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[Example of an unusual totem] The Hangmen

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  • [Example of an unusual totem] The Hangmen

    The Hangmen
    The world is a place of blurred lines, filled with strange exceptions to every would-be law laid down by those attempting to bind reality with categories and clear distinctions. Most Uratha wouldn’t bother to spare a moment’s thought for the idea that beings other than spirits of the Shadow might slither into the shape and space of a pack’s totem and bind werewolves together in sacred union. After all, generally, they can’t. It isn’t possible for a pack to seize any old ghost or phantasm in their talons and weave its essence into their bond – such an attempt will simply fail. Spirits can serve as totems because they share a part of the werewolves’ own nature, and their fundamental expression in existence renders them compatible for such a divine interchange. So, if faced with the question of what other beings might serve as totem to a pack, most Uratha will shrug the idea off as nonsense or irrelevant, and move on.

    Circumstances do arise where something other than a spirit can comingle with a pack’s essence, though. Each is rare and unique – not something that can be manufactured or replicated, but an event that arises from the particular context in which the pack has formed and lived, or how the entity is linked to the werewolves in question.

    The Hangmen are a strange pack, viewed warily by other Uratha for their odd ways and bizarre behaviour. The pack largely keeps to itself, but it’s an open secret that the Hangmen are different to other werewolves because their totem is a ghost. Pack members are particularly loath to travel far from the prison complex that forms the heart of their territory, even by werewolf standards, and have a touch of the ethereal about them; they speak in hushed tones, their footsteps are soft, and regardless of how bright a collection of eyesore clothes they decorate themselves in, their appearance always suggests the drab and grey. Although seen as mystics and ghost-mediums, the Hangmen are known to be possessed of unbalanced souls that lean them heavily towards the Flesh—whatever ghostly attunement they possess seems to have jammed a crowbar between them and the Shadow.

    Nathan Huntley, the totem of the Hangmen, died over a century ago. He was a young, idealistic man, working as a prison chaplain and campaigning as a reformer for the system, and he was murdered by a werewolf’s First Change in the very halls of cells and punishment that he sought to see rendered more humane. That werewolf became the first of Huntley’s followers, bound to the ghost through a link between killed and killer that let the new ghost seize control of the Uratha with its psychic tendrils. There was conflict, and bloodshed, and suffering; the ranks of the existing, brutal Hangmen fought Huntley, and died or submitted. The prison was beset with riots and deaths. At the end of it all, the old pack was dissolved and its totem of punishment and death sent howling into the Shadow.

    The modern pack struggles under the yoke of its unusual circumstances. Nathan is far more coherent and puissant than he has any right to be, empowered as he is by the spiritual energies of the werewolves tied to him, but even so, age has taken its toll. Much of the time, he appears as a blood-stained man in late 19th century garb, rational and eloquent in his manner; in this state, his drives and behaviour are much more human than a spirit totem might be, and something about his pack bond has allowed him to adapt and learn with the changing times rather than being stuck as a static impression of the person who once was. However, at times, the ghost devolves into a degraded form, stuttering back and forth in Twilight or getting caught in loops of activities; sometimes the degradation is far worse, and the ghost comes apart into a slithering, incoherent horror of ectoplasm and unchained memories. During these fugue episodes, the ghost gibbers bizarre commandments to its pack, and will try and enforce them by directly possessing pack members if necessary.

    The Hangmen still labour under their totem because they believe they still owe Nathan a debt for their forerunners role in his death, because they still believe in his humanitarian ideals and belief in aiding rather than punishing criminals, because they seek the secrets of death that gather round him, or because they are simply loyal. Some of the pack suspect that, having spent so long bound to a ghost, their own souls have changed so much that they can no longer bind themselves to a spirit totem – so the Hangmen are the only pack they can ever have. The time will come, however, when the ghost will either degrade too far or will reach a breaking point in the changes it is undergoing from the spiritual bond. At that point, the members of the pack will have to decide where their future lies and, given the divisions in opinion among the members, it is likely to be a fractious event.

    Ghostly Totem: The Hangmen are bound to a ghost as their totem. The totem follows the same rules as for a spirit totem, including deriving its dots from the members’ Totem merits, but it is also restrained by the rules for ghosts in terms of its Influences and the like.

    The existing pack bond, formed under unusual circumstances, allows new pack members to be added and bonded to the ghost. If the pack were dismantled and the bond lost, however, the ghost could not form a new bond with any other werewolves; the end of the Hangmen will be the end of its capability to be a pack totem.

    Note that the effects of the Hangmen's ghostly totem are unique rather than universal; another pack that somehow managed to acquire a ghost totem would not necessarily follow these rules.

    Anchors: Although the Hangmen can gain Essence from the same sources as other werewolves, they can only do so while within their totem’s Rank in miles of the totem’s Anchor. Outside of that range, they are simply unable to absorb Essence from a source other than consuming human flesh.

    Any Hangman can detect whether an object is an Anchor for any ghost simply by touching it, along with sensing the Rank of the ghost who is anchored to it.

    Possession: The ghost totem gains the rote quality on Manifestation rolls targeting pack members. Pack members can sense whether someone they touch is possessed by a ghost or other inhabitant of the Underworld.

    Ghostly Attunement: Pack members do not have Touchstones for the Spirit side of the Harmony track, and cannot gain them. While at Harmony 8 or higher, a Hangman can sense Avernian Gates and can attempt to cross through them much like crossing through a locus into the Shadow. A Hangman in the presence of an Avernian Gate they are aware of can spend 1 point of Essence to seal it shut for a month, requiring a Clash of Wills on the part of any being that attempts to open it up during that period of time.

    - Chris Allen, Aberrant Line Developer, Freelance Writer

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