Arcanities--Books and Antiques
By Kyla Ward
A roleplaying resource for urban horror, using the Unisystem rules from Eden Studios.
That's what the sign read; elegant calligraphy in the light from the street lamp. Even from across the road Dominic could see how the windows were encroached upon by shelves of books. Books! He found his nose twitching as if already scenting old leather and musty paper. Nothing Marion had said suggested he couldn't have a little browse while waiting for her. Books! His master had once exclaimed in mock exasperation, a labyrinth disguised as a library could trap half the Order.Arcanities is an establishment dealing in esoteric books, mostly second-hand and limited editions, and antiques with an occult connection. It has a good reputation for tracking down customer requests. So good a reputation, in fact, that it has acquired a set of customers who make very particular requests. The second-hand books and the objects on display in the gallery are the barest part of Arcanities' business, although this is the only part of which the general public, the casual employees, and the tax office are aware. For over a century Arcanities has participated in the international black market for stolen antiquities, ever since Mattias Wheldrake realized that a modern-day "wizard" would pay a great deal for some obscure item or information. Although they made him comfortably well off, Mattias held nothing but contempt for these self-deluded "mystics."
In truth, Mattias and his successors have all been blissfully unaware of the Gifted and of any realm, infernal or divine, outside their business endeavors. A zone of essence disruption has enabled them to handle genuine magical texts and empowered objects in safety, as well as conduct successful mercantile dealings with everything from Rosicrucians to vampyres. This boon exacts a terrible price, however.
HistoryMattias Wheldrake began in the 1890s by importing Egyptian mummies for conversion into paper and fertilizer. When the market dried up after a cholera scare, all that saved his business from total collapse were those little oddments that had sometimes accompanied the shipments, or that his workers had pried out of the mummies before sending them on to their inglorious final destination. Sometimes the buyers of these oddments requested he obtain more bearing the same markings. One man paid a tremendous amount for the papyrus wrapped around the item Mattias was trying to sell him. When a woman asked if he could obtain a mummy she referred to by name, he realized he was onto something.
It was Mattias who obtained the Alexandrist and who, failing to recognize it as valuable, brought it home "as a mascot". He died peacefully in his magnificent new town house.
His descendants adapted to the changing circumstances of their "industry," persevering as increasing regulation and changes in the law rendered it completely illegal. All ended up in asylums or died while working late at night in the study. After the town house was converted into the present shop, two died in the basement.
The business is currently run by Mattias' great-great-granddaughter Gail and her partner Michael. It is Gail who has truly brought the business up to date, meticulously keeping double accounts and laundering the money through a series of front companies. There is a network of customs officials, waterfront workers and a reputable transport firm, all under her control. The smuggling also involves some links with organized crime, but Gail has managed to limit all interaction to cash payments. Her business has doubtless been considered too small and too specialized to merit any serious takeover attempts, and if any of the local gang bosses are gullible enough to believe the rubbish some of her clients spout, why, that's their problem . . .
LocationA large, western city on an international shipping route.
PhysicalOn this downtown block stand two buildings in grimy 19th century magnificence. Both originally upper-class residences, the one on the left is Arcanities. The right one, separated by a metal-fenced yard, has been converted into rental apartments. Both are owned by Gail Wheldrake.
ArcanitiesThe interior walls have been removed from the first and second floors with the exception of the chimneys and essential structural supports. The outer walls are about two feet thick and contain ventilation ducts too small to accommodate anything larger than a rat. The floors are scuffed hardwood, the interior old stucco. Ornamental plasterwork on the ceilings is sealed under heavy paint.
The first floor is the general bookshop. Paper- and hard-back stock is arranged by topic over every inch of wall space and some of the floor. Topics include UFOs, Reincarnation, Secret Societies, and many other mystic- or conspiracy-related subjects. To the right of the register, a back door opens into the yard. Stairs lead downwards to the basement and upwards to the gallery.
On the second floor, the books are leather-bound and sealed in glass cases. Further cases display odd pieces of jewelry and carved stone, shapes of ivory and jade—sometimes a dagger, a small, carved box or a velvet pouch. A small, lockable room is furnished with an antique table and chairs and a small sketch by Aleister Crowley, and is used for more ambitious transactions. The stairs that continue upward are behind a door marked "Private."
Gail's third floor apartment contains a kitchenette, lounge room with television, study with computer and modem, bedroom and bathroom cum laundry (no map provided). The spare space is filled with cartons of books, remainders of her college days, and her mother's furniture. There is also a trap door in the ceiling, leading to a cramped, windowless attic that contains nothing except recently installed insulation.
All windows are sealed and barred; external doors have security grills. All doors are solid wood with deadlocks. An alarm system is attached to the doors and windows on the first and third stories, sounding in the office of a local security firm. Motion detectors on the second story trigger the same alarm. Response time is 10 minutes. These alarms also trigger buzzers in Gail's and Michael's bedrooms. The alarms may be set and disarmed from either of two keypads; inside the door to the yard on the first story, and in the stairway to the third story. Gail and Michael both know the code, and both have a complete set of keys.
There are smoke detectors installed throughout the building, and fire extinguishers within easy reach. A fire escape runs down the side of the building into the yard.
The Apartment BuildingAll three floors are identical to the first, having been converted into self-contained apartments, two per floor. Stairs connect all floors. These and the rest of the common property are generally run down, with the hardwood floor exposed and all the 19th century features broken or painted over. There is no common air-conditioning, although vents in the outer wall run from room to room as at Arcanities. There is a common laundry in the basement, and two of the tenants have storage rights in the attic - mainly furniture and clothes.
The front door is a security door, with a buzzer and intercom to each apartment (although not all of them work). The back door, which tenants use to take out their garbage, is deadlocked. Any further security is the concern of individual tenants such as Michael, who lives in the west apartment on the first floor that connects to the yard. The other tenants do not have access to the yard.
Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are installed as per regulations, and a fire escape runs down the back of the building into the alley.
The YardThe yard is concrete, fenced by eight feet metal sheeting with a padlocked gate. This is where any heavy deliveries are made, via the coal chute and winch in the basement. It is also the home of Gail's car and Michael's two Dobermans, who run loose in the yard at night.
The BasementOstensibly the stairs from the first story of Arcanities lead to what were servant's quarters and a coal cellar, now filled with cartons of books, old furniture and bits of damaged merchandise. Only the old servant's quarters contains a fireplace; the other columns are solid. These rooms now host the air conditioning unit that heats and cool the building through the network of vents. They also host the Alexandrist, boarded up in the fireplace by one of the insane Wheldrakes.
In the old coal cellar, the coal chute has been adapted and fitted with a winch for receiving large crates from vehicles parked in the yard. The chute is otherwise padlocked.
From below the winch to the old coal furnace runs a set of tracks. The tracks run right up to the furnace door, which is chained and padlocked. Inside the furnace, the tracks continue to the back wall, i.e. the yard side of the cellar. This entire section is designed to swing up like a garage door (Michael has indeed fitted an remote opening mechanism). It is insulated, which prevents noise escaping from "the Garage" and ensures the wall sounds solid when tapped.
"The Garage" is where the illegal imports are stored until sale, where any that arrive in poor condition are treated and their authenticity tested. It runs the length of the yard to the basement of the apartments. There is a much smaller door in the basement of the Apartment Building, concealed by brick facing in a nook not visible from the laundry area. Electricity and water are siphoned off from Arcanities and the Apartment Building, and a separate air conditioning unit leads into the ducting of both, causing occasional strange smells to permeate the two buildings.
"The Garage" is built in the basement of the third town house that originally stood on the block. Council records show that Jonathan Wheldrake bought the houses of his two neighbors in 1931, and demolished the middle one. There is a record of subsequent substantial "repairs" to the basements of the remaining buildings.
Although some of their suppliers and clients know about "the Garage," Gail and Michael permit no one else to enter. If an outside expert is being paid for an opinion, the object will be transported to her. Both Gail and Michael have the keys to the furnace and the apartment-side door, and carry a remote control. They perform all operations and maintenance themselves, including keeping up the appearance of age and neglect.
The Disruption Zone and the AlexandristThe 15th century was a truly great epoch of magical research, and nowhere more so than in Florence, Italy. Amongst the Gifted gathered there was one Umberto Spoglio, who along with magical training had inherited seer powers.
One of the great debates of the day was the nature of the mind and its relation to body and soul. The Gifted were not limited to the purely theoretical speculations of the mundanes. Spirits were summoned, experiments conducted; to all this, Umberto intended and indeed delivered a unique contribution. He sought to bind Essence into a pattern duplicating certain functions of the human mind.
The Alexandrist is a slightly oversized bust of dense, crystalline substance that resembles white marble but is in fact unique. It appears unfinished, the face indicated by faint lines. It is the object Umberto empowered, destroying his sanity in the process. The magicians who subsequently investigated found that the bust now to all intents and purposes radiated a single, fixed thought, an injunction to stay calm and rational, and believed this to be the imprint of Umberto's last coherent idea. They named it the Alexandrist after the contemporary philosophical group that propounded the soul was a material object generated by the body.
The presence of the Alexandrist, constantly repeating its one thought, was found to disrupt attempts to summon and focus essence identically to a large crowd of hostile mundanes. Further, if it was kept for a time in one location the surrounding stonework would begin to resonate in harmony with the pattern and the effect would be magnified. This is what has happened at Arcanities. The zone of disruption extends to the thresholds of the building and no further. Within that area, the following holds:
Invocations, Necromancy and Miracles: Thirty Essence Points are automatically neutralized. Unless the Gifted attempting to use them can compensate, her invocation fails. Further, no ambient Essence can be channeled within the zone (including that generated from magical number combinations) nor can it be drawn from vessels. These restrictions apply to any form of power that draws on essence, such as Anguish, the Keys of Solomon and Tao Chi (but not Wrath).If a person dies through violence or misadventure within the zone, their spirit is immediately forced across the Threshold. However, if a person dies from Essence drain caused by the Alexandrist their spirit, horribly, remains within the zone. These spirits are trapped, endlessly repeating the Alexandrist's thought. These spirits may be perceived by anything that can do so innately, such as a Necromancer with Death Speech at Level 2 or an incarnate Phantasm. The spirits cannot speak or act, unless someone manages to perform an Invocation in the zone. They then manifest as poltergeists attacking the source of the disturbance. It is possible that in this "rage" they follow their target out of the zone. This frees them, although their trauma heals only slowly. If the Alexandrist is removed, neutralized or destroyed, they are freed.
If the Alexandrist is removed from Arcanities the zone shrinks to a radius of ten feet. If it is placed in a new environment of stone, brick or even concrete it begins once more to extend the zone through resonance, although this takes time. To neutralize the Alexandrist it must be sheathed in some non-mineral substance—one foot of wood, plastic or latex effectively renders it inert.
Destroying the Alexandrist is not easy. The magically fused crystal is immune to acid and heat and will not crack unless 80 DC can be somehow delivered simultaneously. Once it does crack, however, the pattern is destroyed and the Alexandrist ceases to function. Another possibility is to oppose it directly with MindTalk, attempting to duplicate its thought as a Very Difficult Task. Anyone attempting this and failing loses the difference between the two scores in Essence Points and must pass a Difficult Will test to disengage from the contest, or lose the same again next turn, and so on. But success sets up a sympathetic resonance which shakes the thing to pieces.
The Zone does not provide the shop with any physical protection. The bricks are bricks, the wood is wood, and subject to damage from explosions, fire and any magical attack that delivers a bolt of force, such as the Earthquake Invocation or the Elemental Bolt of a big Pyro.
Taint powers are not affected by the Alexandrist (and neither can the Alexandrist be Tainted). The day an artifact of the Mad Gods comes into the shop may be the beginning of the end.
Plot HooksThe most obvious way for Arcanities to enter play is as a source of books and artifacts. If a group of teenagers found the means to summon Something, or a Haitian mask is raising the dead in the vicinity, there is sure to be a receipt from Arcanities lying around. Not that getting information out of Gail and Michael is easy—they are professional criminals and some of their clients have offered to "take care" of any persistent troublemakers—but they can provide the essential link the Cast Members need to track the problem to its source. Alternatively, it could be the destination of a stolen artifact or book. Cast Members could track the thief to the shop and find themselves having to deal with him with severely restricted powers.
The disruption zone makes Arcanities a good neutral ground for meetings between distrustful supernatural parties (so long as none of them are immaterial).
Sooner or later, someone is going to start wondering just what causes the disruption zone. Maybe someone has already traced the history of the Alexandrist, and wants it for his own purposes. Of course, removing the Alexandrist may be the only thing that can save Gail from her eventual fate (with or without convincing her of the existence of the supernatural).
PersonalitiesGail Marie Wheldrake: A tough-as-nails business woman in her forties. Nothing phases Gail Wheldrake; not irate Iranian ship captains, some guy claiming to be a 200 year-old priest of the Cult of Pain, or her father's death in an insane asylum ten years ago. Her vices are cigarettes and scotch, which indulgence she strictly limits. She shares the family skepticism; although she will never mock her clients outright, she and Michael often laugh about them in private.
She grew up in one of the apartments, and worked in the shop during holidays. As her parent's relationship worsened (her father spending more and more time at the shop) the young Gail studied accountancy and business at college and turned out to have quite a talent for making computers show only what she wanted them to. After her father was committed, she took over the business, inviting in one of her college friends for his expertise. Gail and Michael work well together and occasionally sleep together, although this has happened less and less often of late.
Her mother died a few years ago. Gail is a very wealthy woman. Yet she chooses to live in the apartment above the shop and to work day after day. After all, she tells herself, nothing attracts the tax office like conspicuous consumption.
But this doesn't explain why she stopped cycling. It doesn't explain why she no longer reads fiction or goes to movies, and why more and more of her nights are spent fine-tuning the filing system or checking inventories checked many times before. It doesn't explain why she never seems to dream. Deep down she knows something is wrong, but by temperament and training she is ill equipped to do anything about it. Besides, she tells herself, she is too strong a mind to break.
Just like her father.
Gail WheldrakeMichael Carruthers: Fortyish, balding and quiet, the archetypal bookseller at whom most people do not look twice. They miss the muscles of a collegiate boxer who keeps himself in shape, and the handgun in a shoulder holster.
Michael embodies a whole set of such contradictions. He worked his way through a BA in history in a motor repair shop. He met Gail when she came to him with a query about what artifacts were in which international museums. She spoke a little about her family business and introduced him to the concept that, under the right circumstances, antiquity could translate into dollars. He was intrigued. He did his Masters in techniques of archaeological restoration due to her influence. He trusted Gail, and she came to trust him.
He sees his job as being to keep an eye on things and ensure that the shop runs smoothly day to day, whether this means fixing electronics, handling customer inquiries or giving a would-be shop-lifter a reason to never come back. He lives rent free in the apartment block and keeps his two Dobermans in the yard.
He would be happy, were it not for the nagging feeling that somehow, something is wrong. He has noticed he is starting to spend longer hours at the shop, doing things that in retrospect could really be left till later. He'll work beside Gail for hours and the two of them won't even speak. When he does get home, it's an almost physical relief. Still, a brisk walk with the dogs and a beer will fix most things. He must get Gail to come around one evening, like she used to. Maybe even take a holiday.
Michael CarruthersKelly Wei: It seemed like the perfect job. In the second year of a psychology degree, 19 year-old Kelly needed evening hours, a location convenient to the local Goth club and above all somewhere she could wear black. She had discovered Arcanities when she was researching an essay on witch-hunts. She became a regular patron, and then the part-time position came up.
Something is going on. She does not know what, but is becoming more and more uneasy. It started when Gail accosted her one night and asked if she could really speak Cantonese. She found herself on the phone to a businessman in Shanghai who was making horrible threats. Michael thanked her afterwards and explained it was all about getting an order to a private collector. He then asked if, with appropriate remuneration, she would be willing to translate again. It was at that moment she realised that bulge in his jacket was probably a shoulder holster.
Since then there have been no more phone calls, but the clients are looking stranger every night. She is a goth, not a ganglander, and some of these people look dangerous. Then there are those deals that take place in the private room upstairs and the late night deliveries. Could it be drugs? Or could it actually be some kind of occult organization? You know, the real thing, not what her friends are into. She has started reading up on some of the things she has noticed, researching words she has overheard. The fact is that her sense of danger is not nearly so developed as her sense of intrigue.
Kelly WeiCaesar and Brutus: Trained Doberman guard dogs. The proximity of the disruption zone, not to mention the frequent presence of Gifted and Undead upsets them, but given their normal behavior it is kind of hard to tell.
Str: 3 Dex: 3 Con: 3 Per: 3 Int: 1 (smart animal) Wil: 2
Tasks and TestsAll levels assume human characters.
* Limited Dreamer
A character with the Limited Dreamer Drawback does not have a very fulfilling dream life. She must make an Intelligence Test Roll to even remember her dreams and that roll is at a -3. If she does remember her dreams, they are rather simple. Limited Dreamers never dream in color and the events of the dream closely resemble the dreamer's real life. She is more likely to dream about taking a test or standing in line at the DMV than she is to dream about riding a bright red dragon over a green mountain valley.
If a Limited Dreamer were somehow forced through a Gateway into one of the Dream Realms, he would appear as an indistinct black and white version of himself. All his actions while in the Dream Realms would be at a -3.
The 2-point version of this Drawback is more severe. The Limited Dreamer never remembers her dreams and all actions in the Dream Realms are at a -5. Characters with this level of Limited Dreamer often have the Drawbacks of Humorless and Talentless as well.
Even though this is a Supernatural Drawback, it is available to other Characters besides those with the Gift. In fact, it is most common among the Mundane population.
More information on this Drawback may be found in The Book of Hod, the first Sephiroth sourcebook.
# Resistance (Type)
Some people are just innately better at ignoring the bad things that life throw at them. This ability allows the character to fend off the effects of a particular type of harm. Each different Type of Resistance Quality must be purchased separately. Some examples are presented below, but others may be devised by Chroniclers and players.
For Resistance (Disease), the Quality level is added to Constitution when resisting Contagion Strength. For Resistance (Poison), the Quality level adds to any Constitution Test required, and decreases the damage caused per Turn (to a minimum of 1). It could also be viewed as an "iron-clad stomach," and offers complete protection against eating bad or "off" food. Resistance (Fatigue) decreases any Endurance Point loss by its level (to a minimum of 1 per time period involved). A Resistance Quality directed against pain would decrease the penalties associated with severe wounds, and add to the Willpower and Constitution Test necessary to avoid being stunned (see WitchCraft, p. 149).
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