Friday, December 26, 2014

Illyrians of Note: The Demimonde

Just above the ranks of the criminal underworld but falling just short of respectability, there exists a shadowy, ill-defined "half-world" populated by a motley assortment of artists, poets, entertainers, and others whose profession and temperament leave them stranded on the fringes of polite society. Their unique position affords them the chance to mingle (in certain contexts) with all levels of society, and may be found lounging disreputably at theatrical premieres and gallery openings, making introductions at bohemian soirées, and slipping out of unexpected bedrooms just before first light.

magician4.jpgDoctor Perdurabo

This mysterious foreigner has attained a considerable notoriety in the short time he’s spent in Illyria, and the ruined abbey he’s purchased in the countryside is rumored to be the site of occult ceremonies and frenzied rites of the most depraved kind. He has put it about that he is seeking a young female accomplice to serve as his “crimson altar concubine” for some unknown but vaguely sinister purpose.

Madame Zazu

Depending on the source of the gossip, Illyria's most sought-after clairvoyant and medium is an exiled "Queen of the Caravans", the fugitive mistress of an Azerbaijani oil tycoon, the reincarnation of Queen Hatshepsut, or an obscure provincial girl with a gift for accents and cold-reading.    Whatever her true origins, her seances are well and rapturously attended, and
her Tarot readings and consultations (always held in her small but fashionable lodgings in the New Town) are booked almost a year in advance.  She offers no clear explanation for her mysterious powers of prognostication, save that she works with the assistance of a "spirit guide" in the form of Zalmoxis of the Getae, an ancient Thracian warrior-king whose bronze sword hilt she wears on a silver chain around her neck.


Laszlo, the People’s Poet

An impassioned young man of upper-middle class origins, Laszlo maintains a fashionably dilapidated squat above the fire-gutted ruins of a printworks, from which he publishes broadsheets and handbills proclaiming his fiery but inconsistently-defined ideology. The building was scheduled for demolition some time ago, but the authorities are in no hurry to tear it down, as the location is well-known and easily surveilled, should the nightly gatherings of University bohemians ever develop beyond posturing, sesquipedalian demagoguery, wine-bibbing, and the swearing of fearful oaths. It is considered a rite of passage for junior police officers to attend such meetings undercover, dutifully taking notes in suspiciously crisp leatherbound journals.

Vera Petrović and "Freddie"

A middle-class divorcée turned essayist and playwright, Mrs. Petrović (she has retained her married name) presides over a raffish and often combatative (the last meeting was broken up by police after a pistol was discharged into the ceiling) salon in a small coffeehouse at the edge of the Old Town.  Wits, dandies, and flaneurs of all stripes are drawn there, and the resulting verbal fireworks are breathlessly related (though always under the zealous pen of the censor) in the morning editions of Illyria's rival newspapers.  Mrs. Petrović is most often seen in the company of "Freddie" (full/real name unknown) a free-spirited American sculptress with whom she shares a modest apartment overlooking the parade grounds. Mrs. Petrović has politely, but firmly declined subsequent offers of marriage.   


The Great Clown Pagliacci

Currently playing the Capital for a series of sold-out performances. A bitter, depressive alcoholic who may snap at any moment now. Suffers a recurring delusion that he is God imprisoned in flesh and every day lived as a man is his punishment for creating humankind.

Olympia Gautier

The reigning prima donna of the Illyrian stage, the pale, striking Gautier rose from playing an assortment of slave-girls, maids, and ladies-in-waiting to the ingenue roles with a swiftness that garnered the astonishment of critics and the envy of her peers. Her hypnotic gaze, shockingly naturalistic portrayals, and a certain indefinable something have made her the most talked-about commoner in the Capital, and speculation is rife as to her origins (her name is almost certainly a fiction), amorous entanglements, and the tendency of actresses contending for the same parts to succumb to bizarre and unaccountable reversals of fortune which serve to take them temporarily (or in one recent case permanently) out of the running.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Illyrians of Note: Crime & Punishment

A twisted funhouse mirror-image of Illyria's storied aristocracy (see previous entry), the Underworld is populated by no less sensational personalities.  Indeed, the more notorious members of the criminal element make a far greater impact on the lives and livelihoods of many in the Capital than do the glittering worthies found on souvenir portraits and picture-postcards. The tenements, back-alleys and dimly-lit basements where they hold court are the patrimony of your characters, and the gallimaufrian patois of thieves, beggars and whores their native tongue. Below are just a few of the more notorious of these, who may well serve as allies or rivals (or both from one minute to the next) of your characters, along with some of those charged with bringing them to such justice as may be had in Illyria.

gTnzO0v.jpgMagda the She-Wolf

A hard-bitten former prostitute, pickpocket, and smuggler, Magda keeps a watchful eye over a small horde of orphans and runaways in a cavernous warren beneath the Old Town. She shields and chastises her young charges with equal ferocity, and her “little mice” in turn act as her eyes, ears, and light-fingered hands throughout the Capital.


“Butcher” Piet

If backstreet rumor and the shrill warnings of moritat-singers are to be believed, the always-dapper Piet is responsible for innumerable violations of the laws of God and Man. For all the atrocities he’s credited with, no scrap of evidence has yet held up in court, and he walks the streets a free man-- to the consternation, awe, and terror of all. He is rumored by many to be The Devil Himself (or at least a close relation) and Piet has made no attempt to refute these speculations.

The Vrána Brothers

Boško and Bogomil Vrána appeared on the scene seemingly out of nowhere about 5 years ago.  They claim to be identical twins, and they do in fact exhibit a disquieting simultaneity to the point of finishing each other's sentences and occasionally speaking and moving in perfect unison.  As to their physical appearance, no one can say for certain, as they never appear in public without one of several matching pairs of bird masks in a variety of styles.  If bar-room gossip is to be believed, these masks are not removed even in the presence of intimates.  Of the two, Bogomil seems to be the more intellectual brother, and appears to be au courant with the latest trends in music, literature, and art.   Boško has the simpler tastes of a sporting man-about town, and may be further identified by a sharpened Art-Nouveau thumb ring which he employs to pluck out the eyes of those who offend his many whims.  The two have taken up residence, along with a retinue of enforcers, toadies, and hangers-on, in a lavishly-furnished townhouse in the heart of a fashionable quarter of the New Town.  From here, they direct their ever-expanding portfolio of criminal enterprises, including blackmail, theft, racketeering, prostitution, ,sport-rigging, and murder-for-hire.

Young Frankenstein6.gifCommissar Kaltenbach

Obsequious to his superiors and snobbish to all beneath him, the Commissar is a thick-headed, preening martinet to whom the ins and outs of policing play a distant second to the cultivation of gleaming brass buttons, boots spit-polished to a mirror finish, and crisply-executed salutes.


Chief Inspector Sobotka

Bitter, sardonic, and frighteningly competent, the Chief Inspector was himself a graduate from one of the many informal thieves’ academies which flourish in the crook-backed alleyways and dilapidated tenements of the Old Town. As such, he is intimately familiar with Illyria’s criminal underworld and rarely misses a trick. He is hampered only by the contempt of his superiors and the resulting lack of funds and manpower to realize his ambitions.

Sergeant Popov

Ever-amenable to a discreet payoff in the form of a flask of schnapps, some perfunctory sexual gratification, or a modest amount of cash "to buy perhaps some toys for the children," Sergeant Popov  strolls serenely though the streets of the Old Town whistling a jaunty music-hall ballad and absent-mindedly twirling his polished oak truncheon.  Popov projects the image of a jolly, easy-going, genially corrupt policeman, winking indulgently at little transgressions and leaving the citizenry more or less in peace.  For the most part, this is true, but Popov drops his avuncular mask with alarming speed when his stream of "honest graft" is challenged or threatened in any way.  More than one recalcitrant citizen has woken up in the hospital, bones broken, fingers crushed,  and jaw wired shut after a particularly enthusiastic thrashing from Popov himself or the patrolmen under his command (whose ranks include no less than 3 adult male representatives of his massive brood, which at the time of this writing number thirteen).      

Friday, November 28, 2014

Illyrians of Note: The Quality

The next few posts will feature examples of prominent NPCs that players may encounter in the course of a caper or campaign.  While it is rather improbable that your gang of brilliantined swindlers and back-alley toughs will make the regular acquaintance of the worthies listed below, any gallery opening, public ceremony, or fashionable soiree' (such as attract the wealthy and fleece-able) is guaranteed to have at least one of these in attendance, with any luck diverting attention as you go about your larceny.

1367272271-mr-arkadin01.jpgGrand Duke Orsino IX

Jolly but irresponsible “merrie monarch.” Steadily bankrupting the country with his many extravagances and caprices. Orsino is, in no particular order, a gambler, womanizer, gourmand, sportsman, and cinephile. He is also something of an amateur stage conjurer. Friends, relatives, servants and random subjects (especially the more pulchritudinous of these) are often pressed into service as volunteers for the Grand Duke’s latest illusions, card tricks, etc.
Duke Stefano

Solemn, university-educated, progressively inclined, though still a monarchist at heart. He has rebuffed the overtures of at least two conspiracies to usurp his elder brother but his resolve is weakening. He is a current Fencing Champion of all Illyria, a breeder of prize-winning thoroughbreds, and an amateur civil engineer.


Lady Désirée

The wealthiest widow in Illyria, and its leading patroness of the Arts. Speculation is rife as to whether her total obliviousness to all forms of wordplay, innuendo, and double-entendre is a ruse designed to confound suitors or the result of a strict convent upbringing and/or a persistent innocence in matters of the flesh. In any case, her brief marriage to a notoriously debauched sugar magnate yielded no fruit before his untimely demise, and Lady Désirée passes her remaining years in a series of salons, gala luncheons, and candlelight suppers.

Countess Viola

Variously described as "a mockery of her sex," "pert beyond all endurance" and "that vicious little hoyden," the youngest member of the Grand Ducal family is the despair of her elders, the vexation of her suitors, and the darling of the international press (Illyrian newspapermen being firmly under the censor's thumb).  She is most often encountered on horseback, sabre swinging from her hip, or behind the wheel of an experimental automobile, and nearly always in one precisely tailored regimental uniform or another.  Her one notable departure from this caused a minor scandal at last year's Masquerade as she appeared as Artemis of the Hunt in a diaphanous chiton of alarming brevity, bearing a (functional) Tatar bow and flanked by two enormous Irish wolfhounds.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Some News, Ill Met in Illyria [Part 1], and Also I'm not Dead

First off, I'm not dead.  Not just yet.

Second, some news:
1.  As inactive as I've been on the writing front, I have been getting more and more illustration commissions, and with each new project I feel like my skills are improving.  Here's one from an adventure supplement to James Maliszewski's  Thousand Suns

Some private commissions for Mike Davison of Sword +1

For Evan Elkins of In Places Deep

And Trey Causey of From the Sorcerer's Skull

In addition, I did some work for Epidiah Ravachol's Sword & Sorcery zine Worlds Without Master

And a series of pregenerated PC portraits for Paolo Greco's fantastic Chthonic Codex boxed set.

I have work in Chris McDowell's upcoming revised and much-expanded edition of Into The Odd.

I'll be illustrating the Fever-Dreaming Marlinko city supplement that was unlocked as part of the Slumbering Ursine Dunes Kickstarter.

And then there's this.  I think that one will end up confirming all my elementary/middle school teachers' worst suspicions about my character when they saw the comics I'd made.


I have a neglected pile of half-written posts about Galbaruc and Oriax, but before dusting those off and putting 'em up there's a little side project I've been working on.  In the interests of finally finishing the thing, I thought I'd keep my interest and momentum going by posting some "teaser" excerpts from the document as I'm putting it together.  Eventually, I'd like to put out a nice printed edition of this thing with maps, floor plans, and copyright free (and some original) illustrations, but for right now my goal is to knock out a 15-page or so pdf.

So a while back, Trey Causey did a couple of posts (1 & 2) outlining the basics of a "Ruritanian Rogues" campaign, which happened to coincide with me recently catching a performance of Twelfth Night and watching a bunch of pre-Code movies, mostly directed by Ernst Lubitsch. This is what emerged, and right now I'm working it into a sort of "playset"for Over the Edge / WaRP as that's the system I can most easily run off the top of my head (with the possible exception of WFRP 2nd ed.)  With very minimal tweaking, it could work well for Risus, too.

So here's a brief intro:

The Year is 1912. You are a motley ad hoc association of swindlers, pickpockets, gigolos, demimondaines, legbreakers and second-story men. Your playground and prison is the obscure Balkan microstate of Illyria. With nothing but brains, charm, muscle, and an assortment of random odds and ends, you and your associates will attempt a series of increasingly improbable heists, swindles, and outrages of public decency while staying on step ahead of the police, rival gangs, grey-suited bureaucrats, the secret police, student revolutionaries, formidable dowagers, occultists, aristocrats, ponderous academics, street urchins, monocled sadists with Heidelberg dueling scars, femmes fatales, and your own tragic shortcomings.

Illyria totters drunkenly between picturesque feudalism and modernity. In the Capital there are telephones, cinemas, electric lights and even automobiles, but a traveler venturing beyond its turreted walls may be forgiven for thinking they've somehow stepped back into the 18th Century.

The National Language is Illyrian (an Indo-European language in a tiny branch by itself) which is spoken and understood by all commoners. The business of the Archducal court is largely conducted in French.

The Illyrian Orthodox Church serves as the State Religion, though there are sizable pockets of Roman Catholics, Jews, and, to a lesser extent, Muslims (largely an artifact of the nation’s brief period of occupation under the Ottomans). There is also rumored to be a small commune of Swedenborgians somewhere in the north of the Great Forest.

The standard unit of currency is the Kopin. You have very few of these at present, and the world is teeming with people who have more than they can be trusted to use responsibly.

Here's some recommended viewing to get you in the right mood:

Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Kafka (1991)

The Trial (1962)

The Great Train Robbery (1978)

The Assassination Bureau (1969)

The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)

Royal Flash (1975)

Shadows and Fog (1992)

The Illusionist (2006)

Duck Soup (1933)

The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

M (1931)

The Threepenny Opera (1931)

The Ladykillers (1955)

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

Kind Hearts & Coronets (1949)

The Great Race (1965)

Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Jewel Robbery (1932)

Next post, I'll put up some NPCs that can serve as marks, foils,or allies of convenience for your gang of Graustarkian ganefs.