System Shopped: Exalted
by Tobie Abad
This article is the second variant of the classic World of Darkness' Cathedral of Flesh; a place so infamously disturbing it is mentioned in the Dark Ages setting, the Modern setting and even in the Time of Judgment books as well as the Bloodlines Redemption videogame.
Wouldn't you, as a storyteller, want to have something similar for your games?
For this entry, allow me to present:
In a hidden valley deep within the desert in the South, lies a town that defies explanation. No, water does not burn in this town. No, people do not live forever in this town. No, the Unconquered Sun is not the worshiped deity in this town. No, Exalted inhabitants are not the norm in this place. What makes the town of Castellar different is how they protect themselves from any threats that come to their assault their walls.
When the Fair Folk raiders pound upon the town's walls...
When the Wyld beasts stalk upon the town's people...
When the Dynasts flash their banners and demand service...
The town of Castellar realizes the threat has come and as one, call upon their faith to aid and protect them. United in their valor and empowered by their compassion the townsfolk feel their love for their town embrace them and gift them with the ability to defend themselves. They move, scaling upon each others arms, gathering into towers, into spires, into walls, and become a living Cathedral of Flesh and with a united front face the threat as one massive champion.
A living Warstrider made of the people themselves:
The Cathedral of Flesh.
Isn't that too fantastic?
In a world where a swordsman can slice apart a storm, or a thief can sneak past a guard by timing his movements to his eye blinks, I don't think so. The town of Castellar benefits from an ancient pact that exists upon the very ground their town stands. Amusingly, no one in the town is still aware of this long forgotten lore. They only know that when a threat comes, and they choose to defend it, the town itself somehow empowers them to do so. In many ways, the town embodies all four Virtues in an incredible balance and for some Silver Falcons, this very balance may be key to what allows them to do this incredible feat.
The truth, however, is far more fantastic.
The very ground the town is built upon is an ancient Fair Folk that had fallen in love with an Exalted of the Twilight Caste. And the very foundations of the town were shaped with the late Exalted's ashes. During a time when the South still mostly engulfed by the Wyld, the Exalt and the Raksha faced off in a competition of Lore and Legend. The two traded stories, each one attempting to out-do the other in sharing tales of the triumph of Virtue over Vice. But at one point, the Exalted found himself so engrossed in sharing his invented tale of a town whose very people were able to call upon the ancient spell Unity of the Closed Fist, he failed to realize months had passed since his last meal. Dying from starvation, but lost in how enthralled the beautiful Raksha was to his tale, the Exalt continued to tell it without concern for his own dwindling life. When he ended his story, the Raksha then realized she had fallen in love with the tale and rather than find a way to compete against it, expanded on it instead in her own way. She shared how the envious she felt of such a populace and spoke of how a Fair Lady found the town and gifted them with all her Graces. She shared tales of how the town grew to become so united in love and passion that they literally became the town itself. It was only after the Raksa finally declared "The End" that she realized the Exalt, whose name was Cas, had died. And it was in remembrance of a tale so moving that she, whose name now was to be Tellar, converted his ashes to the foundations of the town, then surrendered all her Graces to fill the town with all the laughter, dedication and loving patience that their story spoke of.
Visitors of Castellar would find the town to be rich in Essence. While there are no Exalted residents in the city, everyone seems to have been gifted with the merit: Awakened Essence. Strangely, however, the towns folk are neither Blooded nor Exalted and seem to be incapable of using or tapping into their essence reserves in any manner. The townsfolk age as normal, and require food, rest, and air just like any other being.
Given the fact the town exits in no maps and somehow remains unconnected to any other towns or cities in Creation, outsiders who chance upon the town tend to by accident or only after being rescued from death in the desert by members of the townsfolk itself. The town welcomes all travelers who come to its door with no clear intentions of violence. Dynasts have, in the past, visited the town and found the place to the very least disturbing. Most who have left peacefully, however, find that they are unable to locate the town ever again. It is almost as if the town's existence sits inside a pocket of the Deep Wyld itself.
There are manses in the town. And while all townsfolk seem to have a religion of their own (They venerate the town itself, Castellar, and speak of it as if it in terms as if it were literally alive) they seem to have no issue in seeing all existing manses, regardless of their Elemental or Exalted affinities, as blessings from Castellar. They trade openly with magical materials and welcome the use of Realm bits and obols, seeing their value based on the fact they are made of Jade. When confronted with mentions of other religions, most Castellar townfolk respectfully smile and share, "It is good you too have someone to believe in." They rarely engage in debate.
Castellar City Attributes
Population: 20,000 at most
Exalted Population: None
A Magnitude 3 Dominion
Military: 1 Culture: 3 Government: 1
Abilities: Bureaucracy (Diplomacy +1) 3, Craft 3, Integrity 3 (Self Sustaining +1), Performance 2, Stealth 4
Virtues: Compassion 3, Conviction 3, Temperance 3, Valor 3
Virtue Flaw: Valor Current Limit: 2
The Cathedral of Flesh:
When the populace gather to protect their town, their collective desire to protect Castellar becomes an unconscious invocation of the Solar Spell, "Unity of the Closed Fist", with the whole population of awakened Essence individuals being part of the spell. Every single person gathers and begins to form a massive towering figure that stands 30 feet tall and almost 45 feet wide, much like an armored knight with massive tower-like arms and legs composed of flesh and empowered with Essence. Their bodies are enveloped by a prismatic glow that shimmers with essence and the Cathedral moves as directed by the collective with the intent to defend their town. The Cathedral has no other weapons (unlike most Warstriders, that carry weapons with them) save for the main bell tower where its "head" stands.
If the town is attacked and Exalted player characters are present in the town, the player character of a Solar Exalted of the Twilight caste is automatically chosen to be its pilot. If there are more than one, then the Twilight with the strongest Essence. If no Twilight is present, then which ever Exalt has the strongest Essence rating is given first dibs to pilot the Warstrider, down to the weakest. If no one pilots it, then the Cathedral acts independently as per the Storyteller's decisions.
Speed: 10 (dash 30)/20 mph
Maneuverability: -6R (Lore 1, Ride 2)
Endurance: If driven, the Exalted must commit 12 motes of Essence to control the Warstrider. Otherwise, the Warstrider remains active for one full scene and is controlled independently by the townsfolk.
Cargo: None. But other Exalted can "ride" on its shoulders.
Armor: 30L/30B (Hardness: 18L/16B)
Health Levels: Ux10/Mx5/Cx5/Ix5/D
The Heart of the Cathedral Bell
Usable only once per scene, the Heart of the Cathedral Bell is the ultimate defense of the town against Fair Folk threats. When activated, the whole vicinity of the town becomes enveloped in a long extended toll that physically manifests as a golden sphere encasing the town. While contained, everyone inside the sphere is completely protected from the effects of the Wyld. In addition, both the Warstrider and its pilot gain give dice to resist any Charms used by one of the Fair Folk. In all intents and purposes, the Bell is identical in function to a Wonderous Globe of Precious Stability (The Book of Sorcery, Vol 1: Wonders of the Lost Age), save for the fact it exists only during the Cathedral of Flesh's manifestation, and it does not require a hearthstone nor commitment to use.
While the Cathedral of Flesh is active, the Exalted pilot can use the following Warstrider AI charms.
Essence Bite (p.146) and Spirit-Cutting (p.147)
The Warstrider is considered to have a Strength of 20.
Hand to Hand statistics are as follows:
Cathedral of Flesh Punch Speed 6 Accuracy 0 Damage +12L* Defense +4 Rate 2
Cathedral of Flesh Kick Speed 8 Accuracy 0 Damage +20L* Defense 0 Rate 1
*Treat as piercing against all inanimate objects
With every health level of damage lost by the Warstider, however, an estimated twenty to fifty people are brutally killed, taking mortal wounds that the magic of the spell cannot deflect. This loss of life is, however, respectably celebrated in Castellar. Such people are remembers are great heroes and their families are honored for their contribution to the protection of the town.
The idea was clearly inspired by two things: The first was the story by Clive Barker called "In the Hills, the Cities" where a couple bear witness to a mind-warping event as two cities literally rise up to war with each other. The other was the human towers in Spain that seem to be a fun cultural thing they do. Wikipedia has a nice entry on the Castell.
In later entries, I shall share other variants of this monstrosity for other game lines.
Enjoy the horror!