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Totem Beasts

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  • Totem Beasts

    As he got off the train, George eyed the hamlet nestled in the valley below, and briefly touched the middle and index fingers of his right hand to the small medallion he wore around his neck porting his patron namesake. He found himself here first on rumor, then on hearsay, but so close, glimpsing the village with his own eyes, he found himself certain of the monster that dwelled there.

    That wasn't the worst part, though. Oh no. If what he had heard was true, then a monster not only was living in that tiny community, but its existence was even tolerated by the general populace. They
    let a monster live with them. Hell, the hicks basically worshiped it, was what they'd said back in London.

    This would not do. This would not do at all.

    Descending the slopes by foot, down centuries-old staircases carved into the hillside, George found himself on a street leading to the main square. The town seemed relatively quite so far; tour books might describe it as "sleepy" or perhaps "idyllic." Maybe even "rustic." George inwardly scoffed at the imaginary travel guides as he took a look around. An advertisement for a mobile ten years obsolete was plastered to the side of a pub.

    A drink would be a good place as any to start this.

    As he walked through the bar's entryway (its wooden door propped open by what appeared to be a statuette of a brass foot), George could feel wary, inbred eyes fixing on him from shaded corners. An old jukebox was playing Springsteen unenthusiastically. The bartender was a bald man in maybe his late forties with a gold earring in his left ear and the hint of a red-and-black tattoo peeking out of his white shirt. George approached, propped himself on a stool, and smiled.

    "A pint of whatever you've got on tap, please."

    The bartender wordlessly nodded and poured him a beer into a glass from a metal spigot. It looked like maybe an IPA. I don't know if British people even drink IPAs or if they call it something else, or if having an IPA on tap somehow breaks the "realism" of this scene. I'm more of a wine drinker, but can you imagine this guy ever ordering wine in a pub? Maybe he'd do it here just to reaffirm his own prejudices about the locals, you know, sneer at the bumpkins for not knowing the difference between a Merlot and a Malbec, but even so, can you ever imagine that happening? I certainly can't.

    George thanked the man for the beer, slapped a tenner onto the plexiglassed surface of the bar, and said "Keep the change." The bartender made a small grunt of appreciation. George figured that was as good an opening as any.

    "I hear there's an interesting old legend about a dragon in these parts," George said as nonchalantly as he could.

    The bartender looked at him. Now George was positive other sets of eyes were fixed in his direction as well.

    "You mean the Worm, eh?" the bartender said. "Yeah, the Worm's been a fixture 'round here for, oh, I don't know how long. A while now."

    "How's it go? The legend I mean."

    "Not much to it. One of those giant dragon-snake type of bugbears living in the mountains. People just took a shining to it here, that's all."

    "What do you mean by a shining?"

    "Oh, what anyone'd mean by shining. Folks like the myth and what comes of it?"

    "So they think it's real? Is that what you mean?"

    The bartender looked at him again. He blinked. "Look here, whatever you think you're on about, it's probably best you get off it."

    George smiled.


    Later, like usual, it was nighttime. George found himself outside a church. Earlier, he had wondered if the local priest had been the sole bastion of light in this godforsaken town, but later had discovered the padre to be just as crooked as the rest of them. We don't need to go into details here. That's not what this is about.

    Light was streaming from the church's windows. Gripping the large bowie knife in his jacket momentarily, George pushed open the door and stepped inside.

    Several people were sitting in pews, praying quietly. They didn't pay the intruder any heed. Up front, a tall, smartly-dressed man was flipping through a large, ancient tome resting on a podium. He glanced up at George and nodded. George approached cautiously.

    "So," George said. "You're the one. How long have you been doing all this, then? Years? Decades? Centuries? How long have you kept an entire town in your thrall, beast? Did you turn these people's ancestors away from Christ? Well, your Satanic ways end tonight."

    The man at the altar waited patiently. "Are you quite finished?" He waited a moment more. "Good. Well. I think you're mistaken, young man. There's nothing Satanic going on here. These men and women are all faithful Anglicans, as you'll see." There was a pause. "They're just also, you know," he shrugged, "pragmatic."

    "And now you've got them praying to a false god, engaging in idolatry, blasphemous. . ."

    "Hey, who said anything about idolatry? They don't pray to, well, who they pray to isn't my business, now."

    During this conversation, incidentally, the handful of churchgoers were still preoccupied with their meditations. They didn't seem bothered by the exchange at all. The man at the altar sniffed the air.

    "I think maybe you've made a mistake," he said. "You shouldn't go around digging up trouble like this. You know what they say about looking for trouble, yeah?"

    "I know what they say about you, tyrant."

    "Oh do you now? And how do you know that?"

    "I asked them. Real nice like. Showed them the true power of Christ."

    "Is that so?" The man licked his lips. "And what is the true power of Christ?"

    "Why don't I show you?" George lunged, drawing the knife from its hiding place.

    The floor of the church creaked as it split apart suddenly, and large, brass, reptilian jaws clamped down on the would-be dragonslayer, pulling him into the darkness below.

    After that, it was like there had never been a George at all.

    The villagers continued praying. The man at the altar smiled. "Yes. Let us pray."

  • #2
    "Totem Beasts" are what the Begotten call those of their kind who choose to bind their Legends to a mortal community, drawing on myths of guardian spirits and protector deities. What is the difference between a god and a monster? Depends on whose side it's on.

    A Totem Beast doesn't have a cult, not necessarily anyway. Certainly a Beast could be a Totem to a cult that worships him, but the mortals in question only need to acknowledge the Beast's place in a relationship of reciprocity. The Beast is given a place in the community, and the Beast gives the community protection, meaning, and strength.

    Consider the wise woman who lives on the outskirts of town. She's old and gnarled (and many say she's crazy to boot), but her wisdom is deep. People come to her seeking answers and charms to their problem, always bringing a small gift along, of course, a token of appreciation.

    Consider the boogeyman who haunts empty streets at night. They say if you're not good, he'll come and put you in his sack and take you away. The townsfolk don't go out at night much, but he certainly keeps the bad people away.

    Consider the fierce, many-armed god of fire and wrath. A cell of monster hunters offer supplication to this nightmarish Asura, and in turn it aids them in their quest to oust the bloodsucking parasites of New Delhi.

    Why bind oneself to a mortal community? There a few reasons. It's nice to feel accepted for what you are. Beasts might be monsters, but they're monsters with a human history and human feelings, and for some, teaching lessons through feeding isn't enough. They need to add an extra moral dimension to their predations. So the kraken offers protection to the fishing village in exchange for not being shunned and a place to crash. Squid pro quo.

    Secondly, having a sense of purpose aligned with a group of dreamers strengthens the Dream, providing extra sustenance to the Horror. When a Totem Beast feeds in service to their community, add 1 to the Satiety Potential of the feast.

    Brb, getting stung by wasps.

    Becoming a Totem to a community requires revelation and acceptance. A mortal member or members of the community with which the Beast wishes to align herself must witness the Beast feed that resonates with the Legend she'd like to cultivate. A community doesn't need to be town-sized (and due to the necessities of the modern world, there are few Totems who watch over communities even the size of hamlets), but it must be at least four people who share a common identity. A Totem might protect a church congregation, a high school clique, a hunter cell, a group of heroin addicts, or the children of Silverwood Heights.

    Anyway, right, so a would-be Totem feeds in front of a member of the community. A Nemesis who wants to break up violent gangs in her neighborhood might punish a gang member menacing a passerby. Next comes the moment of trust. The Beast foregoes gaining Satiety from the feeding. The Horror usually isn't too happy about this, but being a Totem means learning the art delayed gratification. Then, roll the Beast's current Satiety rating. On a success, the Horror creates a tenuous connection between the Beast's Lair and the witnesses' dreams. Over the next few weeks (if only one person witnessed the revelation) or days (if many people did), the Beast becomes accepted into the community, not as a wolf in sheep's clothing, but for what she is: a monster, a maker of nightmares, but the kind that's on the group's side.

    For mortal members of a community, there are a few advantages to this. The first is that you have a fighter in your corner, a monster that ostensibly likes you who can help you with your problems and interface with some of the other big bad things in the night. Did a changeling trick you into an impossible pledge? The Totem can go smooth things over. Is your son in blood-love with a vampire? The Totem can work something out (and if there's one less vampire in the city, well, they were a Masquerade risk anyway). Being bullied at school? Ooh, how did you know I was craving bully?

    In addition, witnessing the Totem doing anything supernatural does not cause an Integrity breaking point for members of the community. Witnessing other supernatural events still does, but if they're connected to the Primordial Dream (Beasts, Heroes, and such), community members add two dice to their roll.

    When a Totem is ravenous, his Horror won't terrorize the dreams of his community unless it absolutely has no other choice in the matter. Sometimes it might come visit sleeping community members, just to growl hello. This isn't really something controllable, but it does mean that community members generally don't have to worry about incursions into their dreamscapes.

    On the Beast's end, there's the Satiety bonus mentioned earlier. Also, Totems in their Lairs can travel to the dreams of community members as if they were an extra chamber, though only as long as that person is dreaming. While there, the Beast can bring any Lair Traits of his he wants. When the dreamer wakens, the oneiros shimmers and the Beast finds himself shunted back into his own Lair.

    Because of the intertwining of dreams and the acceptance the community gives the Beast, the Totem can use Thicker Than Water, Family Resemblance, and Mother's Kiss on members of the community, even though they are mortals.

    Sounds great. So why doesn't every Beast go out there and make himself into a Totem? There a few reasons. The concept doesn't mesh well with every personality or hunger. Some Begotten even consider becoming a Totem to be a blasphemous act, spitting in the face of the Dark Mother, or at least giving some credit to that pesky monomyth. There are some tangible drawbacks as well.

    First of all, Heroes can track a Beast down through her community. Although communities tend, like Beasts themselves, to subvert expectations, they still have a mystical connection to the monster in their midst. A Hero might go in expecting a full Innsmouth situation, and even if that's not what he finds, he's still appalled at the fact that these people are letting a monster boss them around. At best, they're cowed sheep (yes, a sheep can also be a cow, shut up), at worst they're devious collaborators. Either way, the Hero can Stalk members of the community to learn about the Totem. He knows that the mortals aren't the monster, but he also knows that they're intimately connected to the monster.

    Also, that acceptance thing is hard to maintain. A Totem needs to be careful about keeping her Horror fed. If she slips up and terrorizes someone she's supposed to protect, that trust doesn't come back easily. If the Totem feeds off a member of the community (either normally or because the Horror is forced to inflict nightmares), everyone in the community knows instinctually of the Beast's transgression against them. It's up to the Totem to make amends. If she can't, and the group collectively rejects her, she loses Totem status as well as a dot of Satiety (which can easily become a bigger problem, what with the sudden rush of hunger and the group of vulnerable people standing right there and all).

    Finally, a Beast that pursues Totemhood is kind of doing her own thing, and not necessarily what the Dark Mother wants her to be doing. Naturally, there are plenty of contradictory rumors floating about vis-a-vis how the DM feels about Totems. She doesn't normally get in their way, doesn't rebuke them. Doesn't necessarily help them out, either. But all the same, this is not a path she expected her Children to take. As long as a Beast is a Totem, she can't claim an Inheritance. This isn't a supernatural barrier though, it just means the Beast has to make a choice. If a Beast claims an Inheritance, she is no longer a Totem. Former Totems that have Inherited do tend to show remnants of sympathy for their old community though, and might fall into feeding patterns that align with the community's interests (though they probably no longer make a distinction between familiar and outsider when it actually comes to filling the Hunger).
    Last edited by espritdecalmar; 03-24-2016, 11:17 AM.


    • #3
      Ooh. I'm liking this hack And the introductory fluff was awesome. Mind if I use this?

      "My Homebrew Hub"
      Age of Azar
      The Kingdom of Yamatai


      • #4
        This is awesome. At once it gave me an idea for a Hero, a Beast and a Chronicle which I'm considering running in the summer.

        Questions though: For becoming a Totem Beast, I assume it's just a roleplay thing?
        Do the people of the town have to know that it's my character doing the protecting or do they only need to know about the Horror?
        Can more than one Beast be a Totem to a single community?
        Do the stories people tell about the Beast change the Horror? (I'm seeing grounds for changing a Hunger here)
        Can an Incarnate become a Totem?


        • #5
          Go for it. I'm not quite done with it yet (still getting stung, etc), but I appreciate your liking of it.


          • #6
            A few notes on this:

            Totems are something like a "soft" Inheritance. They're a declaration the Beast makes about herself, what she is and what she does. She accepts that she's a monster, and that she has to do monstrous things to survive, but she also rejects the persistent myth that a monster must be an outsider, or that a monster can only hurt people. The concept is inspired by guardian kami, kings under the hill, and other such legends. It also has precedent within the Chronicles of Darkness: vampires cultivate their herds, werewolves include humans in their packs, mages maintain mystery cults, the Arisen foment worship for their Judges in Duat, changelings trade favors for protection, and so on. A Beast might see that and wonder if there's some resonance in the Primordial Dream.

            Totems give players and Storytellers another chance to subvert the old tales. You might go in expecting an evil cult that sacrifices virgins to the thing in the sea, only to find it's more complicated than that. Of course, what can be subverted once is ripe for subversion a second time: Totems can end up in abusive relationships with their communities, sometimes without either side realizing it. A Totem might supply addicts with drugs, for instance, which is almost always going to end in tears. A high school harpy might come to domineer her clique without even thinking about it, but her cronies don't mind, since she bullies everyone else even worse. A Totem might even set himself up as a god for a little cult to worship, but Beasts should keep in mind that they're only going get out of these arrangements what they put in, and divinity comes with high expectations. The abuse might come from the collective power of the community instead, directed at their Totem, threatening to withdraw emotional support after the initial love bomb, but this is rarer, one imagines.

            There are a handful of mechanics, but a good chunk of Totemism is up to roleplaying. I think it's an interesting situation for a Beast to be in. On the one hand, it shows a measure of self-acceptance and a declaration of an ethical framework (or, at least, a framework for community ethics). On the other hand, there are plenty of people who there who are going to disagree with the Beast's decision, sometimes on principle, sometimes because of a conflict of interests. Plus, it comes with a built-in story hook to fall back on: Something is threatening your adopted community. It's up to you to stop it.

            Incidentally, do you know what they call people who protect their communities?


            • #7
              Let me guess... Heroes? That said, I am reminded of the Gray Renders from Dungeons & Dragons somewhat when I read these notes. Heck, I can easily imagine a Beast whose Horror resembles a Gray Render. Fluff-wise, there's also backing in the fluff of the Beast core book when you consider mentions of the Phoenix and the Simurgh.

              "My Homebrew Hub"
              Age of Azar
              The Kingdom of Yamatai


              • #8
                It's a very interesting and well-presented idea. I like it a lot, actually. Could lend itself to a lot of different and cool stories.


                • #9
                  This is fantastic. It's almost exactly what I've been looking for in Beast, and what one of my characters has been pursuing as his endgame.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by ajf115 View Post
                    This is awesome. At once it gave me an idea for a Hero, a Beast and a Chronicle which I'm considering running in the summer.

                    Questions though: For becoming a Totem Beast, I assume it's just a roleplay thing?
                    Do the people of the town have to know that it's my character doing the protecting or do they only need to know about the Horror?
                    Can more than one Beast be a Totem to a single community?
                    Do the stories people tell about the Beast change the Horror? (I'm seeing grounds for changing a Hunger here)
                    Can an Incarnate become a Totem?
                    I think I answered most of your questions, but to the ones I didn't:

                    I think multiple Beasts can be Totems to a single community but with a few stipulations: First, there have to be significantly more mortals than Beasts. Second, the Beasts have to be a formal Brood. Third, if a community rejects on Beast, they're likely to reject them all. (I wouldn't make that last one automatic, but definitely a threat hanging in the air.)

                    I don't think you should make a solid rule out of it, but I could see a community's perception of a Totem's Legend shaping the Horror a little (though not drastically; a protector dragon's scales might become shinier, but it wouldn't suddenly turn into a skeleton lord).


                    • #11
                      This is a very cool idea, and makes for an awesome pseudo - Inheritance. Could definitely see it as a vehicle for changing Hungers.

                      My Homebrew Hub


                      • #12
                        Love this!