Friday, January 4, 2019

Two Supporting Castmembers in Umberwell

Jack from Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque has a new book out about his Umberwell setting (which I've played in!) Included in the book is a section for generating "supporting cast" or NPCs. Let's generate two.
First NPC - Ugly Safra
Race & occupation - wight stevedore
Appearance & personality trait - brutish and bold
Ideal, bond, flaw - progress, land, superstitious
Nemesis - a collector wants something she owns
Short and horrid, Ugly Safra looks like a mindless corpse. Her cloudy eyes never seem to focus, her lipless mouth always hangs slack-jawed, her wet rotten skin, her hair like tangled black seaweed. But Safra's ugly visage belies her lively heart. She is friendly to a fault, and assumes instant intimacy with anyone who shows her the least bit of kindness - though admittedly, those who've been kind enough to see her friendly side are few in number. And Safra's no fool, she can tell genuine kindness from the sort who would feign it in order to use her.
Safra is a recent victim of the Necrophagous Fever. Her life before is gone now. But unlike most who succumb to the disease, Safra kept her intellect intact. She works on the docks now, mostly night jobs unloading contraband at the shore of the rivers that run between Umberwell's island boroughs. She's still in awe of her new undead body and works unloading the most dangerous cargoes, the ones too deadly for the living. Living a life of crime, handling materials that would have killed her with a touch before - Safra loves the excitement and opportunity that the Fever brought into her life.
Safra's only problem is that someone's after her diary, the journal she kept as she was wasting away with Necrophagous Fever. Safra thinks of it as her "brain" and fears that if she loses it, she'll lose the spark of intelligence that separates her from the Fever's countless mindless victims. She's not sure who this collector is, but through agents, they've tried offering her cash, breaking into her room, even attacking her at work. The Knights of Ruin have offered to recruit Ugly Safra, as they offer all of Umberwell's recently undead, and so far she's refused ... but if she can't get rid of the collector who's hounding her, she might accept the protection, and the obligation, that comes with Ruin membership.
Using Ugly Safra in your game -
  • The characters want to buy something illegal, need to learn about the underworld's shipping schedules, or meet a contact on the docks, and find puppydog-friendly Safra.
  • A patron hires the characters to steal Safra's diary. Or a faction wants the characters to use Safra to infiltrate the Knights of Ruin. The characters know someone will get the job done whether they accept or reject.
  • Desperate Safra approaches the characters wanting to hire them. She needs help finding out who the collector is before they simply kill her to take her book. Or she learned something from a Ruin recruiter that scares her, and her conscience demands that she tell someone before it's too late. 
Second NPC - Darbidian Ral
Race & occupation - rakshasa cultist
Appearance & personality trait - pristine and double-dealer
Ideal, bond, flaw - wealth, dead loved one, prideful
Why he came to Umberwell - seeking revenge against someone in the city
Cult devoted to - Ravsana, goddess of pleasure
The newest most glamorous cabaret in town is The Sinners' Home, operated by the rakshasa gangster and impresario Darbidian Ral, a recent immigrant from a sun-soaked and demon-haunted land far to the east. Ral stands shoulders above most of his clients, looking for all the world like a tiger on its hind legs wearing the most fashionably-cut and hand-tailored suits. Ral always catches eyes with his immaculate coiffure, silk ties, gemstone cufflinks, and fresh flowers tucked into his lapel. He seems to be everywhere in the club, booming voice, hearty laugh, slapping backs, shaking hands, stooping and stage-whispering confidences with his clients.
And oh! what clients The Sinners' Home attracts, all the highest rollers in Umberwell are here, night after night, drinking the finest imported wines, snorting the purest manufactured drugs, gambling at Ral's high-stakes tables (and every table in the Home is high-stakes), watching the intricate choreography of Ral's cabarets. Ral's dancers dress up as different incarnations of the goddess Ravsana, often several dancers in close coordination portray a single goddess with many arms, or several heads, or male and female aspects, all set to lively foreign music. Ral claims that the dances are all authentic to his homeland, but he must be lying, must have sultryed them up, unless dancers in that distant land beneath the demon sun truly end every performance by making love onstage for far longer than they initially danced. And besides, what tradition would have the goddess humiliated, made ridiculous, what tradition would rob her of all respect, song after song?
It's expensive going to Ral's, everyone seems to pay more than they intended, but it's worth it just to be at the best club in town. It must be worth it, because his clients come back every night, dropping more and more coins at his baccarat tables, his roulette wheels, dipping into savings, taking out loans, some working all day to afford just one more drink, one more dose, one more dance.
Though few realize it, Darbidian is not the first of his family to come to Umberwell. His younger brother Arvanyan Ral came first, and died here. Arvanyan's servants came back without the young man, but carrying rumors, stories, and one harrowing daguerreotype of Arvanyan with a smile on his face, surrounded by willing executioners, partaking in the pleasures that would soon consume him. Darbidian believes Arvanyan joined a pleasure cult in Umberwell, believes he gave himself, willingly, to be used, beaten, degraded, even beyond the superhuman limits of his rakshasan body. Arvanyan's body died starving, covered in sores and unhealed wounds. Dravidian blames the cult, blames the goddess Ravsana, blames the city of Umberwell, and the wealthy elite who permit deaths like Arvanyan's to take place. The Sinners' Home is Darbiddian Ral's trap, his revenge. His club is a lure to draw in the people he thinks killed his brother, his demon magic keeps them coming back, keeps them wanting to come back, even as they are ruined and brought to the brink of death themselves. Unless stopped, he will bring Umberwell to its knees.

Using Darbidian Ral in your campaign -

  • The player characters first meet Arvanyan Ral and witness his self-destructive tendencies over a couple sessions, then he is gone, then The Sinners' Home appears, and Darbidian Ral makes a splash in Umberwell's demimonde.
  • Someone wants to know Ral's secrets and how to stop him. It might be another cabaret, starving for business since The Sinners' Home opened. It might be a wealthy family, trying to save their fortune from total dissipation at Ral's club. It might be a true believer in Ravsana, trying to stop Ral from further besmirching her name. It might be the lover or family member of one of Ral's clients, wanting to rescue them from self-destruction, or seeking revenge on Ral for facilitating their loved one's demise.
  • Ral's servants seek out the characters for help. They fear their master will destroy himself in his open-ended pursuit of revenge. They want the characters to find out who killed Arvanyan - was it the Ashram of Willing Vassalage? the Risen Temple? some other self-abnegating sect? or did Arvanyan come to Umberwell already prepared to die to fulfill his desires? Be warned, for this or any other adventure - Darbidian Ral is impossibly proud, and it will be much easier for the player characters to persuade him he's won than to convince him he's wrong.

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