Via Satyros Phil Brucato:
Janine was a homeless junkie I found dying one night along the path of my post-midnight constitutional. What could I do? Let her perish? Of course not! I took her home and did what any conscientious scientist would do: used my G8-Z26 purgative treatments while stabilizing her physical condition with Dr. Johnstone’s now-famous bioregeneration matrix. I admit she’s not the sharpest scalpel in the drawer but given the condition I found her in last year, I doubt she ever was. There’s no excuse for sloppy work on my part, of course, but Janine’s still alive, and I consider that a victory…
When I first conceived of Gods, Monsters and Other Familiar Strangers in 2013, I had initially pictured it as a collection of good, bad, and neutral NPCs to drop into your Mage 20 chronicle. During the intervening years and projects, however, I began to envision a more coherently thematic book – a collection, true enough, but one that featured a coherent theme, hinted at potential metaplots, provided additional rule-systems for non-mage characters, and approached those characters from a broader perspective than a simple, “Here’s a bunch of folks you can marry, fuck, or kill.”
Bringing in several additional authors – Hiromi Cota, Atalanti Evripidou, Jason Louis Feldstein, Antonios Galatis, J.F. High, and Isabella M. Price – we began to shape the slightly retitled Gods, Monsters & Familiar Strangers into a larger and more comprehensive sourcebook. Featuring constructs, consors, Avatars, familiars, spirits, Loa, and many other entities, this book also contains a revised and expanded collection of Special Advantages, spirit Charms, and companion construction rules. Although the past year or so has hit most of the book’s contributors with an array of personal and professional complications, we’re nearly finished with a book that is – in the grand Mage tradition – larger and more ambitious than we had initially intended it to be.
The following excerpts come from that bigger, better book. Enjoy!
The Banner Dei Brute Squad
When the Ecstatic jam band / performance troupe Banner Dei formed on the last night of 1999, that troupe found immediate, enthusiastic support from fans who’d been there that night. The Brute Squad, as they were dubbed by then-bandleader Tricia “Thunderheart” Rykomanski, held the fire-line against unskilled would-be performers who’d be more likely to set themselves on fire than add anything to the performance, pounded out improvised percussion on anything that would make some noise, and then stayed all day the following morning in order to help Banner Dei and their friends clean up the post-gig trash-piles and load the gear into whatever vehicles they could find. Since that night, both Banner Dei and the Brute Squad have cycled through dozens of members. The core of both groups, though, remains stable: Banner Dei blows minds, and the Brute Squad gets them in and out of gigs intact without leaving a huge mess behind. Under the guidance, since 2010, of Kore Valkyrie Smith, the “Banner Brutes” provide drop-in support for Banner Dei’s members and former bandmates. Either collectively or as a group, those Banner Dei personnel can send up a flare, text message, phone call or blog post and have members of the Brute Squad on the location as quickly as a bunch of mortals can arrive. Because the Brute Squad consists of several dozen unAwakened hangers-on scattered across North and Central America, Northern Europe, Japan and India, and because Smith happens to be really good at resource-management (and has backing from several noted Ecstatic philanthropists), a team of three to 15 Brute Squad folks can show up within a day or less with a little advance warning, or be on-site when needed if they know at least two days in advance where they need to be.
Once dispatched, the Banner Dei Brute Squad can handle trash collection and disposal, crowd control, violence-free de-escalation, light medical attention, and set-up / tear-down logistics for stage gear and musical equipment. Most Brute Squad members can also dance, spin fire, perform acrobatics, play musical instruments, or contribute other skills to the performance itself. Kore and her co-leaders train Brute Squad personnel in the essential skills before those people are allowed to back up the band and its people, and though Banner Dei and its support team have rather liberal attitudes about sex and drugs, there’s a strict code of conduct that expels any Brute Squad member who abused his position or can’t be bothered to respect a given “no.” So far, most folks associated with the Brute Squad have remained trustworthy and reliable; Kore’s very good at vetting people, and the few who step out of line and take advantage of Ecstatic hospitality tend to wind up gibbering mindlessly by the side of a road if they’re ever seen again at all.
Traits-wise, Banner Dei’s Brute Squad features a colorful collective of Subculture Devotees (as per that template) whose training lets them haul gear and calm crowds with minimal fuss. Although the oldest members have looked age 40 in the rearview mirror, most Banner Brutes are in their mid-20s to early-30s. Regardless of age or gender, these folks combine tattooed badassery with Zen-focus people skills. Most have traveled extensively throughout the mortal world, and a number have spent time in the Otherworlds as well. Despite appearances, these are friendly people who blend old-school manners with new-millennium social consciousness. They rarely possess paranormal powers themselves (Kore probably does, but if so she doesn’t brag about it), but occasionally bring along mystic goodies they’ve found or been gifted with at various events. The majority of them speak at least two languages, and some enjoy learning as many tongues as they can recall.
Arriving in dust-crusted cars (many of which have been modified for all-terrain use), all Banner Brutes sport a tattoo that marks them as approved and official members of the group. This design – a Hulk-green banner with a white lightning bolt slashed across its surface – glows in the dark so Brutes can find each other in the dark. If a Brute gets booted for good cause (as opposed to retiring from the group on good terms), his tattoo burns away in an agonizing flash of bright green fire, leaving the thunderbolt behind as a permanent scar.
He’s the face of fear, though he has no face. He can look like anyone yet resembles no one. Joe Dread is the embodiment of terror that wears a human guise. He lurks in alleys, shouts from cars, and walks loudly down the street behind you when no one else is around. Some people, though, make a friend of Dread. For them, he’s family, and his gifts to them are legion.
You’ll never see Dread clearly. That’s the point. His dominion is the unknown factor at the edge of what seems certain otherwise. At times, he’ll crouch on your shoulders when you’re trying to get things done, or loom over your bed on a restless night. Dread is an imp. Dread is a stranger.
Dread looks just enough like one of Those People to get you fired up about them, yet he can look like you as well. He’s the fiend whose face is everyone’s. Dread knows no ethnicity or class because terror haunts us all.
Some folks view Joe Dread as part of Big Owl’s brood – a servant, perhaps, or a human manifestation of the fear-god himself. That might be true, but there’s no way to be sure. These days, Dread is everywhere: screaming at you on the internet, lurking behind your best friend’s grin, knocking on your door and the then disappearing before you answer, smashing your car window just for fun so you can wonder what he took or fear that someone might be inside the car, waiting…
As a totem entity, Joe Dread gifts his chosen with Intimidation, Stealth, and Torture. He knows how to hurt folks and likes to share his secrets. For Joe, the threat of pain is sweeter than pain itself; thus, the favors he confers focus more upon what might happen than on violent acts of certainty. He’s not about beating someone to a pulp, but about getting them to fear what being beaten to a pulp feels like. Dread’s chosen people are similarly frightening, not because they use brutal force but because the potential for force always seems to hover around them. Inflicting such fears really is a kind of science, so Joe’s an exception to the rule that Technocrats cannot bond with totem spirits. His kinsmen among the Black Suit and PsychOp ranks don’t view him as an ephemeral entity, though; to them, he’s just a guy (regardless of gender) like them, who happens to be extremely good at his job.
Despite his colloquial name, Dread isn’t bound by gender. A man who fears women would meet Jo Dread instead. She sneers at him, tears him down, leaves a blank space of rejection in the center of his world or else tells that world that he’s really no one at all. Names are just conveniences we attach to things we wish to classify, and Dread reminds us we have no control. Even those who Dread befriends realize that life is full of terrors and their lives are no exception.
Manifestations: Loud noises, sudden shouts, feelings of anxiety, shadowy figures, whispered threats, posts and comments on the internet, sudden acts of random violence.
Associations: Terror, anxiety, suspense, phobias.
Brood: Elementals of cold wind, “bad luck” or fearsome animal spirits (spiders, black cats, crows, owls, snakes, and so forth), people who use fear to their advantage.
Abilities: Intimidation, Stealth, Torture.
Bans: Those who embrace Dread cannot comfort other people or ease their fears unless they do so as a tactic to scare that person even worse afterward.
Baron Samedi, the Cemetery Lord
Everybody dies. Even gods, it is has been said, must die eventually. And when we die, it is the Baron – Baron La Croix, Ghede, the Cemetery Lord – who will greet us on the other side. Tipping his top hat, puffing his cigar, laughing at mortality’s little joke on us, Samedi embodies life as well as death, and can bestow either one with a snap of his fingertips.
Wrongly viewed by outsiders as a demonic figure, the Baron represents balance, not cruelty. Amidst the horrors of slavery and poverty, his presence seems oddly comforting. All things end, the Baron reminds us. Even suffering. Especially suffering. This doesn’t mean he’s not above poking fun at humanity, of course. Among Loa and devotees alike, he’s infamous for crude jests and sexual humor. You might as well laugh at it all, La Baron says. The alternative is misery… and who wants to go through life like that?
A large man dressed in a mockery of the white man’s fashions, Baron Samedi heads the Guédé Loa family: a clan of entities whose provinces are death and fertility. His wife, Grandma Brigitte, appears as a blazing skeleton-woman who guards the crossroads and cemeteries of the nighttime American South. Le Baron has a thing for crossroads too – a territory he shares with Papa Legba… usually over a bottle of good rum and a lot of filthy jokes at humanity’s expense. Manifesting most often with his signature top hat, tailed coat, and a face either painted with skull-like make-up or replaced by an actual skull, Samedi speaks in a high, often loud, nasal voice, swears continually, and smokes up a storm. He often wears dark glasses, with plugs up his nose like any well-dressed corpse should have. His devotees, when ridden by La Baron and his kin, smear themselves with crushed hot peppers and raw rum, taxing the limits of the flesh because what’s most important is the state beyond this mortal shell.
Straddling life and death like an enthusiastic lover, Gedhe always speaks the truth. Because he transcends mortal limitations, he ignores the bounds of propriety, too. The head of his cane has been carved into the shape of a cock, and he loves to wave it around. Samedi is, after all, a deeply sexual Loa, too. Some folk call upon him when they want to get laid in non-fatal fashion, and his devotees have a reputation for being frighteningly seductive yet downright crude. Samedi loves to party, but he’s always watching the clock… not his, but yours. A trickster godhead, he’s got the blunt honesty of the grave. Sex and death are his dominion, and he enjoys indulging both.
Thanks to his province over death, Samedi tends to attract necromancers to his path. These folks often wind up wishing they’d knocked on someone else’s door. Although he often plays the fool, La Baron does not suffer fools at all, most especially not if they’re white folks who think they understand voodoo. In addition to the frenzied dance called the banda, Papa Gedhe loves to mess with people’s minds. He can read minds, too, so it’s a bad idea to try and fool La Baron. Coffins, poisons, graveyards, and near- or actual death are signatures of his rites, and would-be devotees need the courage to face both the grave and what lies beyond it if they wish to beg Samedi’s favors. Offerings of rum, cigars, black coffee, roasted peanuts, and bread (baked black if you can manage that) attract La Baron’s attention, but you’d best be ready to meet Death face-to-face if you wish to work with Samedi. Though often associated in popular media with zombis, Samedi actually prefers to keep dead people dead. Behind his rough humor and fearsome façade, Baron Samedi hides a secret compassion for the poor souls walking this hard earth. Demise, he knows, is not a torment but the blessed relief from life itself.
Manifestations: Skulls and skull-faced men, gravediggers, skeletons… very profane skeletons.
Associations: Crossroads, death, sexuality, graves, top hats, phalluses, black or purple clothing, cemetery dirt.
Brood: Ravens, black dogs or roosters, gravedigger spirits, Southern American Goths, and the Guédé Loa as a whole.
Abilities: Intimidation, Medicine, Occult.
Bans: Don’t lie. Seriously, don’t.
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