This encounter was devised for Exalted, 2nd edition and was originally posted here. Presented here is the outline of a single encounter, which can be inserted into a game by itself as just an odd moment that raises the question of the nature of good and evil, but in my game this encounter formed the basis of a longer story which ran for two sessions. I will post that longer story outline in a future post.
Main themes and scenario objectives:
This encounter ultimately revolves around questioning the nature of purity and corruption on a micro level, and forces the characters to consider where their thresholds are on the scale between the two. The characters ultimately have to decide, on behalf of others, just how much ‘corruption’ is acceptable, and at which point suffering or death are preferable options.
The elements of this encounter might seem a little specific to the setting of Exalted, so I have included some suggestions to help swap out exalted specific elements for things suitable to other game settings.
Set up and background:
One thing to note at this point is that in Exalted demons usually need to be summoned into the world, at which point they are bound by the summoner. It is possible for a summoner to fail at a crucial part of the ritual and result in a demon running free in the world, however a key element of the game for which this was written is that there is a rift allowing first circle demons much more free access to creation than they would otherwise have. So one way or another you need to include a mechanism or backstory to justify these demons being active but unbound in creation.
The village is a farming village that is fairly isolated, and depends on farming some kinds of fibre-prodicing plant to make fabrics, which they sell, as well as a small amount of sustenance farming (in my game this took place in the arid south and the village grew a particular kind of cactus with large fibrous leaves).
The Hopping Puppeteer sets about building greenhouses and improving the cultivation processes of their farming. There is a level 1 demesne (source of magical energy) nearby, and the demon soon starts to tap into that essence and channel it into the greenhouses which exponentially improves growth and plant health. The village thrives and enjoys much more success from their fabric industry in a very short time.
The Cloud Arsenal – usually tormented by visions of its own doom, as per its nature – finds a sense of community with the few roosters on the farm, and teaches them to also crow at sunset along with it’s own horrified screaming. Despite the demon’s visions of death, it finds the more relaxed life of being on a farm to be soothing, and believes that maybe such a life in the service of others might allow it to escape it’s doom. It agrees to protect the town in exchange for basically being left alone to hang out with the roosters and admire the landscape. It becomes, if you like, a monastic demon, meditating on its own existence.
The Neomah finds very little trade and wanders the land for a bit, occasionally returning to the farm to meet with those few who are willing to couple with it.
So… over time, the village becomes quite wealthy and prosperous. But the human farmers have no knowledge of how to continue the hopping puppeteers farming practices and so are entirely dependent on the demon. So when the hopping puppeteer starts to pick up their newborn babies and carry them around until they starve to death, the farmers are trapped. They want to try and rid the demon for the sake of their children, but the future of the village is at stake.
Then the Neomah returns, and one of the women who has lost a child claims one of the demon’s flesh creations as her new child. Suddenly a kind of Stockholm syndrome spreads across the village. The Neomah is the new provider of babies (which the puppeteer isn’t interested in) and the whole village flocks regularly to its tower.
So… when the players come across this village, they find a demon farming in an unnatural greenhouse where the fields are fueled by chaneled essence and the crops are planted in a giant mandala that represents the Green Sun of the demon realm.
The villagers are too stubborn to leave, believing they have found an equilibirum (but the situation hasn’t been going on long enough for there to be any noticeable consequences from the adoption of Neomah demon-babies) and if anything goes wrong there’s a cloud arsenal that will attack anyone who threatens the harmony of its new life.
How it plays out:
Ultimately this vignette plays out like a bit of a horror-mystery as the characters notice increasingly odd and disturbing things and then uncover the truth behind them. Or they go into the village already knowing that demons are present only to discover just how integrated the demons are into the life of the village.
It should be made clear that the demons are now such an integral part of the villagers lives that to suddenly remove, banish or destroy the demons would leave the village unable to survive.
After playing a game of uncovering a mystery (odd looking babies, rustling in the fields of crops, the screaming of the Tomescu, architecture beyond anything the village seems capable of…) this scenario is really just a question of ‘what will the players do?’
The moment they do anything aggressive or cause distress to the villagers, the Tomescu will attack. The hopping puppeteer will likewise defend itself and its farm if any attempt is made to dismantle it. The Neomah will simply dematerialise and flee if attacked.
If the characters do intervene and result in the removal of the demons, they are faced with a mid-sized village no longer able to fend for itself, and who will curse the characters names for diminishing their prosperity.
Also-if the characters try to remove the few demon-babies, well… It’s an opportunity for some dramatic roleplaying as they will be taking infants away from women who have replaced their own dead children with these demon surrogates.
In my game the players did remove the demons, and then took on the responsibility of rebuilding the farms, teaching the villagers new ways to farm and establishing ritual behaviours to help keep the village alive and prosperous. They didn’t do anything about the Neomah demon babies or the Neomah itself, so that’s my plot hook for future sessions.
Long term consequences:
This scenario has various elements which, if left unresolved, have particular long-term consequences that the characters may one day have to deal with.
If they do nothing, eventually the town will become a demon cult and learn to summon more demons. Genuine Demon-blooded children will be born and if left to their own devices for a decade or so, they could become a demon-weaver cult from which the odd second circle demon goes forth to terrorise the world.
If they leave the Hopping Puppeteer (perhaps out of a belief that it is the most harmless of the demons), it will eventually finish its designs and create a garden that, on certain nights of the year, under the right conditions and with just the right amount of anguish in the air, will allow a second circle demon to come through the barrier between worlds.
If the Tomescu is left alive, it’s protection from bandits and raiders will make it the figurehead of the village and the villagers could either start to develop a warrior culture in emulation, or start to use the Tomescu to push their influence and authority onto other nearby villages. Too much of this, however, and the demon will resent being taken too far from it’s pastoral meditations and may push back, or simply flee and leave the village to its short-lived fate.
And finally, if the Neomah and her demon babies are left free in the world… well. That’s going to be part of my game yet to come, so I’ll save that story for once I’ve actually run the session 😉
Power level adjustments:
As with many sessions when the focus is on character decision making and consequences, I tend to keep the power level of antagonists low, and the three demons presented here are only a moderate challenge for a group of newly created characters in Exalted.
The easiest way to increase the difficulty is to increase the number of Tomescu and Hopping Puppeteers – however you could also increase the difficulty by having the characters come upon the village many more years after the demons have settled in.
A village full of adolescent demon-children ready to leap to the defence of their mothers (mortal and demon), as well as people charged with the tainted essence of their supernatural farming methods for a long period of time may well present a magical challenge themselves. You would have to be careful with this option, as too much demonic influence would nullify the moral decision of how the characters act, and instead make it much more of an apparent need to act – event if the tragedy of their circumstances is acknowledged.
The way I made this encounter somewhat more difficult was with an additional story framing the characters’ interaction with the village – in which there was an additional source of danger, and a rapidly ticking clock making it necessary to find a solution more quickly.
I’ll write about that scenario in my next post.
Game system adjustments:
Obviously Neomah, Tomescu and Hopping Puppeteers are unique to Exalted, but they can be easily substituted in a game in which ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are not black and white definitions or classifications of entities.
Neomah can be replaced by any supernatural creature capable of producing some sort of infant like progeny – or possibly even of bearing children to mortals. The crux f this character is that it provides children to replace those that have been lost and thus allow the demons to fully infiltrate this little society and an emotional and generational level.
Tomescu can be replaced by any creature typically associated with violence and fighting. All it needs is a motivation to seek a more peaceful life and it fits right in.
The Hopping Puppeteer is a little more complex as it has to fullfil two roles that may not be readily apparent in other game settings. First and foremost this character must be the one to bring prosperity to the village by enhancing their labour so that it becomes essential to their survival. Second, it must play some role in the death of a generation of infants to justify the desire for the demon-babies (or their equivalent).
Examples of suitable replacements might be: Plant creatures that can farm, but that give off a poisonous residue lethal to infants and the elderly, but harmless to children and adults; Tainted or corrupt earth elementals or demons whose presence slowly turn young flesh to stone; A water demon or spirit that, in the dead of night, likes to cuddle up to infant children and inadvertently causes them to freeze to death.
As long as the death of infants is a natural manifestation of the creatures nature and not the result of some malicious intent, then the scenario should play out as intended.
If you have any feedback on this encounter, or if you try this scenario in your own game, please post your comments below and let me know how it went.