Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Nameless Queen Yama and the Queenscult

Heresy can be defined as knowledge which corrupts merely by being known, even if that knowledge is never spoken aloud, acted upon, or even consciously thought about.  This damage can be direct (as in the Madness of Avool) or indirect, (as in the Three Secrets That Damn the Soul).  It is a firebrand that burns the hand that holds it.

In heretical times it becomes necessary for the Church to excise the most pestilent elements.


Obliteration

For blasphemy and written heresies, Obliteration is easy: burn the books, then silence the people know know the contents (also, possibly by burning).

Smart witch hunters never read the books that they are tasked to destroy.  Most of the books that have been Obliterated by the Church are history books.

For small things that are not written down (embarassments, moments of papal carelessness) it is even easier.  The bureaucracies of heaven have many levers by which to subtly rotate the world.

It is even said by some that this is not the proper world, and that the hand of Zulin has even grasped the timelines themselves, and tilted us into a false canyon of history.  Reality has been turned traitor, and our proper future has been stolen from us (thereby spoiling the fountain from which prophecy springs).

The previous paragraph, by the way, is known as the Bosquirian Heresy, and it is one of the ideas that are sinful to even speculate upon.  It has been declared as Obliterated by the Church, and they stamp it out whenever it sprouts.

But that's books.  It is more difficult to Obliterate famous people, to say nothing of a powerful and well-liked queen.


Nameless Queen Yama

After her Obliteration, she was the Nameless Queen.

If the church had their way, she would just be a blank spot in the list of regents, an empty line between her husband and her brother-in-law, the two kings who bracketed her own regency.

But Queen Yama can never be truly nameless.  How can the Kingdom forget the name that it knew best?

They called her cold, calculating, and ruthless.  All of these things were true, of course, but what her detractors ignored or omitted was that she was intensely committed to her people's well-being.  Her spider-like machinations were woven selflessly.

She did not weep when her people starved; she negotiated grain imports.

And when grain merchants tried to inflate the prices to exploit her kingdom's desperation, she had them quietly beheaded.  She would feed her people at any price.

And when grain merchants tried to charge her fair prices for the grain, a few of them were found without their heads as well.  The kingdom was poor, and couldn't afford even a fair price.

The wilderness was beaten and plowed.  Homesteaders buried the corpses of decapitated dragons and giants.  As much as her census-takers could tell, life was objectively better for her subjects.

She was deeply unpopular.

Not that she cared.  She would drag the peasants into a new golden age by the heel, kicking and screaming, whining and uncomprehending.  Such was her nobility and her arrogance.

In her campaign to stamp out nepotism, she removed local authorities that people knew and trusted.  The process of optimizing agriculture meant forced relocation before famine followed the land's wasting.  And she practiced international politics with Machiavellian hyper-aggressiveness; while there was never an open war during her reign, there were many brutal skirmishes and preemptive strikes.

The undead were a point of contention between her and her private bishop.  She believed that they could be put to good uses.  Undead soldiers would save the lives of the living, and undead laborers would work without tiring.

Her bishop disagreed with her, along with nearly every other person that heard her speak such ideas in private.  Even as speculation, they bordered on heresy.

In the end, it wasn't the church that brought her down, it was politics.  She was found guilty of falsely prolonging her remarriage or abdication.  Women were not allowed to get to comfortable on the throne.

She was arrested, tried, decapitated, and her brother-in-law was installed on the throne.

Nine days later she returned as a lich, committed the mortal sin of regicide, and sat back down on her throne.

It took another four years, a crusade, and an additional two deaths to topple her.  The Order of of the White Raven finally slew her, pinning her to her throne with a half-dozen holy swords.  The South Wind destroyed her castle.  Some of the stones were blown as far northward as the shores of Perenos Lako.

This is not far from how I imagine her.
Imperious.  Wearing a ridiculous-but-not-impractical piece of fashion.
And always, always with something high-necked, preferably with ruffles somewhere.
Lichdom

Queen Yama been practicing magic since the age of nine, when she stole the spellbook from the court wizard.  Lichdom was merely the logical conclusion to her life; there was too much work to do, and only a single lifetime to live it.

When she was sixteen, Princess Yama quietly announced her decision to the bathroom mirror.  She had just menstruated for the first time.  "I will someday become a lich," she announced to her bathroom mirror.

Her Phylactery

Her phylactery is her hometown of Temphis.  She cannot be eradicated as long as the town is inhabited by at least one of her relatives, and at least one stone still stands atop another.

The fate of Temphis and Yama are intertwined.  As one waxes or wanes, so does the other.

Although she thinks that her phylactery is secret (since she has never revisited the town, or even mentioned it since its creation), the Church is aware of its importance.

But for all its callousness, the Church is unwilling to raze a town full of innocent people.  (They believe that they can manage her resurrection through St. Cascarrion without having to take this drastic step.  So far this has proven true.)

It is only slightly ironic that the Nameless Queen would have no compunctions about razing a town to the ground if she thought it would remove her nemesis.

Piecewise Resurrection

Normally the Church has no trouble permanently destroying a lich, with their great power over the soul and the afterlife (where they are perhaps more powerful in the afterlife than they are on the mortal plane).

So, the Nameless Queen did something very clever.  She stopped being a lich.  She would reincarnate.

This was another backup plan, a contingency to a contingency.  She would be reborn as a new baby, complete with all of her memories, personality, and deadly intent.

But the Church discovered this plot as well, and it was quashed.

Or at least, halfway quashed.  It couldn't stop her soul from reincarnating (too many backdoors in hell, too many tunnels through the afterlife), so she was merely divided.

Since her death of impalement atop her throne, Queen Yama has been resurrecting in pieces.

Somewhere, a child is born with her liver.

Somewhere else, another child is born with her eyes.

And aboard a leaky barge, another baby is born with her delicate hands.

If all of her parts are ever allowed to join together in one place, they will rejoin, and Queen Yama will live once more.


The Queenscult

Nationalist necromancers, mostly led by the Queensisters.

These are women who each contain a different part of the Nameless Queen.  They recognize each other upon sight, but remember nothing else of their past life as the lich-queen.  They are of all ages, and of all walks of life.  They are all sorceresses.  Many of them are necromancers.

Although they would never describe themselves as such, they revere the Thrice-Killed Queen as they would a god.  (She herself spurned religion, and was fond of mocking it, a crime that would have resulted in death for anyone save a queen.)

In the style of a goddess, her symbols are:
  • the guillotine that she used to bring order.
  • the scythe that her people used at harvest.
  • the old flag of Kyona, the country that will return.
  • the tiger's eye necklace that she wore.  
DM's note: The Queenscult is a pretty explicit replacement for the generic necromantic death cults that pop up in D&D games.  (See also: the Heralds.)  Still evil necromancers with a nefarious agenda, but nationalistic and weirdly nostalgic about the bad guys who lost the war.

St. Cascarrion's Eternal Hunt

The Church does not think that the return of Queen Yama would be a good idea.  To ensure that this event does not occur, they have dispatched St. Cascarrion, leader of the Third Lantern (the official arm of the witch hunters).

St. Cascarrion is the only "living" saint.  While the title is normally only bestowed on the dead, Cascarrion is allowed an exception because he is also among the dead: he is a vampire.

He has led the Church's witch hunters for centuries.  He teaches his students how to destroy the creatures of the night (and he teaches his new recruits to fear them).

His mind and body are bound by over a hundred separate enchantments, each maintained by a different monk in a different monastery (most of these are doubly and triply redundant).  His mind has been erased on multiple occasions.  There is not much of the original Cascarrion left.

His history has been taken from him, part of the punishment for his heinous crimes.  However, when the Church feels to need to bait him with an extra incentive, he is sometimes allowed to look at small items from his past.  A pocketwatch.  A locket.  A war banner.  A woman's brooch.

According to his contract, he has four thousand years of servitude left.  He intends to finish that contract.

Most of his time is spend hunting down and eradicating the pieces of Yama.

He carries with him a portfolio containing hundreds of sketches of Queen Yama.  When he finds a young woman whose nose matches that of the Queen, he will carefully inspect their body.  Once his inquisition is satisfied, he cuts off her nose.

Sometimes the Church is successful in saving the life of the host, cruelly parasitized by soul-pieces that they never invited into their body.  Sometimes the lungs can be excised and new ones grown in their place.  Sometimes the girl walks away without any scars.

St. Cascarrion mostly catches the Queensisters when they are very young.  Girls.  They are the least cautious.

If he finds this distasteful, he does not offer an opinion.  He never offers an opinion on anything.

It is rumored that the long centuries of obsessing over the Nameless Queen has caused the ancient vampire to fall in love with her.  He has nothing to look at but her portraits, and no lifelong acquaintances except her.  Thus it is reasoned.

(The idea that the Nameless Queen would ever return anyone's love is laughable.  While she lived, she was nearly completely loveless.  How could lichdom thaw her heart?)


The Astrologer Incident

The Astrologer was a ship, chartered by Pope Stochastic III.  It was attacked by by the Lich Queen in the waters outside Cauterus.

While she has never succeeded in fully collecting her disparate body parts, in this case the Queen managed to collect most of them.  The pope was killed by the limbless, eyeless, incomplete resurrection of the Nameless One.

She lived for another three days before her lack of kidneys became unsurvivable, and her own blood poisoned her.

And incomplete soul cannot become a lich, since lichdom is already the process by which a soul becomes incomplete.  She is stuck with this resurrection scheme.

Her Buried Armies

While her first death was unpleasant, it was not unexpected.  The Queen had planned for it, just as she had planned for nearly everything.

During her reign, she ensured that the headless corpses of her enemies were quietly collected into private catacombs secretly constructed for this purpose.  Few people care what happens to the body of a child molester after he is beheaded.  Most people were glad to see the bodies vanish from the streets after a cold winter night.

She collected more corpses, too, from her border skirmishes and soup kitchens.  They were all carefully preserved, numbered, and sorted by size.  In this way, her secret catacombs silently filled.

So when she returned to claim the throne, it was at the head of a headless army.

Nearly all of them were clad in armor.  There's little reason to not put armor on an undead.  They don't tire, they don't need to remove it, and they won't drown if they fall in the water.

(DM's Note: The Headless Legion has stats as HD 3 zombies in plate.  50% of them have a face shaped into the front of their armor--they can see out of this face.  The other 50% of them carry shields with a face on it--they can see out of this face.)

Her elite guards are the giants, also armored and also headless.  They are called the Decapitantes.  They wear manning armor and wield trifling brooms (both designed by giants to better fight their smaller foes), but on their backs they carry sledgehammers.  In their hands these are siege weapons.

(DM's Note: Stats as HD 8 giants in plate.  They don't have faces anywhere on their armor or shield.  Instead, they can see out of the eyes of anyone who is sees them.  Sometimes they carry a Queensister, who balances between their shoulders while casting spells.)

Her prime servant is Cryptoc, the headless dragon corpse.  He has an enormous mirror bolted to the end of his neck stump, ringed with runes.  His exact abilities are unknown.  (If anyone has seen Cryptoc in action, they have not survived to report it.)  Most suspect that the Thrice-Killed Queen can speak directly through the mirror, though.


The Panopticon
Deep in the Nameless Catacombs of the Nameless Queen, there is a circular chamber, large enough to contain a whale.  Every inch of that wall is covered with shelves.  On each shelf is an object covered with a velvet cloth.

Under each cloth is a head.  These are the heads that the Nameless Queen has collected over the centuries: warrriors, beggars, giants, merchants, farmers, and at least one pope.

The heads are normally content to sit there with their eyes closed, whispering quietly, but when the covering is removed, the head will open its eyes and babble.

Each head retains its knowledge (very similar to a permanent speak with dead spell), but in the hands of a Queensister, they have an additional power: they can be used to scry on the blood relatives of people that the head is related to.

Some minor connection remains, and even babbling, the heads sometimes mutter something that only their descendants would know.

Simultaneously uncovering multiple heads is increasingly dangerous.

As She Appears

Her eyes are red-brown and silky, similar to tiger's eye, her favorite stone.

She has three tiger's eye ioun stones that maintain a static position above her head.

Together, her two eyes and the three ioun stones form a pentagrammatic summoning circle that allows her to shoot demons out of her forehead.

As befitting her station, she carries a scepter (contains magickz) and a cruciger (rumored to be the egg of an undead phoenix, however impossible that sounds).  She wears the Queen's Crown of Kyona; she has sworn to only wear the King's Crown once she has resurrected Kyona itself.

Her dresses are kept practical and short, but she often wears a ruff collar and some lace around her wrists.  She always enjoyed those small allowances.

She avoids explicit symbols of wizardry, having spent her whole life hiding it.  She likewise avoids explicit signs of necromancy.  Skulls are tacky.

8 comments:

  1. Just plain marvellous, as always. Genius.

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  2. Was St. Cascarrion inspired at all by the Mountain that Rode? Either way, ghouls wrapped in blessed chains designed to break after a few days, stuffed in a box of rowan wood banded in silver, driven into a frenzy by droplets of holy water, then "accidentally" dropped in the territories of the heathens. The poor buggers will either beg to be conquered by the faith, or be far easier to remove via Turn Undead.

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    Replies
    1. You need a way to do long-range delivery for maximum "we don't go to ravenholm anymore" effect

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  3. But what if my players WANT to help resurrect the queen?

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    1. Then you just made enemies with the Church.

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    2. Then you have a whole campaign ready for you.

      Honestly, that sounds like an awesome game. Is the Church a monstrous, totalitarian institution? Yes. Would the return of Queen Yama be worse? Probably, but maybe the players can swing things for the better.

      Whenever players can see a goal in your setting, and decide to work towards it *without any urging on your part*, you've got them invested. That's (one way) to win the game, as a DM.

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  4. When I read that her shoots demons from the forehead, everything became Doom themed.

    St. Cascarrion even has a green full plate in my mind now.

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  5. Dude, you are on fire this week! Metaphorically.

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