Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Noxious Alchemies of the Serpent Folk 1: Liquid Brightness

They brewed it for their watchmen, first. That was the drug's original purpose: a stimulant rather stronger than coffee, to help keep yawning guardsmen wide-eyed and wakeful as they kept watch over the priceless alchemical laboratories of the serpent folk by night. As word of the stuff spread, new markets opened up: amongst spies, students, entertainers, travellers, and anyone else who might regularly need to stay awake and alert for twenty-four hours at a stretch. The serpent folk maintain that it was some irresponsible student of the natural sciences, slightly out of his mind after a seventy-two-hour study session, who first came up with the idea of triple-distilling the stuff into a stimulant of quite murderous strength, and that they themselves certainly never intended it to be used as a recreational narcotic. But, well... the secret's out, now, and a market of users exist, so someone needs to supply it. Might as well be people who know how to make a good, clean batch, right?

In the Wicked City, and many other places, Liquid Brightness is the second-most profitable drug manufactured by the Serpent Folk. (Morphine is always number one.) In its mild form, it's sold in a powder, which is dissolved in water and swallowed: each dose staves off feelings of tiredness or sleepiness for 1d6 hours, up to a maximum number of hours equal to twice the user's Constitution score. (Taking more after that doesn't make you any less tired, though it will make you feel pretty sick.) People under the effect of Liquid Brightness are unnaturally wide-eyed and twitchy, jumping at every sudden sound or movement; they make very good watchmen, and gain +1 to REF saves and initiative, but their shaky hands inflict a -1 penalty on all their to-hit rolls with missile weapons. When the drug finally wears off, the user feels completely exhausted, and may well pass out where they stand; each additional hour of wakefulness must be 'paid for' with an hour of deep, deep sleep, in addition to the normal rest requirements which the drug has been putting off. (So someone who used it to stay alert for an extra 24 hours, missing a night's sleep in the process, would collapse for 32 hours when the drug wore off.) Regular users steadily build up a tolerance to the drug, and must take bigger and bigger doses to achieve the same effect: some of them end up gulping down whole pints of the stuff, to the alarm and consternation of anyone else nearby.

'Sir, I think that maybe you've had enough...'

In this form, Liquid Brightness is harmless enough, although regular heavy users tend to have heart problems later in life. The really dangerous stuff is the distilled form, which is taken via intravenous injection: this delivers a massive jolt to the system, sending the user into a quivering, wild-eyed high for the next 1d3 hours. Under its effects, they race around on permanent fast-forward, seemingly unable to stay still; they walk too fast, talk too fast, jump and startle at every movement, and notice absolutely everything. (They're also prone to emitting disturbing peals of rippling, high-pitched laughter.) A distilled dose grants +2 to REF saves and initiative, +1 AC due to improved dodge ability, and +10% movement speed, but imposes a -2 penalty on all to-hit rolls due to uncontrollably shaking hands. After it wears off, the user crashes out into a state of complete exhaustion; they must make a Constitution roll or simply pass out on the spot, and even if they pass they will be incapable of any action more strenuous than a slow walk for a length of time equal to the period of the drug's effect. Unless, of course, they take another dose...

In its distilled form, Liquid Brightness is very dangerous indeed. It's habit-forming, and it takes a very heavy toll on the bodies of regular users; addicts are easily recognisable from their skeletal thinness, darting eyes, sweat-sheened skin, too-rapid motions, and perpetually-shaking hands. Very heavy users usually end up dying of massive heart attacks, as their systems collapse under the strain of operating in near-constant fast forward. But a handful of them change, instead; their bodies enter into some kind of uncanny symbiosis with the drug coursing through the veins, and start to manufacture the stuff themselves. The serpent-folk try to capture these weird human drug factories whenever possible, partly to subject them to proper medical study, and partly so that their bodily fluids can be harvested and sold to junkies too desperate for a hit to care where their drug is coming from. But they are very fast, and very alert, and they never really sleep, which means that catching them is often very tricky indeed.

In the Wicked City, these individuals - called 'Shining Ones' by the serpent folk because of their glittering chemical sweat - usually end up living in the Rubble; they are prized by the Rubble Clans, who use them as watchmen, and compete for a chance to lick the sweat from their skin for a quick Liquid Brightness buzz. Their glistening bodies are pale and wasted, yet they move with a weird hummingbird-quickness, flickering from place to place almost too quickly to see; their senses are almost painfully heightened, and they shake, constantly, their presence accompanied by a continuous low clattering sound as their teeth chatter together in their heads. They spend about eight hours out of each day in a kind of light doze or reverie, but they are incapable of real sleep, and any loud noise will wake them at once. Despite their thinness, they consume prodigious quantities of food. They usually die young.

Mmm. Narcotic.

One other fact about the Shining Ones disturbs the serpent folk more than anything else. Very frequently, in their reverie-states, they report strange dream-visions in which they are spoken to by a figure in splendid golden robes: they can never remember exactly what it is he says, but they invariably wake with fragments of alchemical formulae on their lips and a sudden, burning desire to assist in the spiritual purification of the universe. The serpent folk speculate that this figure may be none other than the Sage of Gold, their own legendary creator, trying to communicate some great and needful work of spiritual alchemy which the world must undertake for its own good. But why should he reach out in this way to such lowly and wretched creatures as the Shining Ones?

Game Rules: All Shining Ones originally had at least Constitution 16: otherwise they'd have simply died from drug overdoses long before completing their transformation. In their new state, they gain the following attributes:

Benefits

  • Their REF save is improved by 4. 
  • Their AC is improved by 2 due to their superior speed and dodging ability.
  • They automatically win initiative, and always act first in every round. 
  • They are hyper-sensitive to sound and motion. Assume that they automatically spot any movement perceptible to the human eye, and hear any sound perceptible to the human ear.
  • Their movement speed increases by 50%. 
  • Licking the sweat from their skin counts as a half-strength version of mild Liquid Brightness.
  • They never really sleep. 6-8 hours per day spent in a light doze is all they require. 
Penalties
  • Their FORT save is lowered by 4.
  • Their wasted frames mean that they no longer gain bonus hit points due to high Constitution. (This applies retroactively to levels they already have.)
  • The damage of any attacks they make with melee weapons, thrown weapons, or bows is reduced by 2 due to their lack of muscle tissue.
  • They suffer a -2 penalty to all to-hit rolls due to the uncontrollable shaking of their hands. 
  • They need to eat twice as much food as normal.
  • Each year lived as a Shining One counts as 1d6 years for life expectancy purposes. Someone who becomes a Shining One in their early 20s will be lucky to live past 35. 
Just Plain Odd
  • Each day, there is a percentage chance equal to half the Shining One's Wisdom score that they are contacted in their dream-reveries by a being claiming to be the Sage of Gold.

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