In the last post, I described how my Magus Hack campaign took a strange turn as I staged a Total Party Kill by getting the players to roleplay the villains and defeat their own PCs. That ended with sole survivor Edgar Raven, a time traveller, detonating a temporal grenade that hurled him into a different timeline where the PCs were still alive but ... different.
Garrr. My lovely GMs screen from drivethrurpg didn't turn up in time for the session, but it would have looked like this, with the Magus Hack inserts.
Yes, it's a multiverse-themed session where the players get to roleplay alternate versions of themselves in an alternate setting. My hope was that this experience would deepen everyone's roleplaying before the alternates replace (or somehow merge with) the original characters in the original timeline. Will that happen? Let's find out.
I didn't want this to be another game where the players were simply handed pre-generated characters, so there had to be meetings beforehand to discuss these variant-PCs, so that they would represent possibilities for the original characters that the players were interested in pursuing.
Alex (playing Luke) wanted his variant to be an active Magus in this timeline, but a fugitive on the run from the world's angelic overlords. This was an opportunity to play a more focused version of his original character.
Oliver (playing George Smith, now George Smythe, MP) wanted his variant to be a Magus who had renounced his magic and was now a successful politician, helping the angels rule the world after the 'Crusade' to defeat the Fae.
Karl (playing Bobby Kimber, now Rob Banques) wanted his variant not to be a Magus at all, but an ordinary human, unaware of his magical destiny, living a family life in the 'Heaven On Earth' the angels created.
Alec (playing time-traveller Edgar Raven) has the mission to track down his old friends and reunite them as Magi again. No small task, especially as the world is now ruled by benignly fascistic angels who have banned magic. His first clue about the sort of world he is in is seeing that the sexy angelic NPC Genevieve whom he knew in the original timeline is here a TV presenter of a daytime show Just Genevieve that helps mortals acclimatise to a world where their rulers - and lovers! - are angelic beings.
Where Angels Dare
This new timeline needs a bit of background. Here, the Fae Insurgency during the 20th century turned into an outright invasion in the 1970s. Magi fought back against the trolls, hags and sidhe knights that emerged from Hades and Britain became the cockpit of a decades-long battle between mortals and immortals. No one knows who invoked the Host of Heaven, but at the start of the 21st century angels turned up to fight alongside the Magi in what became known as the Cleansing Crusade. The tide of battle turned. The ettins were toppled, the goblyns routed and the portals sealed. The Fae and their blood-soaked altars were banished once again.
The Host of Heaven stayed to rebuild a shattered world. Magic was blamed for the Fae's arrival and deemed to dangerous for mortal use. Many Magi, exhausted by the Crusade, signed the Book of Renunciation, giving up their magical powers in exchange for peace and security.
The great shock was the revelation that Thanariel, the angel of death, who had fought the Fae in Hades, had been a traitor all along; in fact, Thanariel was blamed for bringing the Fae into this world in the first place. The death-angel was consigned to Perdition and the Magi who fought under his Tattered Banner were hunted down.
Without the angel of death, the world is transformed. Humans no longer die. This has been greeted as Heaven On Earth. Angels remained on Earth to oversee this new order. Increasingly, the trappings of democracy are being discarded; why vote on things when Heaven knows best?
Another feature of this new way of living has been the growing number of marriages between mortals and angels. Not just marriages either: the new Ministry of Pleasure helps mortals adapt to their death-free lives and offers erotic therapy for the confused, the lonely and the anguished. The Love of Heaven is taken very literally by the angels of the Ministry.
Not everyone is comfortable with these changes. The children born to angel/human relations are the Nefilim and some of these are now reaching their teens and showing disturbing traits. Meanwhile, mortal fertility is dropping rapidly: knowing they will not die, people are less motivated to have human children.
The promise of life without death is not all it seems. Mortals still age, still get sick, still experience dementia and derangement - but they cannot die. The experience can be horrific. The Akkadians are angels who take custody of these poor souls. There are rumoured to be vast camps in the north where the Un-Dead are kept. Some escape the Akkadians are terrorise their communities as they humanity ebbs, replaced by rage and madness. The Akkadians are hard pressed to track down and capture the rogue Un-Dead.
Some of Thanariel's necromancers survive, living a hand-to-mouth existence in the backstreets, sewers and subways of London. Their magic can grant True Death to the suffering and bring final peace to the Un-Dead. While the Akkadians are too busy to attend to every Un-Dead maniac, they are always alert for displays of forbidden magic and hunt down the necromancers with zeal.
Character Profile: Luke - Choose Death, Not Life
You fought in the Cleansing Crusade: alongside Thanariel, you hunted down the cannibal Redcap gangs and set the wicker giants ablaze. You travelled to the Underworld and helped Thanariel close the Portals to Faerie. Then, Thanarial was condemned. Most of your comrades Renounced their magic or were sent to Perdition, but you went underground, literally, and now live below the streets and in Hades, in the company of the few remaining dead souls.
Luke's hideout in the abandoned underground station at York Street, near King's Cross
You are a black market euthanist, bringing the gift of Death to those who no longer want to live in Heaven On Earth – or to the un-dead monsters such souls turn into now that the gift of True Death is denied. Watch out for the angels of Akkadiel, the lord of Perdition, who hunts down the rogue dead and sends them to his camps.
Character Profile: George Smythe, MP - the New Statesman
You fought in the Cleansing Crusade alongside Longinus and Albanus. You were there when Gawain set the Thames ablaze; you liberated the sacrificial pits of Pinner; you watched the last Portal close, sealing the Fae away forever. After that, it was confusing. You placed your name in the Book of Renunciation and were compensated for your lost magic with wealth, privilege and political power.
After the Crusade, you became a MP for the (rebranded) Grail Party, promoting Heaven’s rule on Earth with traditional British values. Sometimes it’s hard to get the angels to appreciate democracy and habeus corpus. Your angelic intern Lucian is invaluable for this. You are trying to quit bad habits: smoking and drinking. Your pleasure therapist is an angel named Mimsiel (‘Mimsy’) who helps you unwind, especial after the recent death threats.
Character Profile: Rob Banques - Another Day in Paradise
You're not a Magus but you remember London under the Fae: a terrifying place of burning wicker-men, cannibal Redcap gangs and elven warlords. How much better things are after the Cleansing Crusade, with Heaven in charge. You live in an elegant apartment block, Paradise Spire, in East Croydon, just two minutes from the train station.
You married an angel, Lindariel (or ‘Linda’). You can’t imagine how you got so lucky, because Linda is beautiful, successful and an Under Secretary in the Ministry of Pleasure. She works long hours and you are a house husband. You have three 'nefilim' children together: Molly (5) and the twins Jacob and Isaac (3). Linda is very attentive to the twins development but you can’t help feeling she neglects Molly. You’ve recently hired an au pair named Jane to help hot house the twins.
How It All Went Down
The session was necessarily constructed from three different plotlines (one for each of the characters above), with time-travellers Edgar Raven as the link. Raven used scrying magic to locate George Smythe then teamed up to help Luke lay to rest an un-dead predator terrorising the residents of a Deptford apartment block. Having convinced Luke to help him, the two went to confront Rob, arriving just as Rob was activating his own magical powers. Meanwhile George Smythe had recovered his magic too, but drawn the attention of an angelic Akkadian who beat him to death (if that were possible in this world) and abducted him.
That's a blunt re-telling, but the point of this session was in the exquisite roleplaying touches that brought these characters to vivid life and delved deep into the source and nature of their magic.
Luke's story follows the beats of urban horror. Luke is a fractured, haunted person for whom the city is a gauntlet beset on all side with supernatural terrors. He visits the Foundations, the pit where Shard Tower once stood which is now a war monument. For the tourists, the Foundations is a multimedia-assisted descent, commemorating the heroes and martyrs who gave their lives to rid the world of Fae. For Luke, it is a graveyard where even the ghosts of his friends have been banished, their memories distorted.
The Anathema is a site dedicated to the treachery of Thanariel, an Orwellian focal point for public hate, but Luke remembers the death-angel differently and is filled with futile rage at this rewriting of history.
Determined to find relief through action, Luke heads to Deptford where a rogue Un-Dead is troubling the residents. He interviews the grieving wife who watched her husband deteriorate with brain cancer but could not bring herself to commit him to the Akkadians and their sinister asylums. Luke stalks the un-dead sufferer through the basements and this is where he meets Raven, who had been following him with scrying magic. The two of them overpower the un-dead husband and use magic to bring him the relief of true death.
In roleplaying Luke, Alex brought out a sense of purpose and a theme for his magic that had been missing up till now. The first meeting of Luke and Raven was roleplayed rather beautifully, with Luke becoming fascinated by the prospect of another timeline where the tragedies he has lived through have not yet occurred.
If Luke's story was urban horror, George's tale unfolds as personal tragedy. George Smythe, MP cannot focus on his job. He has just delivered a car crash interview, stumbling through a half-hearted defence of the forthcoming legislation to ban alcohol and cigarettes and restrict licensed recreation to that offered by the Ministry of Pleasure. His angelic secretary Lucian is always at his side, but George only wants to escape to somewhere where he can smoke, drink and remember. Down in the street below, a strange beggar is staring up at George's window.
George cancels his appointments and insists on visiting the Foundations, but takes no comfort from the carefully-cultivated memorials and skewed historical perspectives on offer. There is footage of himself as a younger man, a warrior and a hero.
Instead, George goes to Claridge's in Mayfair; the hotel is now owned by the Ministry of Pleasure. George is supposed to attend erotic therapy with Mimsiel, but uses the opportunity of being free of Lucian (whom he now views as his gaoler) to escape to the roof. Alone at last, he drinks and smokes and contemplates the drop. Down below, the beggar is looking up at him. The figure beckons.
George steps from the roof and falls.
In roleplaying George, Oliver brought a sense of immense personal pain to the previously stoic character. The fall was a moment that captivated us all, especially as it echoed George's previous death in the original timeline.
The 'beggar' is George's magical essence, an expression of his psyche's need to be whole again. The fall, like that of the Fool in the Tarot deck, is a step into new possibilities: in this case, resurrection. George Smythe is a Magus again and, more importantly perhaps, experiences a dramatic montage of his own past as the guardian spirit of the British Isles, confronting invaders and oppressors as far back as the Ice Age.
Exulting in his power, George sends a banner of fire across London, serving time on the Hosts of Heaven. The nemesis is quick to respond: his Akkadian handler arrives, a powerful angel in a double-breasted suit. George is defiant and pulls the sword of Calad Bolg - Excalibur! - from his own heart. The angel smashes George to the ground and drags him away, but the sword is left gleaming in the shadows, thrust into the paving stones and immovable.
Urban horror, violent tragedy and now domestic psychodrama.
Rob is a house husband, experiencing sexual difficulties with his beautiful angel wife Linda. While taking the children to the park, Rob is belittled by another parent and stresses over the shortcomings of his daughter, Molly, who is overlooked by everyone in favour of the startlingly precocious twins, Jacob and Isaac.
Things become more stressful when the new nanny arrives, a woman named Jane for whom Rob conceives a powerful (and powerfully reciprocated) attraction. Determined to straighten his head, Rob goes looking for his missing cat, Kimber. His neighbours on the floor above have disturbing news: they have discovered the dead cat's body and the animal died in torment, having been ritually slain.
When Rob gets home, his wife has returned and reacts to Jane with barely-concealed hostility. As she leaves, Jane tells Rob something he can make no sense of: that the twins belong to Linda but Jane is his alone.
Rob drinks too much wine while preparing supper. He is waiting for an episode of Just Genevieve with a focus on men who are intimidated by their angelic spouses and cannot perform in bed.
When Raven and Luke arrive at the door, Rob won't listen to their crazy stories. While Linda is hot-housing the twins with high-level mathematics, Rob picks up Molly, steals Linda's key and unlocks her study - the only part of their home he has never entered.
The study is a prison cell. The prisoner, crouched in the darkness, is masked and chained.
Rob understands at once. This is his Magus-potential, that his angel wife is keeping from him. Molly is the key. Before they stole his memories, he was the Beast who fought Heaven and Fae with equal ferocity. Yes, he killed his own cat: his subconscious trying to tell him what he is.
Rob kisses Molly tenderly, tells her he will see her again and unleashes his magic.
In roleplaying Rob, Karl brought mounting panic and anxiety to these domestic turmoils. Many of the scenes were fluently improvised and his final confrontation with Linda over the children (and her favouritism of the twins) produced a powerful sense of a dam about to break. The final reveal - that Linda is his gaoler rather than his wife but his powers can only be reclaimed by sacrificing the existence of the daughter he loves - came as a bombshell.
George is a brain-damaged prisoner of the Akkadians, who are whisking him away to the North Sea Asylum in Lincolnshire. Excalibur is waiting to be recovered from a Mayfair mews. Lindariel has fled with the Twins - doubtless to create trouble for Rob. No one got to watch Genevieve's episode on sexual dysfunction, but will the Magi confront her anyway? They suspect she is the same Genevieve they knew in the original timeline. What's going on in Hades? Where is Thanariel? What's happening at the North Sea Asylum? The story continues in a fortnight.
30 Minute Dungeons
Essays on Forge
I'm a teacher and a writer and I love board games and RPGs. I got into D&D back in the '70s with Eric Holmes' 'Blue Book' set and I've started writing my own OSR-inspired games - as well as fantasy and supernatural fiction..