Archive for May, 2011

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Exalted: Modern – The Maidens of Destiny

May 27, 2011

With origins shrouded in mystery and powers of divination that span further than even those of their Chosen, the Maidens of Destiny are some of the least understood beings in all the cosmos.  Even the Primordials could not be certain how they came to be.  And yet, when the cataclysm hit, they took no action.  The Maidens watched as their Chosen broke the world, woke the Kukla, killed billions, and changed the fundamental fabric of reality.

As the Sidereals’ magic took hold of the warp and weft of the Loom of Fate, the Maidens stood impassively in observation.  It is said that, for an instant, Mercury held still.  A single tear rolled down Venus’ cheek.  Mars laid her weapons down.  Jupiter whispered softly into Saturn’s ear, and Saturn… Saturn motioned them all to stillness.  “There is always an ending,” she said, words that chilled every living Sidereal to the bone.

Since that day, the Maidens have played the Games of Divinity half-heartedly.  Though they are trapped by its magic as much as even the Most High, their attention is somewhere beyond the Jade Pleasure Dome, perhaps beyond even Earth itself.  They listen to the strains of music played on the winds of Fate, and they watch.  They remain mysterious and enigmatic, beings not fully understood by any who observe them.

Yet, while the skies over Earth are different than those of Creation, the Maidens themselves remain the same.  The people of Earth do not recognize the constellations of the Mask, the Ship’s Wheel, the Ewer, and the like, but they remain nevertheless.  Their configurations changed when the Dome of Heaven was shattered, but their power remained associated with the Maidens, not the icons of the stars themselves.  They have simply rearranged themselves and come to be known by new names.  For example, the constellation most Sidereals knew as the Ship’s Wheel is more commonly recognized as Orion, the Hunter, while the Lovers have come to be known as the constellation Gemini.

However, while mortal astrologers attempt to divine the secrets of reality, the Loom of Fate continues apace.  With almost no gods in Creation, and few enough elementals, Essence use has decreased dramatically.  Demons remain in Malfeas.  Ghosts remain in the Underworld.  The Fair Folk remain in the Wyld.  Enlightened mortals are few and far between, and the tiny errors they cause can be easily repaired by the Pattern Spiders. 

Most importantly, there have been no Exalted.  The Dragon-Blooded are weak and scattered.  The Celestials are imprisoned or banished.  Snarls in the Loom of Fate have dropped to practically nil.  While the Maidens themselves never speak directly of it, it is whispered in Yu-Shan that the Maidens themselves would prefer the Exalted NOT come back.  The cracking of the Jade Prison and the return of Autochthon and the Lunars only means more work, more trouble, more snags in the tapestry of Fate.  Why would they want the Exalted back?

When asked directly about it, the Maidens all refer the questioner to Jupiter.  Thus far, she has answered only with a small smile and silence.

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Exalted: Modern – Luna and the Silver Chair

May 25, 2011

When the Usurpation occurred, and Creation was shattered, Gaia was initially rendered comatose.  The Five Elemental Dragons were literally catatonic.  Creation was broken and reformed.  Her last ties to the world had been violently severed.  Only Luna begged her to stay, but even the Fickle Lady could keep her present for only so long.  Eventually, Gaia began her journey into the Wyld to seek the Shining Answer.

Luna herself was tied to the Games of Divinity, and to her essential nature as guardian of the world.  However, her interest waxed and waned, and as the centuries passed, it waned more than waxed.  She spent less and less time on her moves in the Games, and more and more time searching the Wyld.  She visited her Chosen still, and was present for each and every Lunar Exaltation (except the ones she decided to miss).  But her mind was obviously on Gaia, and she sought her consort as fiercely as Gaia sought her Shining Answer.

The Silver Chair floated lifeless in the sky, as ever.  Luna had never been bound to the moon the same way the Unconquered Sun had been bound to the Daystar, and while Granalkin still patrolled the tunnels and paths beneath the moon’s surface, Luna herself was rarely present.  The Silver Chair did its job without its pilot, for its job was merely to exist and provide counterpoint to the Daystar.  It exerted its pull on the Wyld from within the Dead Zone, but the Dead Zone itself kept the Wyld out more than the Silver Chair did.

This is not to say that the Silver Chair is lifeless.  While the Daystar floats more or less serenely despite its outward blaze, the Silver Chair appears to be nothing but dead rock, while inside it bubbles with activity.  There have always been nightmares within the Sublunarian Deep, echoes of humanity’s dreams given life by Luna’s connection to the Wyld.  When man landed on the moon, it woke more and more of these nightmares, and Granalkin has spent the last decades battling wave after wave of eldritch horrors.

This battle has distracted him from what is truly important, which may have been the plan all along.  The Silver Chair floats within the Dead Zone, and so it touches the fevered dreams of the Neverborn.  From that vast shadowland, several expeditions of ghosts have come to the Silver Chair.  While most were gently rebuffed or violently obliterated by the moon’s numerous guardians, one group has managed a foothold.

While Granalkin is occupied with the alien nightmares of humanity, these ghosts have erected a massive cathedral-city on the dark side of the moon, gothic and baroque with facilities fit for a Deathlord.  While it is no more than a tiny outpost for now, it provides access to the Silver Chair, and with no immediate reprisal from the Archer on the Silver Pass, the ventures from the Cathedral Penumbra have grown bolder, even reaching as far as the tower of Saturn.

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Exalted: Modern – The Unconquered Sun and the Daystar

May 23, 2011

The Most High has not stirred himself from the Games of Divinity since the First Age.  When he turned his back on his Chosen, his mighty heart broke.  He could not bear to look upon Creation and see what his beloved Exalted had done, had become.  The Exalted had done what even the Primordials could not: they broke the spirit of the Unconquered Sun.

When the Sidereals began their rituals, when they murdered all the Solars, cast out the Lunars, and broke the world, the Sun did not miss so much as one instant of one turn at the Games.  His hand never hesitated when he made his moves.  Repeated requests from Nysela at the helm of the Daystar went unanswered, as did similar pleas from Lytek.  The Five-Score Fellowship waited for violent reprisal, but none was forthcoming.

Nysela was frantic.  She watched the Kukla crack the shell of Creation, and sought to intervene.  Initially, she sent panicked requests to the Sun for him to return to the bridge of the Daystar, but when no reply came, she began to seek other options herself.  The Daystar’s most prevalent weapons were useless against the Kukla.  Its armored hide would merely shrug off the Essence cannons.  Its most potent weapons could annihilate the Kukla – and all the rest of Creation with it, especially in such a fragile state.  With no other options, Nysela attempted to rouse the Gardullis, but the mighty dragon did not care about the Kukla. 

Frustrated and impotent, Nysela watched helplessly from the bridge of the Daystar as the world was remade.  As the lava plates cooled, she found the Daystar’s trajectory no longer automatically took it across the heavens.  The Dome of the Sky had been shattered, and the tracks on which the Daystar had run for so long had been broken and consumed.  Nysela was insufficient to the task before her.  She was not skilled enough to pilot the Daystar without a guide.  The Daystar drifted in space, and the new Earth began to slowly orbit it. 

To this day, the arrangement has not changed.  Nysela sits the helm of the Daystar, sensors monitoring the areas beyond the Dead Zone, watching for threats from beyond the world.  For millennia, none have come.  The most potent battleship in existence floats silent and burning, its pilot grown weary and embittered, its captain immersed in his Games.  No living being has set foot on the Daystar since the Usurpation save those already aboard. 

With the return of the Exalted, there is a chance to change all this.  Both the Jade Pleasure Dome and the Daystar are formidable obstacles, but neither is out of reach of a dedicated circle.  The Sun is broken in spirit, but he could be roused to action, and even lessened as he is, he is a mighty ally.  He retains enough self-awareness to know he is no longer the Sun he once was, and a persuasive band could even convince him that it is time he stepped down… or simply forcibly retire him, for the good of Earth or for its ill.  The Daystar can be piloted by the Exalted, though with difficulty.  Taking control of the physical sun itself gives one command of all the people of Earth.  Nysela will not allow herself to be removed from her position willingly, but she is not even as resilient as the Unconquered Sun. 

For now, however, both remain points of untapped potential.

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Exalted: Modern – The Fallen Races

May 20, 2011

When the Sidereals usurped the Solars, ended the First Age, and sent Creation itself into apocalyptic spasms, humanity was not the only civilization affected.  The Mountain Folk and Dragon Kings suddenly found their entire worlds turned upside down, literally.  Shunted into caverns deep beneath the Earth’s surface, both had to find new ways to survive.  The Mountain Folk succeeded.  The Dragon Kings did not.

For centuries, the Dragon Kings tried.  They were warded away from the surface by the Dragon-Blooded, and by their own persecution at the hands of the humans.  They were different, and humanity was not prepared to deal with that.  They had barely earned their own place in the world, they were not willing to share it with the Dragon Kings.

So, the Dragon Kings delved downward, until they encountered the core of the Earth, where the Elemental Dragons slumbered wrapped around the Jade Prison.  They did not understand what it was, and all efforts to open it or wake the Dragons failed.  The Dragon Kings began to build what civilization they could, but so far from the Sun, beset by so many failures, and already reeling from their losses, both in the Primordial War and the Usurpation, they had little chance.

One by one, the Dragon Kings died out, or fell into cryogenic slumber within one of the few chambers they had salvaged from the Kukla.  Some savages remained, and those drew nearer the surface.  Most were slain by Mountain Folk, exploring humans, or the other, stranger things that live beneath the Earth, but some still roam those tunnels, feral and primal.  The age of the Dragon Kings had finally come to an end.  The lights of their cities died, their vegetative technologies withered, and their crystalline coffins were sealed in underground caverns.

The Mountain Folk, on the other hand, found they adapted quite well, after the initial cataclysm.  As horrible as the Kukla’s wrath was for the Mountain Folk, most of them were protected within the Elemental Pole of Earth, which survived more intact than anything else and was eventually reshaped into the majority of Earth itself.  Their Darkbrood enemies were not so fortunate.  They were endangered as greatly as the humans themselves, and without Dragon-Blooded heroes to protect them, nearly 95% of the Darkbrood perished in the fiery caverns below Creation.

The Mountain Folk lost most of their civilization and technology, but they were adept at rebuilding.  For the last several millennia, they have been expanding and exploring the caverns beneath Earth’s surface.  They have found more nodes of First Age riches than any other explorers.  They retain more Artifacts and relics, more Manses and demesnes, than any other force on Earth.  Even the Shogunate cannot compare.

Moreover, they have found such freedom with the lack of Exalted.  The Great Geas does not apply to mortals.  The Mountain Folk prefer their solitude, and so they remain hidden from the eyes of humanity, but they no longer fear the interference of the Solars.  They can experiment, play war games, invent new constructs, all without concern that some enterprising Twilight will come along and sweep them all away for his own amusement.

Though the return of the Exalted means the Mountain Folk must once again deal with the Geas (if the Exalted ever even find them beneath the mountains of the world), it also heralds the return of their Great Maker.  The Mountain Folk, staunch and traditional, have never forgotten Autochthon, or what they owe him.  If Autochthon remembers them as well, then Autocorp could well have allies and resources it never imagined, literally waiting beneath the Earth’s surface for them to swoop in and pluck it up.

The Dragon Kings, as well, have hope, though they do not know it.  Many of the cryogenic stabilization tubes have been damaged with the tectonic movements of the Earth, but many more remain pure, their contents safe.  Though they are sealed away from any easy reach, a fortunate Exalt could well find one or more elder Dragon Kings simply waiting to be woken.  Who knows what secrets they still retain?

For those who wish to play members of the Fallen Races, the Mountain Folk begin play with one free dot of Resistance, but otherwise use standard character generation rules.  Dragon Kings use the rules for elder Dragon King character generation and gain one free dot of Resistance.

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Exalted: Modern – Gods and Elementals

May 18, 2011

Not all of the gods (and precious few of the elementals) were fortunate enough to be in Yu-Shan when the Sidereals sealed it off.  Many were trapped in Creation when the ground split and the Kukla roared forth on a wave of fire.  Some of these spirits sought to aid the Dragon-Blooded as they protected the last remnants of humanity, while others sought only to save themselves.  Both groups saw varying levels of success.

When the earth cooled, many of the elementals that had once roamed Creation were dead or dying.  The dragon lines were completely altered.  The geomancy of the world had become something entirely new.  The sanctums those few fortunate elementals had dug out of the firmament were buried or annihilated.  The flows of elemental Essence did not bubble to the surface to feed them.  They had no connection to the suddenly new landscape, no familiar landmarks or even friends.  The Courts were in shambles.

Those few gods who remained fared better.  Many of them chose to rally supporters from amongst the elementals, trying to reform the Courts with themselves as the heads.  Some succeeded.  Others chose to seek worship from among the mortals, either openly or subtly, but most of those quickly encountered the Dragon-Blooded and were slain or driven into the wilds.

The elementals learned to make good use of their ability to become incorporeal, as the gods once had.  They remained out of sight, for fear that any mortal could potentially have Dragon-Blooded allies.  They were frightened and harried, and they began a pattern of secrecy that would last for millennia.  They chose not to reveal themselves to mortals, but instead to do their best to tend the new world, to shepherd the natural resources as the Dragon-Blooded shepherded the mortals themselves.  The Courts reformed, often around gods, but they remained out of sight (mostly).

Worship was scarce, but for a time, pre-industrial cultures still venerated nature spirits of various kinds, and so the elementals actually had a stronger flow of Essence than the gods of Yu-Shan.  However, as industrialization and science spread, the worship of supernatural beings shrank, and many of those beings ceased functioning in the material world for lack of motivation.  Industrialization slowly spread and drove back the spirit world with a spiritual malaise.

And yet, some spirits proved to be remarkably adaptable.  Yet others were born wholly new from the industrial world.  Elementals that seemed more metallic began to grow in industrialized nations, especially those that would later boast the initial seeds of what would become Autocorp.

The spirit world still exists.  The spirit world is not a separate world.  It exists on Earth, coterminous with the mortal world, but all its inhabitants can become incorporeal.  It interacts with humans on its own terms.  Mostly.

There are no few mortals who retain the thaumaturgical rituals to communicate with gods and elementals.  Some of them were taught by their ancestors, with rites preserved through history.  Others have stumbled upon ancient texts or been taught by the spirits themselves.  Others still have accidentally researched the rituals, re-engineering them from first principles.

Now, with the return of the Exalted, things are changing.  Exalts can summon and bind elementals and can command gods.  They can see the immaterial.  Many gods hope this means a return to the glories of Yu-Shan, but most elementals fear the same outcome.  They were never more than second-class citizens of Heaven at the best of times.  On Earth, they can find some small veneration, some niche where they are appreciated.  If Yu-Shan opens its gates again, many elementals fear a return to the oppression and bigotry of days past.

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Exalted: Modern – Malfeas

May 14, 2011

In the Demon City, the fall of Creation reverberated throughout every layer of Malfeas.  Tens of thousands of demons died as the Demon City contorted in on himself, frustrated by his impotence, and hundreds were summoned to the dying Creation to help save what they could by cultists and akuma alike.  The Yozi frantically mobilized every resource at their disposal, even going so far as to attempt to save some humans within the Demon City, anything to preserve even a fraction of their precious toy.

As the new Earth formed, the demons continued to suffer at the hands of the Yozis.  They raged against their imprisonment, made even stronger by the sealing of additional gates.  Thaumaturgy and sorcery were almost entirely unknown.  Demons made the journey to Earth all too infrequently, and so most of the Yozis’ agents were stymied.  With all the Exalted gone or imprisoned, akuma were nearly nonexistent.

However, after the Yozis’ initial rage (and the thousands of lives it claimed), the Demon City settled back into business as usual.  For the subsequent centuries, your average citizen did not even hear about Earth except in passing.  While the Yozis schemed, and their Third Circle souls plotted, the First and Second Circle demons were content to live their lives in (relative) peace.  Of course, Malfeas has never been a pleasant place to live, but demons are a hardy lot, and they can adapt well to a variety of hardships.

The humans taken into Malfeas, for a variety of reasons, did not live long, but their descendants, Demon-Blooded for the most part, continued their lines.  In time, some of them became First Circle races themselves, common enough in the Demon City to fail to occasion comment.  Layers of Malfeas rose and fell.  Octavian conquered what he could, until his empire grew too large to hold, and he was driven back to his original Quarter to begin again.  In short, life carried on.

With the coming of the Green Sun Princes, all that has changed.  Malfeas now experiences a hubbub of activity not seen since the Usurpation.  Third Circle demons whip their subordinates into frenzies, building helltech weaponry, geoforming manses, and training First Circle troops.  The Conventicle Malfeasant has displaced hundreds of First Circle demons, and the Green Sun Princes walk the streets of Hell like the rock stars of the Reclamation that they are.

However, over the more than eight thousand years of their imprisonment, most demons have grown, if not fond of, then at least accustomed to Hell.  Few enough are those First Circle demons who have survived since the Time of Glory, so many First Circles do not even remember Creation.  Even the Second Circle demons who have survived rarely look back with fondness, instead looking at the history of Malfeas itself.  Octavian, for example, no longer wishes to return to Earth, save to find those worthy of challenging him.  The Demon City is his home; why would he want anything else?  Most demons agree with him.

Of course, the Yozis have never taken their eyes off the ball.  Their warped obsession will not permit them to, and they, in turn, have never permitted their Third Circle souls to do any less.  The leadership of the Reclamation is wholly dedicated, and if they are troubled by the fact that their soldiers find the idea of victory to be less than enticing, they have not let it slow their preparations.

Of course, they are not the ones who will have to deal with the recalcitrant soldiers.  Green Sun Princes, who would otherwise have found willing slaves in their First Circle brethren, now find the bindings on their sorcery to be imperative.  Coadjutors provide reluctant assistance, or sometimes outright lies.  Even Demonic Familiars have shown a desire to return to Malfeas rather than walk Earth at the side of their Infernal master.  Bound demons struggle against the letter of their bindings, where once they would have served their masters more freely.

With the Yozis fractious and short-tempered, the paths to Earth sealed off to all but the Green Sun Princes, and the foundation of the Reclamation hesitant at best, can the demons ever hope to escape Malfeas?  Or is the Reclamation doomed to be nothing more than yet another diversion and futile attempt by the all-too-obsolete former Primordials simply to matter?

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Exalted: Modern – The Underworld

May 13, 2011

The Underworld is no longer a pale reflection of the mortal plane.  Once, it was a faded version of Creation, but with the waking of the Kukla and the raging torment of the Neverborn, it has become something else entirely.  The Labyrinth has spread to swallow most of the Underworld, and even those parts not afflicted by the agonized chaos of the half-dead Primordials are alien and horrifying.  It was never a comforting place, but now it is actively inimical to humanity.

The geography of the Underworld no longer makes any kind of sense.  When Lovecraft spoke of “non-Euclidean spaces,” he could well have been referring to the dead dreams of the Neverborn.  Causality and time are only casually acquainted with the ghost world.  The Labyrinth spreads its clutching talons throughout the entirety of the Underworld, and builds or tears down structures and landscapes with the fluidity of nightmare.

Stygia, however, remains at the center of the Underworld.  While it no longer resembles the city it once was, it still resembles a city, if a city built of torment and horrors.  When the howling dreams of the Neverborn wailed up from the Mouth of the Void, Stygia was at the epicenter.  Chaotic forces tore at the city and its inhabitants.  Streets were reshaped, buildings torn down or flung into the sky, and commonly accepted phenomena such as gravity or spatial relationships ceased to matter. 

Worse for the inhabitants, the mad dreams of the Neverborn drove themselves into every ghost in Stygia (which happened to include the majority of the Deathlords).  Nephwracks and spectres suddenly outnumbered “sane” ghosts ten to one or more.  Those few who resisted the initial madness were torn apart by frenzied nihilists.  Stygia became a haunted city, even for the Underworld.

At the same time, literally millions, maybe hundreds of millions, of ghosts were pouring into the Underworld from every corner of the rapidly dying Creation.  Caught in a tempest of madness that was spreading from Stygia like a creeping stain, the few societies that remained untainted fought to claim as many of the new souls as they could, to bolster their defenses against the armies (or, more accurately, mobs) of nephwracks.  When the Deathlords rode at the heads of these mobs, all defenses failed.

Outside the walls of Stygia, the Underworld is labyrinthine and chaotic.  Sometimes, a bleak, sunless sky will span for leagues, before suddenly becoming the ceiling of an oubliette, or a flying buttress hanging senselessly in midair.  Strange creatures wander the landscape, things that resemble spectral animals from Earth only in the very loosest of senses.  Ghosts who appear in the Underworld find themselves beset on all sides by horrific dangers, from the denizens of the Underworld, to their fellow ghosts who seek to enslave or consume them, or simply by the inhospitable nature of the Underworld itself.  It is a place where humanity is rapidly stripped from ghosts, leaving them little more than animals themselves.

The Deathlords have not helped this situation.  Their own humanity lost long ago, they ruthlessly spread their own insanity wherever they went.  Many of them have taken well to their new state of affairs: The Bishop of the Chalcedony Thurible, for example, has only grown in fervor and zealotry with the passing centuries.  Yet others find their methods and lack of humanity almost crippling.  The Lover Clad in the Raiment of Tears cannot even successfully pass as human anymore, and so her one diversion, her one plan is no longer an option for her.  It is said that she has attempted to cast herself into the Mouth of the Void no fewer than three times over the intervening centuries, but the Neverborn keep hurling her back up into Stygia, refusing to allow her peace until they have their own.

With the advent of the Abyssal Exalted, one Deathlord in particular promises to be a force to be reckoned with.  Eye and Seven Despairs, languishing in genius idleness for centuries, has never shown a particular desire to return to Earth.  He has instead spent his time inventing thousands of doomsday weapons, stockpiled in his Manse in Stygia.  However, he has suddenly taken an interest in returning to Earth, turning his mad genius to designing some manner of spiritual bridge.  The other Deathlords claim that he only cares for the Exaltations of his First Age circle, his hatred still burning bright for thousands of years, but in the end, they watch him anyway.  Why do they care why he brings them to Earth, so long as he does so?

As for the Neverborn, they have long since given up anything resembling hope.  Their lives are eternal suffering, trapped in tormented nightmares for all of time.  Creation could never again grow so close to destruction as it did when the Kukla woke, and even that was stolen from them by the cursed Exalted.  The only thing that keeps them bound is the echo of their hatred for Earth, their obsession for that hatred.  If some brave Exalt can sever that tie, can show them how hollow their compulsion is and how pale in comparison to the rage they once felt, perhaps they could finally drop into Oblivion and know peace.