Sunday, December 27, 2015

[Exalted] Swift Rivers Crossing

While the path from the Emergence Cave to the Jade Plum Citadel is one of the most important initial areas to detail - since that's where the PCs will likely travel first - I also have some ideas for location <7,6> which I want to write down before I forget them. This area is part of a long river valley that leads to points east, which means that it is a good location for a trade route out of An-Teng towards the eastern deserts. Therefore it is very suitable for a local Guild outpost - it sits at the threshold of the High Lands while still being useful as a base so that the Guild can keep track of major developments there and elsewhere in An-Teng. The Guild has won a concession of Prince Josei of the High Lands to run this outpost independent of High Lands jurisdiction in exchange for significant bribes. This has the added advantage that the Guild is very motivated to keep bandits out of the region, which keeps down the need for additional expenses and patrols from the government of the High Lands.

As a result, the surrounding town - which I will call Swift Rivers Crossing - is fairly cosmopolitan for such a remote place, thanks to assorted Guild traders and hangers-on. And that has made it a good location for a small cell of the Cult of the Illuminated. The cell was founded by a traveling priest named Traveling Wirat, who after establishing the cell went on to Prosperous Garden in the Middle Lands of An-Teng to spread the word. However, the cell hasn't heard of him for a while, and they fear the worst - but without him, they don't know who else to contact once they have found some Shining Ones (i.e. the PCs). Meanwhile, a peddler named Slow Kamon is traveling on a regular circuit between Swift Rivers Crossing and the Jade Plum Citadel in order to catch news from around the region. It might be a while until he hears news of the PCs as well, though if the PCs do something to draw attention he will likely hear it first and move to intercept them.

Swift Rivers Crossing, with a population of 12,000 people, barely counts as a hub city by Guild Standards - but it is maintained as one nonetheless, since An-Teng proper is too beholden to the Realm yet represents too important a market to ignore. It thus has its own Guild Factor (named Proud Shomari, originally from Harborhead), who is fully aware of the opportunities of this region and wishes to greatly expand Guild operations here. PCs who do not object to the slave and drug trading practices of the Guild will find him a useful partner, though he is wary of offending the Realm too much. PCs who strive to curtail slavery or the drug trade will turn him into a ruthless and devious enemy who will conceal his animosity behind a smile.

Now let us turn once again to the Random Nations Generator for further details. While officially the Guild and its factor are in charge of the own, the Guild is focused more on trade and less on running the day-to-day affairs of the town. Among the results for Government, I get Exilarchy, which has potential - let's say that Proud Shomari's clan (of the Izhalvi people - see Houses of the Bull God, p. 11) did badly in one of the many wars of the Harborhead region and thus they sought their fortunes elsewhere. Thanks to Proud Shomari's position and influence, Swift Rivers Crossing looked like a good place to start anew, and Shomari was happy to see an influx of laborers and artisans who probably wouldn't stab him in the back. That being said, Shomari is uninterested in involving himself in Harborhead clan politics and won't give the clan more support than a safe harbor. The clan matriarch Eldest Hasana, however, is quite determined to see her clan's triumphant return to her homeland before she dies, and as she is feeling her age she is willing to engage in increasingly desperate schemes to that end. As an added wrinkle, the Izhalvi worship both Luna and the Unconquered Sun - if the PCs could convince them that they are indeed Chosen by the latter, they might acquire quite a few allies.

The first of the Organizations listed by the generator is the Technisches Hilfswerk, a German government-funded organization dedicated to disaster relief. Let's translate that into the Good Neighbors Association, a group of people volunteering to help others in both their community and without. Led by Joyful Issa (a male immigrant from Harborhead), this group is essentially a front for the Cult of the Illuminated - they do take helping their neighbors seriously, but they have also recruited many cult members this way. In the absence of Traveling Wirat, Issa serves as the local cult priest - although he is not very firm on his theology.

Results like Triads and Mafia remind me that the existing books describing An-Teng don't elaborate on organized crime in the region. Sure, there are Lintha operating nearby - but as pirates they will stay near the coasts instead of operating this far inland. Googling for organized crime in Thailand I find a Wikipedia entry about the Chao Pho, or "Godfathers" - but using that name is likely to cause Marlon Brando jokes. But how about the "Godchildren"? The "God" in question being, of course, the Pale Mistress of An-Teng, who does have "crime" in her portfolio - along with chaos, selfishness, darkness and all that other good stuff. As a result, the Godchildren will have cells and independent splinter groups everywhere in An-Teng (as opposed to one big, organized group which would be anathema to the Pale Mistress). The leader of the Swift Rivers Crossing chapter, Bright Kanchana (female Tengese), is likely in conflict with the Good Neighbors Association - which might draw the PCs in.

We already have a bunch of NPCs, but let's nevertheless look at some Major Personalities the Generator provides. Among these, Alexis Carrel sounds interesting - a surgeon and biologist who received the Nobel Prize but also became infamous for his advocacy of Eugenics. Let's translate that as Nisai Daruth, a Wood-aspected Dragon-Blooded Outcaste sorcerer who works as the senior surgeon of the Outpost - and who has additional business revenue from his breeding projects. Breeding humans, that is - he has a fair degree of success (thanks to his Medicine charms and related Sorcerous Workings) with "improving" the offspring of couples (of whatever genders). He can and does summon neomahs for this purpose, although he also has other methods. Another service he offers are surrogate mothers, usually slaves purchased for this purpose. The Guild pays him well for these services, although they keep the bigger parts of the shares to themselves. Nisai does not particularly care, however - as long as his research is funded and he has a steady supply for his experiments, he is content. His ultimate goal is to increase the Breeding of the Dragon-Blooded (and he is willing to pay high prices for anyone able to snatch the "Lost Eggs" of An-Teng away from Tender Rose - see Blood and Salt, p. 17), but in the meantime he has all sorts of other projects. Among these, he has become aware that there is a demon taint in certain Tengese families and wishes to learn more - which will bring him into conflict with the Seven-Stranded Vine.

Another character is Allan Pinkerton, Let's translate that into the persona of a Guild Warden named Slow Hom (at least, that's her cover name) who is in town to investigate misconduct within the Guild or anything else that threatens local Guild monopolies. The political machinations of the Izhalvi Exiles certainly have her attention, but so far she hasn't found any evidence that the Factor is diverting Guild resources to help them. If the PCs are doing anything sneaky around town, they will draw her attention as well.

Among Major Political Issues we get Detroit - Too broke to bury their dead. Let's translate that as the local dedicated Guild priest/undertaker, Cheery Kilinda (female Izhalvi), skimping on the funeral materials for the slaves that are dying at the outpost and just dumping their bodies in the forest somewhere so that she can pay for her boozing and partying. So far this has not drawn anyone's attention, but this is slowly giving rise to a number of hungry ghosts.

Another issue is Eurabia, the conspiracy theory that Europe will allegedly soon be subsumed into the Arab World because of immigration and high birth rates of immigrants. Let's say that some Tengese "Concerned Citizens" are likewise worried about all these immigrants from Harborhead, which has led to some assaults in the nights by hotheaded youths (their elders are much more carefully about offending foreigners of course, for historic reasons). So far, no one important has been harmed, although foreign-looking PCs might become targets as well.

A third political issue is Sex, Lies, and Subprime Mortgages, a story about the corruption in the American housing market in the leadup to the Financial Crisis. For a suitably lurid counterpart, let's say that there are a number of rich merchants and Guild drug lords which vie for control of the various poppy fields and other drug plantations in An-Teng. Each of the provinces has different factions vying for control. In the High Lands, the primary drug lords are Generous Agun (female Tengese), Daring Klahan (male Tengese), and Prosperous Fanaka (male god-blooded scion of a minor fertility deity in Harborhead) - beyond the Factor himself, of course. All of them scheme against each other to win influence and will use any means fair or foul to make plantation villages work for them. Village headmen who are compliant are often invited to weeks of debauchery at Swift Rivers Crossing, while those who are more stubborn will get threats, beatings, and worse. This squabbling has started to annoy Prince Josei himself, and is one of the things Slow Hom is currently investigating.

Among the Major Projects, only "Moscow Mayor Promises a Winter Without Snow" stands out. An-Teng is unlikely to receive much snow even in the winter - except possibly the high mountain passes to the east. And even in the other years, harsh weather might make the progress of caravans difficult. For this reason, Sweet Rivers Crossing maintains its own priest, Well-Spoken Rochana (female Tengese) to appease/bribe the weather gods - but some of the drug lords have started to offer her bribes for bringing bad weather to their rivals' plantations. Rochana is very leery of accepting those bribes, but does not exactly wish to offend the drug lords either.

I will skip over the Religion sections of the generator - beyond the deities mentioned, the Guild will worship the usual divinities of trade and travel, with no unusual forms of worship. There are no dangerous creatures in the immediate area either (beyond humans, that is... plus the hungry ghosts mentioned above). The next relevant section is about the History of the region, with one of the results being "Portal to mythical Mayan underworld found in Mexico", which sounds promising - let's say that the town was built on the ruins of an old Tengese ancestor cult which eventually created a small Shadowland deep beneath the town. While the ruins themselves are well known, nobody knows of their true extent and purpose - and Cheery Kilinda is using the ruins to dump the bodies of slaves, which threatens to awaken some truly ancient dead, with potentially disastrous consequences for the town. A further Historic Event, "The Torture Colony" (referring to Colonia Dignidad in Chile) gives hints to how this old ancestor cult was run, and the "Peshtigo Fire" indicates that the old settlement was consumed in one big conflagration.

Finally, "An Epidemic of Laughing in the Bukoba District of Tanganyika" indicates that the Seven-Stranded Vine released a demonic presence in this town a few years ago, which caused everyone who was "infected" to laugh uncontrollably (I must remember to come up with an appropriate First Circle demon for this). Obviously, if they have released this Laughing Plague before they can do so again, and the Guild has their special ire as outsiders who disrupt the "proper hierarchy" of An-Teng. This means that they might have some connection to the "Concerned Citizens" mentioned above - a low-ranking cult member, Observant Tansanee (female Tengese) runs a pub and inn ("Peaceful Rest") for local Tengese laborers and tries to subtly agitate her customers against the foreigners.

I think this is plenty of detail for Swift Rivers Crossing for the time being - though I should probably return at a later date once I have figured out more about the factions of the High Lands and how they interact.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

[Exalted] Hundred Dreams Village

It's been a while - real world events have kept me occupied, and there has been the Exalted 3E release to digest in the meantime. But now I am back - so let's continue in our quest to put the High Lands of An-Teng on the map!

After detailing Gankorou's Fair Folk freehold in my previous post, I should probably detail the village the Fair Folk are preying on. In my old campaign I didn't spend much time there - the villagers first ascertained that the PCs meant them no harm, then told them of their plight, and then the PCs went and fetched their dream-eaten kin, dumped them, and left the village and never returned.

That seems something of a waste, in particular since this village will be their first encounter with the local culture.

Once again using the Random Nations Generator, we get Magocracy as the government - rule by mages. Or a mage - and while a remote village like this probably doesn't have a full-fledged Exalted sorcerer (who could probably deal with Gankorou on their own), the new edition does have some rather nifty rules for mortal sorcerers. Looking at the list of sorcerous origins from the Core Rules, let's pick "Pact with an Ifrit Lord" (Core Rules, p. 467) - we will assume that the sorcerer wandered in the vast deserts to the East to attain initiation into the Terrestrial Circle. Among other things, that means that the sorcerer will always want to have a large fire nearby, and observant PCs will note that the village seems to have a rather large stockpile of firewood for being in a tropical climate (well, maybe subtropical - these are the High Lands of An-Teng).

Next, let's pick the gender. Looking back at my previous campaign, I suspect I too often went with a subconscious assumption of "most significant NPCs are male, with the exception of love interests". To prevent that from happening in the future, I will from now on determine the gender of NPCs randomly unless there is a good reason otherwise. For humans, this will be a 1d100 roll: 1-48 male, 49-96 female, and 97-100 "other" (this is Exalted, after all). For nonhumans, (non-ghost spirits, Fair Folk and the like), this will be a 1d6 roll: 1-2 male, 3-4 female, 5-6 other. For my sorcerer, I get a "37", which means he is male.

Now let's pick the name. In my old campaign, I frequently used Thai names which seemed authentic for the region. However, this had the disadvantage that none of my (German) players could remember them, and I too had frequently problems with them. On the other hand, the overly flowery names common in Exalted ("Midnight Pearl", "Ivory Cup") sound a bit silly to German ears. Thus, a compromise: I will use a flowery descriptor and a Thai name to create the full name of an NPC. For the sorcerer, let's name him "Fire-Salved Somsak" (the last part apparently means "Power of Worth" in Thai, which seems appropriate). Obviously, he is very concerned with the Fair Folk of the nearby freehold.

The village is hardly big enough for any significant organizations, but among the results provided by the Generator Rosicrucianism has potential. Let's say the sorcerer is - or at least claims to be - a member of a larger secret society which provides its initiates with "mystic knowledge" and makes them feel superior to all the uninitiated. Analogous to the Rose Cross, let's pick a flower theme for this group - the Red Orchid Society (not related to the Red Lotus Society - why do you ask?), with "red"="fire" being an appropriate association for the sorcerer's initiation. He is the ranking leader of the local society, of course, with various influential villagers being lower-ranking members. He might even have picked an apprentice among their children.

Among the "major personalities" we get Agnes of Rome, who was a Christian martyr who was executed because she refused to marry rich and powerful suitors (at the age of 12 or 13, mind you) and was denounced as a Christian as punishment. Before her execution, she was supposed to be raped by multiple men, but thanks to assorted miracles the rape was prevented (though the execution was not). Translating this into an Exalted story, let's say that a young child (a girl, as the random roll indicates) was the victim of an unspeakable crime, but her vengeful ghost killed her murder in turn. Now she lingers on as a protector of the village children, who remember her in garbled stories and call on her from time to time in a form of prayer, providing her with the equivalent of an Ancestor Cult. Her name is Pale Kanya, and the adults never speak of her - although the PCs might feel her passing, in particular if they look like they might be a danger to the children.

For "political issues" we get "Police 'can't cope' as Vietnamese flood drugs trade". We will interpret this as "this village produces drugs" - and considering the region, they will have some large opium poppy fields, However, in a twist this is perfectly legal and accepted and a major source of business with the Guild. Another result is "Man petitions to marry comic book character". Since comic books are inappropriate for this region (unless the PCs introduce them, which is not beyond the realms of possibility. In my old campaign, one of the PCs started a chain of sushi restaurants!), I am interpreting this as "villager wants to marry a nonhuman". Since the village grows opium, let's make the nonhuman the field guardian (Core Rules, p. 512). We get a human female on the roll ("Impetuous Malai"), which means that the field guardian ("Green Papaver") is male - while the Tengese are fairly relaxed about who might take whom as a lover, they have very strict ideas about who should be partners in a marriage. Let's further assume that she managed to get pregnant and refuses to induce an abortion via maiden tea (which the villagers are worried might anger the spirit anyway) and also refuses to marry anyone else to "keep appearances" - she wants to marry Green Papaver and no one else. Green Papaver, meanwhile, viewed this as nothing else than an enjoyable diversion or possibly even a fertility rite - "sowing his seeds", and all that. If the PCs make friends among the villagers, they might be asked to help with sorting this mess out.

This being Exalted, forms of religious worship are very important to a community since the gods often live very closely. The most appropriate result from the generator is Animal Sacrifice - each of the village gods will get a small animal (such as cocks for Green Papaver) on their special days (which are a bit more frequent than the Immaculate Faith allows, but the monks only come rarely into this remote region). For a gruesome twist, children might even sacrifice mice and other small rodents to Pale Kanya, which join her as ghostly apparitions when she is angry!

While I could go on with the other categories of the Random Nations Generator, this should be enough for the time being - this is only one small village among many after all and only distinguished because it will be the first local settlement the PCs come across after they get out of the Emergence Cave. But it is worth considering how the villagers will react. Unless the PCs come from Southeast Asia, they won't be able to pass as natives - and to make matters worse, none of them will initially speak Flametongue! (Nobody took the charm "Strange Tongue Understanding"? That's too bad! However, if they are willing to spend the two weeks of training time in the village to purchase Flametongue as a one-dot merit, they have no problems learning it - this can be justified as "they knew it in a previous life, and they are Solars, anyway!") So the villagers will assume that they are weird foreigners at best, and likely Fair Folk infiltrators. They will threaten them with spears and arrows, but observant PCs should quickly realize that the villagers are more scared of them than vice versa - and since they have no clue what is going on, they should probably go with them until they can figure this place out. Once brought to the village, Fire-Salved Somsak will test them with a small splinter of cold iron to see if they are Fair Folk, and once they prove to be human everyone will relax considerably. The general attitude will be: "Okay, you are probably not inhuman monsters out to suck our blood, but you are still weird so we will be keeping an eye on you." The villagers won't treat them as prisoners as such - and provide them food and shelter - but there will always be one of the villagers around to keep an eye on them.

If the PCs start displaying obvious Anathema powers, things will get... complicated. The villagers will be even more scared, but Fire-Salved Somsak urges calm and possibly sends someone downriver to the Jade Plum Citadel to warn the Immaculates if they seem dangerous to the village. On the other hand, if the PCs seem more helpful than scary, he will consider how to best point them at the Fair Folk. Afterwards, he might even give them some pointers about how the Realm will see them - given that Fire-Salved Somsak has seen all sorts of strange stuff during his travels he is not necessarily inclined to take Immaculate propaganda at face value, although he will not take any unnecessary risks to either himself or the village.

All that's left to decide is the name of the village. In honor of its major product, I will call it Hundred Dreams Village.