Category Archives: Chezbah Sourcebook

Conscripts

Some of us remember our parents. At age four we became wards of the state. We are the ones chosen to protect our families and our nation. At an early age, we are all the same, silly children playing games. Carefully chosen games sure, but don’t think that we were raised on misery and conflict. We are the conscripted.

Very soon though, we begin to see the difference between us and them. They grow quickly, soon towering over our heads at age 8. They are more agile than we are, they are even smarter than we are. They will become the Warriors, while we will man the Hunters, Cruisers and the Demolishers. The Kelahn, the priests, teach them not to push us around, that we are brothers but they are angry by nature. I am only glad that before the change, my best friend was Aheshpei, who I watched slowly become one of them. He took care of me, calling me little brother, even though I was a year older.

Over the years, I put a few things together. Aheshpei and the others like him could not remember their fathers if they had them. They remember younger brothers but never sisters. The Kelahn did not like us talking about it. They seemed to know when Aheshpei would start to talk about his life before 4 years. They would come and split us up, give us more work to do.

None of the others the ones who became Warriors could remember their fathers except one. Cheshah who was younger than us by four years remembered his father. He remembered a kind man that loved his mother dearly and that he loved to take Cheshah out to play. He remembered men from everywhere would run up to his father and ask for help on this matter or that. Cheshah’s father would talk with them and hold crying children. He doesn’t remember much about those conversations, only one word, the men would call his father Kelahn, priest.

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A Chezbah Campaign?

I’ve never lifted the veil on the Chezbah far enough to allow a player character. For me, that’s been a no-no because it would let the genie out of the bottle. The Chezbah are exotic because they are unobtainable, unknowable, unreachable.

But now I’m starting to rethink that. I have a specific need to playtest Chezbah technologies because I want to see how players would exploit the tech, get the strategies they would come up with. In a way, I want to hand over the keys to the unobtainable because I think the players will come up with better strategies than I will. I’ve come up with the obvious so far, what I think will be fair. Now I need a players mentality to try and grab onto all the advantage they can get.

I’ve written a few times about the technology called Warping. We’ve always thought about play testing the tech from the perspective of the players going up against it but I think it will be more revealing to see the players using it. To have them create the strategies that the Chezbah would use to spam against future players.

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How Long Does A Chezbah Live?

Earlier I did a post on Chezbah medicine and how there wouldn’t be a need for very much in the way of medical technology. I was thinking about medicine for the average person but recently I thought about what could be done for the elderly.

I always liked the idea in Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed of life extensions. If you had the money, you could keep extending your life. Or at least bioroids could.

Longevity

The Chezbah live long lives. They are not burdened by most disease that would slowly wear away their vitality. Because of this, Chezbah are often strong and vital even in their 90’s.

However, just the absence of disease is not enough to stave off degeneration. Over time organs start to become frail. For those judged worthy, pilgrimages to temples can mean a new lease on life.

A small orange capsule, similar in appearance to a oddly colored cherry is produced from the skin of the temple. This is a nanotech device that locates weakened organ structures and reinforces them with artificial scaffolds. It creates stem cells, bathes them in proteans that turn back the cellular clock and attaches them to places where cell decay is greatest.

For most, this treatment revitalizes an aging Chezbah for another thirty to forty years.

In the case of acute organ failure, if a priest can be summoned, a nanotech injection causes the failing organ to be rebuilt as an artificial replacement.

With these interventions, it is common for Chezbah to live for one hundred and eighty to two hundred and fifty years. Some Scimrahn have reported Priests of extreme old age.

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Priest Bracers

In some of the really early pictures of Chezbah Priests, they wore heavy arm bracers. They looked like they were a device and not purely ornamental or any kind of armor. Still, there wasn’t any explanation about what they actually were. It was always my intent to have the Chezbah use more gadgets, but what would you wear on your arm and what does it do?

So here’s a little post to explain that. Feel free to use them in your games.

These posts will all eventually be compiled in a Chezbah sourcebook.

Chezbah Priest Bracers

These devices cover the forearm of the priest. Similar to the War Staff, the bracers are a storage battery for the ZPE energy the priest generates. These batteries are used to defensively, storing up energy that would normally discharge from the priest without effect and then channeling the power back into the priest to create a more powerful defensive force field.

The bracers also amplify the effect of the Ion Cascade shield by tuning it and directing it’s energy at incoming attacks.

The force field has two settings. Setting one is a 40 point force field that lasts for ten turns per bracer worn. The second setting is a 300 point shield that lasts for one turn per bracer worn but does one point of damage to the wearer.

The hit points for setting two is reduced by 30 for each turn setting one has been used on that bracer.

Setting 1
Shield Hit Points: 40
Duration: 10 turns

Setting 2
Shield Hit Points: 300
Duration: 1 turn

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The Procession

Chezbah City Web

Report by: Sergeant Alex Kronn

Position: Embedded Observer

Assigned Objective: Report on Chezbah activity in assigned city.

Purpose of Mission: To provide cultural and military intelligence.

Progress Report: Today there was a procession. My host explained that a pilot had distinguished himself in conflicts with the Kelrath.

He seems to be their ace pilot, turning the tide against incursion of much larger Kelrath forces that would have overrun the city. They’re showering him with gifts as he rides by. It’s easy to understand why the conscripts tend to be highly motivated to distinguish themselves.

I’m a day late with this one. I’m really happy with this because I’ve tried to do a picture set in one of the Residential Hex cities for a long time now but haven’t been able to pull it off. That added to showing something of Chezbah culture in a picture.

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On The Making of Legends

Today I’m doing a dual purpose post. This is partly a continuation of the post Why Go To The Collector Wells? and partly instructional.

In the last post I talked about a weird new “treasure” item for the game. For it to work and draw the player characters to it, the characters have to have heard about it. So how will they have heard about some esoteric misapplication of an industrial process deep inside a vast and dangerous expanse? It’s not like the local farmer and his brother are going to be raising Pettok here and say “Hey guess what we did?”

No, to draw the player’s into the web, they’re going to have to hear a story that tells of a grand hero or villain that they probably couldn’t compete with. We need a legend. Now in game legends are mostly there to deliver a single clue about how to get to the fabulous treasure mentioned therein. The rest of it is all glamor and fluff but it’s needed fluff. A good legend revolves around a central premise that sounds impossible (joining two people’s minds?) and goes on to explain why that impossible thing is so cool. The catch is to then present players with some form of evidence that some element of that coolness really happened. Usually something concrete that they can hold in their hand. It then is up to them to decide if the evidence then means that the impossible thing must then be possible.

To recap: Something “impossible”, tangental evidence that the impossible thing really happened.

So lets make one for our treasure item. In this case we need something that will make zapping your head in a dangerous machine sound good and explain exactly how to  do it.

Legend of The Peasant King

In the days before the Tanroc Fredar there rose up a king* cruel and powerful. All people bowed to his power and none could stand against him. The people groaned under the oppression of their forced labor. The king’s son was irresponsible and he knew that the boy would not be able to maintain the kingship. As it happened, this also became well known in the kingdom and the boy’s actions were a scandal.

One day as a group of peasants brought their tribute to the king one of them approached the throne and presented the king with a solution. He explained that in his land there was a device called the Lover’s Knot. It was used to ensure that a marriage mate would be faithful, although this tale didn’t interest the king, the next thing the peasant said did. When two people are joined in this way, they never betray the other and they know everything the other knows. If the king and his son were to enter the Lover’s Knot the son would gain the father’s wisdom and carefulness.

This intrigued the king but he was doubtful. As proof the young peasant produced a man and his wife that had entered the Knot. He had the king place them in separate towers. When one was told about a matter, the other instantly knew it, when one saw a thing the other also saw it.

After fully testing them the king and his advisors agreed to having the king and his son enter the knot. They journeyed to the land of the heart# and to the place of the Lover’s Knot.

The peasant accompanied the king and after showing the king how the Knot worked, the king and his son prepared to enter into it. As the king entered the Knot and at the last moment, the peasant pushed the king’s son away and entered the Knot with the king.

The wicked king instantly saw the life of the peasant and felt his suffering. His heart was crushed by the weight of his pain, the king was stunned but spared the life of the peasant. They returned to the king’s fortress and the peasant was given the same luxury as the king. The king’s rule softened and the people rejoiced. In time the king died and the man once a peasant ruled in his place.

*some Chezbah translations add “in opposition to Loc.”

#An old name for the Collector Wells.

Cementing The Story

Although the legend indicates the collector wells as being the location of this “Lover’s Knot”, it does not give enough detail to find the device. It also can be dismissed as fanciful and possibly a morality lesson or underdog story. To make it more solid, the players need more detail.

The players or someone the players encounter discover an ancient text written with charcoal on a CCC tablet. Although it is faded and smudged, the original text can be made out either by study or with technology. It is a letter from a father to a son, admonishing him to take his young and apparently unfaithful wife to the Lover’s Knot. More importantly the father gives explicit instructions on how to get to and to find the Knot chamber.

With some more details we have a genuine quest in the making. I’m sure that this wouldn’t entice all players but with the right group or even the right two individual players this could become a desirable goal.

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Why Go To The Collector Wells?

One of the regions of The Artifact that has always scared me is the collector wells. They are vital to the life of the planet, its heart if you will. There are things that I know about them and a lot of things I don’t. For the Chezbah sourcebook I’d like to have a map of them but I don’t want to just have a map to fill in the space, I want a map that makes players say “Oooh I want to go there!” The problem with that is the Collector Wells are crawling with Chezbah and that so far has always made players say “We’ll avoid that area.”

There are two easy ways I can think of to get players into the collector wells. One is to make them a safe haven. That doesn’t seem like it would work with tons of Chezbah walking around. The second way is to make there be really cool toys there that players will want to have. To do that, the lure would have to be pretty big. That I think can be managed. I’m thinking something akin to the dark tiles, they had a purpose but people have found alternate uses for them. Ideally I would also like it to be something you can’t buy from someone else. That way the character with tons of cash can’t just say “I’m not going in there, I’ll just look for someone who has one and buy it off of them.”

What Do I Know?

I don’t want to just throw some kind of unobtainium into the game without knowing why it’s there. The dark tiles make sense (to me anyway) as to what they do and why they exist. So let’s look at what I do know about the wells and try to build something from there.

The Collector Wells are sitting at the bottom of a huge well. This well funnels high energy particles from the solar wind into a collection point using the planet’s magnetic field. Unlike the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts which deflect solar wind, the magnetic field of The Artifact is designed to draw in the oppositely charged solar wind of the star it’s pointed at. This collection point then converts the charged particles into the superheated plasma that powers the rest of the planet.

To that end, the collector wells must have a massive furnace inside it. There’s our first landmark in the wells. Obviously there’s nothing in the furnace except a lot of hot. There’d be some heavy duty magnetic containment tech to focus the incoming radiation into a single point, and then there’d have to be some kind of an anvil that the radiation would strike in order to convert it to plasma. That anvil could be made of gas or liquid, any normal solid material would be vaporized over time so it would make sense to be able to replenish the face of the anvil quickly and continually. But does that gas or liquid have to be of a mundane kind? Of course not. This could be our unobtainium or at least a link to it.

Speculation

I like to keep things on The Artifact based on real science going on now. A whole mess of it is speculative but science none the less. At first a lot of the core technologies were from me throwing cool stuff I’d read or seen, together into one place. As the story has progressed, I’ve had to take look for developments in science that do what I want them to do.

So let’s speculate. Something really cool that I haven’t done anything with yet is energy teleportation (see Points of Disinterest Episode 6). Maybe the best way to move energy from the anvil to the plasma generation system is to teleport it. The anvil could be made of liquid sodium that is entangled with another pool of sodium in the plasma generation system(s). I imagine a cluster of these plasma generators at the head of each primary plasma conduit. To do this energy teleporting the two pools of liquid sodium would go through some kind of entanglement device that could link the atoms on a massive scale. It is this entanglement system that has interesting possibilities. Although Earth teleporter technology in theory could do something similar, maybe it’s the types of particles they entangle and the energy states of those particles that makes the technology exotic.

So why might this be interesting RPG candy that players can’t resist? I turn to the theory of the quantum brain (or mind). The specifics of the theory are not immensely important but let’s speculate that the mind (or neurons in general) may be sensitive to entanglement. By putting a body part of one character (hand, foot, head, etc) into this device, and the body part of another character in the device the neurons become entangled and suddenly the neurons of different characters can communicate with each other no matter how far away from each other they are.

So what would this do? That’s a good question, in reality it may do nothing. That’s no fun though. So I’d like to speculate that if two hands were placed in the device, the two characters could sense each other’s hand. Even more so, they may be able to control each other’s hand! Why would you want that? It could be a useful tool. Both players would always know how the other person’s hand was doing. That sounds funny but if the other character was hot, or cold, maybe even very hungry, the other character might be able to tell. If they can control each other’s hand, they could use sign language or even writing to communicate with each other.

So what if two character’s head’s were placed in the machines? The two player’s minds would become linked. They would effectively become a hive mind. All their skills, knowledge, history and secrets would now be shared. I can only imagine that would be disorienting for quite a while. They would probably even see what the other sees. Could two brains really signal each other this way? If blasting someone else’s FMRI data into you brain can transmit usable data, then I’d say yes, it’s possible. It might take some training to sort through the new input but just like monkeys using robotic arms takes training, in theory, it should work.

In Game

By placing their head into a compartment near the entanglement mechanism and having another character do the same in a corresponding compartment at the same time, the two characters become linked. They add their IQ attributes together (no upper limit to the score) and share all their skills. (I wonder about muscle memory though, maybe non mental skills are half shared?)

This isn’t a peasant process. Both characters take 1D10 damage (remember x2 for the head, 1/4 for the hand). Roll 1d6 Stress Points for a hand (or foot if you really want to) entanglement. Roll 3D10 Stress Points for head’s being entangled. In theory a hand could be entangled to a foot or a head to a hand or any combination there of, but mismatched entanglements only allow for vague and unusual sensations to be picked up. Characters might be able to interpret this over time but it’s functionality would be limited.

The entanglement devices in the collector wells are huge, and cannot be removed without knocking out a huge part of the power generation of the planet. That makes this not something you can sell to someone else. In addition these devices would be protected by hordes of Chezbah.

The next question is how did anyone figure out to do this in the first place? I’ll write about that tomorrow.

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Chezbah Customs Continued

Continuing on Tuesday’s post, here are some more culture notes for the Chezbah.

Oaths

Being a very ritualized society, oaths play a large role in Chezbah agreements and contracts. Oaths are usually announced to the community. Going back on an oath or failing to perform on one can be very humiliating.

Tricks and Thievery

If a person is fooled into agreeing to something, it is viewed as a legitimate way of getting them to do what you want. This can be a little jarring to outsiders because a Chezbah will be required to stick to an oath even if they were tricked into it.

In business, spying is rampant because of this. If secrets are stolen or even if goods are stolen, it is looked on as a failure of the business man. It is considered his responsibility to keep his knowledge and possessions safe. Failure to do so is not the spy’s moral shortcoming but the owner’s. This means that most robberies of intellectual property or physical goods are covered up. If the owner knows who stole from him, he may even announce that he has given a gift to that person as an act of charity thus covering up any dishonor.

However a thief who is caught in the act often suffers greatly for their actions.

Tapestries and Rugs

The residential buildings that the Chezbah live in are cold and for the most part uncomfortable places. The Chezbah are restricted by religious law from altering these structures. This includes permanently anchoring anything to the structures. They are allowed to tie cords around pillars and there are some clever fasteners that the Chezbah have developed to hang tapestries and even full doors to doorways.

The Chezbah hang tapestries from walls for insulation and as dividers to form rooms. Thick woven rugs also help to make cold floors more comfortable.

A good number of tapestries and rugs are woven by machine. Only the most expensive are hand woven but almost all are story telling aids. Pictures on the tapestries explain important events, relate legends and tell jokes.

Welcoming

Chezbah will clap to welcome a person, often three times is enough but more if they are very important.

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Chezbah Customs

When an Espionage Specialist sneaks into a Chezbah settlement, it is useful to understand their customs so as not to give away being an outsider.

City Lifecycle

There are several stages that a Chezbah settlement can be at in it’s life cycle. Understanding the stage of the cycle is important because the stages alter the social fabric of the community. The first stage of a city is reconstruction. During this phase young men and women from other cities are brought to an old city that is in need of repair. As families are established and grow, they work on restoring the city structure. Monitoring priests award titles to family heads according to what they have accomplished. This is a time of political and social jockeying for position. Finding a family low in the rankings and getting their favor by helping them advance can open up repeated access to the community. This is often done by spying on other families and finding out their practices or revealing a scandal that would lower a family’s ranking. Finding families that are in such a position is not difficult because honors are displayed on banners hung from buildings.

The second stage of the city starts when reconstruction ends. The youth in the city are continually sent out to start new cities. The population ages and slowly shrinks over several centuries. In these established cities it may be difficult to find contacts. The city now produces products for other developing cities. This often means there is plenty of work to do and although social ranking can change at this point, it is far more difficult to do so. There is very little a Scimrahn can offer a Chezbah as far as wealth goes but some Scimrahn do find selling black market items to work on occasion. The problem is that revealing a Scimrahn spy carries a very large reward.

The third stage is when some of the city’s children are allowed to return and care for their aging parents. At this point the population of the city is very small and often only takes up a tiny fraction of the buildings in the city. These communities are relatively wealthy and stable but there are often rifts in the social fabric left over from old wounds. In these situations, a Scimrahn may find a place to operate out of by carrying out acts of revenge. These can often be seemingly minor acts of vandalism or harassment because of the Chezbah’s strict social code.

The fourth stage is a slow build up of a city. For a few generations the city’s children are allowed to remain, instead of being sent out to a new restoration site. The city grows slowly over the generations and becomes very rigid socially. Because of the age of most Scimrhan, this stage often offers the opportunity to move about in the city and blend in with youth moving about. However, unlike previous stages, there is little opportunity to attach oneself to a household and have a safe base of operation.

City Buildings

Buildings are often occupied by extended families. It is uncommon for different families to inhabit the same building. One family head is often in control of the entire building.

The residential towers themselves are white except for on the lowest level and around window openings where they are painted with bright blue and yellow patterns. Most patterns are blocks of varying simple geometric patterns that are hand painted on by women of the family.

Higher up there are large colorful banners that hang from the windows. The banners have a family name along with their occupation and then a list of short phrases like “Loc’s servant”, “Strong man”, “Hearer”, “Loyal”, “Good”, “Founder”, “Man of Loc”, “Great” and “Rememberer”.

These banners carry the titles that are awarded to the families for various deeds. Families usually only have a few of these titles and more titles mean more prestige to the family. Each one gives the family certain rights or privileges in society.

Inside the first floor of most of the buildings Pettok or Berem are kept. The entrances are roped off with electrified cable to keep them in. A younger man of the family is stationed here to receive guests and messages. Entering a home without being recognized and escorted means that a person has sinister intentions.

Business is often carried out on the second and third floor of the building and the fourth and fifth floors often have refrigerators pantries and freezers for storing food.

Gesturing Acceptance

Authority and recognizing authority is a life and death matter among the Chezbah. Once a person has been put in charge of something by being given a title by the priesthood, ignoring that authority is a capital offense. The offended has the right to kill a person that rejects their assigned role in society.

One of the main ways of showing that a person’s authority is recognized is by a common gesture. The gesturer’s eyes close and their fingertips touch their forehead. Then the hands are raised into the air.

This is an important gesture to learn because it is the proper response to a range of statements.

The Knife

To the Chezbah, a knife is a symbol of self reliance. It is not often considered a weapon but rather a tool.

At a dinner, a knife is only used to take a portion of the meat that is put in the middle of the table. This is a symbolic gesture showing that the guests are not becoming part of the host’s family but are still able to take care of themselves. Otherwise the patriarchal head of the family serves the meat.

The knife is tied to marriage ceremonies but also in the betrothing process. If someone were to show their knife to a member of the opposite gender it is a proposal to marry. The Tradition goes that a man is showing that he can take care of a woman or the woman asking the man to take her knife which is done during the marriage ceremony.

The Fathers and Mothers

As in the Scimrhan language, “Father” is an honorary title but the term has other uses as well.

The dining table is referred to as “the father”. The table supports the meal and therefore the family, this is the father’s role in Chezbah society. As an extension, plates for eating are also called “fathers”. The cooking pot is called “the Mother” Bowls for eating are called “mothers”. Only the father who’s table it is and his wives may place their bowl directly on the table. Anyone else places their bowls under the table or holds it up while eating. Cups are specialized bowls according to Chezbah tradition.

Dinner Conversation

At the meal, the patriarchal head is the only one allowed to start a conversation. No one may speak unless invited to by the patriarch. There are ways for someone to signal that they would like to speak. Looking directly at the patriarch is one way of doing this. Putting one’s elbow on the table is a demand to be heard.

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Where Do They Come From?

The Lesser Seed (Chezbah Hounds) have baffled earth forces for some time. Early on special operations groups were sent out to try and find production facilities that made them but found nothing. Then earth forces would occasionally corner a small group of Chezbah, only to have a the Chezbah backed up by Lesser Seed ready for them. The Kelrath also comment on this in their writings, saying that the Lesser Seed spring up from nowhere. This fueled the suspicion that they were teleported in to an area from some remote site, possibly in the Collector Wells.

Recently a an I-CA scientist published a report on an autopsy of a Chezbah Warrior that described a series of five nodules embedded in the arms of the Warrior. He also reported that these nodules slowly dissolved over the course of several hours. These nodes are embedded just under the skin but after further autopsies he discovered a set of muscles that push the nodes to the surface of the skin.

Seeking to prevent the nodes from decaying so they could be studied, he placed them in a nutrient bath but they still decayed into masses of fibrous filaments. Thinking that they were now useless he dumped them in a trash can only to find that the fibers had spread through some discarded food that was in the can. However the fibers slowly degraded and would not grow anymore.

It wasn’t until later when he had fresh specimens to study that he discovered their real purpose. After three abortive attempts with larger and larger quantities of food, he finally saw the fibers grow into a more substantial form. The fibers consumed the food matter and began to take the form of a Lesser Seed (Chezbah Hound).

After this experimentation was published others have followed up in studying the nodes and have found that any biomass of sufficient size will grow the Lesser Seed. It would seem that these nodes are in fact the “seed” that grows into the Hound.

This would seem to explain why the Lesser Seed seem to appear or go with Warriors in groups of five. Each arm with five nodes can grow into five of the creatures. However, it has been found that the nodes can form more than a single creature if they have enough biomass. The seed will spread to the entire mass and produce many of the Lesser Seed from a single node but the mass must be all in one pile.

This seems to substantiate the Kelrath name “Dead Stealers” as Warriors may seed the dead with these nodes to create reinforcements.

 

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