Monday, January 16, 2012

System Shopped: The Cathedral of Flesh - Houses of the Blooded

Cathedrals of Flesh Everywhere...
System Shopped: Houses of the Blooded
by Tobie Abad
January 2012

This article is the third 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.

This time, I'm trying to bring the same intrigue of the concept to John Wick's Houses of the Blooded.

For this entry, allow me to present:

The Cathedral of Flesh
for Houses of the Blooded

Everyone knows the allure of a Puzzle House.

The grand Parties that are held within.  The countless corridors and winding ways.  The archways and chambers with secrets and danger.  The excitement and thrill of finding the right rooms.  Or getting lost in its passageways with only the music and laughter of the ongoing Althua to guide them.  But there are those of the Serpent who have heard that sometimes, not always, but sometimes, on a night of revelry and Romance, the Puzzle House is more than just a Puzzle House.  It is a Cathedral.    A Cathedral of Flesh.

And on such a night, had you been one of the guests, you might finds yourself going down a corridor where the walls seem to breathe.  And the curtains reach out and caress you.  You might find yourself entering a chamber where a massive bed invites you to lay down.  And sleep intoxicatingly swirls in your thoughts.

And you awaken, refreshed, ready to celebrate the night further.   Unaware that you have been changed.  

Surely such rumors are merely that.  
Only a dolt would believe in such tales.

How Do I Use This In My Game?
Once per year, a Puzzle House used to host a party may instead be deemed to have been a Cathedral of Flesh by the Narrator.    During the party, the Narrator is to describe that some of the winding passages and corridors that the Players go through are seemingly made of flesh and bone.  Faces and human features seem to be embedded in these organic walls.  If touched, the walls breathe.  If caressed, the walls shiver.  If cut, the walls bleed.  But strangely, the walls seem to have no cares about how much damage they are dealt.  They, for all intents and purposes, seem to simply still be just walls.   The Party should be filled with wonderful events and memories.  All should still seem well save for that momentary strangeness.  And if possible, end the party abruptly, without telling when the guests decide to leave, or how they headed home.  Have the party end with an almost drunken swirl of half-forgotten memories and laughter.

Signorelli, Luca - Resurrection of the Flesh:
Image via Wikipedia
From that point on, the game continues to progress as normal.   Occasionally, however, a player character get a glimpse of deja vu.  Or a moment of feeling like he is being warmly embraced.  Perhaps even suggest at times how an Injury feels very faint.  How food seem to lack the fullness of their flavour.  Even worse, if they try to have children, they for some reason can't.  (Still let them roll a die with the partner, but always say the result is a failure.)   Whenever you throw these dreams and moments at the player, give them a Style point for their troubles.  If they even start role-playing curiousness towards these moments, you can give them two.  But don't be too generous.

Then finally, after enough time.  Maybe they've forgotten about the Party.  Maybe they've had even bigger and more memorable ones.  Maybe they've conquered lands and lost loves.  Maybe they've hunted orks and  unearthed incredible artifacts.

But at a point where they are now old enough to age to the next Phase... or if they ever find themselves tasting the bitter taste of true death...

They don't.

Their body crumbles into unraveling meat and bile.  Their skin unweaves into strands of fat and tissue.  Their bones crumble, shattering into small thin fragments with jagged edges.  Closer inspection reveals them not to be bones at all.  Antlers.  White polished fragments of elk antlers.

And somewhere, in someone's Province where a Party was once held, the same man awakes in an empty Puzzle House.  Alive.  Well.  Healthy.  And will full knowledge of everything the Tulpa that acted in his head had been doing.

Because for all intents and purposes, prior to his awakening, he WAS the Tulpa.

Where did the Cathedral of Flesh come from?
The origins of the Cathedral of Flesh can be traced back to the ancient magicks that were practiced by aelva danna - the sorceror-kings - one of whom once attempted to create a massive holding that was intended to ensure her survival regardless of her treacherous friends and family's plans.  She crafted her Sorcery using, of all things, the blood of siblings who had entered Solace and carved the foundations of her Cathedral using the pure white antlers of thirteen khanurdante.

They say the Cathedral arose like a hand reaching for the stars.  The pillars and walls were covered in flesh.  The whole thing was gilded with bone.  And the doors of the Cathedral opened, beckoning its mother-creator inside.  She stepped in, curious to see how her Sorcery had succeeded.

And never returned.

But serious, how does it work in the game?
Well first of all the character that was embraced during the Party in the Cathedral of Flesh was coaxed to sleep, and in his sleep was actually placed in a state much similar to Solace.  The Cathedral then gave birth to a Tulpa that had his exact likeness.  And dressed it in everything the character was wearing.    The Tulpa, for all intents and purposes, was the character and would be what the character would unknowingly use from that point on as his own body.

His body, on the other hand, remained eternally sleeping and safe within the Cathedral of Flesh's bed-like womb.  His body and the Tulpa would then share a link, allowing him to feel, feed, and get injured in every way that the Tulpa experiences.  Through some power of the sorcery the aelva danna once casted, everything was carried to the body, whether it be food, poison or pain.  The reverse was not true, however, and so, the Tulpa was sterile and unable to bear children.  Nor able to age onto the next Phase.

System-wise, everything worked as normal.  All appropriate Tags, Injuries and the like worked as normal save for pregnancy (which always failed).    Death and aging to the next phase was always ended the Tulpa's existence.

However, upon reawakening, the real body would then find itself having still experienced EVERYTHING save the actual death or aging that had transpired.  The body would have developed in ways he had trained, and would have scars from Injuries where the blade was twisted after stabbing.  If released by a killing blow, however, the body would emerge with a massive scar in the site of the killing blow.  A beheaded Ven would have a scar around the whole the neck.  One killed by the blade would have a scar where the mortal wound was dealt.  Suffocated Ven would show a bruising dark shade to their lungs.    In the case of poison, would forever mark the body in a manner appropriate to the poison used.  In all cases, the scar is one that can be tagged when appropriate.

But the body was reawakened by the turning of a Phase, things are handled differently.  The character did not age to the next Phase.  The last 1-6 years of age were not "gained" and therefore keep the character from hitting the required 60 years to move to the next Phase. While the delay is not that great, it at times may be enough to keep the character younger for a few more years.  For some, that may seem as enough.

Arsenic: The victim's skin is now forever pale.
Cyanide: The victim seems to always be gasping for air.
Hemlock: The victim seems to move slower and heavier than he should be.
Oleander: The victim's eyes are always dilated.
Strychnine: The victim's movements have jerkiness to them.  A tick-tock quality of a halted dance.

But even with the scars, the fact the Ven has escaped death... or delayed the coming of Solace is a blessing that cannot be found anywhere else.   And for some, that is well worth the price of a scar.

Why add this to my game?
Because it adds a layer of mystery and mystique to what sort of things the sorcerer-kings could have been busying themselves with.  Because it allows one to dramatically have a character return from what everyone else clearly witnessed to be a final, undeniable death.  Because it can become a wondrous new obsession for  knowledge-seeking characters to consider.  Because it adds an element of the unexpected to Season Actions.  Because it can make the game more interesting, if not more fun.

And lastly, because I never said there had to be only ONE person who was embraced by the Cathedral of Flesh.   You can let your players go wild in their attempts to kill each other in the most beautiful way, and not have the game end just yet.

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