities is Cover: Demagogue, so we're all a little surprised when he doesn't just seize control of the crowd's attention immediately (although the pagan was a pretty good orator himself).  The pagan even recognizes his Fell and points it out, although Gnaeus denies what it is.  Gnaeus ends up rooting him to the stop with Hold and then climbing up onto his platform.  This time he disperses the crowd with his rhetoric.  Tiberius and his soldiers arrive and Gnaeus asks them to take the pagan into custody.  The two characters talk as they head for the courthouse.  They both fail their Lore rolls to notice each others sorcerous and/or Fell telltales, but the General ends up showing his to Gnaeus, who recognizes what it is when its shoved under his nose.  In general, they get along pretty well.

They arrive at the courthouse to find it occupied by Tragus' vagabond mob.  Inside, Tragus has been passing judgement on prisoners.  He acquires some more pox-minions from among those who were innocent (by his definitions), although once others see that the innocent end up infected, they stop wanting to take that route, which makes Tragus suspect them of being guilty.  Plenty of prisoners are guilty too, and Tragus executes a number of murders and rapists and such with hammer-blows.  He makes his Humanity roll no problem.  He emerges to meet the approaching soldiers, and reveals the headless magistrate to Tiberius and Gnaeus, who are shocked.  We end there.

Things went pretty well.  We are finding Skype to be kind of cumbersome; no one was particularly eloquent and we wish we could see people's expressions and gestures and such.  My biggest problem, however, is when to make Humanity rolls.

As I understand it, Charnel Gods humanity is about harming or helping people.  It seems pretty much incompatible with half the things that go on in a primitive monarchy like Sarantium every day.  The inquisitor should be making rolls for using torture.  The general should be making rolls for prosecuting anything but a war of self-defense.  The leper should be making rolls for executing people or applying painful punishments.  Now that they are Fell bearers, their humanity is going to bomb simply for doing things they've been doing for much of their life (at least the inquisitor and general).  This seems weird, but may be Working As Intended.  But maybe it isn't.  I'd really appreciate some insight on this.  Until I get it settled, it makes me inclined to avoid humanity rolls, which is pretty much exactly what I shouldn't be doing.



Personally, I'd make the Humanity rolls and see how it goes.  The fact that the characters are only doing what they've always done is moot...the power they wield now makes those decisions significant.  If someone hits zero, it's not going to ruin your game; Charnel Gods is designed so that everyone (except the Harbinger) will get to at least resolve their Kickers, so a great deal of play (even the majority of it) might take place after the end has been initiated.  And that's how it's supposed to be.

BTW, it sounds awesome.

- Scott