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Walking Shadows: Mara & Nicor

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  • Walking Shadows: Mara & Nicor

    Last of the Walking Shadows Bloodlines... for now. The Mara always struck me as rather intriguing, and they've been one of the more high profile bloodlines in my game. I did mess around with their Discipline lineup, giving them the Sakti Paka Discipline from Ancient Bloodlines. Nicor is an upgrade of Sakti Paka, cross-pollinated a bit with Lasombra Obtenebration and Norvegi Bloodworking.

    Mara
    In the lightless murk of the world’s waters, a horrifying line of monstrous Gangrel dwell, silent and predatory. Concealed beneath the icy waves of northern shores or walking in the murky silt of the blood-warm bayou, they wait to drag their living victims down under the surface to feed upon or present as sacrifice in their warped, wordless rituals. No material goods of the walking world tempt them and no fire threatens them. They are the Mara, the drowned Kindred, the creatures that show just how far from 'human' a vampire can get, with black water in their veins.

    Motif
    Their origins lost to time, the Mara appear sporadically in Kindred records beginning in the 11th century. From their origins in the North Sea, they have spread to every shore and coast, one of the most successful bloodlines in the world. Orthodox Mara worship the Sunken Mother, a Tethys-like figure who gave birth to all of the waters of the world before being slain by a jealous sun-god. The orthodox Mara see themselves as her last children, instruments of divine vengeance against the God of the Day and his followers. They turn their blood into a choking black brine and conduct sanguine rituals beneath the waves, their litany a mishmash of Greco-Roman, Celtic, and Germanic myths. They embrace from the marginal members of society, and they induct other Gangrel into their cults with frightening regularity.

    More practically, the Mara owe their success to a simple realization. Most Kindred agree that they are not quite human, but they don't act on this. Rather, they still go about pretending to be people, and they fail to realize that their undead forms give them possibilities. The Mara grasp instinctively that dead lungs need no air, that the water can protect them from their foes and from the sun, that the water can provide for them and hide their indiscretions. Theirs is not a Requiem that appeals to the haughty, the wealthy, those cultured Kindred that thrive on human adoration. But the Mara survive, though in the process they become something other than human.

    The Mara are driven beneath the waters by their faith, by their wish to survive, and by the black water in their veins. They adapt to a very different world, one without mortal language or mortal goods. They sleep the day away in stagnant bogs or beautiful coral reefs, in toxic, polluted rivers or in shimmering pools. They abandon mortal language for their own tongue of hums and clicks, and few bother with human clothing or anything but the most basic of accouterments. They spurn the life of the land-dwellers for their own strange, ascetic existences and for the worship of the Sunken Mother. Witnesses to their eerie, slow dances and the mingling of their tangled hair or bone-pale flesh with waterborne blood can be forgiven for thinking that the Mara are truly otherworldly beings.

    Not all Mara succumb so completely to their black blood. Some, more ambitious or more innocent try to straddle the shoreline between the waters and the world of men. They try and enjoy the comforts of humanity and the company of their fellow Kindred while never venturing too far from the waters' sheltering embrace. But even they cannot deny that the black water in their hearts makes them something very, very different from their land-born cousins.

    Theme
    The Vampire as Alien to Humanity
    Vampires are monsters, but the great majority of Kindred still act human. They have flats, they wear clothes, they use money, they watch television and read the newspaper. The Mara show that this is only habit on the Kindred's part, that the vampire can become something very, very different if they try. The most faithful among them spurn all things pertaining to the land-walkers but their blood, and even those who dwell among the kine have connections to a very different world.

    In London
    The recent misadventures of the Mara are a clear example of why, precisely, it is a poor idea for the Mara to venture too far from the water. The Mara cult of London is old, old, old, traditionally female and with close links to the spirit Jenny Greenteeth. But their recent bid for leadership over the Circle of the Crone and their subsequent effort to sink a tourist barge as a sacrifice to the Sunken Mother both backfired dramatically. The Mara earned the enmity of the Freehold of New Jerusalem, and then in their weakness were attacked by several local werewolf packs. The Mara in London have either fled the city, been slain, have sought protection from land-born covenants, or are keeping very, very quiet.

    The most high-profile member of the Mara, the beautiful if erratic Cynthia, has broken with decades of tradition and sought sanctuary from the Lancea et Sanctum. It helps that the current Bishop is an old lover of hers, and while Cynthia is far from a sane or balanced individual, she has her talents. Only time will tell if this arrangement holds, but for now Cynthia has survived the fall of the Mara. Which, really, is a very Mara-ish thing to do. They survive.

    Cynthia's secret childe, Evan Adair, continues along much as he has. Isolated from the traditional Mara culture, Evan was also spared the recent downfall of his kin. As such, he remains in the Ordo Dracul, a promising young neonate and personal student of the Kogaion. He does have to feed by purchasing rats from the pet store and drowning them in his bathtub, however, which does rather put a damper on his enthusiasm about life.

    Clan: Gangrel
    Bloodline Disciplines: Animalism, Protean, Resilience, Nicor
    Bloodline Weakness: The Black Water Curse
    The blood of a Mara turns into a sort of choking black water, a thick and viscous concoction like blood but not quite like blood. This also changes the Mara's feeding habits -- the Mara must be at least three-quarters submerged when he feeds on a victim, or else he gains no sustenance from the feeding.

    As a result, it is very difficult for Mara to feed subtly, and most Mara put some effort into figuring out ways around their Curse. Young Mara tend to feed on animals most of the time, while their older kin either abandon subtlety altogether, or find some way of beguiling mortals into consenting to an aquatic Kiss (the hot tub is one of humanity's few worthwhile inventions, in Mara eyes). Elder Mara often seek out involved methods of preserving their secrecy, whether cults to provide blood in that fashion or occult powers to let the Mara feed on the death energies of the drowned, leech the blood of others away, or something more esoteric.


    GM of the Walking Shadow Campaigns
    New System and Setting Material

  • #2
    Nicor
    In their early days, the Mara were sometimes called Nicor, the Old English word for water-monster, and this remains the name of their Discipline. All Mara have their blood turn black and watery, not quite true water but not quite as blood was before. Nicor is the art of manipulating that black water, and indeed all water, to the Mara's ends. Through Nicor, the Mara are never unarmed, becoming capable of killing with blood, with blade, and even with a glance, at the same time as they learn to draw their black blood ever more fluidly through their bodies and even feed off the death energies of the drowned and water-slain.

    Black River (Nicor 1)
    The Requiem of the Mara tends to be a dangerous one, and this little trick goes a long way towards making it a trifle less lethal. Blood and water are quite different liquids -- blood is thicker, it flows more slowly. By altering the composition of their black blood to make it more water, the Mara are able to pull precious life from their Vitae more swiftly.

    Cost: None
    Action: None

    The Mara's Vitae Expenditure per Turn is increased by one.

    Choking Brine (Nicor 2)
    The Mara's black blood is an unpleasant, unwholesome thing, but in the normal course of events it is no more or less harmful than other Kindred's Vitae. But with this power, the Mara is able to imbue her blood with the harsh brine of the sea and the acrid poison of the stagnant pool, making it unpalatable and outright dangerous. Those poisoned by the Mara's blood find themselves beginning to choke, their throats closing up and their limbs burning from lack of oxygen (even if, as Kindred, they no longer need fear this).

    Cost: None or 1 Vitae
    Dice Pool: None
    Action: None or Reflexive

    The black water of the Mara's blood becomes poisonous, gaining a Toxicty equal to (Nicor/2, rounded up). Anyone attempting to drink the Mara's blood is so poisoned. The Mara can, as a Reflexive action, cause the poison in her blood to subside for the scene, though it returns if the Mara so chooses.

    The Mara may also choose to expend 1 Vitae as a Reflexive action to poison any natural weapon (including but not necessarily limited to: her fangs, the claws or talons produced as a result of Protean 2: Predatory Aspect and Protean 4: Unnatural Aspect, and the weapons produced by Nicor 3: Bog Blade) for the purposes of a single attack. This must be expended before the attack is resolved, but if successful, the target is injected with the toxic blood of the Mara.

    Bog Blade (Nicor 3)
    A Mara with this power of Nicor is never unarmed. She slashes at her palm or at her forearm with long talons, and the black water pours forth from her form, taking the form of deadly weapons that appear to be forged of a glistening black metal. Though of liquid origin, these sanguine blades are just as capable of murdering some hapless victim as more mundane creations.

    Cost: 1 to 4 Vitae (Special)
    Dice Pool: None
    Action: Reflexive or Instant
    Duration: Scene

    From her own blood, the Mara produces a weapon with a Size equal to the Vitae spent. The weapon must have no moving parts and must remain in the Mara's hand -- if she ever puts it down or is ever disarmed, it loses coherence and deliquesces into brackish, stagnant water. Within those limits, the weapon can be absolutely anything at all, though origin notwithstanding it still operates like a normal weapon (that is, it still has Strength requirements and Initiative penalties, may be used for Fighting Styles, and so forth).

    When the Mara no longer needs the weapon, provided that she still has it, she may place it against her wound or her lips and drink the Vitae back from it as an Instant Action, regaining the activation cost.

    Most Mara stick to small, stabbing weapons when using Bog Blade (hence the name), which have low Vitae costs and can be effectively used underwater, but there are a few who get more extravagant with battle axes and sledgehammers.

    Storm's Blood (Nicor 4)
    The Mara gain a certain ghoulish reputation from frequent use of this power. According to Orthodox Mara, the Sunken Mother was the goddess of sea and storm, and her passing brought about a renewed violence into the world, as ice and wind and rain slay mortals by the score every day. Humanity cannot exist without water, and yet the waters draw their own blood price from the mortal herd. The Mara, as grandchildren of the Sunken Mother, can request a modicum of that blood price.

    In order to use this power, the Mara must be near a location where a serious injury or death occurred due to water. Drownings are classic, though in modern world most aquatic death comes from car accidents that occur due to severe conditions of rain or ice. Death isn't even required, though it is preferred -- someone slipping from a roof due to it being slippery from the rain and breaking a limb is acceptable, though hardly ideal.

    Many modern Mara keep a radio near at hand, listening for reports of accidents during severe storms. Others haunt common drowning locations. And of course, some Mara give the waters a little help, summoning deadly storms with Crúac rituals or sinking ships out at sea.

    Cost: 1 Willpower
    Requirement: The Mara must be within twenty feet of where someone took serious injury due to water, and at least some of that water must still be present (simple enough when the water is a river or pool, but Mara need to move swiftly when storms are involved).
    Dice Pool: Stamina+Occult+Nicor
    Action: Instant

    The Mara drinks in the violence of the world, gaining (Successes) Vitae. If someone died due to water near where the Mara uses Storm's Blood, she gains an additional 5 Vitae per death.

    A single location can only be drained of death-energies once, however. A Mara at the scene of a great shipping accident may easily fill her Vitae pool to the max, but afterwards no other use of Storm's Blood grants Vitae, at least until someone is injured or killed anew.

    When used as part of an abstract Feeding roll, Storm's Blood allows the Mara to spend 1 Willpower point to add (Nicor) to their Feeding roll.

    Drowning Glance (Nicor 5)
    With this dreadful power, the Mara can drown a victim on solid ground. The Mara gazes at the victim and whispers in the humming, clicking language of the Mara an invocation to the Sunken Mother. The victim's lungs immediately fill with black water, forcing them to suffocate. Kindred are not immune to this either, as the Mara's black water mixes with their Vitae and gains in power, puncturing lungs and hearts with tiny spikes of black blood.

    Cost: 3 Vitae
    Dice Pool: Strength+Athletics+Nicor – victim’s Stamina
    Action: Instant
    Duration: (Successes) Turns

    Roll Results
    Dramatic Failure: Something backfires horribly in the Mara's invocation, and the Drowning Glance is inverted, the Mara beginning to drown for five turns.
    Failure: The victim may cough some as if water went down the wrong passage, but this inflicts no damage or penalty.
    Success: The target begins to drown, even if they are on dry land. This lasts for the next (Successes) Turns, during which:
    • The victim takes 1L damage per turn. This damage cannot be healed until the victim is able to breathe once more.
    • The victim cannot speak, which may inhibit the use of certain supernatural powers.
    The Drowning Glance can be resolved early if the victim takes an Instant Action to vomit forth the black water in their lungs. They are denied their Defense while doing so.
    Exceptional Success: Extra successes are their own reward.


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    • #3
      Devotions of the Mara

      Shark's Grace (Nicor 1, Protean 2)

      Many Gangrel are at home in the water, but none to quite the same extent as the Mara. These aquatic vampires claim the waters as their home, not merely as some place to visit when necessary. As such, they are exquisitely comfortable in their chosen environment, and utterly deadly to trespassers.

      Cost: None
      Action: None

      This enhances Protean 2: Predatory Aspect by replacing the Aquatic change with the Shark's Grace change. This change has the following effects:
      • The Mara can swim at (Nicor) times her land speed.
      • The Mara does not need to roll Athletics in order to swim, though complex maneuvers may still require rolls (if so, they gain the Advanced Action quality).
      • The Mara gains a bonus of (Nicor) to Initiative while in the water.
      • The Mara gains a +2 bonus to Defense while in the water. This stacks with all other Defense boosters.

      This Devotion costs 2 Experiences.

      Abyssal Form (Nicor 1, Protean 5)
      As Gangrel, Mara are consummate shapeshifters. The most skilled among their Clan can transform into a dark and deadly mist, but this is of little use to the Mara. Still, creative Mara have combined their aquatic power with the twisted shapeshifting of the Primeval Miasma to adopt a form well suited to the depths.

      Cost: 1 to 3 Vitae
      Dice Pool: None
      Action: None

      This enhances Primeval Miasma, allowing the Mara to transform into a mass of black water. Mechanically, this is identical to Primeval Miasma, with the following alterations:
      • The Mara's liquid form is much faster, flowing at twice the Mara's usual speed.
      • The Mara in Abyssal Form cannot fly, but can swim at the above speed.
      • Abyssal Form only costs 2 Vitae if activated the Mara is standing in at least ankle-deep water, or 1 Vitae if the Mara is completely submerged. In both cases, the Mara must be in a body of water of some size -- a river or bog or very large swimming pool will do, but a full bathtub will not.

      In all other ways, this is identical to Primeval Miasma with whatever minor alterations seem logical for it's liquid nature. The Mara is immune to all damage but sun, flame, and Banes, may penetrate anything that is not waterproof, etc.

      This Devotion costs 2 Experiences.

      Kraken's Kiss (Nicor 3, Resilience 2, Vigor 2)
      The waters of the world are filled with all manner of dark and dangerous creatures. The Mara are far from the least of these, but they do not claim to be the Sunken Mother's greatest children either. With this Devotion, the Mara summon the power of one of the ocean's greatest horrors, manifesting tentacles of black water with which to grip or tear.

      The appearance of a Mara's tentacles is unique to each Mara. Some are visibly crafted of water, others seem made of rubbery flesh, others as glistening black metal cables, and others still as the tentacles of some enormous squid.

      Cost: 2 or 3 Vitae
      Dice Pool: None
      Action: Instant
      Duration: Scene

      The Mara summons a single tentacle of black water, causing it to emerge from a nearby body of water for 2 Vitae, or simply burst forth from the ground for 3 Vitae. A tentacle is (Nicor+Blood Potency) yards long, has a Strength equal to the Mara's Blood Potency, a Brawl equal to the Mara's Nicor, and is a 0L weapon. It cannot move from the spot where it is summoned and can 'see' as well as a vampire despite lacking any eyes or other sense organs.

      The tentacle may be commanded by the Mara as a Reflexive action and takes its action immediately after the Mara in the initiative order. The tentacle may be commanded to attack or grapple, or to hold or lift things, though turning a doorknob is about the extent of the tentacle's fine manipulation. Left to its own devices, the tentacle continues following its last orders, or goes quiescent, whichever seems more appropriate.

      This Devotion costs 3 Experiences.

      Reborn to the Depths (Nicor 4, Protean 5)
      The Mara are survivors, and nothing emphasizes this as much as this Devotion. With it, the Mara can cheat death, escaping all but flames and sun and Banes to bedevil her foes once again. In truth, this is actually two Devotions taught together, but the effects of one are much dependent on the other.

      Cost: 1 Willpower Dot or 1 Humanity Dot
      Dice Pool: None
      Action: Reflexive or Instant
      Duration: Indefinite

      The first power of this Devotion is to allow a Mara on the brink of death to escape. Whenever the Mara would be thrown into Torpor or slain, she has the choice of activating this devotion at the cost of 1 Willpower dot. If she chooses to do so, she evacuates her former body in a spray of mist and becoming a Primeval Miasma (if the Mara possesses Abyssal Form, she may choose to become a spray of black water and enter that form instead). In either case, she has a single health level remaining. Unlike normal uses of Primeval Miasma or Abyssal Form, this leaves the Mara's corpse behind.

      The second power of this Devotion allows a Mara in Primeval Miasma or Abyssal Form to 'Embrace' a corpse. The Mara must find a corpse that died within the last 24 hours of drowning. Upon locating such a corpse, the Mara flows into its mouth and gives it a twisted form of the Embrace, causing it to rise up, but with the Mara's mind and will inside. The corpse is now a vampire with all of the Mara's skills, attributes, Disciplines, etc, and over the course of the subsequent month slowly liquefies and reforms into the Mara's original appearance.

      The Devotion costs 4 Experiences.


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      • #4
        Mara Theme Song!
        Mara Mascot

        I have no regrets.


        GM of the Walking Shadow Campaigns
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        • #5
          For the four dot Nicor power, one could easily "double up" on a feeding. After all, being drowned and drained dry by a monster sounds traumatic enough...

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          • #6
            Hrm... you know, I never thought of that.

            Well. Two ways to go. One is to allow that sort of doubling up. I mean, the Mara still has to kill or at least seriously manhandle the victim in order to get the extra Vitae, so while it's a very efficient feeding system its subtlety does leave something to be desired. The other would be to simply rule "no free lunches" and that exsanguinated victims don't count. I'd probably have to see how it plays (the only Mara in my game are NPCs, so it doesn't really come up).

            Still, good catch!


            GM of the Walking Shadow Campaigns
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            • #7
              I just came here from other discussion... and i wanted to compliment you. Real nice work. I love the feeling you've created around your Bloodline, the explanation and the flow (uuuuuhh so punny) of the powers along their history. Nice background, great devotions... great job, overall. I just have one question:

              This enhances Protean 2: Predatory Aspect by replacing the Aquatic change with the Shark's Grace change.
              Does this mean that you have all those enhacements besides the other 2 you're allowed with Protean 2? Pretty powerful, if it is like that... though i love it. Wouldn't change it,I'm after just a mere clarification.


              Userhat Aegpts Vlrs. Coren "Ojos de Fuego". Mithrael. Menehet.

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              • #8
                That is correct. You still get the other two aspects.

                The balancing factor comes from the fact that it's only really applicable in the water. Mara are absolutely lethal as aquatic predators, but how often does swimming come up in a typical game? (More when Mara are around, I admit, but still, not hugely commong).


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