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Old 02-10-2020, 06:02 PM   #11
Icelander
 
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Default Rosemary's Convent

Hermana (Sister) María Teresa Romero Borja (October 31, 1963; Bogotá, Colombia) is a well-read, well-educated Catholic nun from an upper class family in Bogotá, who had long ago lost her faith, but kept her vows and continued ministering to the poor and downtrodden from the Adoratrices convent in the historic Candelaria district of Bogotá. Her work involved seeing the worst of the world, in a neighbourhood filled with prostitution, crime, violence and endemic drug use, but Sister María Teresa had been gradually losing her faith throughout the violence and misery of the 1980s and 1990s in Colombia.

Ironically, as the violence and wasted lives around her got worse and ever more senseless, Sister María Teresa had cause to question her earlier private convictions about a materialistic universe. As crime rates rose and kept rising, it seemed insufficient to explain the horrors with mundane causes and sociological statistics. Tales told by the marginalized, the people of the streets and the night, were steeped in superstition, but suggested an awful truth nonetheless.

As Sister María Teresa ministered to the victims and perpetrators of the vast crime against humanity taking place day by day, street by street, firefight by firefight, needle by needle, in the brothels, avenues and alleyways, she felt, at times, the presence of Evil around her. As predatory criminals and the police that should have protected the people from them sunk to new depths of cruelty, mostly against the innocent instead of each other, Sister María Teresa could dimly sense an unseen force toying with them like ants.

Around the turn of the century, Sister María Teresa experienced a loss more personal than her daily misery, as her best friend within the convent disappeared and was found five months later, brutally murdered. The straw that broke the camel's back and filled Sister María Teresa with fury against the uncaring, unhelpful, imperfect God she had served all her life was when it eventually came to light that the murderer was another nun from the convent, the prudish and judgmental Sister Leticia, apparently motivated by disapproval by the victim's 'sinful' association with and empathy for sex workers and drug addicts among her flock.

Now, Sister María Teresa is still nominally a Catholic nun in good standing, but her one abiding desire since that day, sixteen years ago, when she confronted the revelation of the petty tyranny and small-minded hatred of Sister Leticia that extinguished the sole light of her existence, has been to end the charade of divine benevolance and stop the torment of this vale of tears, not just for her, but for everyone. She sees clearly now, you see. There are devils and if there are devils, there is a God. And that God is the worst monster of them all.

By now, Sister María Teresa has spent the last sixteen years exploring the dark and mysterious forces she sensed around her, researching the occult and esoteric while pretending outwardly to be still the same stalwart minister to the poor as before, retaining her habit and her vows. She has learned terrible secrets from the whispers of spirits and wrestled forbidden lore from entities of vast and inhuman powers.

Along the way, she made contact with fellow students of the occult, carefully building a network of contacts and a few trusted allies. Eventually, she found a like-minded mentor and took to the creed of the Keepers of the Last Hearth with all the fervor of a convert, discovering again the intensity of religious feeling she felt in her forgotten childhood.

What I want to know, is, if she has three favored students and confidants who assist her with secret rituals, who are they?

Fellow nuns?

Former prostitutes, drug addicts or both, encountered in her ministrations?

Someone else?
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Old 02-10-2020, 11:13 PM   #12
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Default Re: [RPM] Cultists of the Cold Ones (Apocalyptic Cult of the Path of Nonexistence)

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Originally Posted by Icelander View Post
While true certainty about the past is impossible, all the evidence suggests that at some point in human history, the supernatural world and our world were more closely intertwined. One PC at least believes that there were societies of powerful magical beings living among humans before the start of recorded history and while his specific theories are outré, the idea that, for example, fey folk and humans might have coexisted at some point is not considered implausible by the most learned occultists the PCs know.

However, most theorists aware of the occult believe that as human cicilization grew more complex and technology advanced, the connection with occult forces decline. By the 19th century, the supernatural was mostly superstition, as in our world, perhaps with very occasional exceptions in Places of Power and/or in relation with truly special individuals or times. Few, if any credible reports of the supernatural exist between 1901-1990 and the PCs believe that there might have been no events at all from 1889 to 1980. And before the year 2000, supernatural phenomena was so rare in most of the Western world that the US might see only a few incidents in the entire decade from 1990-2000. Only in the 2010s has the pace of incidents accelerated to the point that it seems incredible that no uncontroversible evidence has been publicised.

That means no real continuity with any ancient and esoteric organization of the past. There are religious orders older than this, yes, and even various fraternal organizations, but even while magic might have been theoretically possible in the 18th and 19th century, the vast majority of people involved in the occult even then were not practising effective magic. And a century is enough so that all the people in authoeity have grown up during times when magic was purely supersitition and been taught by others who knew the same, so even rituals that could have once had power were being performed by people who probably didn't expect any effects.

And aside from religious practices, most occult traditions and organizations in the Western world have grown irrelevant, except as social clubs, over the 19th and 20th century. So any cults and occult conspiracies in my campaign are new, though some of them might have roots in a conscious revival of various older traditions.
Hmmm...could some long-lived, or immortal, supernatural beings have been there all along, in concealment or passing themselves off as human?
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Old 02-11-2020, 12:26 AM   #13
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Default Re: [RPM] Cultists of the Cold Ones (Apocalyptic Cult of the Path of Nonexistence)

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Hmmm...could some long-lived, or immortal, supernatural beings have been there all along, in concealment or passing themselves off as human?
No.

Supernatural beings cannot survive without Mana, certainly not for any extended period.

For most of the 20th century, nothing existed in the setting that does not exist in the real world.
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Old 02-11-2020, 04:15 AM   #14
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Default Re: Rosemary's Convent

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Fellow nuns?

Former prostitutes, drug addicts or both, encountered in her ministrations?

Someone else?
There's a two-sided problem here.

Fellow religious are more likely to be reliable people, but recruiting them has the downside that if they say "no" and go to the authorities (conventual authorities, but still) they are likely to be believed that this lady's gone crazy and is up to something bad.

People from the underworld won't be believed, but they're also unlikely to be reliable.

If there's time for the recruitment to be a gradual process, then slowly corrupting reliable people (such that by the time they have something damaging to say they're already complicit in it) is probably the better bet.
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Old 02-11-2020, 04:22 AM   #15
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Default Re: Rosemary's Convent

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There's a two-sided problem here.

Fellow religious are more likely to be reliable people, but recruiting them has the downside that if they say "no" and go to the authorities (conventual authorities, but still) they are likely to be believed that this lady's gone crazy and is up to something bad.

People from the underworld won't be believed, but they're also unlikely to be reliable.

If there's time for the recruitment to be a gradual process, then slowly corrupting reliable people (such that by the time they have something damaging to say they're already complicit in it) is probably the better bet.
There are sixteen years between Sister María Teresa's fall into darkness and the time in play when she is encountered along with her most trusted followers, so I imagine that any recruitment was extremely gradual.

I'm imagining that at least one follower was the abandoned child of a drug-addicted prostitute (born addicted and HIV positive), who was one of the charges that the nuns ministered to in the Candelaria district. Sister María Teresa wouldn't technically have raised him (he was raised in an orphanage), but she would have visited him regularly from the time he was very young.*

*Initially, not as a conscious strategy or anything, but because she did (and does) continue her charitable ministering work. Also, I imagine that this child would have been born around 1995 or so, so Sister Luz Amparo Granada (her friend, murdered at the end of 1999) would have been the one to first bond with the child and they'd have visited him together.
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Old 02-11-2020, 08:02 AM   #16
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Default Re: [RPM] Cultists of the Cold Ones (Apocalyptic Cult of the Path of Nonexistence)

One possibility is that the Path of Nonexistence has always worked, and that it was a massive working that restarted magic (by making the impossible possible again) in preparation for the coming of the Cold Ones (which need mana to function). As for recruitment, the Path of Nonexistence can change reality, so it can alter small things like ownership. A Transform Nonexistence could change the concept of 'Mr. X's fortune' to 'My fortune' pretty easily, which could be a potent bribe. It could also transform concepts such as 'She loves him' to 'She loves me', which could be an equally potent bribe.

Since the duration of these bribes are temporary though, the individual must remain in good standing with the cult to prevent reality from returning to normal. In the former case, duration ending could result in embezzlement charges. In the latter case, the duration ending could result in a divorce. In either case, the member needs to remain in good standing to avoid disaster.
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Old 02-11-2020, 08:48 AM   #17
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Default Re: [RPM] Cultists of the Cold Ones (Apocalyptic Cult of the Path of Nonexistence)

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One possibility is that the Path of Nonexistence has always worked, and that it was a massive working that restarted magic (by making the impossible possible again) in preparation for the coming of the Cold Ones (which need mana to function).
It's a possible theory.

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As for recruitment, the Path of Nonexistence can change reality, so it can alter small things like ownership. A Transform Nonexistence could change the concept of 'Mr. X's fortune' to 'My fortune' pretty easily, which could be a potent bribe. It could also transform concepts such as 'She loves him' to 'She loves me', which could be an equally potent bribe.
Remember, these cultists don't have unmodified Path of Nonexistence. They learn an Optional Specialization of it where they can only perform rituals that cause loss of some sort at full skill. Their magic ends things, removes them, drains them or reduces them, it doesn't create or increase.

Some of them are experienced ritual magicians who know other Paths as well, but the rituals they learn as part of the cultic practices of the Keepers of the Last Hearth are generally useful only for things where you need less of something, not more of it.

Good examples of their rituals or Charms that have appeared in play include:

a) A crystal-like dust that causes unconsciousness and memory loss when breathed in. Drains consciousness and memory.

b) An earring that when snapped caused the absence of sound; so that no one within the sphere of effect could hear anything or make any sound. Drains sound.

c) A flash of darkness, a void without light or vision, creating an area where no one could see and no light could exist. Drains light (and heat, somewhat).

d) A ritual which renders men docile and easy to handle, causing them to lack initiative, drive and direction. Drains volition.

e) Grayish dust that when sprinkled over someone makes them unremarkable, unmemorable and tend to fade into the background. Drains attention.

f) A ritual which slows the natural processes of a person until they slip into a coma and die. Drains life.

g) A ritual which interferes with technological communication that passes through a barrier. Drains coherence.

Of course, many variations on these themes are possible and undoubtedly other rituals exist, but this is the general thrust of their magic.

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Since the duration of these bribes are temporary though, the individual must remain in good standing with the cult to prevent reality from returning to normal. In the former case, duration ending could result in embezzlement charges. In the latter case, the duration ending could result in a divorce. In either case, the member needs to remain in good standing to avoid disaster.
Any magic in the setting meant to last longer than the next sunrise outside of a Threshold or Charm of some sort to shield the magical effect from the renewing of a new dawn is automatically an extra Greater Effect.

Also, effects that are possible in the comparatively higher Mana of Vile Vortices, ley lines or Place of Power might not work in the No Mana to Very Low Mana areas where most modern people live. I'm not saying that these things are impossible; simply that they are hard enough to do so that no one is going to hand them out as bribes to prospective cultists.

One of the more powerful long-lasting ritual effects in the setting so far is the granting of Independent Income 2 to a character through a periodically renewed Path of Chance ritual. That's granting 2 character points worth of an Advantage and it still requires extensive use of ley lines, secured Places of Power and pre-prepared telluric rituals that focus geomantic energies on a singular purpose. That's a good example of the power level that can be achieved with Ritual Path Magic in the setting for affecting the world at large, as opposed to just a small area within a Place of Power or friendly Threshold.

In order to have a chance to enact a ritual that opened a way to another world, these cultists have prepared for several years and had some hundreds of millions of dollars in prepared (and stolen) Charms, esoteric components, diamonds that act as reservoirs of energy and other magical paraphernalia, not to mention over forty human sacrifices.
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Old 02-11-2020, 11:20 PM   #18
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Default Re: [RPM] Cultists of the Cold Ones (Apocalyptic Cult of the Path of Nonexistence)

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No.

Supernatural beings cannot survive without Mana, certainly not for any extended period.

For most of the 20th century, nothing existed in the setting that does not exist in the real world.
The reason I ask is that the rise of the cult would be easier to explain if there was some seed crystal for it left over from the previous time of magic. If not an immortal entity, than maybe something they left behind. A book, say, enchanted to reach out to someone once the magic came back. Or more likely a set of books, containing rituals or at least a way to contact the outer entities for instruction in rituals.

The only actual magic that would be required would be something that drew someone suitable to the books to start the ball rolling, something that could operate once the mana resurged.

Maybe the books were stored in some place of power where a trickle still flowed...
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Old 02-12-2020, 12:18 AM   #19
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Default Re: [RPM] Cultists of the Cold Ones (Apocalyptic Cult of the Path of Nonexistence)

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The reason I ask is that the rise of the cult would be easier to explain if there was some seed crystal for it left over from the previous time of magic. If not an immortal entity, than maybe something they left behind. A book, say, enchanted to reach out to someone once the magic came back. Or more likely a set of books, containing rituals or at least a way to contact the outer entities for instruction in rituals.

The only actual magic that would be required would be something that drew someone suitable to the books to start the ball rolling, something that could operate once the mana resurged.

Maybe the books were stored in some place of power where a trickle still flowed...
In the first decade (1980s) paranormal phenomena started being witnessed by a few people in the world, almost all incidents involved either prophetic dreams or visions by people with the appropriate inborn Advantages or interactions with spirits by those with Medium and other Advantages allowing them to perceive the incorporeal.

No one really knows if spirits are an ultraterrestial species of pure energy shaped by psychic impressions to act as people around them expect spirits to act or if they truly are, as some of them seem to believe, the souls of the departed, ancestral spirits, totems, genius locii, angels, demons, gods and all the other things the more powerful and coherent of them present themselves as.

One theory is that the supernatural emerging was connected to other worlds bleeding into our world and the first world to touch ours was the Spirit World. Later on, as more Mana entered the world, though generally only in specific areas, at specific times, and rarely anywhere there were witnesses that didn't already believe in magic, otherwordly beings that had some kind of (mostly temporary) physical existence could be encountered, or more likely, brought into being by a ritual enacted by someone who had made a pact with a spirit.

In the world of the 2010s, most magicians and other people with supernatural powers come from cultures that had a strong surviving tradition of spirit worship and/or some kind of shamanism, having learned their magic from spirits who started responding to their traditional rituals. A smaller group are academics who have studied some historical tradition of paranormal powers, whether that is Mesopotamian sorcery, Western Hermetic Magic (itself an attempt to syncreticise many older traditions into a coherent whole), alchemy of some sort or any number of other traditions.

The Keepers of the Last Hearth are unusual to a degree in that they don't appear to be built on any traditional religious, shamanistic or scholarly sources from a previous time when the supernatural may have been real. Rather, they seem invented whole cloth within living memory, even to the point of not using any of the traditional dead, esoteric or obscure languages for their rituals, but rather an obviously consciously created ConLang with some similarities to Ithkuil.

From what the PCs can gather, the Hidden Masters, at least some of them, might have somehow been in contact with entities from Outside, not from any worlds recognized in traditional mysticism or what scientific thaumatology has emerged. The PCs believe that the origins of the cult have something to do with scientific research at Vostok Station, in Antarctica, of the subglacial and ancient Lake Vostok. They don't yet have any firm ideas about the relationship between anyone who might have been present there and the South American wing of the cult that appears to be behind this ritual, but given that two of the cultists they've captured do have a connection with Antarctica (one was born there, one did graduate work as a geophysicist at Vostok Station), they expect to find one.

As for these specific 25 cultists and seven pishtaco, they will probably be mostly people who were either already aware of the supernatural (and even possibly already studying ritual magic by one means or another) or vulnerable, at-risk people of the kind that cults in our world tend to recruit. The leaders are people who, in the course of their dabbling in the occult, came across the Hidden Master in South America or someone close to that figure, and were eventually initiated into the cult.

Indeed, the very presence of the pishtaco suggests that among the upper echelons of the cult in South America, there are people who were practising some form of magic based on traditional Andean myths and legends. Which reminds me, one of the leaders really needs to be someone with traditional Andean magical lore, so I might need to add another leader figure. I'll add that one to the pishtaco group and demote Lopéz, who is not much of a leader anyway (just someone so consistently terrible that in a world with dark spirits and functioning sacrificial magic, he has amassed quite a bit of raw power despite lacking the intellect and education to be much of a ritual magician).
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Old 02-12-2020, 12:57 AM   #20
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Default Re: [RPM] Cultists of the Cold Ones (Apocalyptic Cult of the Path of Nonexistence)

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Originally Posted by Icelander View Post
In the first decade (1980s) paranormal phenomena started being witnessed by a few people in the world, almost all incidents involved either prophetic dreams or visions by people with the appropriate inborn Advantages or interactions with spirits by those with Medium and other Advantages allowing them to perceive the incorporeal.

No one really knows if spirits are an ultraterrestial species of pure energy shaped by psychic impressions to act as people around them expect spirits to act or if they truly are, as some of them seem to believe, the souls of the departed, ancestral spirits, totems, genius locii, angels, demons, gods and all the other things the more powerful and coherent of them present themselves as.

One theory is that the supernatural emerging was connected to other worlds bleeding into our world and the first world to touch ours was the Spirit World. Later on, as more Mana entered the world, though generally only in specific areas, at specific times, and rarely anywhere there were witnesses that didn't already believe in magic, otherwordly beings that had some kind of (mostly temporary) physical existence could be encountered, or more likely, brought into being by a ritual enacted by someone who had made a pact with a spirit.

In the world of the 2010s, most magicians and other people with supernatural powers come from cultures that had a strong surviving tradition of spirit worship and/or some kind of shamanism, having learned their magic from spirits who started responding to their traditional rituals. A smaller group are academics who have studied some historical tradition of paranormal powers, whether that is Mesopotamian sorcery, Western Hermetic Magic (itself an attempt to syncreticise many older traditions into a coherent whole), alchemy of some sort or any number of other traditions.

The Keepers of the Last Hearth are unusual to a degree in that they don't appear to be built on any traditional religious, shamanistic or scholarly sources from a previous time when the supernatural may have been real. Rather, they seem invented whole cloth within living memory, even to the point of not using any of the traditional dead, esoteric or obscure languages for their rituals, but rather an obviously consciously created ConLang with some similarities to Ithkuil.

From what the PCs can gather, the Hidden Masters, at least some of them, might have somehow been in contact with entities from Outside, not from any worlds recognized in traditional mysticism or what scientific thaumatology has emerged. The PCs believe that the origins of the cult have something to do with scientific research at Vostok Station, in Antarctica, of the subglacial and ancient Lake Vostok. They don't yet have any firm ideas about the relationship between anyone who might have been present there and the South American wing of the cult that appears to be behind this ritual, but given that two of the cultists they've captured do have a connection with Antarctica (one was born there, one did graduate work as a geophysicist at Vostok Station), they expect to find one.

As for these specific 25 cultists and seven pishtaco, they will probably be mostly people who were either already aware of the supernatural (and even possibly already studying ritual magic by one means or another) or vulnerable, at-risk people of the kind that cults in our world tend to recruit. The leaders are people who, in the course of their dabbling in the occult, came across the Hidden Master in South America or someone close to that figure, and were eventually initiated into the cult.

Indeed, the very presence of the pishtaco suggests that among the upper echelons of the cult in South America, there are people who were practising some form of magic based on traditional Andean myths and legends. Which reminds me, one of the leaders really needs to be someone with traditional Andean magical lore, so I might need to add another leader figure. I'll add that one to the pishtaco group and demote Lopéz, who is not much of a leader anyway (just someone so consistently terrible that in a world with dark spirits and functioning sacrificial magic, he has amassed quite a bit of raw power despite lacking the intellect and education to be much of a ritual magician).
Do any of the bad guys of your world know about Kessler? ISTM that if they did, taking him out might be a priority. Has Kessler made any provisions for his untimely demise? Or for his own natural death, for that matter, which is probably not too far away if he's over 100?
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