Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Lau Taxan - Pahvelorn Henchman

Lau Taxan - Rat Cultist
In Brendan of Necropraxis' excellent Pahvelorn campaign (Whitebox D&D with some wonderful rule hacks - the man is a genius for rule hacks) about 19 sessions ago I went carousing with my newly minted thief, trying to gain a few more (perhaps 100) experience points so I could catch up to the rest of the party.  I had recently immolated my alcoholic bastard of a fighter, Lune Cha Met (it's phonetic), in a pretty obvious flame trap. I picked Beni Profane the rat catcher as my new PC, both because I wanted someone who'd level quickly (1250 XP to 2nd level!) and because I had just looked at some great block prints of 17th  century rat catchers.  It was also a metagamey attempt to figure out an excuse to carry around a wardog and a sack of rats.  Beni's equipment list still says "Small but vicious dog" and "sack of six sewer rats" - though at 6th level and newly knighted the man should perhaps not be toting around rodents.

Beni, as a first level thief failed his carousing save - thieves have terrible saves which makes no sense - and woke up having been visited by his diety who had gotten him out of trouble.  The GM was nice enough to let me invent a deity, and the "Mother of Thousands" (also the popular name for Kalanchoe daigremontian - a lovely succulent) was born.  The Mother is of course a rodent god - a maternal six armed rattess, who is the patron animal spirit of rat catchers, cripples, the poor and thieves (not assassins - I mentioned a crow god, the Beaked Stranger, as an alternate assassin god, before Beni found his conscience, and apparently Pahvelorn also holds a murderous cat cult).  Beni owed her after the carousing roll (talk about randomly generated, player created world content!) and was soon approached by a pair of rat men that required his aid (the mother apparently lacks more potent followers than 2nd level thieves).  Well Beni has become steadily more religious as the party, primarily composed of Clerics to the "Eternal Empire", has delved about in the underworld (clearly the rat goddess' domain), encouraged Beni to torture captured bumbling necromancers, and battled demons, the undead and giants.  This is the sort of thing to drive a fellow who just wanted a nice smuggling racket into the arms of a rat cult.

Recently Beni came into a huge pile of gold, and decided to seek a rat priest as a companion and instructor. His many thousand gold piece project to build a monumental rodent themed fountain in the midst of the slums of Illum Zugot (the holy city of the Priest King of the Eternal Empire) was both an attack on the King's religion and an attempt to attract the notice  of the rat cult.

Beni was successful, and discovered Lau Taxan, a former embezzler who happens to be in contact with the Legatus Rattus, a greater servant of the Mother.  Lau Taxan is a sullen youth of enormous strength, nimble body, and a charismatic crooked mind.  Really having rolled him 3D6 in order i am impressed, he's got far better stats then Beni... Lau Taxan is a poor teacher however, silently poking the dirt and staring at the rats in Beni's bag more than he discusses the cycle of collapse and rebirth.  Still he's a heavily armed brute with a flail, shield and plate armor who can summon dire rats with a bit of luck - and this makes him a useful addition to any party.  It's yet unclear which variety of rat cultist Lau Taxan is, but Beni is surely under his spell.

As a practical matter Lau Tax an is the result of my effort to encourage Brendan, the Pahvelorn GM, to add a class to his game.  It made logical in world sense, as there are a large number of animal cults, and NPC shaman/cult priest have been encountered with transformative powers.  Indeed the last several sessions involved wiping out a purple worm cult (something the mother surely approves of as a terrestrial, rather than otherworldly deity).  The solution that Brendan came up with is satifyingly elegant.  Lau Taxan may summon the Legatus into himself at the beigning of the session, making him detect as evil and subject to Clerical turning, and then on a D20 roll + level above a target number invoke certain ratty powers.  None of these (except the near impossible, summon Legatus, is especially powerful - somewhere in the 1st - 3rd level range I'd guess, and with a chance of disaster attached.  Lau Taxan's first effort at rodent magic failed badly, and his summoned smoke rats failed to seek out secret doors, rather climbing into his lungs and giving him odd waking dreams that gave him a -2 to all phsyical rolls for the rest of the session.

As a PC/henchman the mechanics for running an animal cultist are sound - the number of powers is very limited, but there's a possibility of finding other patron spirits and having a choice between multiple sets of limited spells.  I think this may work better than using a similar system for petition based clerical magic, as it limits the caster to a certain set of spells.  Presumably there are several spirits - say one that focuses on support spells (healing even - though not for a rat goddess) one on combat, one that is general but less potent and one aimed at stealth and human interaction (charms), which would allow the player a tricky choice each session.  With the whole clerical spell set there is little choice of spells, and the petition method allows a fair amount of recasting. This makes sense for a druid style PC and provides a difference from Vancian magic classes - with clear risk and reward (fail that powerful spell badly enough (70% chance at first level) and get devoured by a 10HD rat god-ling).

Facts about the rat cult:  The cult of the Mother of Thousands is propagated by individuals who seek aid in skulking, stealing, killing rodents, gleaning and eking out another miserable day.  Her followers are largely the urban poor, rat catchers, sneak thieves and of course ratlings (who may worship an entirely different aspect of the Mother of Thousands).  There is very little doctrine for most followers of the Mother, she's simply a patron to ask for favors and offer small amounts of food to (via her avatars - common rats) in exchange for a bit of luck.

There are more serious rat cultists however and they fall into two categories: social reformers and millenarian maniacs.  The secret doctrine of the rat goddess is that rats represent "The gnawers at the pillars of the universe", and that one day there endless generations of gnawing, nest building and chewing will cause the entire edifice of reality to collapse.  When this happens the rats, and the Mother's faithful, will be prepared and feast on the red ruin of the world.   Having always lived in ruins and on scraps the Mother's chosen will be the best prepared for the collapse of the world and of course inherit it, becoming lords of creation (pretty typical cult nonsense really).  This of course leads in two directions, those that minister to the poor and encourage peasant, slave or underclass revolution and the more literal cultists who seek to usher in the collapse of reality into primal chaos.  These groups don't get along, and have been known to fight each other in violent sectarian wars, conducted in the sewers and alleys by armies of petty criminals, crippled beggars and street lunatics.

Despite her potentially uplifting message the Mother is still an ancient animal spirit, perhaps as old as human cities, and as such she demands the occasional human sacrifice.  With her link to the underworld, true sacrifice to the Mother of Thousands is accomplished by flinging victims into a holy cenote, sinkhole or cavern - where swarms of rats will devour the body.   The social reform wing of the cult does this only as a justification for killing important enemies (such as in the brief carnival days after a peasant revolt - before the inevitable arrival of the neighboring lords and their professional armies), but the apocalyptic cultists sacrifice as often as possible under the belief that those thrown to the Rat Mother will toil at the destruction of the universe. 

1 comment:

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