The King is Dead

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The King is Dead: Count Adalwulf, Blood Sorcerer

Peter Capaldi in Tom Jones

The villain of "Dhampir," the third of four The King is Dead sessions I'll be running at GaMExpo!


Count Adalwulf von Stenzgard

What is the difference between a count and a marquis? A marquis is the lord in charge of a mark or march – a borderland between the heart of a kingdom and its enemies. A count is the lord of a settled, peaceful county – just one amongst many divisions of a kingdom.
There are no counties in Malleus, only marches ruled by warlords installed centuries ago by King Wilhelm the Undying. Every province of Malleus is viewed by its rulers as a hotbed of rebellion, the potential home of a hostile army.
A count in Malleus, then, is the peacetime administrator of a mark. Especially as they age into inhuman strigoi, the marquises of Malleus are happy to surrender direct rulership of their domains to their spawn. These children (more often second-generation vampires, but occasionally dhampirs) are bestowed the title of count and left to do with the marches as they see fit.
Count Adalwulf von Stenzgard is one of those rare dhampir counts. His father, Marquis Lothar Eligos von Stenzgard, has put down two rebellions by sons given Sathaniel’s Gift, and is reluctant to upraise any more vampires. Count Adalwulf, though, acquits himself well in vampiric high society; his wit and gift for sorcery make him a darling of the Hammerstadt set.
Back in Thornmark, though, he is feared as a capricious, brutal debauchee.

Attitude: Count Adalwulf is Hostile (and demeaning) to anyone except his peers and betters. Even those offering him aid have to cajole him into doing anything that does not suit his caprices.
Attributes: Agility d12, Smarts d10, Spirit d8, Strength d12+2, Vigor d12
Skills: Fighting d10, Gambling d6, Investigation d6, Intimidation d10, Persuasion d6, Notice d8, Riding d8, Shooting d8, Sorcery d10, Stealth d6, Streetwise d4, Taunt d10
Charisma: +2; Pace: 8; Parry: 10; Toughness: 8
Hindrances: Arrogant, Habit [Major; blood addict], Overconfident, Stubborn
Edges: Alertness, Arcane Background: Blood Sorcery, Improved Block, Improved Counterattack, Improved Extraction, Level Headed, Noble, Quick, Strong Willed
Special Abilities:
  • Bite: When the dhampir has a victim grappled, it may bite for Str+d4 damage. The dhampir recovers 1 Wound or 5 Power Points for every Wound it inflicts.
  • Claws: The corrupting power of vampire blood gives the vargr claws that do Str+d4 damage.
  • Fast Regeneration
  • Power Points: 20
  • Powers: darksight, deflection, light/obscure, puppet, quickness, shape change, smite
  • Weakness [Sever the Head]: If the blood-drinker is incapacitated by a Called Shot to the head, its head is severed and its regeneration disrupted.
  • Weakness [Stake to the Heart]: Disrupting the flow of blood through the body with a Called Shot to the heart renders the blood-drinker immobile.
  • Weakness [Sunlight]: The moroi is at -4 on all physical actions taken in direct sunlight.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The King is Dead: Erzbet Mullins, Wild Child

Lina Leandersson in Let the Right One In

The "villain" of "Vargr," the second of four The King is Dead sessions I'll be running at GaMExpo!

As I’ve been revising and rethinking various The King is Dead materials over the last few weeks, I find myself incorporating bits and pieces I’ve learned from the non-Savage Worlds RPGs I’ve played and read over the last year. D&D 5e actually helped prompt the decision to include the Attitude information on the NPC descriptions, as well as giving me a bit more perspective on how to expand the roster of blood-drinking monsters in the setting. The Dracula Dossier – a supplement for Night’s Black Agents that I backed mainly for the expanded version of the novel included in the Kickstarter – put the idea of the Conspyramid in my head.

The conspyramid is basically a way of structuring a secret conspiracy of vampires along the shape of a pyramid scheme: lots of proles struggling at the bottom of the pyramid, leading up rank after rank to one dude sitting on the throne at the top. (Dracula in The Dracula Dossier’s case, but it could just as easily be Cobra Commander or Emperor Palpatine in a non-vampire game.) This doesn’t even need to be a conspiracy; you could just as easily have a villainpyramid based on a military dictatorship or evil corporation. You could have an orcpyramid.

The point of all of this, though, is that the natural shape of an organization – the stable shape for an organization – is a pyramid. The lesser builds inexorably to the greater. Foot soldiers build up to a commander-in-chief. The problem with earlier thoughts on blood-drinkers in Malleus, was that I’d built a conshourglass.

Well, maybe not an hourglass, but certainly some weird shape that narrowed in the middle before thickening out and then shrinking again.

A conspindle?

For various reasons that seemed good at the time, I’d decided that dhampirs were as rare as or rarer than vampires. Dhampirs could only be conceived on virgins and bringing them to term was incredibly difficult. Because vampires used marriages to cement political alliances, wives were kept for their normal lifetimes but could only produce a dhampir once. It was very weird and ultimately not useful.

Anyway, it makes better game design sense to have a larger population of dhampirs as a buffer between the humans and the vampires, so that's the way it is now.


Erzbet Mullins
Dhampirs in Malleus outnumber vampires by just shy of three to one. Most are aristocratic children pitted against each other in cruel games to prove their loyalty and earn the right to Sathaniel’s Gift, but more than a few are bastards begat upon commoners and slaves. These children often die young – or kill their mothers in the womb – unless their fathers sponsor the whelps. 
Erzbet Mullins is the natural child of Count Adalwulf von Stenzgard, the dhampir son of Marquis Lothar Eligos von Stenzgard, and his dhampir sister, the nun Mircalla von Stenzgard. Erzbet was spirited from the nunnery on the night of her birth and deposited with Greta Mullins, one of Adalwulf’s many conquests. Fed on a diet of animal blood – with occasional donations from her father – Erzbet grew to the age of thirteen relatively stable (for a dhampir), even developing into something of a child prodigy.
Count Adalwulf’s concern for the child waned precipitously over the years. While never doting, the count at least showed some parental feelings during the first five years of Erzie’s life (probably because of his perverse affection for his younger sister) but he has visited less and less as the child grew (and as her foster-mother aged from a buxom farmer’s daughter into a careworn harridan). In the last year, Adalwulf has even stopped sending money, leaving the Mullins family to sacrifice their own livestock to feed his child.
The count’s neglect of his progeny has led the Mullins family to neglect Erzbet. They increasingly blame the child for the family misfortunes; she is resented by her foster-parents, isolated from her foster-siblings, and frequently goes for days without blood. Unfortunately, this abuse coincides with her pubescence, a time when dhampirs rapidly begin developing their full preternatural abilities.
Greta’s decision to take Erzbet to confront her father at his townhome in Thornburg could not come at a worse time. Erzbet's hunger, fear, and anger consume her and transform her into a vargr.
Attitude: Erzbet is starving, and going mad from the rapid changes to her body. She behaves Helpfully to anyone who shows her kindness or promises her food, but in truth she is as Hostile as a rabid animal. 
Attributes: Agility d12, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d12+2, Vigor d12
Skills: Fighting d10, Intimidation d6, Knowledge (Mathematics) d8, Knowledge (Music) d8, Notice d10, Stealth d10, Throwing d8
Charisma: +2 or -2; Pace: 8; Parry: 8; Toughness: 8
Hindrances: Bloodthirsty, Clueless, Habit [Major; blood addict] 
Edges: Alertness, Attractive, Berserker, Improved Extraction, Improved Frenzy, Improved Level Headed, Combat Reflexes, Fleet Footed, Quick
Special Abilities: 

  • Bite: When the vargr moroi has a victim grappled, it may bite for Str+d4 damage.
  • Claws: The corrupting power of vampire blood gives the vargr claws that do Str+d4 damage.
  • Fast Regeneration
  • Weakness [Sever the Head]: If the blood-drinker is incapacitated by a Called Shot to the head, its head is severed and its regeneration disrupted. 
  • Weakness [Stake to the Heart]: Disrupting the flow of blood through the body with a Called Shot to the heart renders the blood-drinker immobile. 
  • Weakness [Sunlight]: The moroi is at -4 on all physical actions taken in direct sunlight.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The King is Dead: Captain Trench, Rebel Hunter

Samuel Roukin on TURN: Washington's Spies
The villain of "Moroi," the first of four The King is Dead sessions I'll be running at GaMExpo!

Captain Alberick Trench
It is not as if the people of Malleus cannot feel the lingering wrongness of their situation. It is not natural for any beast to submit to the slaughter; fowl, oxen, and even swine squeal and writhe when the knife is against their necks. Even accounting for the propaganda drummed into Mallean minds by the Holy Panoptic church, the main thing that keeps the population in line is fear of mass slaughter – of the vampires swooping down in the middle of the night and murdering whole villages in their beds. That some humans not only accept vampiric rule, but seek to become blood-drinkers themselves is proof of how unnatural the nation of Malleus has become.
Captain Alberick Trench is a moroi – a human servant to the vampires who has become a lesser blood-drinker in his own right. Though he looks to be in his late twenties or early thirties, his age is closer to fifty; decades of imbibing vampire blood has slowed his aging as well as increased his strength and vigor. His preternatural abilities allow the captain to serve as a hunter of hunters, a counterinsurgent against the secret societies that would free Malleus from tyranny.
The captain’s masters in military intelligence transfer Trench from mark to mark, county to county, assigning him to train the local garrisons in increasingly effective anti-espionage techniques. Captain Trench has himself invented many of these methods, and keeps their secrets to himself. He may be a traitor to mankind, but he knows he is only useful to the vampires as long as he proves himself. Maintaining proprietary knowledge of his counterinsurgency methods is his trump card.
After taking residence in Thornmark, Captain Trench made obeisance to the little-seen marquis of the county, Lothar Eligos von Stenzgard, and to the heads of the other vampire families resident in the mark. The captain has drunk from all of them, giving him a mix of abilities dominated by the bloodline of wolfish Prince Rickard but also enhanced by the fiendish beauty of Bloody Prince Wilhelm. Combined with decades of sword and pistol practice, Captain Alberick Trench is a greater challenge than his effete, martinet-like appearance might suggest.
Attitude: Self-assured and cruel, Captain Trench is brusquely Uncooperative to any except his superior officers and vampires. He easily turns Hostile given the slightest provocation.
Attributes: Agility d12, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d12, Vigor d12
Skills: Fighting d10, Intimidation d8, Investigation d10, Notice d10, Riding d10, Shooting d8, Stealth d8, Streetwise d8, Throwing d6
Charisma: +2; Pace: 8; Parry: 8; Toughness: 8
Hindrances: Arrogant, Habit [Major; blood addict], Vow [Major; to military intelligence], Vow [Minor; to the vampire lords of whatever mark he is serving in at the moment]
Edges: Alertness, Charismatic, Combat Reflexes, Counterattack, Danger Sense (a literal nose for trouble; his wolfish sense of smell alerts him to the presence of gunpowder and poison), First Strike, Improved Level Headed, Martial Artist, Parry, Steady Hands
Gear: brace of flintlock pistols (Range 5/10/20, Damage 2d6+1, RoF 1), cavalry saber (Str+d6), riding horse, 6d6 reichsmarks in coin.
Special Abilities:

  • Bite: When the moroi has a victim grappled, it may bite for Str+d4 damage.
  • Slow Regeneration
  • Weakness [Sunlight]: The moroi is a -2 on all physical actions taken in direct sunlight.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The King is Dead: Squire Vidkun, Collaborator

Kevin McNally in TURN: Washington's Spies

Squire Vidkun

Why do humans submit so readily to the vampires? What makes a man a traitor to his people? For some it is simply fear; they see no chance of success in rebellion, and so they preserve their lives by submitting. Some are blinded by faith; the Holy Panoptic Church preaches salvation through obedience, and so they obey – because being forced to find their own meaning in the universe is more terrifying than worshipping monsters. Others, though, obey because they believe in obedience. They obey because they love everything to have its place and hate anyone who stands apart.

Albert Vidkun, Esquire, is one of those men. Vidkun can trace his ancestry back before the Conquest, when Westengothic kingdoms still fought for control of Malleus against the Keltisch. He can name with pride the ancestors who died beneath Prince Rickard’s sword and the many-times great-uncle who resisted the vampires as a member of the Hooded Knights, but all that is nothing beside his conviction that the world is ordered and all must keep to their place.

Squire Vidkun is the sort of man who reports the angry mutterings of his sharecroppers to the local militia, the sort of man who insinuates the new barrister’s young wife isn’t properly obedient, the sort of man who beats his slaves for looking at him the wrong way. He is quick to tithe gold and blood; he is joyous to present himself before the magistrates as a witness to any misdemeanor. Squire Vidkun loves the law.

What he refuses to see – what his senses tell him every day and he refuses to comprehend – is that Malleus is not a law-abiding society. It is not orderly; it is merely ordered. The vampires do what they will – bending and breaking the law as it suits them – and then they use their privilege to make their every whim seem lawful. It is impossible to say whether Albert Vidkun’s eyes could ever be opened, and what would happen if they were. Would he break? Would he join the revolution? Would the revolution even want to give him the chance to redeem himself?

Attitude: Albert Vidkun is vehemently Hostile to the revolution and any known revolutionaries, but otherwise comports himself with what he believes is sagacity and wisdom. He is Helpful to his peers and betters, Friendly to those who show him deference, and patiently Neutral to even those who disrespect him.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Gambling d6, Intimidation d8, Investigation d4, Knowledge (History) d10, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Riding d4, Shooting d4, Taunt d4
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Delusional [sincerely believes any problems with vampires can be resolved peacefully, hates revolutionaries]
Edges: Command, Command Presence, Gentry, Natural Leader, Strong Willed
Gear: Fine clothes, fowling rifle (Range 10/20/40, Damage 2d6+1, RoF 1)
Special Abilities:
  • Patriarch: If Squire Vidkun is used as a player character’s father or relative, he gains +2 to Intimidation rolls against that character.
GM Notes
Squire Vidkun is a frustratingly human villain. Perhaps the best way to implement him is to reskin the squire as a player character’s own father or grandfather. Let the cabal deal personally with an antagonist who genuinely means no harm (except to them) but whose actions enable the vampires to harm others.
He can also, of course, be played as a local bully and bigot. Squire Vidkun has enough respect in his hometown or village to easily rile up a torch- and pitchfork-wielding mob.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The King is Dead: Gentry and Noblewoman [New Edges]

Michael Gambon in Sleepy Hollow (1999)

New Edges
Requirements: Novice

The only titled noblemen in Malleus are vampires, and one must willingly renounce one’s humanity to become a vampire. No player character can be a nobleman in The King is Dead.

This does not mean that there are not mere humans with power, privilege, responsibilities, and wealth. These people form the gentry class, an amalgamation of baronets, landowners, knights, middle-class professionals, and yeomen. Most gentry can at least claim the title “Esquire,” and employ a plethora of servants (or slaves).

As with the standard Savage Worlds Noble Edge, a character with the Gentry Edge receives the benefits of the Rich Edge and a +2 bonus to Charisma. In Malleus, the Charisma bonus only extends to dealings with fellow humans (including vampire thralls); true vampires are utterly unimpressed with mortal’s achievements.

Requirements: Novice, female

While only a vampire can be a nobleman, most noblewomen are human. Human females are more fecund than dhampirs, and far more disposable. Political and economic alliances between vampires are often sealed with the exchange of granddaughters and great-granddaughters in marriage to the parties involved – and then just as easily broken when a bride dies “in childbirth.”

The Noblewoman Edge grants the benefits of the Filthy Rich Edge and a +2 to Charisma that is effective even in vampire society. A revolutionary so placed in a vampiric stronghold has access to reams of vampiric lore and intelligence, as well as the ability to funnel resources to her allies.

Unfortunately, it also means she is married to a vampire. The hero is at the beck and call – is the legal property of – a sadistic monster. She suffers from the Anemic Hindrance and lives in constant jeopardy.

Rafe Fiennes as the beast and Keira Knightley as the beauty in The Duchess

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The King is Dead: Dark Secret [New Hindrance]

Jonny Lee Miller as Lord Byron in Byron
(Pretty much the best real-life example of a Minor Dark Secret.)
New Hindrance
Dark Secret [Minor or Major]
Your character has a skeleton in his closet: a secret so reprehensible that its revelation will destroy his place in society or even turn him against his closest allies!

The chances of a Dark Secret being revealed increase the longer the secret is kept. At the beginning of each session, the player should draw a card from the Action Deck. The secret is revealed at Novice Rank if a Two of Clubs is drawn, at Seasoned if the Two through Ten of Clubs is drawn, and at Veteran or higher is any Club is drawn. Blood (and other nastiness) will out.

A Minor Dark Secret is something so revolting it offends even the hero’s allies in the revolution (so belonging to a secret society is not a Dark Secret). This could be grave-robbing (particularly prevalent amongst the Zunft von Hohenheim), incest, a mad spouse locked in an attic, murder (or being the child of a murderer), necromancy, necrophilia, or any other suitably shocking Gothic twist. Revelation of a Minor Dark Secret results in a permanent -4 penalty to Charisma.

Once revealed, a player may spend an Advance to buy off the Hindrance. This reflects a period of self-sacrifice and hard work during which the hero attempts to redeem himself. The GM could run this as a game session or ask the player to narrate an Interlude.

Revelation of a Major Dark Secret, on the other hand, removes the character from play as the hero’s horrifying secret turns him against his own cabal. Major Dark Secrets include secretly being a changeling (common amongst the Clan O’Naill), being a werewolf or other were-creature (Ananzi’s Web and the Wild Hunt), being the star-spawn of some eldritch horror (Bluestocking Society and Starlight Children), or being a vampire’s thrall and a spy for the king all along. The GM can allow the player to run the character’s escape from justice (providing appropriate character stats for the session) but the character becomes an NPC if it escapes its vengeful cabal.

To compensate for the particular harshness of Dark Secret, the Minor version of the Hindrance is worth 2 points at character creation and the Major version of the Hindrance is worth 4.

Design Note – The Gothic Origins of Dark Secret
The great majority of “Gothic” role-playing games are more accurately described as “action-horror,” taking their inspiration more from the motion pictures of Hammer Films rather than the Gothic novels of the 18th and 19th centuries. The King is Dead itself is knowingly guilty of emphasizing the adventurous side of battling vampires.
Dark Secret is a deliberate effort to balance the scales, introducing some of the sense of transgression and personal horror that fuels the earliest Gothics. Just as it is expected that most player characters in Savage Worlds will have a full complement of Hindrances, so it is encouraged that every character in The King is Dead have some powerful internal struggle. In order to make this Hindrance more attractive to players, the bonus points received from it are double those of other Hindrances.
Dark Secret will not be appropriate for all gaming groups, and players and GMs should discuss its inclusion in the campaign. Some Game Masters may find the “death” of a character with the Major version of Dark Secret too harsh; they may allow the player to buy off the Hindrance (after it has been revealed) with two Advances at the end of a harrowing tale of rebellion against the character’s hidden masters. Such characters will certainly earn the wrath of an Enemy [Major].
Whether the player knows the nature of the character’s Dark Secret before it is revealed is entirely up to player. Some players will enjoy working in hints of a Dark Secret they know in advance, while others will enjoy being surprised by the revelation. GMs and players should discuss this at character creation. Random Dark Secrets tables are included with each secret society.*
*No, I haven't actually written those tables yet.

This would be the Major version of the Hindrance
(Josh Hartnett in Penny Dreadful)

Friday, October 2, 2015

The King is Dead: Vicar Frosch, Hypocrite

Trigger Warning: child abuse, rape

Real-life scumbag Jeffrey Jones in Sleepy Hollow
(Also, Johnny Depp -- who I still want to play me in the movie)
Vicar Frosch

The creed of the Holy Panoptic Church could be summarized as “Might makes Right.” The vampiric conquest of humanity proves their moral superiority, worldly success is proof of divine favor, slaves deserve to be slaves because they are enslaved, etc., etc… Though even the most downtrodden farmer carries doubts in his heart that the world is meant to be so oppressive, he obeys because his village priest tells him he deserves to be unhappy. 

Marten Frosch is the vicar of Mittelham, a market town situated at the confluence of several farming villages. Every Sabbat night, farmers, fieldhands, and their families from a half-dozen villages troop through the twilight to listen to him rail against the weakness of the world and praise the vampires for saving humanity from itself. He gathers tithes of gold for the bishop in Thornburg and tithes of blood for Marquis Lothar Eligos von Stenzgard (who often does not even deign to send a dhampir to drink the tithe). Hundreds submit to Vicar Frosch’s moral authority.

And – like the vampires he devoutly serves – Vicar Frosch preys upon his flock. The vicar is a sadist and pederast, taking advantage of the children sent to him as altarboys and initiates, threatening them with damnation if they speak against him. Even in Malleus, the vicar’s behavior is considered a crime – it violates the parents’ right of ownership to their children and the vampires’ right of prima noctae – but who would dare speak against a man of the cloth? Indeed, isn’t his continued at hiding his secret life simply proof that Sathaniel loves him?

Vicar Frosch supplements his perverse desires with an astonishing collection of suppressed books: Remulan satyricons, Pariahic gospels (he enjoys the flagellations), and stranger grimoires speaking of congress with spirits fair and foul. Someone who discovered his secret could easily extort forbidden arcane knowledge from the vicar – or they could smite him down the way a just god would.

Attitude: As a devout (if hypocritical) servant of the Holy Panoptic Church, Marten Frosch is opposed to the revolution and Hostile to anyone he knows to be a revolutionary. Frosch happily plays the role of scholar and moral authority, and is Friendly to anyone of any race that seeks his aid in matters of faith. He is Helpful and obedient to any aristocrat or blood-drinker – and Helpful and subservient to anyone who knows his secret.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Faith d6, Gambling d6, Intimidation d8, Investigation d8, Knowledge (Occult) d8, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Riding d4, Shooting d4, Stealth d8, Taunt d8
Charisma: +2; Pace: 6; Parry: 2; Toughness: 5
Hindrances: Arrogant [Frosch is assured of his superiority to anyone except aristocrats and vampires], Dark Secret [pederast with library of forbidden books], Vow [serve the Holy Panoptic Church]
Edges: AB: Miracles, Gentry [while not a true landowner, Frosch’s position gives him influence and wealth], Strong Willed
Gear: Fowling rifle (Range 10/20/40, Damage 2d6+1, RoF 1), library of forbidden lore (+2 to any Investigation or Knowledge (Occult) tests to research non-vampiric monsters or Pariahism), riding crop (Str+d4-2, +2 to hit, +1 to Intimidation & Riding, AP -2), robes of office.
Special Abilities:

  • Power Points: 10
  • Powers: banish (invocations to Sathaniel drive out the devils of the Pariah), fear (fire and brimstone sermon)

GM Notes
While the central conceit of The King is Dead – irredeemably evil vampires rule the nation – is in place to give the heroes an excuse to cut off a bunch of peoples’ heads and suffer no moral qualms, it is still a horror setting – and there is nothing more horrifying than the depths of depravity to which ordinary people can descend. Frosch can be used to give the players a taste of the pervasiveness of evil in Malleus, or to present them with a difficult moral choice. Do they have the right to execute an ordinary human? Do they keep Frosch alive to continue using his library? Do they tip off the local magistrate and let the vampires enact bloody, horrifying justice?