By Kevin Kulp
This is the fifth in our series on non-human heroes which has so far covered Constructs, Intelligent Animals, Unsleeping Advisors (secret undead), and the Considerata (humans whose souls are contractually linked to gods). This month’s Ancestry is inspired by drow elves, deep ones, embedded spies, and any creatures who try to hide within human society. Be sure to read the previously published rules on Non-Human Heroes if you haven’t already.
Ancestry abilities: Ancestry (Arakene), Corruption, Scurrilous Rumors, Spirit Sight
- Ancestry (Arakene) reflects your culture’s heritage, knowledge, and any special abilities
- Corruption represents the arakene’s ties to foul sorcery
- Scurrilous Rumors represents the arakene tendency to sit in the middle of a metaphorical web of informers, gathering secrets and rumors
- Spirit Sight reflects your talent for seeking out deific energy and dead gods
You are an arakene, a scheming spider-like humanoid who comes to Eversink cloaked in the appearance of human skin.
“She swallowed the spider to catch the flies…”
“She swallowed the rats to catch the spider…”
“She swallowed the serpents to catch the rats…”
“… Perhaps She’ll die…!”
– a ‘Sinkish nursery rhyme
In the same way that flies breed in the corruption of corpses, there are spiritual “flies” who breed in the Corruption of dead gods. In both cases, there are spiders who prey on them. One spiritual spider in particular has grown vast and powerful over many centuries. In doing so Llolgoth (pronounced Yolgoth) has absorbed a surprising amount of rotten deific essence and has passed that corruption on to the once-human parasites who worship it.
Its worshippers clothe themselves in silk from its webs. They hunt and scheme with tactics they have learned from its priests. They dwell inside the hollowed-out fossil of a millennia-dead god to prepare for Llogoloth’s eventual return into the mortal realm, and their ability to magically force their way from that space to the corpses of other lesser gods means that they can show up almost anywhere. To get to Eversink they travel into the remnants of gods that Denari has crushed, and those are innumerable.
Some arakene come to Eversink because they believe that excessive Corruption can kill Denari, turning her into a feeding ground for Llogoloth. Most come because Eversink is fertile ground for their love of scheming. They are patient planners, shaped by the treacherous politics of their home. They love to crouch at the center of a symbolic web, be it political, criminal, informational, or military, and gently manipulate people and events around them; an arakene’s idea of fun is a half-dozen factions coming to blows with one another, none realizing that they’re all being manipulated and played. The rattakan (SotS p. 193) are one of the few groups in Eversink who know about the arakene threat, and who can they tell who will believe them?
Arakene are sly predators who have learned how to camouflage themselves while hunting. When cloaked by their glamour they often appear to be long-limbed and poorly-jointed humans with greasy black hair, their joints somehow attached in slightly the wrong places. Breeding for generations within a dead god hasn’t been kind to their true appearance; their actual bodies are spiderlike but humanoid, pale translucent skin covered with coarse black bristles, usually four-limbed but eight-eyed, their mouths designed to drain fluids. Their sorcerous spheres reflect their heritage; any arakene with ranks in Corruption who doesn’t take “spiders” or “webs” as their first sorcerous sphere is considered a dangerous outcast and is often hunted by its disgraced family.
Some arakene are smart and socially canny, embracing their ability to pass as humans and build a life in Eversink. They seldom get along and have a predilection for waging shadow wars with one another, using unsuspecting humans as their troops. Even so, an arakene hobby is to externalize as much Corruption as they can without getting caught, hastening Denari that much closer to death with every instance of sorcery.
Arakene are capable of a full range of human emotion, even if their culture and mental processes are extremely different than those of humans. Ultimately, arakene are raised to believe that relationships are fundamentally that of predator or prey and they have difficulty understanding concepts and relationships that don’t involve a power dichotomy. They respond quickly to Intimidation, raising that human to “predator” in their personal estimation and then treating them with cautious respect.
Play an arakene if you like fundamentally creepy heroes, if you want to try and keep your non-human predatory nature secret while you build a web of influence, or if you have a fondness for spiders.
Designer Notes: Arakene
Arakene make natural adversaries for GMs to build conspiracies around. Arakene are designed to answer the question “how do you capture the feel of a fun, playable drow elf in Swords of the Serpentine?” We want to separate the idea from elves entirely while keeping a spider-focused and highly political society that is equal parts horrifying and fascinating. Arakene also carry echoes of Lovecraftian deep ones, China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, and John Carpenter’s They Live.
Investigative ability: Ancestry (Arakene)
You’re an authority on the arakene, spider-like humanoid predators who pretend to be human. You can speak their language and you have knowledge of their culture, behavior, history, superstitions, art, tactics, hunting grounds, and philosophies.
This Investigative ability points you towards leads and clues that are linked to or associated with the arakene. You will need to rely on other Investigative abilities to gain leads from specific arakene; Intimidation is a particularly effective way to ensure they see you as a superior or equal when you converse.
Sample spend: Pass between the remnant of a dead small god into the home carcass of the arakene, or vice versa; with a 2-point spend you may bring others with you. Spend a point to increase Sorcery damage by one die so long as the sphere you’re using involves spiders or webs. Spend a point to increase Warfare damage by one die as you briefly latch your feeding appendages on your foe to drain fluids from their body.
Special: If you are an arakene with ranks of Ancestry (Arakene), you have a glamour that makes you appear human (even if most arakene don’t get the proportions quite right). You may change the appearance of your clothes freely, and may spend a point to change your human appearance entirely for a scene. Someone using Spirit Sight only pierces your glamour if they pull back the veil to gaze fully into the spirit world (SotS p. 24).
What does a remnant of a dead god look like? We don’t know either. Ask your player. But we suspect it may look like:
- the cloudy memory of the last person to remember the god’s name
- a terrifyingly huge skeleton, far too large to be human
- the physical embodiment of the god’s spheres, still occasionally twitching with abandoned power
- a small, shrunken image engraved on fabric or stone, impossible to erase
- an echoing sound that cannot be forgotten or described, once made by the god itself
- a holy tome, engraved directly by the dead god’s will
- rotting flesh that still quivers with forgotten purpose
- an indescribable scent in a particular location, one that briefly fools you into thinking yourself divine
- a hymn in a language you don’t understand, sung by someone you cannot see, entwined inextricably in the fabric of the world
Character Creation Advice
- Arakene are a good fit for the role of creepy spiritualist (with Spirit Sight and Corruption) or information broker/spy (with Scurrilous Rumors); in their case, “the spider in the middle of the web” is almost as literal as it is figurative.
- A high Stealth rank of 8+ can ensure that no one will spot you while you skulk or eavesdrop.
- If you add ranks in Corruption, choose at least one sphere that relates to spiders or webs
- If you’re willing to sacrifice your bonus Investigative build point, consider adding Prophecy or Skulduggery for more access to information.
- Make sure you take at least one rank of Ancestry (Arakene), because that gets you your glamour and access to a handy disguise. If you take two ranks, you also have a handy mystical escape hatch for your whole group, so long as everyone is willing to travel to the Arakene homeland with you.
Sample Hero – Arakene
Cobril Delverlane, Transmutation professor at Imperator University
Manipulative, charming, complex, scheming, conflicted
Drives (what is best in life?): Manipulating others, inevitable success, puppet shows
Defenses – Health: Health Threshold 3, Armor 1 (stylish leather jerkin), Health 8
Defenses – Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 1 (cautious), Morale 10
Offense – Sorcery: Sorcery 8 vs. Health: Damage Modifier +1 (Spiders, Animated Objects, Transmutation)
Offense – Sway: Sway 8: Damage Modifier +1 (persuasive)
Offense – Warfare: Warfare 0: Damage Modifier +1 (bite)
Investigative abilities: Charm 1, Intimidation 1, Liar’s Tell 1, Trustworthy 1; Ancestry (Arakene) 2, Corruption 3, Scurrilous Rumors 1, Spirit Sight 1
Allegiances: Ally: Monstrosities 1, Ally: Sorcerous Cabals 1; Enemy: Church of Denari 1
General abilities: Athletics 3, Preparedness 8 (Flashback), Stealth 3, Sorcery 8 (Blast), Sway 8 (Play to the Crowd)
Gear: An oddly angled university office; a cleaning lady who is tired of clearing away so many cobwebs; classrooms full of indoctrinated students, currently on break; the jellied corpses of many exsanguinated hogs, discarded beneath an enemy’s home; academic robes; stylish leather armor; beautiful silk clothing; a dagger that used to be a huge carnivorous toad; a collection of marionettes.
Sample Adversary – Arakene
Scheming, Secretive, Manipulative
Defense — Health: Health Threshold 4, Health 20
Defense — Morale: Morale Threshold 4, Grit 2 (Suspicious), Morale 20
Offense — Sorcery: +1 (vs. Health); Damage Modifier +1 (Spiders)
Offense — Sway: +2; Damage Modifier +1 (Insinuating) or the Persuade Maneuver
Abilities: Malus 15
Special Abilities: Disguise (cost varies – 1 or 3), Monstrous Ability (cost 3 – rumor-mongering, spiders, and spirits), Spellcasting (cost 3 – per effect)
Refresh Tokens: 5
Description: The disguised Lie-Master insinuates itself in a hive of human gossip such as a popular tavern or the heart of a crowded marketplace, where it soon makes itself essential in the ebb and flow of local information. Before long the Lie-master knows everything about everyone, including secrets and the tactics of local militias. It starts to buy and sell important secrets and use strategic blackmail to ensure its place in the local social hierarchy. Gradually, the Lie-Master shapes the community into a network of dysfunctional, jealous, suspicious folk that the arakene can easily manipulate.
Establishing arakene as a unique faction implies that they are a recognized and known people who wield power; if the heroes haven’t encountered them yet, or if arakene conspiracies have remained secret, include them instead under Monstrosities.
Having the arakene as Allies means that you have befriended them, terrified them into obedience, or they owe you a favor. You may use this relationship to tap into their secretive spy network and to learn more about ghosts and spirits. Being public about your alliance is certain to earn you Grudges or Enemies among other humans when the word gets out.
Having arakene as Enemies means that you would be wise to be suspicious of coincidences; arakene often put complex plans into place by drawing a web of manipulation close around their enemies, so that many things start going wrong for their foes all at once. If this happens to you, finding out what they may want from you can help prevent or delay arakene plans.
Kevin Kulp (@kevinkulp) and Emily Dresner (@multiplexer) are the co-authors of Swords of the Serpentine, out now in hardback and PDF. Kevin previously helped create TimeWatch and Owl Hoot Trail for Pelgrane Press. When he’s not writing games he’s either smoking BBQ or helping 24-hour companies with shiftwork, sleep, and alertness.