Sunday 17 September 2023

Abattoir Symposium (for Buckets of Blood)

 Or, well, for Penny Dreadfuls, which is Victorian Buckets of Blood, because… I don’t know.

The East End

The year is 1860. 

Twelve evil wizards are meeting one week from now, in an abattoir out the back of a butchers in Whitechapel. 

They are coming together next Sunday, to have dinner and a drink together at a pub in Hackney called The Adam & Eve. It took about five months of letters to agree on a pub - they will not go anywhere else. Not one of them wants to rehash the negotiations. 

After this, they will come together and perform a ritual involving a human sacrifice. 

The Ritual

The Ritual requires exactly twelve wizards. This has been a historical issue. The problem is not the human sacrifice, it’s getting twelve wizards to work together. 

If you muscle in, the other wizards probably won’t mind, so long as the ritual can go ahead and the number of twelve is preserved.  

It will open a door into Adjacent Realms, where the wizards expect to pass through fire, and water, and zodiacal trials, to be granted a Wish each. 

Or, that's what they think, at least. 

The Wizards:

  1. Teague Haggerty 

A 53-year-old Irish shapeshifter of notable skill. 

Appearance: A small, dark-haired man, bundled up heavily in coats and scarves. He has massive eyebrows, a thick black beard, and keen grey eyes that seem luminous in the dark. Looking at him from the side, you might catch a much larger silhouette. Goes hatless and dishevelled. 

Personality: Clannish, suspicious, impatient, irritable, intractable.

Wish: He’s told the others it’s a seed from Yggdrasil, but he actually wants to drive the English out of Eire. 

He really, really hates Arundel and Baverstock. He gets on well with MacKenzie. He views the rest of the cadre of wizards as unthreatening neonates, amusing in the way, say, a newborn foal is amusing.

Haggerty has no permanent residence and makes no money - the sky is his roof, the beasts of the earth his food, and God his landlord. 

Teague is a shapeshifter - unlike others of his craft, he has not cultivated a number of forms, instead, he has focused on just one: a boar the size of a horse-drawn omnibus, with little white eyes and mean black bristles. In this you might describe him as akin to a lycanthrope (or, properly, a kaproanthrope), though his magic is not lunar - and he keeps his keen wit the entire time. 

  1. Henry Arundel 

A 60-year-old English hermeticist of great theoretical skill and little practical knowledge. 

Appearance: Portly, mutton-chopped, red-faced. Wears clothes more in the fashion of 1820, with a stiff high collar and a white cravat. Receding hairline and sleepy eyes. Wears a black top hat.  

Personality: Blustering, suspicious, tory, impatient, perceptive. 

Wish: The rest of the steps of the Magnum Opus. 

He has an extremely low opinion of every other wizard, for being lower-class, Asian, French, Slavic, a woman, or some combination of the above - but he especially despises Haggerty with all the force a rich Kentishman can muster for a Hibernian. He also has an unclear but strong reaction to MacKenzie that may or may not be fear. 

He would abandon this packet of freaks at a moment’s notice if the real wizardly establishment in Parliament would give him a minute of their time (which they don’t). 

Arundel is an idle member of the gentry, a distant relation of the Earls of Arundel, who enthusiastically tracks his ancestry back to the time of the Norman Conquest. 

Arundel knows a number of spells, of which his favourites are Mendenhall’s Conflagration and Westwaite’s Immediate Transportation. He carries around an alchemical albedo, which he can use (prosaically) to clear a mind of afflictions and delusions. Finally, he owns a set of magical plate-mail handed down to him by some wizard-knight ancestor, which he can summon to encase his body and provide him with significant strength (which he doesn’t know how to use). 

Arundel is the MP for London University (yes, by the way, the real 1868 Parliament had an MP seat which was decided exclusively by graduates of London University. The only difference is the historical one probably wasn’t a wizard). 

  1. Peter Bloodworth

A 40-year-old English sword-swallower

Appearance: Muscled, scarred, blonde, an almost boyish look to him. Wears brown tweeds and muddy riding boots. Scary eyes. Has a brown flat-cap. 

Personality: Staring, cheerful in a creepy way, easily angered, protective, irrational. 

Wish: The location of Excalibur. 

He finds Baverstock amusing, has an unusual camaraderie with Atzopardis, and is fucking Dziubek. 

Bloodworth is a criminal, of the habitual kind, and is a cousin of the mob in the Elephant and Castle area of London. Bloodworth takes pride in being the maniac of last resort for all London’s scumbags and pickpockets, and makes his money mostly through protection rackets. 

He walks around with a magic sword stored in his gullet, which is called Napoleon, a +3 Cavalry Sabre that deals +1d8 damage to fairies, priests and the English. He also has two revolvers and a boot knife, because he’s a more prosaic sort of fellow. 

He is classed as a wizard because he swallowed a wand-sword and somehow absorbed its numinous power, allowing him to cast two spells: Detect Edged Weapons and Spit Acid. His fellow wizards consider him an edge case for the Ritual. 

  1. John William “Bill” Nowak

A 36-year-old American photomancer, an adherent of a new-fangled school. 

Appearance: Neatly bearded, barrel-chested, well-groomed and precise. Wears a novel ditto suit, and a black derby hat. Usually looks quite stern and grim, but has a wonderful smile. 

Personality: Earnest, interested, polite, self-effacing, callous. 

Wish: Guaranteed entry into Heaven, despite what he’s done. 

He likes to speak Polish with Dziubek, regularly plays cards with Tsao, and is extremely scared of Haggerty due to boar-based trauma from an incident with 30-50 feral hogs in his youth.  

A Wisconsinite, a clerk of a shipping company and a former cavalryman. Occasionally, a haunted expression crosses his face. He’s nervous of the situation back home, and considers John Brown a personal hero. Any amount of alcohol in him will have him ranting about American politics. He’s in London on behalf of his company, and is very well paid. 

Photomancy is an exclusively American brand of wizardry, considered basically just newfangled illusionry by the old European sorcerers. It isn’t, but he’s fine to let them think that.

Most prominently, Nowak can create silent images and go invisible more or less at will, though the latter is extremely taxing to do for more than a few minutes at a time. He’s armed with a revolver that fires bullets and a revolver that fires pure sunbeams, because he thinks Dziubek is a vampire (incorrectly). 

He can create ambrotypes by blinking in a special way - they immediately appear in his hotel room, perfectly developed. 

  1. Tsao Hong
    A 27-year-old Hoklo pyromancer, competent but reckless. 

Appearance: Usually smiling, long flowing hair, a mixture of hanfu and English clothing in an anarchic combination which would offend the elders of both societies. Really handsome. Goes hatless. 

Personality: Cavalier, over-familiar, relaxed, loyal, gullible. 

Wish: To be transformed into an immaterial spirit of fire.

He finds Hagavane’s seriousness amusing, finds Atzopardis’ seriousness unamusing, and thinks fairly highly of Nowak.  

Tsao was once a sailor, but he is making an honest effort at settling in this dreadful city of morons. He does odd-jobs, but mostly makes his money educating the wizards of London in the basics of the true pyromantic arts (as everyone knows, any Briton makes a terrible pyromancer. They have damp souls.) 

Tsao can teleport via fires, produce huge clouds of smoke more or less at will, and intensify any fire he can see. He carries around a metallic powder that turns fires green and malicious when it burns in them. Additionally, he has a fake tobacco pipe that is actually a very cunningly disguised bomb of significant power. 

Wears his hair long and flowing, in defiance of the Qing queue order, though few people gather the significance of that in Victorian London.

  1. Spyros Atzopardis
    A 29-year-old Greek astrologer, considered a prodigy.
    Appearance: Hairy, sun-tanned, moustachioed, wiry and rangy. Athletic, a runner’s body. Huge eyebrows. Wears baggy vraka, a coat with many pockets, and a red cap. 

Personality: Intense, passionate, easily confused, introspective, often-melancholy. 

Wish: To escape the sinful earth into the pure heights of the Heavens. 

He has a grudging respect for his elders (MacKenzie, Arundel and Haggerty, mostly), is suspicious to the point of paranoia about Hagavane, and is discomfited by Solovyova. 

Atzopardis is a dirt poor poet and musician from Corfu, an oft-miserable romantic type who likes to stare thoughtfully into the sunset (hopefully with witnesses). He left the island where his heart resides because there was no money in being a dirt poor poet there, and he hoped to capture some gullible English with tales of romantic opposition to Gladstone’s dreadful Turk. He has broadly failed. 

He carries with him a +2 Revolver given to him by Mars, into which he has invested all of his Power. When he’s angry, red smoke drifts from the barrel - which sometimes gives him away. 

He is surprisingly strong (17 Str) even if he doesn’t look it, and is a champion runner and athlete (which puts him above pretty much all of the other wizards save Bloodworth). He owns a bright red Martian snake with little horns and sea-blue eyes, which produces a powerful rage venom. He has a capsule of it hidden in a fake tooth. The snake itself hides inside his coat. The snake is called Elenitsa.   

  1. Maggie MacKenzie

A 56-year-old Scots witch, old, powerful and influential.
Appearance: Matronly, pudgy, frowning, grey-haired. Wears black mourning clothes, though her husband’s been dead about twenty years by now. 

Personality: Judgemental, mean, cunning, miserly, indomitable. 

Wish: For there to never again be a Tory majority in Parliament. 

She thinks of Haggerty as a distant cousin (calls him Teacup), had a genuinely dreadful romance with Arundel about thirty years ago, and has a sort of warmly patronising, grandmotherly attitude to Descombes, Hagavane, Tsao and Atzopardis. 

MacKenzie is the widowed aunt of one of the two MPs from Edinburgh (he’s a Liberal) and she lives a comfortable lifestyle as a member of a well-connected family. She’s also in league with Satan, but mostly for something to do on the weekends. She is the head, by force and guile, of the London Black Mass, the biggest coven in the United Kingdom, mostly consisting of novice witches who still have to fly on broomsticks. 

She’s a little beyond dancing at the Black Mass, but she can still fly with the best of them - without any props or assistance, she just springs right into the air like a spectre. She’s a masterful brewer of potions, and carries around a few emetics, a few sleeping draughts, a few draughts of strength, a few elixirs of healing, and a Potion of Temporary but Severe Madness.

She commands a wretched minor demon called Sack of Sugar, which usually takes the form of a startlingly ugly cat, a fat toad, or a ragged-looking bat. Sack of Sugar has an infinitely large stomach and is more or less invulnerable to conventional harm. It looks like a hairy, bug-eyed little man about three feet tall, when not deliberately transformed. 

  1. Marie-Christine Descombes
    A 22-year-old French wizard, of notable wealth but amateur ability. 

Appearance: Ephemeral, curly-haired, dark-eyed, expensively dressed, heavily coated. Always carries a large bag. 

Personality: Thoughtful, intelligent, aloof, out of touch, introverted. 

Wish: The servitude of a seraph. 

She has a little crush on Hagavane that she’s struggling with, finds Tsao unbearable, and has a slightly inexplicable fondness for MacKenzie. 

She is from a family with enough money that she has no concept of value, or of what things cost. The Descombes are the public representatives of the secret wizard society called La Maison Bénie, a rather ancient and rather French mystical conspiracy that began some time around 1060, and has been hoarding arcane secrets ever since.

She carries an ancient grimoire, called The Book of Arnoul the Red, which conveys upon her a number of mystical abilities, not least of which is the ability to command peasants, which she will happily employ to throw mobs of confused Londoners at people she dislikes. She has a habit of powerfully warding any area she will stay in for more than a few hours. 

She also has a genuine angelic halo which she carries wrapped in tissue paper in her bag. She will put it on her head and become incorrupt and temporarily sainted should any conflict arise - it would take a real maniac to attack someone with a genuine halo. (The halo is stolen).  

  1. Mateusz Dziubek 

A 38-year-old Polish necromancer, a practised hand. 

Appearance: Pallid (from being a necromancer), weary, sunken-eyed, with a sharp nose and a thin, gaunt face. Wears a huge black coat with a high collar that obscures his form and baggy brown trousers. Has his pale blonde hair combed back close to his skull. Wears an opera hat. 

Personality: Morose, pessimistic, cautious, patient - an old soul. 

Wish: Lichdom - failing that, the soul and bones of Charlemagne. 

He finds Nowak an inexplicable enigma, gets on well with Solovyova, and is fucking Bloodworth.

He is from Poznan, currently under Prussian rule. He is from an ancient family of necromancers who have inhabited the area since the times of Mieszko the First, though he was forced to flee due to the specific animosity of an ancient Prussian vampire. 

He owns the skull of one of Descombes’ ancestors, a wizard by the name of Jehan le Noir, which he prods for arcane knowledge. He has seventy eight spooky scary animated skeletons in various locations around London - he is never far from at least five of them, hidden under floorboards, in the dark parts of alleyways or on rooftops. They’re all armed. 

He owns a cane that he claims is haunted by Władysław II Jagiełło - it’s not impossible, since the cane can be commanded to attack as if wielded by a fighter of decent skill. 

He also has a little  jar containing a little remnant of the genuine Black Death. He uses it as a deterrent but isn’t insane enough to actually unleash that spiritual menace once again. 

  1. Lata Hagavane

A 23-year-old Marathi psychic, a new firebrand. 

Appearance: Short, black-haired, with extremely expressive eyebrows. Wears a black choli over a white dress, and practical black boots. Wears a lot of gold jewellery, and a very finely made, expensive blue dupatta.  

Personality: Serious, combative, creative, patient, laconic. 

Wish: The death of Prince Consort Albert and Queen Victoria. 

She has a one-sided rivalry with Tsao, would happily stab Arundel and Baverstock without pretext, and is deeply embarrassed to be attracted to Descombes. 

Hagavane is a descendant of the peshwa of the recently-conquered Maratha Empire, and holds in her heart a (reasonable, intense) hatred of the British state and monarchy. 

She shapes and distorts the māyā of the material world, by the power of thought alone. She passively reads the minds of anyone within a few feet, and is capable of powerful feats of telekinesis, including unstable flight. She also has a telekinetic aura-shield of pure certainty, which is at least strong enough to stop bullets dead. 

She has a magic Japanese tachi she won in a card game (that Bloodworth would probably love to steal) - it’s a +1 weapon, with the additional feature of ringing like a bell if anyone’s trying to sneak up on her. 

Her choli is also a magic item, a Cloth of Subtle Distance, which constantly causes people to think she’s closer or farther than she actually is, imposing disadvantage on attacks that require sight. 

  1. Sasha "Artyom" Solovyova

A 30-year-old Russian trickster, of ambiguous ability. 

Appearance: Dressed all in charcoal grey, in an androgynous style. Her  face is dusty where it’s not obscured by chestnut-brown hair or thick scarves. Her hands are scarred. Wears a grey bowler hat with a red ribbon. 

Personality: Easygoing, charming, sometimes-vicious, quick-witted and gluttonous. 

Wish: The emancipation of the Russian serfs. 

She gets on well with Dziubek, thinks highly of Tsao, and sees everyone else as a prime target for being knocked down a few pegs. 

The child of serfs living in the countryside near Bogorodsk. She fled home long ago with a song in her heart and a bindle over her shoulder. She claims to have walked to England from Russia without ever taking a boat. She has no clear employment, and mostly lives off stolen food and buffets (she just walks up and fills a plate. It usually works. There are lots of hotels and balls in London).

As a trickster, it’s nearly impossible to predict what she’s about to do. She employs the magic of deception, social embarrassment and sudden reversals. She can walk in straight lines through crowds, guns fired at her jam, and horses kick just after she has run past. She’ll lean over the table and eat your meal and you will be unable to do jack fucking shit about it. Her gender ambiguity is part of this - the first step into the trickster’s shoes is one that disorients the staid and the powerful. 

  1. Charles Baverstock

A 33-year-old English demonologist of some professional skill.
Appearance: Tall, dark-haired, effortlessly handsome, with a warm, winning smile and a perfectly fitted frock coat he’s worn to this literal abattoir, for some reason. Wears a top hat. 

Personality: Bored, hedonistic, cowardly, polite, racist. 

Wish: £30000. 

He has a dreadfully cringeworthy infatuation with Descombes, wants to impress Arundel like a puppy wants to impress its master, has a healthy fear of Bloodworth, and despises pretty much everyone else for being a collection of Gaels, Slavs, Greeks, and Asians.  

Baverstock mostly makes his money by performing demonological services for the London aristocracy - rigging horse-races, turning voyeurs invisible, and having demons answer complicated questions like some kind of ridiculously evil wiki. 

He is known to know Gamigin, Marbas and Barbatos.
He currently has one Power floating free to employ his Handshake - the other three are currently employed. One was used to prime the diseased knife he carries inside his fine coat (if wounded by it, save vs. tuberculosis). The others are to produce one of Gamigin’s shitty fake horses, which is tied up outside the back of the Abattoir for a hasty escape, and to create an imp, which he calls “Haggerty” just to be a dick.

The Adam & Eve 

Kezia Smith, a widow, runs the Adam & Eve, a large, nearly-mediaeval public house, a relic of an earlier era. The titular figures feature in an oil-paint mural on the back wall. 

Most of the wizards have made preparations: 

  1. Haggerty has convinced the rats in the pub that he is a god, and they will serve him zealously.
  2. Arundel has a detailed, annotated map of the place, and a spell of listening on the entire building.
  3. Five of Bloodworth’s cousins will be in the pub, armed with knives and broken bottles.
  4. Nowak has subtly transformed the light inside the Adam & Eve through weeks of tinkering - at a gesture, he can throw migraine-inducing fractal hallucinations in anybody’s face.
  5. Tsao is relying on the fact the building is wooden to dissuade issues.
  6. Atzopardis has calculated the precise astrological influences upon the pub - on the night of the meeting, all of his attacks will land home and he will never be harmed by fire.
  7. MacKenzie has browbeaten a pair of minor witches in her coven into getting jobs as barmaids in the pub - they’ll side with her if trouble breaks out, animating the furnishings to have at the other wizards.
  8. Descombes has warded the place heavily - anyone trying to move into or out of the building at a pace quicker than walking will be hurled down by an unseen force, and there’s a few invisible “walls” of force she can lower and raise with a gesture.
  9. Dziubek has contacted the ghost of John Tyler, a previous owner of the pub, and directed him to haunt the premises - resulting in an odd flavour to the beer. If something goes wrong, Tyler will unleash all kinds of poltergeist bullshit while Dziubek runs directly out of the back.
  10. Hagavane has implanted a mental suggestion in the minds of twelve burly dockworkers, that they should come for a drink in the Adam & Eve. They are subtly programmed to immediately fist-fight anyone acting in a threatening or violent manner towards a woman (she has protected Descombes, Mackenzie, Kezia Smith and probably Solovyova as a professional courtesy).
  11. Solovyova never plans.
  12. Baverstock was too busy thinking if he could stomach eel pie for dinner.

The Abattoir

Out the back of a butcher - stinking, dark and wretched. 

  1. Haggerty, boarflesh as he is, will draw terrible strength from the grunting, oinking ghosts of thousands of slaughtered hogs.
  2. Arundel has set up a Contingent Instant Travel to instantly bring him to the Houses of Parliament, should he feel threatened.
  3. Bloodworth knows the butcher who owns the Abattoir well. His cousins will follow from the Adam & Eve.
  4. Nowak is slightly stymied by the darkness inside the abattoir, but has managed to turn a window into a powerful lens - at his command, it will magnify the moonlight into a blinding silver beam that will allow him a clean escape, should the need arise.
  5. Tsao thinks that none of the other wizards would be stupid enough to fuck each other over at the stage of actually performing the ritual.
  6. Atzopardis has calculated another set of astrological influences - he knows the other wizards will be shifty and prone to error (increased fumble range, penalty to saves vs. fear) and has protected himself against these eventualities.
  7. MacKenzie will have Sack of Sugar pretend to be a pig soon to be slaughtered, with a revolver, a bottle of poison and seven hundred wasps stored in its stomach (just in case).
  8. Descombes has also warded the Abattoir, against scrying, against the entry of angels, against the eyes of the law, against fire, against water, against lightning, and against artillery fire, just in case.
  9. Dziubek covertly buried the skeletons of ten mediaeval peasants, members of Wat Tyler’s revolt, beneath the Abattoir, and armed them with broken bottles and knives.
  10. Hagavane has psychically convinced a London street gang (an opposed one to Bloodworth’s) to happen to be nearby on the night of the ritual. She will summon them if she feels threatened. They will be aggressive to everyone but her.
  11. As above, Solovyova never plans.
  12. Baverstock has tied up a fast but visibly-shitty fake horse produced by the demon Gamigin out the back.

The Human Sacrifice

She's called Patricia Gregor, or just Pat for short. 

She’s a small, grey woman, rotund and unremarkable. She is blunt, dour, startlingly honest and has a vaguely East End accent. She works as a housekeeper for a notable Tory MP, and it’s through this coincidence (and a dislike of her blunt manner) that Arundel selected her as the sacrifice.

Mrs. Gregor is surprised to have made the acquaintance of some very interesting, strange people in the last few months - she thinks Atzopardis is a prince, Baverstock has appeared rather regularly at her house of employment, she’s curious about this Indian princess running around London in sensible boots, and so on - Nowak stupidly and drunkenly told her his entire dreadful life story. She was even more surprised to be invited to dinner with all of them.

They’re planning to poison Pat insensate at dinner, then drag her to the abattoir and slaughter her, with a steel athame provided by Arundel.

The poison won’t work. She’ll drink it, and be unharmed. 

Neither will the knife. It won’t even work if they surprise her with it. 

The wizards don't know half of what they're in for.

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