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[New Shapeshifters] Lyrebirds - The Orpheans

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  • [New Shapeshifters] Lyrebirds - The Orpheans

    Something I brewed up a while back when asked about the possibility of bird-shifters. This remains very much a first draft; several ideas emerged as I was writing it which need streaming back in with the core concepts. However, I figured I'd toss it out there for people to pick over now, with the intent to refine it at some future stage


    Orpheans

    Consider the human body as an egg, a shell at once fragile and sturdy surrounding the potential that lies within. Under the right conditions, crack the egg open and you’ll find something mewling and piping within—a fleshy newborn exposed to the cruel world. Under the wrong conditions, you’re left with nothing but oozing ichor.

    It’s easy to crack a human open and spill their viscera out. The idea that anything new could emerge from such a carcass might seem absurd, a grotesque parody of the usual cycle of life, but sometimes death is indeed itself a generative act. After all, it happens from time to time that the human psyche remains imprinted in the buzzing static of the world, spinning forth a phantasm or shade in echo of what came before. At other times, death spawns a different form of posthumous existence, to say nothing of the fecund nourishment that rotting meat offers to a myriad of different organisms.

    Even so, the perfect hatching, the true emergence of the chick from its shell, is almost unfathomably rare. At least, it’s the perfect hatching in the eyes of the Orpheans—the sky-born children of Lyra, otherworldly body thieves whose ‘First Change’ is truly a rebirth.

    Orpheans are avian shapeshifters with a need to consume carrion and devour ghosts. They gather in small communities called wakes, carving out lairs in high places—in mountain ranges, atop cliffs, or in high-rise penthouses and tower-top shanties. Orpheans descend to earth to feed, but ever feel the call of the skies above—and not just the soaring freedom of the winds, no. Lyra herself always whispers at the edge of an Orphean’s hearing, a rustling static of pops, squeals, and taps transmitted across the cold and empty void. When the constellation of Lyra is visible in the sky, Orpheans find their gaze called up to her distant glory, to feel the sour burn of the star Vega’s observation upon their retinas.

    Like Uratha, Orpheans are born from humanity, undergoing a Change that transforms them from human being to shapeshifter. Unlike Uratha, Orpheans die during their First Change—or, rather, it is their death which prompts that Change. It remains unclear what, exactly, triggers the hatching of an Orphean. Necromancers, Uratha shamans, and the Orpheans themselves have all manner of explanations, but everything is a best-guess assessment. The Change may happen more among those who seek out high places—mountain-climbers, hill tribesfolk, aviators—but these days so many people take to the skies under artificial means there’s no way to be sure. It may instead happen more among those who seek out low places, the deeps where the Underworld seems to almost seep through into material existence. Perhaps it comes from those steeped in death during their lives, or those who have denied the most deaths via healing and care—a punishment from some dark Stygian force. Perhaps it’s to do with a rare phantasmal phenomenon, some force or pressure affecting a small handful of ghosts as they emerge from the shell of their dead progenitor’s lives. To most observers, though, Orphean Changes might as well be fundamentally random.

    The Change is grotesque and shocking when it happens. Within an hour of the human’s death, she suddenly rips her way free of her own body, splitting flesh and skin to tear forth, drenched in gore and ooze. The newly-fledged Orphean looks exactly as she did before her death, impossibly slithering forth from the volume of her corpse, and is possessed by a fierce and charnel hunger. She must eat dead meat, and she must do it now. Usually, she fills her belly with bloody gobbets torn from her own former body, slurping down viscera and fat. Orpheans who can’t find a source of meat soon because their corpse is immediately denied them begin to crumble away into ectoplasmic residue, dying for good within a few hours.

    Orpheans are extremely rare. Even a sizeable city likely has at most a single wake, and in the unusual circumstance where two or more co-exist, it’s likely they’re rivals rather than allies. Orphean societies vary greatly from place to place; most wakes have a unique belief-system or ideology about their existence, referencing local myths or superstitions, and may see themselves as demons, caretakers of the dead, choosers of the slain, or proud pariahs. The commonality among the Orpheans is the influence of the constellation Lyra, and its constant but incomprehensible communication with them.

    Although avian, Orpheans are drawn down to earth to sate their hungers. The children of Lyra find rotting meat alluring, but particularly crave the dead flesh of humans, and find it spiritually nourishing like few other sources. Wakes go to great lengths to furnish themselves with human meat, whether picking over battlefields, robbing graves, or stealing cadavers through other means. A few Orpheans go directly to the source, murdering people to eat their corpses, but the shifters tend to be averse to physical confrontation.

    Stranger yet, Orpheans can and must devour ghosts. An Orphean who does not consume the deathly energies of a wraith often enough finds the whispers of Lyra growing ever louder even as her mind and body untether from each other, flesh numbed and distant. Eventually, her body withers and dessicates, mummifying itself in monstrous form while her psyche corrodes away entirely. Devouring ghostly ephemera anchors the Orphean firmly in the hot meat of her physicality, and staves off the alien forces that would otherwise drain the moisture from her carcass.

    The tendency of Orpheans to haunt locales rich in dead meat and ghosts has, unsurprisingly, tangled them up in myths of valkyries, demons, and other such stories. In turn, Orpheans draw their own understanding of their condition from their culture’s superstitions, creating a feedback cycle where it can be hard to tell whether the Orpheans inspired a myth or were inspired by it.

    Although they lack the instinctive familiarity with the Shadow that Uratha possess, Orpheans can enter the hisil. Here, the shifters cavort and bargain with spirits of death and—frighteningly—spirits of the Void Beyond. Lyra’s call coalesces into a song in the Shadow, even more alien and eerie for its clarity, and by following the warped cadence of their distant patron’s screams, Orpheans seem able to find common comprehension with void entities where werewolves encounter only confusion, horror, and the satisfaction of bringing forth Luna’s wrath. Some wakes actively court the aid of void spirits, attacking Lunes that would hunt down these celestial interlopers, and spreading the Void’s influence through the local Shadow.

    Orpheans can also easily travel to a place that Uratha find harder to reach—the Underworld. Here, the bird-shifters find empty comfort—they’re able to navigate and travel the depths with instinctive familiarity, but the shades of the Avernian realm offer no sustenance. An Orphean who hunts down and devours shrieking ghosts in the Underworld feels only nausea and revulsion, a sense that she is violating her place in the natural order, and Lyra’s song only grows louder with each such victim.

    Uratha can sometimes reach understandings with Orpheans, but the latters’ affinity for the Void Beyond and indifference to the wider state of the Shadow usually leads to tension or outright violence. Sustained campaigns against the bird-shifters are difficult, of course, because a wake can simply take to the air or the Underworld, fleeing via avenues the Uratha cannot intercept. Some Orpheans actively attempt to steal Uratha corpses as well, even picking off lone wolves to fuel their macabre needs.

    A typical wake, inasmuch as there is such a thing, uses its’ members capabilities to gather resources and influence for the whole group. Orpheans have a propensity towards funereal finery, airy abodes, and a certain refined standard of living; they may glut themselves on rotting meat, but a strong streak of pride and vanity is common enough among Lyra’s children. Individuals often work in vocations associated with death, but so too do the wakes harbour many singers and musicians, astronomers, and cryptographers. A few set themselves up as mediums and clairvoyants, giving human clients real access to their lost loved ones.

    Usually, a wake keeps a herd of ghosts as servitors, keeping the more cogent phantasms in line through threats of being devoured or retaliation visited against their living friends and family. A few wakes build a very symbiotic relationship with their ghosts, but ultimately every Orphean must devour ghosts relatively regularly or suffer mummification. It is common, though, for an Orphean to be picky about which particular kinds of ghost she will devour. She might hunger for the ghosts of heroes, and stalk field hospitals and warzones in search of the carcasses of great warriors. She might feel a sickening need for suffering, finding some harmony in anguish with the frequencies of far Lyra, and so crawl through the dark places of the city to find the lost, the outcast, the dead who perished in despair and left equally despairing shades in their wake.

    Not all Orpheans attempt to stave off mummification. In a few long-standing wakes that have persisted over the centuries, elder Orpheans intentionally starve themselves, seeing the process as drawing their souls forth to the baleful star of Vega at Lyra’s heart. The justifications are manifold; each such Orphean is carrying a payload of human souls to paradise, or has gathered the strength for her own soul to cross the void, or has purified herself as a vessel through transgression against life and hence become a channel for the empty dark. Wakes often keep the mummified remains of starved Orpheans, for both symbolic and practical reasons—while a mummified Orphean cannot be restored to full consciousness, feeding one with rotten human meat stirs it to a brief state of reanimated vigor, capable of protecting the wake with savage brutality and to far greater effect than lesser forms of necromancy. A few wakes even starve captured Orpheans from rival wakes precisely to create such guardian corpses.

    Orphean Characters

    An Orphean character possesses the following capabilities.

    Primal Urge: Orpheans possess Primal Urge, although they can normally only raise it to a maximum of 5. An Orphean who would somehow achieve Primal Urge 6 dessicates into a mummy. Orpheans regenerate like Uratha, but do not inflict Lunacy and do not experience Kuruth, nor do they need to hunt.

    Essence: Orpheans can regain Essence by consuming dead human flesh; an adult human’s carcass can be stripped for a total of 5 points of Essence among the Orpheans eating it. Eating the flesh of a living human gives no Essence. An Orphean can draw Essence from a locus of death or carrion, but only gains one point of Essence per 5 she drains from the locus. Orpheans gain no Essence from other kinds of Locus.

    Forms: Orpheans usually possess three forms. They can shift form as an instant action, or spend a point of Essence to shift as a reflexive action.

    Carcass: In carcass form, an Orphean appears as a normal human being. She can voluntarily still her own life-signs and appear medically dead at will. She downgrades all damage from non-supernatural sources of lethal damage to bashing damage instead. She can inflict a point of aggravated damage on herself to cause worms, grubs, and other small corpse-eating organisms to writhe forth from her flesh, which will completely decompose a single human-sized carcass she transfers them to in five turns. The organisms do nothing to a living creature.

    Divine: In divine form, an Orphean appears as a monstrous fusion of human and avian, one or two feet taller than her usual appearance. She can fly with perfect mobility and control at up to twice her ground Speed, and can cling to vertical surfaces or even upside-down. She gains a +2 bonus to perception rolls. By spending a point of Essence, she can temporarily inflict Lunacy as if in Gauru form, but humans who fail the roll against Lunacy suffer the Awestruck Condition, and cannot become Wolf-Blooded through dramatic failure. Any human who is Awestruck and who already has their health track filled with lethal damage upon witnessing the Orphean gains the Inspired Condition for a single skill of their choice if they survive the encounter.

    Her claws and beak are 2L weapons with a +3 Initiative modifier, and her beak has 2 points of armour piercing. Finally, she gains her Defence against firearms attacks, and uses the higher of her Wits or Dexterity when determining Defence. She gains +2 Strength, +3 Dexterity, +1 Stamina, and +2 Size in this form.

    Wind: In wind form, an Orphean appears as a large, powerfully-built species of bird, usually a vulture, eagle, or other sizeable avian. She can fly with perfect mobility and control at up to three times her ground Speed, gains a +2 bonus to perception rolls, and can make out incredible detail at great distance. She is entirely untroubled by rough weather and winds, suffering no penalties or damage from Environmental Tilts or extreme environments that relate to the sky or weather conditions. Her claws and beak are 1L weapons with a +1 Initiative modififer. She gains +2 Dexterity, +1 Stamina, and -2 Size in this form.

    Hunger: Orpheans can eat rotten or dead meat from any source without any risk of disease, toxins, or other unpleasantness, and must have such meat as a regular part of their diet. Additionally, an Orphean must consume ghosts with total Rank equal to her Primal Urge every three months. Failure to do so inflicts a cumulative -1 penalty to all actions apart from those in the Underworld with each passing week after the deadline, resulting in mummification when the total reaches -3.

    Integrity: Orpheans do not possess Harmony, instead retaining Integrity, although they no longer suffer Integrity breaking points from witnessing the supernatural. At Integrity 4, an Orphean also no longer suffers Integrity breaking points from consuming human flesh and similar macabre practices. At Integrity 2, an Orphean no longer suffers Integrity breaking points from killing. However, upon reaching Integrity 4, the Orphean can only gain nourishment from consuming ghosts from two limited categories—such as fallen soldiers, disease victims, those who died in comfort surrounded by their family, etc etc—and at Integrity 2, this drops to only one particular category.

    Shadow and Underworld: Orpheans can perceive and open Avernian Gates at no cost, and can traverse the Underworld without significant difficulty. Orpheans can also enter the Shadow via Loci through Reaching, but do not begin with an instinctive knowledge of First Tongue. An Orphean can learn the language, but regardless of her knowledge of such, she can always communicate clearly with spirits of death and with void spirits. In an area of Shadow that has fallen under the influence of the Void Beyond, an Orphean gains the 8-again quality on attack rolls and rolls to hide or conceal herself, and she suffers no deleterious effects from the presence of void spirits.

    Ghosts: Orpheans can see ghosts and other entities in the deathly frequency of Twilight (although they cannot see spirits) and can interact with them as if they were solid, including via attacks. If an Orphean destroys a ghost, she can consume it, which annihilates it permanently. While in carrion-form, an Orphean draws certain powers from the last ghost she consumed from which she drew nourishment. She can spend a point of Essence to change her appearance to match that of who the ghost was in life for up to a scene, also copying the voice, scent, and basic knowledge of mannerisms and body language; she can drop the masque reflexively. She also gains some knowledge the ghost possessed, although it’s essentially random how much information she extracts. Finally, she benefits from +2 dice when using a single skill the person who the ghost was in life had at 3 dots or higher.

    Nest Form: Upon reaching Primal Urge 2, some Orpheans develop Nest Form. An Orphean that has developed Nest Form cannot develop any other new forms.

    Nest Form: In this shape, the Orphean appears as a more bestial version of the divine form, lacking any avian majesty. It has the same rules as the divine form, except that it cannot truly fly, although the Orphean can leap twice her usual distance and suffers no damage from falling, and it cannot inflict Lunacy and the Awestruck Condition. Instead, the Orphean’s regeneration rate doubles, she gains one point of armour, and when she spends a point of Willpower to increase resistance traits, she can instead grant the benefit to a character within her reach, as well as granting them the ability to apply their Defence against firearms for a round. Her claws and beak lose their Initiative bonus.

    Star Form: Upon reaching Primal Urge 4, some Orpheans develop Star Form. An Orphean that has developed Star Form cannot develop any other new forms.

    Star Form: In this shape, the Orphean appears as an avian horror, as if some distant alien mind had approximated the rough shape of a bird and poured its nightmare consciousness into that mould. The Orphean can fly at twice her Speed with perfect maneuverability, although it’s less flight and more the warping of spacetime around her; no force can impede or limit her movement, although she still can’t fly through solid objects. Enemies calculate their Defence against her using Resolve and Composure rather than Dexterity and Wits, and cannot add their Athletics to the total. As an Instant action, she can emit song-code that scrambles all frequencies of Twilight for a number of turns equal to her Primal Urge, allowing anyone in the scene to attack or interact with Twilight entities. She generates her own Defence using the highest of her Intelligence and Resolve, rather than Wits and Dexterity, and uses Intelligence + Occult for her unarmed attacks. She uses her Resolve as a melee weapon damage modifier. She gains +1 Strength, +1 Dexterity, and +1 Size.

    Thunder Form: Upon reaching Primal Urge 2, some Orpheans develop Thunder Form. An Orphean that has developed Thunder Form cannot develop any other new forms.

    Thunder Form: In this shape, the Orphean appears as a huge and terrible hawk or vulture, a primeval monstrosity. She can fly at twice her Speed with perfect maneuverability, and her claws and beak are 1L weapons with a +3 Initiative modifier with 2 points of armour piercing. Additionally, she can spend one point of Essence to inflict an extreme environment on the scene with a level of up to her Primal Urge, lashing the area with scouring winds and crackling static discharges. Anyone within three yards of her suffers a single point of bashing damage each turn from electrical discharges. She gains +1 Strength, +2 Dexterity, and +1 Size.

    Yellow Form: Upon reaching Primal Urge 4, some Orpheans develop Yellow Form. An Orphean that has developed Yellow Form cannot develop any other new forms.

    Yellow Form: In this shape, the Orphean appears as a weird, otherworldly bird like a crane or ibis, but unusually large, warped and cancerous in appearance, and always with yellow plumage. The Orphean applies her Defence against firearms and, indeed any supernatural attacks that would target her mind, soul, or the laws of physics in her immediate vicinity. As an Instant action, she may raise any number of corpses in the scene as zombies, who will obey her caws and croaks as if they were clear verbal commands, although they will deanimate at the end of the scene if not destroyed in the meantime. By spending a point of Essence and choosing a location within 20 yards, she can co-locate herself, existing in both spots at the same time in terms of reach, but able to collapse either state as a reflexive action in reaction to an attack or other hostile effort, whereupon the co-location ends and she is present as the non-targeted one. If she wounds a human with her beak, she can spend a point of Willpower to tear their soul out and consume it. She gains +2 Dexterity and -1 Size.

    Necromancy: By spending 3 Essence, an Orphean can reanimate a dead body as a shambling zombie for a week and a day. The walking carcass obeys the Orphean unquestioningly, and can be given relatively advanced instructions, although it has no real capacity for reasoning in and of itself. An Orphean can maintain up to her Primal Urge in zombies at a time.

    Call of the Lyre: Orpheans gain the 8-again quality on Expression rolls relating to singing or music, and have perfect pitch. An Orphean who can sing or perform musically for a target improves her Impression with that target by one step for the next year, and on a successful Presence + Expression roll can choose to inflict the Berserk, Madness, or Inspired Conditions on human members of her audience for a scene.

    Lyra’s Blessing: Orpheans can always hear the crackling star-signal of Lyra. Sometimes, this resolves into a message—incomprehensible, yet understood all the same. Travel to the Underworld and steal a ghost forth. Kill an astronomer, or a priest, or an urban explorer deep in the catacombs. Steal the carcasses of werewolves, and from their entrails and sinew weave a gore-pyramid and offer it up in flame before the rising sun. Decrypt a signal from beyond the stars. Upon completing a task of Lyra, the Orphean is rewarded with either a number of temporary dots of Allies (Void Spirits), an object of deathly energy that follows the same rules as a fetish (but can only be used by an Orphean), or gaining the Inspired and Steadfast Conditions. Deliberately ignoring the screamed transmissions causes the Madness Condition until the Orphean mends her ways, as the distant star of Vega constantly burns in her mind’s eye and promises impending judgement.

    Mummified Guardian: If a mummified Orphean is fed human flesh, it reanimates until the next sunrise. During this time it is locked into divine or nest form, but adds the Primal Urge it had in life to all its physical abilities, gains the rote action on any dice pool that involves inflicting savage violence, and regenerates at three times its normal rate without needing Essence to regenerate lethal damage. It can accept instructions from an Orphean as to who to fight or attack, although it will act protectively for an area and will not otherwise seek out victims beyond to attack even if instructed. If given no instructions, it will default to attacking any non-Orphean to enters its presence.


    - Chris Allen, Freelance Writer & Developer

    ​Like my work? Feel like helping me stay supplied with tea? Check out my Patreon

  • #2
    My only criticism is that you used a lot of the thematic ideas I had for a wereraven splat, without actually making these guys corvid-themed.


    The longer I study science the more I am convinced that it is functionally indistinguishable from what our ancestors would refer to as sorcery. And I would know, being both scientist and sorcerer.

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    • #3
      Wonder, what do you imagine the nest form looking like? And damn. Void related bird entity?

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      • #4
        drop the primal urge limit thing...that makes em seem like just a lesser template. Make em full shapeshifters or dun do it. That is at least my advice <3

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Caedus View Post
          drop the primal urge limit thing...that makes em seem like just a lesser template. Make em full shapeshifters or dun do it. That is at least my advice <3
          Being stuck at 5 does not make them lesser in any way. Deviants cant get past 5. Does that make them lesser?

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Primordial newcomer View Post

            Being stuck at 5 does not make them lesser in any way. Deviants cant get past 5. Does that make them lesser?

            Deviants have other mechanics to circumvent it and their powe scale is different.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Caedus View Post


              Deviants have other mechanics to circumvent it and their powe scale is different.
              Not really. Having a variation that let's one attribute go above 5 isnt much a circumvention when it comes to being splat wide. Besides, not every creature needs its power stat going above 5. The orpheans have plenty of tools already (and the ability to fly is very strong)

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              • #8
                Like, it is ok for other types of shifters to be weaker than the common Uratha. I wouldn't say that having a power trait being capped at 5 makes any template into a lesser one. In fact, having any rating above 0 kinda means we are talking about a major template, so if there are reasons for it (like the cool mumification process) I have little issues with Primal Urge to reach a maximum at 5.

                At any case, those birds are very weird and horrifying- when I read the concept I've expected something in the style of how Bird was presented, but those shifters seem to have little in common with her. They are, however, very cool and interesting. I must admit that between their affinity to death, the stars, hunger and mumification I get some strong Duatic vibes from them, and they may also be a cool thing to add to the Mummy Chronicle, and not only a Werewolf one. Beside, the idea of the Orpheans collecting the souls of people and then becoming a vessel to channel those souls to the stars is a really awesome concept which I can see whole cults being built around, as the faithful preforming murder-sucide ritual when their patron reaches their "spiritual enlightment" through mumification while they are singing songs that the lyrebirds sing, where flap the tatters of their king, must die unheard in dim Vega :P


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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Scriptorian View Post
                  My only criticism is that you used a lot of the thematic ideas I had for a wereraven splat, without actually making these guys corvid-themed.

                  Hah! Well, there's a few reason for me veering away from corvid themes with these guys, particularly the existence of the Halaku crow Hosts and the desire to explore some slightly different concepts in the general bird-related space of ideas.


                  - Chris Allen, Freelance Writer & Developer

                  ​Like my work? Feel like helping me stay supplied with tea? Check out my Patreon

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                  • #10
                    Double posted somehow!
                    Last edited by Acrozatarim; 09-26-2020, 11:40 AM.


                    - Chris Allen, Freelance Writer & Developer

                    ​Like my work? Feel like helping me stay supplied with tea? Check out my Patreon

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Primordial newcomer View Post
                      Wonder, what do you imagine the nest form looking like? And damn. Void related bird entity?

                      Nest form I figure is bigger, bulkier, beak hooked and even serrated, probably warped in a few other ways like too many eyes. I should probably beef the mechanical effects on it up a bit tbh.

                      As for the void, sure sounds like there's something out there! More specifically, the Orpheans are me playing around with shifter-related ideas that move away from the usual kindsa sources associated with shapechangers.


                      - Chris Allen, Freelance Writer & Developer

                      ​Like my work? Feel like helping me stay supplied with tea? Check out my Patreon

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                      • #12
                        Stopping quoting to avoid choking the thread with just lots and lots of my replies: The reasons for capping Primal Urge are varied, but there's no particular reason to give them PU all the way up to 10, and a 5-rung PU makes the choices of alternate forms more immediate and meaningful, and puts an element of gameability to the dessication/mummification aspect.

                        As for Mummy links, it's probably something that could be woven into a second draft, yeah. They're certainly likely to spawn some very weird cults and I do like the idea of Arisen stumbling on an Orphean-generated cult and going, "What, what?"


                        - Chris Allen, Freelance Writer & Developer

                        ​Like my work? Feel like helping me stay supplied with tea? Check out my Patreon

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                        • #13
                          What I find interesting about the Primal Urge cap is that it's not a hard limit, like Acclimation; it's just that an Orphean who reaches PU 6 dessicates. I like the implication that maybe the lyrebirds could increase their Primal Urge further, under the right circumstances. Maybe if Vega somehow increased in spiritual power?

                          This might be stupid question, but do Orpheans only come about in the Northern Hemisphere? Also, I wonder if they have any connection to the Summer Triangle (especially considering the other two constellations involved are the Eagle and the Swan). . . .
                          Last edited by espritdecalmar; 09-26-2020, 02:39 PM.

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                          • #14
                            Awesome! Aaaaaannnddd, STOLEN!

                            And, I agree, this has a definite Mummy: The Curse vibe to it. Especially when you consider the Deceived and their "dead stars" many of their Utterances explicitly draw upon. Maybe the Void spirit of the constellation of Lyra has some seba, similar in tone to the Orpheans?

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