The King is Dead

Monday, September 1, 2014

The King is Dead: Ananzi's Web

Olaudah Equiano
Ananzi’s Web
Abolitionist and spies

“Ananzi the Spider is a weak creature, but a powerful hunter.  With its webs of silk, it can catch prey much larger than itself.  With its webs of words, Ananzi also caught all knowledge, tricking the lion and the elephant out of their secrets and teaching them to humankind.  When the foreigners came to the shores of Afar and stole its children, Ananzi’s knowledge traveled with them to the new lands across the sea…”
Anonymous, Ananzi’s Creed

When Malleus and its Ereban rivals began their conquest of the Caliban Sea and the Atlantikan continents, they brought pestilence and death to much of the native population.  In order to farm the rich soils of those lands, the Malleans and Erebans turned to the importation of black slaves from the Dark Coast of Afar.  Entire villages – entire nations – were clapped in irons and packed as cargo, sailed across the vast Atlantik Ocean, and turned into human tools.  Throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries, slaveholding grew more common and even became fashionable amongst the aristocracy and gentry of Malleus.  Slaves were imported from the colonies and became household servants, dressed in gaudy costumes to emphasize their exoticness.  A significant population of Afari slaves, escaped slaves, and freedmen grew in throughout Greater Malleus.

Though brutal means – bridles, chains, humiliation, whips, and outright murder -- were used to break the wills of the Afari, they still fought to retain their humanity.  Enmities between rival tribes were forgiven on foreign soils, escaped slaves helped others escape, the rare freedmen established businesses or homes in order to hide fugitives, and soon Afari ghettos grew in Hammerstadt and other urban centers.  It took decades, but at last an organized resistance grew in the plantations and noble houses, a web of conspiracy connecting farm workers and freedmen, household slaves and saboteurs.  Named for Ananzi, a trickster god revered throughout the Dark Coast, this secret society protects the Afari ghettos, frees slaves when it can, and spies on the doings of the great and powerful.  Ananzi’s Web is spun far and wide.

Membership in Ananzi’s Web is far from universal amongst the Afari slave population, but it is growing. 
It is rare for a vampire noble to not have at least one Afari slave in his household, and the webspinners of Ananzi work hard to make sure that at least that one slave is a member of their society.  Since most aristocrats consider their slaves to be even less “human” than their Gothic and Keltisch servants, members of Ananzi’s Web are virtually invisible as they watch the planning and plotting of the vampires.  More than one cabal has been saved because a webspinner passed along word of a raid on their headquarters.  

Intelligence is often passed through the Afari communities that have emerged in Hammerstadt, Brustlager, and cities, and defending those ghettos has become the secondary purpose of the society.  Freedmen often find themselves threatened by malicious Mallean commoners, happy to vent their barely-suppressed fear and rage on those even less fortunate than themselves.  Some of Ananzi’s webspinners have been forced to grow fangs with which to defend their people, and turn to the fighting arts.  Other webspinners have adapted Ananzi’s gift with words into a secret weapon: Obeah, a system of magic as complex and flexible as the Ars Mercurius of the Illuminated, but taught only as a secret oral tradition.  The leadership of the society hopes to change the minds of those threatened by their presence and hopes telling the true story of the brutality of slavery can convince the white population of Greater Malleus to realize the only true path to freedom is universal freedom.

Archetypes
Brave abolitionist, ghetto fighter, shocking socialite, unbroken slave, unseen servant.

Inspiration
Belle: Dido Elizabeth Belle
Casanova (2005 TV series): Rocco
Roots: Kunta Kinte, Fiddler, and Kizzy
Roots: The Gift: Cletus Moyer
Swashbuckler: Cudjo Quadrill and Nick Debrett

Benefits of Membership

Ananzi’s Web can rarely provide much in the way of materiel or combat support to a cabal; the society is simply too limited in its resources to provide equipment or combatants.  It can, however, often provide advance word of vampires’ plans and help arrange distractions if breaking into mansions or disrupting social events are needed. Members of Ananzi’s Web receive the following bonus skills and Edge:
+1d4 Persuasion  
+1d4 Stealth  
Connections (Ananzi’s Web) Edge.  The Afari quarters in Hammerstadt and Brustlager are avoided by non-Afari at night and can serve as excellent places for cabals to hide when the authorities know their names and faces.  Ananzi’s Web can often provide help in escaping slaveholding estates and plantations.

Example Characters

Ghetto Fighter (Novice)
This laughing madwoman is known, feared, and admired throughout the city’s slums. 

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6.

Skills: Fighting d6, Intimidation d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Stealth d6, Streetwise d6, Taunt d6, Throwing d8.

Charisma: +0 Pace: 6 Parry: 6 Toughness: 5

Hindrances: Wanted [Major; escaped slave], Bad Eyes [Minor], Poverty [Minor]

Edges: Acrobat, Connections (Ananzi’s Web), Quick Draw

Gear:  bandolier with 10 daggers (Range: 3/6/12, Str+d4, RoF 1), much-mended normal clothing, spectacles.


Unseen Servant
Passing unseen as a “mere slave” in high society, this Obeah sorcerer is placed to wreak havoc.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6.

Skills: Fighting d6, Investigation d8, Notice d8, Persuasion d6, Spellcasting d6, Stealth d6, Streetwise d8.

Charisma: -2 Pace: 6 Parry: 6 Toughness: 5

Hindrances: Slave [Major], Cautious [Minor], Enemy [Minor; a cruel overseer or suspicious slave hunter]

Edges: AB: Magic (Obeah), Connections (Ananzi’s Web), Investigator

Gear:  dagger (Range: 3/6/12, Str+d4, RoF 1), formal clothes, staff (Str+d4, Parry +1, Reach 1, 2 hands), 15 reichsmarks in savings to buy his freedom.

Special Abilities:
Power Points: 10.
Powers: entangle (either a literal spider web or a web of words), speak language (a murmured multi-lingual singsong phrase), wall walker (spider-like scopulae sprout from fingers and toes) 

***

New Hindrance

Slave [Major]
This hero is someone else’s property under the laws of Malleus.  Whether the character’s owner is a fellow player character or a malicious vampire is immaterial; the hero has no rights under Mallean law.  She receives only half the usual starting funds (though, unlike with Poverty, does not halve her funds every week) and suffers from a -2 to Charisma (as with Outsider).  In addition, the hero may be sold, tortured, and even killed at her owner’s whim.  If the character escapes slavery, she may trade this Hindrance for Wanted [Major] and if granted her freedom, may trade it for any two Minor Hindrances. 

***

I could just cover this up.  I could just pretend I had this in The King is Dead the entire time, but I won't.  

My original plan with The King is Dead was to simply avoid the issue of the African slave trade altogether. I was going to engage in a bit of what TV Tropes calls Fix Fic and simply have it be that the pseudo-Africans had managed to fight off the pseudo-Europeans and the slave trade never happened in my world. That plan failed during the first playtest, when Robin and I realized that the Colonies just didn't feel right without the horrible specter of slavery looming over all the talk of freedom and equality.

It was fake, in a way that vampire aristocrats and magic powers weren't.

So the grim, unpleasant history of America forced its way back into the narrative of my imaginary world of vampire-killing, and then I promptly forgot to address it.  I had a secret society for women's rights, a secret society for Irish and Scottish rights, and even the X-Men, and I didn't even think to put in an abolitionist society, let alone one headed by Africans.

And -- dammit! -- I had a book of Anansi stories as a kid.  I grew up admiring James Earl Jones' and (especially) Geoffrey Holder's characters in Swashbuckler.  My step-father (with whom I had an admittedly strained and brief relationship; he came into my life when I was twenty, moved himself and my mom halfway across the country, and died when I was in my mid-20s) was Haitian. I have no excuse.

I have no excuse, so I offer this as mere apology.

4 comments:

  1. Wow. Cleverly written sir. I like the use of the spider symbology for them altogether. The goals are nice and clear too- it adds the grim veneer of the era as well. So often it feels like our fantasy genre conventions find convenient ways around such subjects.

    I have a similar problem with discussing women's rights in medieval fantasy. It feels inauthentic, but we still would like to have a world that was more perfect than our own. Thanks, its given me something to mull over.

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    1. You're welcome. Once I realized I needed it, the society came together very easily.

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  2. All you need to know is that you have present the topic in a well thought out way. Your writing is full of imagery and your setting is great. As a black role-player, I always seems to shy away from these things but I have know problem reading and enjoying this material. I cant wait to get my groups to play this game. Please keep it up.

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    1. Thanks! Your support is greatly appreciated!

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