Drina shouldered her way through the market. There were guards everywhere and the King's Ears were hunting anyone who even looked slant-wise at a picture of the King. She kissed her saint's medallion and continued on her way. There was a prickling sensation, her head felt heavy, like it was wrapped in cotton. She felt horror and revulsion, she felt violated... her stomach clenched and she felt like she was going to vomit. But something stopped her. She felt a plastic smile on her face, her body moved woodenly. The two guards smiled back at her, one said something vulgar. To her horror she answered back just as vile. She would have shuddered, except she couldn't. The men let her pass, but not before groping her. She felt hot shame that refused to heat her cheeks.
A Legacy of Invulnerability
The Circle of Pharisrak is a sort of nightmare among nobility, and the bogeymen of assassin's guilds. No one has ever seen one of the Pharisraki Assassins, or at least has never seen one and lived to tell of it. Rumors abound, that they are all demons from the pits of the eighth layer of Hell, that they are elves who long ago mastered shadowy magic to such an extent that they vanished from the mind's eye, to them being the honed killing edge of a continent wide Illuminati conspiracy. Men are said to appear wearing grey cloaks, or in armor dripping with blood. Each description is more lurid and horrifying than the next.
Each and every one is wrong.
The knife stitched in and out with mechanical efficiency. Horror mixed with disbelief as she pumped the small cheese knife in and out of the King's side. The man grasped at her, his eyes burned into hers. She screamed she was sorry, that she didn't want to, that something else was controlling her. Except that no sound came from her lips, nothing changed in her face. The dull blade punched through his flesh again, glancing off of a rib before hitting something soft. She wished she could pass out, make this evil dream end. She had only left the house to gather some things her listless aunt needed, just to help out. Blood splattered against Drina's cheek. Fingers grasped the front of her shirt, the king slid down, his body torn from the sudden and brutal strength of her attack.
There are only three assassins in the Circle of Pharisrak, who go by the names of Pha, Ris, and Rak. These three assassins are now almost 800 years old, and have been among the dead for almost all of that time. The ghosts, assassins in life, and now in death, consider themselves the best of the very best. They have commited more assassinations and regicides than all but the largest and most aggressive of guilds.
The leader of the Circle, Pha appears as a ragged and withered old man decked in the remnants of royal finery. Once a middling noble who advanced himself with daggers and poison, he himself was eventually slain with a baited blade. The most sublime and subtle of the group, the men and women who have been murdered by Pha show little to no sign of foul play. He is a master of animating inanimate objects such as sheets and bedcloths to strangle sleeping victims.
A liar, a whore, a thief, and an assassin, Ris is considered to be the exemplar of every negative female stereotype. Where Pha is subtle, Ris is blatant and vulgar. When this courtesan assassin strikes, her victims are left slashed, stuck, speared and skewered in vicious and violent fashion. Like Pha, she can animate inanimate objects, but she can only hurl them and throw them with great force.
A magus in life, Rak has long ago discovered the art of inhabiting the body of the recently dead. He will raised these cadavers, some so recently dead that even their families do not know of the loved one's death, and commit atrocity with them. More than one assassin's mark has been visited by the corpse of one of their foes they had previously has killed. Rak has a strong preference for irony.
The spear knocked Drina down, a lance of fire through her middle. The monster that controlled her jerked the spear out, trailing bits of guts and gore behind it. Locked in her own mind Drina howled agony. She rose to her feet, spun the spear, stabbing one guard through the helmet, and punching another in the throat with the butt of the weapon. Arrows sprung up in her flesh, more fire, more pain. The spear jumped and flashed, two more guards were crippled, another sure to bleed out before the priests would even see the jagged slash through the groin. Drina finally came to a halt, several inches of steel protruding through her chest, slicing through her heart. She fluttered once, twice, and wept two tears before falling dead.
Riding the Mortal Coil
All three of the Circle know a common skill, riding the mortal coil. With this ability, each of the ghosts can commandeer the body of a living breathing mortal and turn them to their own ends. People with strong wills, determination, or magical means of protection are avoided as a struggle to maintain control of a body makes it hard to pull off a hit. Instead the trio will seek out servants, retainers, the poor, the overlooked, and the generally downtrodden to inhabit. Unless a mark has taken specific protections against ghosts coming close to them, the Circle is free to strike.
Being ancient ghosts, the Circle of Pharisrak is vulnerable to religious icons, symbols, and chants. They cannot enter consecrated ground, they cannot inhabit the body of a cleric or priest. They can also be deterred by sincere faith in a suitable positive deity. Hearth charms that repel the dead tend to be effective against the circle as well. This is all well and good, but few nobles will put their shoes on the wrong feet, wear a garland of garlic and honeysuckle, or rub their skin with a mixture of holy mud from the River Shannog and sea salt.
Contact and Contract
Reaching the Circle of Pharisrak is not easy. Most of the time, the circle will make itself known though inhabiting the body of a beggar or a corpse and contacting the party looking for an assassin. Their prices are astronomical, and always in the form of magical incenses, aromatic balms, and vast sums of gold. The contact will accept payment and take it away. The Circle has vast amounts of wealth buried in various funeral mounds, catacombs, and other places of unconsecrated death.
It is my most unpleasant and painful duty to report that the Lord of Hostran is now among the dead. Whilst the guard was prepared for assassins with poison, deadly arrows, or cunning plans, we were not prepared for a single commoner carrying only a small knife suitable for cheese or butter. The woman was very likely a long time placed assassin as she was able to kill six and cripple three of my men. I have failed in protecting my king, the only consolation I can find is that the assassin too has followed the king into the Twilight Halls. May the gods illume his soul, and bless hers to the hell of broken glass and boiling fat.
X Marks the Spot - Rumor has sprung up of a treasure trove in a catacomb well away from the church. Various factions are now interested in capturing this motherload of gold for themselves, ranging from the church, to the thieves guild, to the gravediggers guild. One such faction hires the PCs to hunt out this trove of gold and secure it before a rival does. Can they survive the paranoia inducing style of attacks favored by the Pharisrak circle?
Ghost-Busters - a VIP has been targeted by assassins, and hires the PCs to help find who has hired the assassins, and to put them in chains or their graves as the case may be. The PCs have their work cut out for them unless they can figure out that the assassins are actually ghosts.
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? Responses (19)-19
Reminds me of the three Reaver brothers (Sheol, Moksha and.. err... Gehannum? My memory aint what it was..) from Donaldson´s Unbeliever Chronicles. Also that movie with Denzel Washington, whatever its called. Thing is, I think I like this sub better than both of those.
Well executed, superbly written. I especially like the intermittent story of poor Drina.
Well done, sir - You just made my monday morning a bit easier!
And you sir, have put a smile on my face :)
Yeah, that Denzel Washington movie does come to mind, doesnt it! :)
Ghost-assasins! Awesome. Great detail. I particularly like the way their styles differ. And the story and background is superb, as Ouro says.
I'm stealing them lock,stock and barrel for my campaign.
Well done! Can't think of any critiques or any ways I'd change them.
Who you gonna call?
Assassin ghosts... Very interesting. The story of Drina is nice, but also misleading. It only covers the tactics of one assassin (Ris, i assume). I love the overall sub, and the story would be nice either apart from this or as a trio of stories (or possibly one of ghostly teamwork). All-in-all, I like it. Good job.
They are a fine exercise in misdirection, they don't let anyone know what they are in the first place. Surely ghosts don't behave in this way... except for those three. I got the picture of the PC's finally tracking down the killer's contact, only to find out it is some insane homeless person. There goes your detective work.
I wonder, are they gathering the wealth for some actual goals, or is it more symbolic, to prove they are on the top of this murderous game?
With them, there is nothing new in the world, just the old stuff applied in a novel way. Makes a good mystery.
Very good - the motivation for payment escapes me except perhaps as habit, but then, who can figure ghosts.
Maybe the PCs might actually need them to take down a villain that they simply did not have the power to deal with.
Hmmm.... What was the point of the story about Drina? Was she being controlled by the assassins? Damn, that's badass. How would an incredibly skilled mage match up against one of them? I mean a mage so skilled that he can detect the faint aura of magic around the item or person being used. And, of course, he can hurl a fireball and swing a sword with great skill. Can they hold their own in a physical AND magical battle, with no puppets to exploit? And yes, I know that they're ghosts, but there's bound to be a spell that can destroy or at least banish ghosts, and if there is, my dude's probably gonna know it.
The point of the story about Drina is what is called Fluff Text. The purpose of fluff text is to convey information about the submission in question that is rendered in the context of a game or character situation rather than a plain presentation of facts. It falls under the writing adage: Show, don't tell.
As for facing a powerful mage, they are ghosts and do not possess magical powers of their own beyond possessing human bodies to interact with the living world. They are subtle, which I am guessing that your Gygaxian Titan isn't. They would do everything they could to avoid him. Until he was asleep and then inhabit a servant, or a scullery maid, or someone else beneath his notice to slip in and cut his throat in his bed. Of course, this would only happen if someone paid them to kill you, never just a random killing.
If you found and destroyed the bodies of these ghosts, would it harm them?
That is a method of removing the Circle that I had not considered, but I think that it might work. The ghosts themselves would likely know this and take certain precautions to prevent their corpses from being found and taken care of.
Now that is an interesting idea. Smashing old bones may not be enough, of course, but a proper ritual, burial or the like should do. Though Scrasamax' warning applies...
Plot Hook-the Circle themselves are willing to pay the PCs for help, to kill a powerful priest, to powerful for them to deal with. Can the PCs trust them to pay up?
The first thing I can think of, is they wouldn't reveal their identities, so it becomes the question of who would they take control of.
And they would probably pay, having just the right twisted honor (plus the PCs will make excellent suspects if anything comes out).
Finally, I am on my own computer and am capable of commenting of this fine submission, again.
I enjoyed this one a few years ago and it is still thought provoking. This is the kind of thing that video games and movies lack. It's ideas like these, seemingly unique to tabletop role-playing games, that keep me in the hobby. Thank you, Scras, and thank you Daily Highlights.
I have some minor quibbles and questions:
1: Finding information on such a group would no doubt take magical means. You're just not going to find the bones of 800 year old assassins through chatting up people on the street. I can see it being difficult giving players enough backstory on the assassins, and enough information to face them.
2: What are the options for big boss battles?
3: How do the spirits treat one another?
1. Archives, sages, scholars for mundane sources of information
2. Depends on what you allow ghosts to do. If they can animate dead flesh, then a pile of bodies becomes and endless fight against a foe you can't kill. Otherwise, this isnt the sort of foe that you defeat in a stand up fight.
3. Like Family, they squable over things, but they pretty much get along
Great post. Good comments. A memorable and sinister trio to introduce into a game. New assasin take.