Where Are You From, Again...?



The Dark kingdoms. Love them or hate them, they're out there.

Thing is, a fair few ST's don't like them. To the point of having no contact with the other Dark Kingdoms in the course of a Stygian game. Others love them, and use them so much that Stygia seems very, very small. But this article isn't about one, or even both of those viewpoints. Instead, this is about different ways you can use the Dark Kingdoms, to add some spice to your games.


The first thing to deal with is Arcanoi. Despite our best intentions, many ST's are still stuck with a player who wants to play part of the Jade envoy to the Necropolis in order to get the choice of even more k3wl p0w3rZ. They might not even realise that they're doing it. But that's what their reason for playing a foreigner boils down to.

Being totally honest, I don't like the idea of all Wraiths getting the Stygian Arts, and then other Dark Kingdoms having a grab-bag of extra Arcanoi which are available to them and them alone. The answer to this is simple enough, though it does require a bit of twiddling. For every Arcanos that the foreigner would get past the Stygian ones, remove one of the Stygian Arcanoi. Alternatively, you could say that the three 'forbidden' Arcanoi are available only to Stygian wraiths, so when they're stranded in the middle of the Yellow Springs, they can cut loose with their Intimation and nobody will have a clue what is going on.

Combining the two is often the best, presenting all Restless with the Arcanoi in the corebook, but allowing the Stygians to get the three forbidden, the Jade to get their Ways and the Chains of the Emperor but having a reduced list to make up for it.

That in a way, can be seen as a fix for the powers. But that's just one part of the problem. The next thing a Storyteller has to deal with is the metaphysics of death. There's two angles you can take with this: either all wraiths start the same, and it is just perceptions that alter, or the beliefs of both living and dead do shape the afterlives of the various regions.

If you take the first (nothing like pleading the Fifth), things become slightly easier. All Wraiths do have a Shadow, though some might not admit it, and others may have a different name for it, or think it's doing something other than it is. With this method, Oblivion is the certainty of the Underworld, and has touched everything that dies. All of the mechanics are the same, and things become a whole lot easier. Many of the specialised backgrounds will be unavailable, and things are in general a lot simpler. Just because the Jade wraiths call their shadow the po and their psyche the hun, they're just using the weird words to refer to things all Wraiths know about. All Dark Kingdoms have a presence in their Shadowlands, but once you die they are political and geographic structures with some variant Arcanoi, nothing more (except the hungry one).

The second method, where belief does shape the Underworld, is rather more difficult for the Storyteller, and in a lesser way, the players but can really emphasise the varied Underworlds that there are. In this form, the Jade concepts of the hun and po have actual meaning beyond just Shadow and Psyche. The seven-part soul of Du'at, or the Dark Kingdom of Sand (see Mummy: The Resurrection), is a seven part soul rather than a metaphor or just the way those wraiths see things. While the Dark Kingdoms control their parts of the Shadowlands, the mechanics of death are slightly different depending on where one dies, and which Kingdom will claim him (thus making the Kingdoms into splats in a slightly more forced way than, say, the Legions).

Though the Shadowlands have slight differences, the Tempest between their 'worldly' locations and their capitals, and indeed their capitals themselves, will be wildly different. While a Stygian (Western, rather than Hierarchy) wraith might hope to move on to a Heaven somewhere among the Far Shores, any travelers to Yu Huang's palace will have to be wary of misnavigating and ending up in one of his Hells, and the Restless of Swar will have no concept of the Tempest, as around them, it doesn't exist, there is just the outer city, and the hungry inner city. Unfortunately, this can lead to the regions being considered as splats for the players to choose from, or for the players to decide they want to game in the Ivory Kingdom because their Arcanos is just too good to pass up. And this is where the fun part comes in.

Don't tell the players.

Just don't tell them. While you might have decided that all the Underworlds will be divided geographically and will have wildly varied metaphysics of death depending on where they are and the local beliefs, why should the players know? Just tell them what they need to know for the game. Let them know of what house rules you will be using for the game in question, but never mention during character creation that these only apply to restless from a certain area. Have them find out how subjective or objective Death is in the game, when they go traveling or meet an emissary whose Shadow seems to be wildly different from their own (and sometimes only the Shadow will know - fun for all the family).

The important thing to remember, if you end up with players that need to know how the universe works, is this: you are the universe. Despite what all of the books say, you are the first, last and only court of appeal. If things don't work the way the books say they do, have them find out about it in character, if they are even motivated to find out at all. This can lead to an interesting chronicle for explorers, anthropologists and other inquisitive types. Why are these other wraiths so different? And once you have them going down that road, you can throw them wherever you want to, and they will love you for it.

Remember not to be too heavy handed. You may be the ultimate force, but remember to be fair and impartial. Make sure you don't fall into the trap of making one of the regions so much better than the others, or forcing it so that the characters have to do X, Y, and Z in that order or they fail. Grandstanding and railroading are your enemies. Most of you should know that already, but it pays to keep reminding yourself.