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Walking Shadows: Scathain & Ars Speculorum

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  • Walking Shadows: Scathain & Ars Speculorum

    So, I said I was going to make Kiasyd next. This was my intention. Except I first hit a bit of a thematic brick wall with them (the fae motif is cool, but what are they about). The idea that my would-be Kiasyd were all Hollow led me to mirrors and truth, and then I started integrating material from one of my all-time favorite Vampire books, Mythologies (seriously, that is a genius book), and by the time it was done Isabella and I looked at it and went 'this is cool but it isn't a Kiasyd. So we renamed it. Scathain is a Gaelic word for 'Mirror', which also seems to be linked to the word Scathach, or Shadow (and who are the Mekhet...?) Shout out to Jeffjerwin for telling me about that.

    I wrote most of this, but Isabella wrote the lovely Theme section.


    The Scathain have their own word for the Requiem – they call it the Grandest Lie. A vampire is a dead thing that is pretending to be a living thing. That’s a lie. A vampire is a predator pretending to be the prey. That’s another lie. A vampire is a half-souled horror pretending to be the person it once was. That’s the greatest lie, the one that the Kindred tell themselves. The Scathain smile, and nod, and sympathize, for they know the Truth even when they’d rather not. They see their inhuman nature in every mirror, and they see through the little lies that make up reality. The curse of the Scathain is to see the Truth, and it gives them a very firm appreciation for the value of Lies.

    As old as the Celtic practice of placing mirrors in graves, the Scathain (singular: Scathan) or bloodlines like them have existed for so long as they have been Hollow among the Mekhet. For the Scathain are Hollow, all of them. Every last vampire among them is missing a shadow, a reflection, an echo, a very piece of their soul split away. Other Kindred can delude themselves, but the Scathain see the shattering of their soul with every glance in the mirror.

    Unlike other Hollow, the Scathain work with their reflections. A vampire is initiated into the bloodline by her own reflection, stepping into the world of the mirror and coming out just a little bit different (and how does the reflection learn how to do this? It learns from other reflections or mirror-spirits. Or it learns it from the biggest mirror spirit of them all, Red Jack). Ever after, the vampire and the ghost in the mirror work together. They may hate each other, but they cooperate, and in so doing they see more of reality than most.

    The Scathain tend to be melancholy, introspective individuals. They see Truths about themselves and those around them that they’d be happier not knowing but which they cannot deny. Deprived of the comforting illusions which most, alive or dead, surround themselves with, few Scathain are pleasant or cheering companions. Some do draw a strange sense of liberation from the knowledge of their own shattered soul, however, and they make for strange and fae creatures (and indeed, the similarity between the broken-souled Scathan and the faerie and his fetch is not lost on either party).

    Their knowledge of Truth gives the Scathain a keen appreciation for the value of lies, though it is the rare Scathan that resorts to outright falsehood. Most are painfully polite and scrupulously honest. But then the Scathain know that the best lies are those woven of facts.

    The Ghost in the Mirror
    You're not really the person you used to be. That person is dead. Most Kindred ignore it and go on with their Requiems, but you have the ghost in the mirror to show you just how much you've changed. She's not the person you used to be either, but between the two of you, you can see just enough of the differences to make out that big, gaping hole where your soul used to be.

    Mirror mirror, on the wall... You call upon your reflection, sometimes. She tells you exactly what she thinks of you. And the thing about reflections is they don't lie. If you don't like what you see, you have nothing to blame but yourself. The mirror reflects other people, too, though. You see them from one side, she sees them from the other. Between the two you know them inside and out.

    In London
    The Scathain have slipped through the mirrors of mystical, magical London since time immemorial, finding plentiful lies and truths in the Baghdad upon the Thames. Their numbers have never been great, but their presence has never been broken, and London has fair claim to being the spiritual home of the Scathain since before the days of the Caesars. Here they are comfortable as they can be nowhere else, blending in with their less truth-racked cousins, under the protective shadows of their elders -- and a Scathan's shadow may protect in ways that few others' could.

    The eldest and greatest of the Scathain in London, perhaps in all the world, is Abonde. A relic of Romano-British London, this queer and occulted horror is an island around which the waves of Kindred politics of London break and vanish into sea-foam. She has seen all of their secrets, pierced all of their lies, and finds no surprises in anything that the Kindred can offer. She is mad, of course, though one might wonder if perhaps she is the only sane vampire in London. Perhaps everyone else is mad, clinging to a humanity they have shed.

    Her childe and fellow Scathan is the young Frances Black, a Dragon of sweet aspect and worrisome insight. She works on her history of the Kindred, peeling away one layer of lies after another, and doors open for her that they do for no one else. People do not fear her as they do her sire, but as she unravels one forgotten mystery after another, that may change.

    Clan: Mekhet
    Bloodline Disciplines: Auspex, Celerity, Obfuscate, Ars Speculorum
    Bloodline Weakness: The Mirror’s Curse
    Every Scathain must be a Hollow Mekhet, first and foremost -- if a non-Hollow Mekhet wishes to join the Bloodline, they become Hollow over the course of their initiation. They must also keep their Reflection, if not friendly, then at least compliant. The Scathan must feed their Reflection (10-Humanity/3, rounded up) Vitae per week with the Ritual of Nourishment (taking a like penalty to starting Vitae), or come to some alternative arrangement. Failure to do so results in the Scathan losing access to Ars Speculorum and any Devotions based upon it.

    The Name's Curse
    'The Truth hurts' is a cliche, but as far as the Scathain are concerned, it is a cliche with fangs. The True Name of a Scathan can be used against them -- if the Scathan's True Name is invoked at the same time that a supernatural power is targeted at them (or against their Reflection), that spell or curse gains a dice bonus equal to (10-Scathan's Humanity). This only applies to specifically mystical powers, however, and only to those that target the Scathan exclusively.

    By default, a Scathan's True Name is their birth name, but a Scathan may change their True Name with the expenditure of a Willpower Dot and a suitable ceremony (writing their name in blood a hundred times upon the walls of their Haven, say). The new Name must have been a valid name for the Scathan for at least a part of their existence, and must be a name to which the Scathan would legitimately respond (in other words, a childhood nickname, a married name, or a long-term alias are valid, but a made-up word is not).
    Last edited by NeoTiamat; 01-30-2014, 06:46 PM.

    GM of the Walking Shadow Campaigns
    New System and Setting Material

  • #2
    Ars Speculorum
    The Scathain say that to understand the Grandest Lie, look in a mirror. You see yourself, don't you? Except that you don't. You see yourreflection, which most certainly is not yourself -- it's flipped left to right. This is the nature of the world, to see the lie and think it truth. Mirrors are terribly important symbols to the Scathain, existing as they do on the knife's edge between the Lie and the Truth, even before one considers that all Scathain are Hollow.

    A vampire may not learn the Ars Speculorum (the Art of the Mirror) from another vampire, not even through Diablerie. Ars Speculorum may only be learned from a creature of the mirror, whether a vampire's reflection (though it need not be the Scathan's reflection), or from the grand inventor of the Ars Speculorum himself, the old ghost Red Jack.

    The Ars Speculorum requires an intact mirror; if the activating mirror breaks, the power ends immediately. Every use of Ars Speculorum requires the vampire to smear at least a drop of his blood on a mirror, “paying the Queen’s silver toll” for access to the power Red Jack grants.

    Note: The Hollow Mekhet are neither immune nor invisible to the powers of the Ars Speculorum (unless otherwise specified). As the magic of their own reflections, the Ars Speculorum sees all Hollow as if they still possessed that particular sliver of their soul. Similarly, the Scathain have no influence over non-mirrors such as photographic negatives, video footage, or reflections in windows.

    Wry Opticks (Ars Speculorum 1)
    This power allows the Scathan to manipulate any image in any mirror that he can see, replacing the lie of the mirror with a lie of his own crafting. The Scathan has nigh-unlimited power over what the mirror shows -- if his mind can conceive it, the mirror can show it. These images may be as overt or subtle as the Scathan chooses. He may have the skin of a bystander's reflection flayed away by a thousand ghastly knives, or he may shift an ally's position in a security mirror, or anything at all in between.

    Cost: 1 Vitae
    Action: Instant
    Duration: Night

    By default, Wry Opticks requires no roll and has no direct effect on the physical world. Even the most terrifying monster in the mirror is still only the image of a monster. A Scathan using Wry Opticks to enhance a roll gains a bonus equal to (Ars Speculorum) on the roll -- to take the foregoing example, a Scathan attempting to scare someone would be rolling a mundane Presence+Intimidate, but with a bonus equal to his Ars Speculorum. A Scathan attempting to conceal an ally's presence by editing out his reflection would grant that ally a bonus equal to Ars Speculorum on a Dex+Stealth roll. Mirrors must be integrally involved in the act, however, for the bonus to apply.

    One catch -- Wry Opticks cannot give the Scathan a reflection, or create someone that looks like the Scathan.

    Catoptromanticks (Ars Speculorum 2)
    Catoptromancy is the art of divination by mirrors, practiced by Etruscan sibyls and Vergil Magus. Although Red Jack grandly claims mastery of all such lore, he teaches a subtler power to his Kindred acolytes. With this power, the Scathan peels away some of the layers of deceit that cloak the world, getting the barest glimpse at the Truth below.

    Using this power, the vampire may gaze into a mirror and receive the answer to one question regarding an unknown identity (chosen from the list below). In response, the slightly murky and distorted face of the person (or Kindred) who most closely answers the vampire’s question appears in the mirror for a few seconds.

    Catoptromanticks can only be used once per night, and cannot be successfully cast in light brighter than that of a single candle.

    Cost: 1 Vitae
    Dice Pool: Wits+Academics+Ars Speculorum
    Action: Instant

    Roll Results
    Dramatic Failure: No face appears, and the mirror is shattered. The subject of the question feels “watched,” and may even suspect the questioner for no good reason — perhaps the subject thinks she catches the questioner’s image in a nearby mirror.
    Failure: The Scathan's question is answered with grinning skulls, severed heads, or any number of other macabre variations on the theme.
    Success: The player can ask the Storyteller one of the following questions, and have a face appear as an answer. Even if a complete answer would involve many people, only one face appears. For example, in answer to the question 'who is most dangerous to me', if the Prince of York ordered a mortal assassin to kill the questioner, only the human assassin’s face would appear. If the true answer is “nobody,” a face unknown to the querent appears anyway.
    • Who is most upset with me right now?
    • Who is happiest with me right now?
    • Who is most dangerous to me?
    • Who can help me most?
    • Who do I most need to speak with?
    • Who do I most need to avoid?
    • Who do I most need to kill?
    Exceptional Success: The vampire may ask two questions.

    Panoptickon (Ars Speculorum 3)
    With this power, the Scathan opens a crack into the mirror realm. After activating this power, the Scathan can look into a mirror and see out of any other mirror. He may freely switch his gaze from mirror to mirror inside a single building so long as all mirrors meet the requirements, but to change locations he must activate the power anew. At this point, the Scathan can only see, not hear -- for this reason many of the Scathain learn to read lips.

    The image of the viewer will appear in the destination mirror, but in dim shadows or faint outline. To notice this ghostly image, an observer on the other side must make a Wits + Composure roll; successes from which must exceed those rolled for the activation of the power.

    Cost: 1 Vitae
    Requirement: The Scathan must have either seen the mirror, either in person or in a photograph or through Panoptickon, must have had the mirror described to him, or must be able to make a very rational assumption that the mirror exists at a location he has seen or had described to him (the bathroom mirror in an ordinary apartment or hotel room, say).
    Dice Pool: Intelligence+Stealth+Ars Speculorum
    Action: Instant
    Duration: Scene

    Roll Results
    Dramatic Failure: The character sees nothing, but the character’s intended target feels “watched,” and soon realizes why. The target can see the character gazing at him through the nearest mirror. Following this unpleasant reversal, the character’s mirror shatters.
    Failure: The character sees through some random mirror, viewing a scene he cares nothing for.
    Success: The character sees through the desired mirror.
    Exceptional Success: More successes are their own reward, as they make the Scathan more difficult to spot.

    Childermas Surprise (Ars Speculorum 4)
    Childermas, the Feast of Holy Innocents, marks the slaughter of children in Herod’s Judea while his soldiers searched for the infant Christ. Childermass falls on December 28 in the church calendar, and is symbolized by four mirrors. To the Scathain, this Childermas serves as a symbol of the violence that can be found at the intersection of truth and lies, and of just how dangerousthis power can be.

    Cost: 1 Vitae
    Dice Pool: None
    Action: None

    Childermas Surprise enhances Panoptickon, transforming a single mirror into a two-way gateway that allows communication, and more importantly supernatural powers to pass. The Scathan can now hear through the mirror, and more to the point, may appear visibly in the mirror and be heard (although the Scathan sounds like a distant whisper, no matter how he speaks).

    Moreover, the Scathan may use Childermas Surprise to transmit any supernatural power that can be conveyed by sight and sound alone to the target location -- the Scathain use Auspex most often, but most powers of Dominate, Majesty, Nightmare, and so forth may be used. Powers are as subtle or overt as they are normally.

    The catch is that the connection is two-way. Just as the Scathain may use Childermas Surprise to curse someone a great distance away, so may his target return fire with mystical spells of his own, if he possesses them. Breaking the mirror also banishes the Scathan. Running away from the mirror also usually works.

    Quicksilver Shoes (Ars Speculorum 5)
    The final step into the mirror realm, this power allows a vampire to actually travel physically between mirrors, stepping into one and out of the other almost instantaneously. He must be able to physically fit through the frame of both mirrors, so Scathain that know the Discipline of Protean find their options for travel dramatically increased.

    A vampire traveling to a given mirror is clearly visible in it, growing larger and closer for a number of turns equal to 10 minus the total successes rolled to activate this power (minimum one turn).

    Cost: 2 Vitae
    Requirement: The vampire must be using Panoptickon on the destination mirror.
    Dice Pool: Wits+Occult+Ars Speculorum
    Action: Instant

    Roll Results
    Dramatic Failure: The character enters the mirror realm but becomes hopelessly disoriented and lost. Whatever he was fleeing, there are worse things in here, and chances are that whatever mirror he finally stumbles out of will be in full daylight.
    Failure: The character begins to step into the mirror, but balks as something truly hideous, something his mind does not quite comprehend, swims near the surface.
    Success: The character successfully transits the mirror realm to the destination in a number of turns equal to 10 minus total successes (minimum one turn). The mirror realm is bizarre and distorting; a vampire who passes through it must succeed at a Resolve roll or be completely disoriented and unable to act on the turn he emerges.
    Exceptional Success: The character swiftly transits the mirror realm, and need not make a Resolve roll to reorient himself.

    GM of the Walking Shadow Campaigns
    New System and Setting Material


    • #3
      Devotions of the Scathain

      Note: Virtually every Scathan also knows the Ritual of Nourishment, though it is not limited to the bloodline

      Undeniable Reflection (Ars Speculorum 1, Resilience 1)
      The Scathain deal extensively with mirrors, and many of their powers can be shut down quite handily by lobbing a rock at the mirror in question. But the Truth of the Scathain is not quite so easily denied, and so the Scathain have developed this little trick to keep their mirrors whole.

      Cost: 1 to 5 Vitae (see below)
      Dice Pool: None
      Action: Instant
      Duration: Night or Permanent

      For each point of Vitae spent, the Scathan increases the Durability of a mirror by 1, to a maximum of their dots in Ars Speculorum (most mirrors begin at Durability 1, so most Scathain have little use for this devotion until they've gained a second dot in their Bloodline discipline). This may be used to strengthen a mirror being used for Childermas Surprise -- in fact this is the most often use for the devotion.

      This devotion lasts for one night, unless the Scathan has personally crafted the mirror, in which case it is permanent.

      This Devotion costs 1 Experiences.

      The Smoking Mirror (Ars Speculorum 2)
      The Aztec god Tezcatlipoca used a black and ever-smoking mirror to see the entire cosmos at a glance. The Scathain don't have quite the same puissance, but they are singularly adept at piercing the illusions with which others would cloud their senses.

      Cost: 1 Vitae
      Requirement: The Scathan must be touching a mirror, or have one on their body.
      Dice Pool: None
      Action: Instant
      Duration: Night

      For the rest of the night, the Scathan gains a +2 bonus to all Clash of Wills to pierce illusions, obfuscations, powers of deception, or anything else that would cloud reality. If the Scathan actually looks at the target's reflection with a mirror, they gain a +3 instead, and if the mirror in question is either extremely large (Size 6+) or extremely old (over two hundred years), they gain a +4.

      This Devotion costs 2 Experiences.

      Two Sides to Every Story (Ars Speculorum 2, Auspex 2)
      Mirrors don't show the truth, but they do show something different than the reality one normally perceives. You can use a mirror to see behind you, to reveal another angle on a facet of the Grandest Lie. And with this Devotion, you can use it to shine a light on lesser lies as well.

      Cost: 1 Vitae
      Requirement: The Scathan must be able to see the target in a mirror.
      Dice Pool: None
      Action: Instant
      Duration: Night

      For the rest of the night, so long as the Scathan has seen a target's reflection in a mirror, the Scathan adds (Ars Speculorum) to all Wits+Subterfuge rolls. Many Scathan wear rings or bracelets set with tiny mirrors, angling them so as to catch glimpses of the target's reflection.

      This power can also be used to gain a bonus to Wits+Subterfuge rolls against text, in which case the Scathan must hold a mirror up to the words in question (most Scathain become rapidly adept at reading mirrored writing), or to detect forgeries (which must likewise be reflected).

      This devotion does not work against a Hollow Mekhet, unless that vampire's reflection is present -- though it does mean that Scathain tend to rapidly identify any other Hollow about.

      This Devotion costs 2 Experiences.

      Wilderness of Mirrors (Ars Speculorum 5, Vigor 3)
      The Scathain think of what they see on the other side of the mirror as its own world, a place of ghosts and reflections and stranger things besides, a different perspective on the Grandest Lie. That said, the wall between the two is not impermeable. Reflections sometimes step out of their mirrors, and a Scathan can step through the mirror realm -- or with this Devotion, can shove someone else inside it. To a Scathan with this devotion, a large enough mirror is a weapon far more potent than any blade or rifle.

      A Scathan may use Panoptickon or Childermas Surprise to spy on or communicate with a mirror-bound captive, or to attack them further.

      Cost: 6 Vitae
      Requirement: The Scathan must be touching both the target (perhaps necessitating a touch attack) and must either be touching a mirror or have one on her body.
      Dice Pool: Strength+Subterfuge+Ars Speculorum vs. Resolve+Blood Potency
      Action: Instant

      Roll Results
      Dramatic Failure: The Scathan has badly miscalculated her strength, and is sucked into the mirror herself.
      Failure: The mirror shatters, sending shards of glass everywhere and dealing 1B damage to both the Scathan and her target, and to anyone else standing nearby.
      Success: The target is shoved into the mirror realm, vanishing from the material realm and finding himself in a strange otherworld halfway between a distorted version of where they had been and a funhouse of infinite mirrors. In order to escape, the target must either find a way out, or simply start smashing mirrors.
      • On the turn immediately after the target's arrival in the mirror realm, and every hour thereafter, the target may roll Intelligence+Investigation, at a penalty equal to the Size of the mirror. Once the target accumulates (Scathan's Blood Potency) successes, they have found a door out of the alien mirror realm. A target stuck in a large enough mirror can be there for awhile.
      • The target may simply start smashing mirrors. This requires no roll and only one turn, but deals Lethal damage to the target equal to the number of successes they have left to accumulate for their escape.
      • The target is also ejected from the mirror-realm if the original mirror is shattered. This deals no damage.
      Exceptional Success: The Scathan's Blood Potency is treated as two higher for the purposes of escape.

      This Devotion costs 5 Experiences.

      GM of the Walking Shadow Campaigns
      New System and Setting Material


      • #4
        I confess I have a vision of a deranged, paranoid Scathan that uses Ars Speculorum 2: Catoptromanticks every night to ask the question 'Who do I need to kill?' The answer has long been 'No one' as no one threatens him, no one is his enemy, but faces keep showing up, and he keeps finding these people and murdering them, because the mirrors tell him to. And when someone gets on his trail, the mirrors tell him to kill them.

        GM of the Walking Shadow Campaigns
        New System and Setting Material


        • #5
          This seems to blend well/overlap with that Bloody Mary Covenant in Danse Macabre.


          • #6
            Best... Hollow... Mekhet... ever.


            • #7
              Demdemeh! Thank you! I've always liked the Hollow a lot (can you guess that alongside Mythologies, I have extremely high regard for the Mekhet Clanbook?)

              Jeffjerwin... I totally did not think of that. Which is silly since I've used Bloody Mary and Red Jack together before. Well, they're not in my campaign, so it's a moot point for me, but... yes, Scathain would be a very natural fit for the Children of the Thorns. In general, I see the Scathain as not being that divergent from regular Mekhet in terms of their interests or oddities, though they likely have a more metaphysical bent (Sanctified, Dragon, or Acolyte Scathain would be more common than Invictus or Carthian ones, I think).

              GM of the Walking Shadow Campaigns
              New System and Setting Material