Sunday 11 October 2015

Horrors of the Wicked City 1: The Men Without Faces

Above and beyond its soldiers and its robots and its secret policemen, the Wicked City has two additional lines of defence: the men without faces, and the man with stones for eyes. The man with stones for eyes guards the edges of the city: he ensures that no-one leaves whom the city's government desires to remain. The men without faces guard the heart of the city: the upper floors of the King's Tower, immediately below Head Office and the throne room of the Wicked King himself. What exactly they are is deeply unclear: they served the Wicked King before his disappearance, and may have been created by him through some horrible magic known to him alone. Possibly they are spirits, or monsters of the ancient world which he recovered from some mercifully-forgotten ruin out in the deserts. The people of the Wicked City speak of them in whispers, and consider any encounter with them to be an omen of extreme bad luck.

Bryan Durushia, mysterious surreal portraits of faceless men -
Photo by Bryan Durushia.

The Men Without Faces

There are six of them – or at least, if there are more of them, no more than six are ever seen in the same place at the same time. They are gaunt and long of limb, and dress in ragged, mismatched clothes scavenged from their victims, usually spattered with the dried blood of their original owners. Their faces are as smooth and featureless as those of mannequins; and yet, despite their lack of ears, eyes, or noses, they seem to see, smell, and hear just fine. Around their waists they wear broad, raw belts of untanned leather, from which hang their iron masks and their cruel knives; and the clattering of these instruments of torture is the only sound which they make as they move across their hunting grounds, loping from place to place like hounds, searching ceaselessly for prey. They can run for a hundred hours and never tire. They do not eat. They do not sleep. They do not breathe.

It is not clear where they get their knives and masks from. Possibly they are supplied by the Secret Police.

They make their home in the highest floors of the King's Tower, roaming continually through a wilderness of winding corridors and abandoned offices, ever-watchful for intruders. At night they roam lower, terrorising the Specials and the Extraordinaries on the floor below, snatching anyone foolish enough to walk the corridors by night. From time to time, frustrated with the lack of prey, they will smash down the barricades behind which some band of terrified Specials hide and haul some of them off to the upper floors, while their comrades scream and panic and flee in all directions. Usually, when this happens, they are satisfied with claiming a couple of victims each. Usually.

When they sight their quarry, they pursue them unerringly; and while it is possible to hide from them, the slightest sound is enough to alert them to the location of their prey. As they close with their victims they leap upon them, dragging them down, and proceed to methodically snap their limbs one after the other until all resistance is quite impossible; then, once all four limbs are broken, they will hoist the unfortunate victim up and drag them off to their lair. There one of two fates await them: either they will be hung on a wall, have a featureless iron mask bolted over their heads, and left to die, or they will be mutilated into Hounds. A lingering and painful death in a state of total sensory deprivation is probably the kinder of the two.

The Hounds are created through a series of grotesque surgical mutilations. The broken limbs of the future Hound are set, but in an awkward, crooked realignment which prevents them from rising from all fours; their eyes are put out, and their vocal chords are modified so that the only sound they can make is a kind of strangled howling. A course of crude brain surgery, which leaves enormous masses of scarring at the temples, somehow massively amplifies the sensitivity of their senses of smell and hearing, while also destroying all capacity for higher thought. When the Men Without Faces go hunting in earnest, each of them drags a pack of Hounds along with them on rope leashes, using them to help track their victims. When unleashed, the Hounds will pursue whoever they are set upon with wild ferocity, tearing them to pieces with their teeth and nails.

The Hounds will drag you down. They can smell you in the dark.

Very occasionally, the Men Without Faces are released from the King's Tower, to pursue some especially stubborn enemy of the state. On such occasions they and their Hounds are dressed in splendid black-and-silver uniforms, and unleashed amidst much fanfare and ceremony by an honour guard of Secret Police; then they rush away into the streets of the city, and the people lock their doors and pray to the Wicked King that they do not come between the hunters and their target. Sometimes they find their man, and sometimes not; but they always grab someone, guilty or otherwise, and no-one in the city feels remotely safe until the Men Without Faces are locked back inside the Tower once more.

For PCs, the Men Without Faces are one of the last obstacles they will have to brave on their ascent towards Head Office and/or the throne room of the Wicked King; PCs keen to make friends amongst the Specials and the Extraordinaries might also be given the task of rescuing friends and colleagues taken by the Men in their hunting expeditions, retrieving them from the walls on which they have been hung before they die of their injuries or perish from thirst. (Of course, if they've been turned into Hounds instead, the most that can be done is to put them out of their misery.) Fighting the Men Without Faces on their home turf is a nightmare: they know every hiding place, and have fresh packs of Hounds locked away in rooms all over the floors they patrol. Grim games of cat-and-mouse are likely to be the order of the day.

  • The Men Without Faces: AC 16 (leathery skin and uncanny agility), 6 HD, AB +8, damage special (see below), FORT 8, REF 8, WILL 8, morale 12. Regenerate 1 HP per hour until fully healed unless reduced to -10 HP or below.
  • The Hounds: AC 12, 1 HD, AB +1, hysterically claw and chew (1d4 damage), FORT 12, REF 12, WILL 15, morale 7.

When one of the Men Without Faces scores a successful hit on a target in melee, it can do one of the following:

  • Stab them with a surgical knife. This inflicts 1d4+2 damage, and also causes bleeding, inflicting an additional 1 HP of damage each round until someone spends a round binding the victim's wound. The bleeding from multiple injuries stacks.
  • Grab one of their limbs (determined at random) and attempt to snap it. This inflicts 1d4 damage, and the victim must make a FORT save to avoid having the limb broken.
  • Attempt to clamp an iron sensory deprivation mask over their head and bolt it shut. The masks they carry are attached to short chains and spring-loaded like bear-traps, designed to snap shut around the head of their victim when swung against their face; a tug on the chain then causes the mask to lock shut and the bolt to snap off inside the mechanism, meaning that the mask can be removed only by breaking the hinges open with a chisel or file. The Secret Police use a modified (unlockable) version to help them in subduing prisoners, but the Men Without Faces are so fast that they can clamp them on in mid-battle: the target may make a REF save to dodge, but if they fail they will be totally blind and very nearly deaf until it is broken open and removed.

1 comment:

  1. This is some seriously messed up shit.

    I like it. ^^