Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Compact: The Mountain Line Preservation Society

So, as a lot of you should know from my occasional mentions of it, some years ago I ran a Hunter: The Vigil LARP. It lasted a couple of years and shared continuity with a Promethean: The Created game I ran some years ago and the Vampire: The Requiem game I've been running (which has just had to go on hiatus, which I'll explain later). For this LARP, I invented three new Hunter organizations to be part of my setting (two of which appeared in play, and the third I just liked having on the shelf but never got around to do anything with), and sometime after the LARP wrapped up I posted write-ups for the groups.

With the World of Darkness Second Edition renaissance going on, I've decided to dig up that old material, give it a quick once-over, and mechanically update it to the second edition rules (or at least to the rules patch in Mortal Remains). This is entirely unofficial and should be considered entirely fan-material unless someone with the authority to do so says otherwise (though I'm 99% sure that by posting it all I'm probably ruling it out as strictly canon, but eh). That said, feel free to swipe, fold, spindle, mutilate, and put to use in your own games.

Also, a note: While this is updated to the Mortal Remains supplement, it also incorporates systems from Compacts and ConspiraciesNeither book is strictly necessary as long as you're at least covered with the Hunter core and the GMC rules update. That said, Mortal Remains is an amazing read. Compacts and Conspiracies has its weak spots, but all in all it also has a lot of interesting and inspiring material.

And here we go:

The Mountain Line Preservation Society
Guardians of Lost History
What I'm saying is that they didn't abandon that mine because of 'gas pockets.' The old miner's corpse is still talking because the 'gas' was actually something in the coal dust making its way into their lungs.

Every part of the World of Darkness has its quirks, it seems. Every place has some magical fungus, strange vampiric bloodline or portal to the unknown that is unique to it but unknown to everyone else. The Appalachian Mountain Range has its own quirk that influences supernatural life up and down the collection of ancient mountains. It is an entity that slumbers beneath the mountains that lets its corrupting influence push towards the surface. It's commonly known as 'The Mountain God' or some variant on that name. It's been worshipped, studied, feared and opposed by a variety of spiritually-aware groups for as long as humanity has lived within the region.

The Mountain God doesn't show any conscious desire beyond expanding towards the surface. Its energies affect and alter spirits, subtly (at first) tainting them with its resonance like a light dusting of spiritual radiation. It forces its way to the surface through sites of power that often double as weak spots between this world and assorted others. It's been known to mutate wildlife, raise corpses as zombies and fuel all manner of corruptive and destructive magics -- all tinged with a dirty, sulfuric yellow glow or mist. But because it either lacks awareness or interest in what is done with its power, it rarely takes direct action

The current organized effort against it is known as the Mountain Line Preservation Society. The natural ley lines that criss-cross the region shift and move in a semi-regular cycle and the entity's power can only truly be brought to bear when the lines are in a particular configuration. Since their formation, the Society has maintained a duty to prevent the region's ley lines from aligning in the Mountain God's favor. They have devised simple rituals to do so and a communications network among various chapters to keep tabs on what is going on all over the region.

The Society formed during the Civil War, when occultists living in what is now West Virginia realized that their counterparts in the Confederacy had found a way to organize controlled releases of the Mountain God's power for their own purposes. They began movements, both political and otherwise, to try and cut off that sort of access. They influenced the Wheeling Convention that ultimately divided the state of Virginia in 1863 in a successful attempt to deny the South access to enough sites to gain an edge. They also partially arranged for Francis Pierpont (an associate of the Society) to have control of Virginia after the war to continue those efforts.

After the war there was a government-sponsored spread in education. Many of these early occultists were educators themselves and established the Society as a small historical foundation that exists almost solely on paper. Through political contacts of the day, they arranged for the nascent organization to receive a portion of the government's public education funding that they still enjoy today.

Since then, the organization has operated through the universities and colleges of the region. Every decently-sized campus across the various states hosts a chapter, and it's believed that more than a few schools founded in the years after the Civil War were deliberately placed close to sites where the Society could disrupt the Mountain God's power. They operate primarily through these institutions, sometimes promoting their schools' influence in their communities to give themselves greater access to the world around them. Their political influence has faded over the last 150 years but their localized focus has prevented this from being a liability.

Their methods have evolved over time, especially by drawing on their access to academics (particularly engineers). In addition to the regular performance of ley line-disrupting rituals and the extermination of those willing to draw on the Mountain God's energies, they've developed special technology that gives them an edge. They can track beings influenced or empowered by the energies as well as interfere with the spirits of the region due to the resonance that has infected them. Most of them are instructors at the universities that unknowingly host their chapters and more than a few of the rest began as students at those same schools who unintentionally received an education in the supernatural.

The Mountain Line Preservation Society has mostly avoided the notice of larger hunter organizations but individual chapters sometimes reach out to other compacts such as the Loyalists of Thule or the Union for information or to request necessary assistance to deal with a threat. Individual chapters tend to run to one of two extremes: cagey and secretive, withholding everything about their group but a name; or gregarious and open, sometimes actually contracting and compensating other hunter groups for their assistance in combatting the Mountain God's followers. The openness has caused a minor divide within the Society, as the older members see more strength in secrecy but younger members argue that in this modern age it's easier to control the flow of information than deny it altogether. For a number of years, the original chapter in Morgantown operated as a publicly-known historical foundation and despite the temporary extermination of the chapter (for reasons unrelated to the publicity) it still serves as an example used to prove that such a model could work.

Sidebar: What Is the Mountain God?
In my own game, I never definitively established just what the Mountain God is. I cobbled together a 'traditional' name for it out of bits and pieces of some Shawnee words, gave it a history stretching back centuries, and went with it. It's a story element, not a boss fight. It didn't have to roll to create its zombies, it doesn't lose anything of itself when some occultist learns how to use its power for personal gain.

So there are options, here.

The first and simplest is that it's a particularly powerful spirit bound to the region and has some strange powers. It would have aspects/Influences/Numina related to earth and the concept of wanting to unearth oneself (whether you term that as claustrophobia or what have you). Its weirdness could be attributable to some spirit heritage with the idigam (see W:tF Second Edition or Night Horrors: Wolfsbane) or it alternately could in fact be one of the Earth-bound idigam never banished to the moon with the others.

Another simple interpretation, and one that I would endorse if I absolutely had to pick one, is that it's a Thing as described in Chapter 4 of Second Sight. In this version it's not a spirit but an entity not entirely in line with our own reality. I would classify it as a Reality Flaw that can be described as 'the core of a mountain infected with claustrophobia.' I never really statted out its Influence and Virulence, as per the book, because the ratings never really mattered so feel free to play with that in your own games. But the systems in that book give a Storyteller a lot to work with when it comes to building a theoretical Mountain God cult.

In either of these interpretations (spirit or Thing), it would definitely have a ban/Vulnerability that makes it dependent on an arrangement of ley lines in order to exercise its power in any way. Potentially (especially if it's an idigam), the lines could be arranged such that the being could be destroyed or forced out of this reality altogether. But such an event would require coordination of multiple ritual groups acting in concert over a massive area -- the perfect plot hook to wrap up a chronicle.

Finally, it could be something else altogether. It could be an Abyssal Intruder (see Intruders), an Arcadian entity or even a living realm capable of reaching out from the Hedge (see the Changeling: The Lost line), or some bizarre process or creation of the God-Machine (see The God-Machine Chronicle). It could even be a being from another universe altogether, reaching through a weak spot between worlds (take a look at 'Ten Photos' in the Horror Recognition Guide, its associated segment 'Mother of All Wrong Turns' in Collection of Horrors or the material on interstitial terrain in Compacts and Conspiracies). I left it open for a reason.

The Enemy

The Society, unable to get at the Mountain God directly, specifically focuses on targeting its spawn and manifestations. This leads to a greater knowledge of loci and spirits than is found among other Hunter compacts. The Society is aware of the concept of 'spirit courts,' where a single powerful spirit arranges things beneath them, and while they have no easy way of accessing the world beyond the Gauntlet they've developed their own ways of dealing with what's over there. (see their compact endowment, below)

Their work brings them into conflict, on more than a few occasions, with werewolves. Not all of it has turned violent -- they have come to realize that not all werewolves are keen on the idea of a powerful sprit and its spawn ravaging the physical world. They don't know the First Tongue or any of the specific tribes, but they do know enough to sort out the difference between Pure and Forsaken based on conversational cues. That said, at least one chapter of the Society has been wiped out to a man when a misunderstanding or outside manipulation led them to confuse one faction for another.

While a few individual chapters have struck up uneasy deals with witches, the group's party line as a whole is that they aren't to be trusted with an unattended sandwich let alone one's life or secrets. The exact reasons are unknown to all but the most-knowledgeable archivists of the compact, but the most prevalent rumor is that there may have been 'proper' witches among the Society in the early days and a falling out has led to over a century in hostilities. It doesn't help much that more than a few witches have begun their 'magical' careers called by a voice coming from a cave or an ancient Native American artifact that can raise the dead. Similarly, it doesn't exactly comfort anyone that several of the methods used to keep the Mountain God bound are essentially reverse-engineered witchcraft. ("It's different when we do it," they say when called on it. "Just take our word for it.")

Their encounters with vampires are few. Some chapters have been known to 'license' a vampire that's willing and able to prove it doesn't fatally feed on humans and allow it to exist unmolested. That said, there is a precedent for some vampires to develop or adapt rituals pertaining to the Mountain God's power. Such vampires, when discovered, are shown no mercy.


When the strange hallucinations began, the press attributed it to a gas leak in the dorm. But even after the evacuation and repairs you kept seeing and hearing things. Snatches of ancient languages and visions of corpses with glowing yellow eyes haunt you from the corner of your vision and your dreams. One day you confided in a history teacher, who with all seriousness asked you to help him with an experiment to prove you weren't just seeing things.

As an engineer in the city planning office, you pretty much know every part of the landscape by heart. You know the bus routes, how the traffic lights are timed, and exactly which parts of town have the most problems with radio reception. After an old college buddy came to you and let you in on some secrets, now you also keep a map where you record readings taken by devices that you built but aren't even sure how they work.

Following the recent discovery of Native American artifacts in a burial mound, one of your fellow professors has insisted on collaborating with a few colleagues to study them more. But their research sessions, from the sound of it, seem less like magnifying glasses and books and more like mantras and incense. And you're not the only faculty member at the school who's noticed.

You've been hunting since you were a kid; the area where you grew up generally means a gun safety course alongside learning to read. But you've spent plenty of years in the woods with more than your share of weird stories to go with it. But then you followed the mountain lion tracks to the edge of the city and found a man who growled at you for getting too close. The people who found you afterwards already knew that story and several more besides, and now you help teach them to track wild cats that walk among men.

You work for a small real estate company. You know about the weak spots in physical reality and have the tools to find them. And you spend a lot of time and energy helping the Society acquire land where these weak spots persist and make sure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands. Of course, the deals you make with them cut into your checkbook a bit, but they usually make sure you're well-compensated for your trouble and keep you safe from the vampires also expressing an interest.

You were recruited from the school's rifle team. It was an emergency and they were oddly blunt with you about asking at what distance you could reliably shoot a slowly-moving target the size of a human head. You thought they were either crazy or messing with you but you went along to their little meeting anyways. Then the dead rose and to your own surprise you volunteered to hold off the hordes while the others figured out a counter-ritual to put them back.

(For Storytellers using the optional 'subgroup specialty' rules in Compacts and Conspiracies, I've included the specialty that comes with each faction.)
  • The center of the Society has always been the academic institutions they helped build and develop. It is here that the Faculty of the Society hold power. Made up mostly of teachers and members of the administration they use the school's resources as an information network and often work to advance the school's influence within the city as a means of granting themselves more power. They lean on alumni in positions of authority and channel school funding towards projects that can be used for the Society's agenda.
    Free Specialty: Politics (Academia)
  • Even when academic life takes a turn for the strange and unusual, there will always be homework. That's where the Students come in to handle field work, communications and reconnaissance for the compact. They're often made up of students both past and present but don't maintain current ties with the universities. They develop ties with people outside academia who can supply funds and equipment to the rest of the Society. When situations turn violent, the Students are on the first on the front lines. They rarely dictate policy but their role as the arms and legs of the compact means that sometimes the Faculty has to learn from the Students.
    Free Specialty: Streetwise (Word on the street)
  • While the mindset of the Society's Alumni dates back to the compact's founding, it's only really become an organized movement in the last couple of decades. The Alumni are much more open about the Society's role within the academic community as well as the hunter community. The Alumni try to actually advertise the Mountain Line Preservation Society as a historical foundation to help secure funding and maintain lines of communication with allies. In the modern world of Facebook and Youtube, it's becoming harder and harder to maintain any semblance of secrecy and the Alumni are trying very hard to turn the more mundane-friendly aspects of the Society's existence into an active strength rather than a bare-bones excuse for office space and grant money.
    Free Specialty: Persuasion (Public Relations)

Society members rise in prominence in the organization through studying the Mountain God and painting a more complete picture of how it 'works' so new ways to track and fight its manifestations can be discovered. Awareness of the region's supernatural activity is highly prized.

The base of the Mountain Line Preservation Society's power and information gathering is and always has been through local institutions of higher learning. Many are employees of a university or have their names otherwise attached to one such that they receive a modicum of authority. If the member is already working for the school in question, accessing the compact's network provides some career-boosting resources. A Society member in good standing receives a dot of Status in a local university where her chapter exists. This often carries with it access to certain campus buildings at odd hours.

••• The hunter at this level becomes one of the Society's hubs of information. He's in the loop on local events whether it's through knowing everyone or being in the sort of position where news just comes to him. The hunter gains two dots of Contacts. For Faculty and Alumni, it's generally in fields related to local academic or government interests; for Students, it's almost certainly in neither area.

••••• The Society compiles reports and files on supernatural occurrences, area hunters and seemingly random weirdness. At the higher levels, a lot of the work involves identifying patterns and predicting trends. Each chapter has a cache of information on the secret history of their chosen region that only a few members can access. As someone who can access one or more of these rooms, you have access to four dots of Library divided between Academics and Occult to represent the collection of historical records, folklore, and legends of the area. If this would take either or both Libraries above 3, put the extra dots in another appropriate Mental Merit like Encyclopedic Knowledge or Interdisciplinary Specialty to represent the results of having access to such materials.

  • Network Zero-- Every pair of eyes in the area is useful and a fresh perspective can be invaluable. Stay out of their way and study whatever they put up. Just make sure they don't broadcast your activities all over Facebook.
  • The Union-- Their commitment to protecting their neighborhoods is respectable, even honorable most of the time. But why do they think they have to protect their neighborhood from people trying to keep the whole city safe?
  • Aegis Kai Doru-- There are a lot of artifacts and trinkets that carry the Mountain God's power. If you can, distract or bribe artifact-chasers with the stuff that isn't important to make sure they don't walk off with the stuff that is. Otherwise they'll grab anything that's not nailed down and won't even bother to learn what they've taken until it's killing people and bringing them back.
  • Task Force: VALKYRIE-- Bits of surfaced evidence and history suggest there may be common elements to our origins and technology. Don't let them use that to lower your guard no matter how much they say they trust you or that you should trust them. They certainly don't and you certainly shouldn't.

Mountain Line Preservation Society Endowment: Prototypes
Effect: This endowment represents access to a number of devices that the Society builds or commissions on a regular basis. Most of them are cobbled together in home workshops or in campus engineering labs after hours. They're constantly being improved and adjusted as technology advances. As a running joke within the compact, these devices are never considered truly 'finished,' merely prototypes. These devices can be passed off to other hunters, but any that haven't had the Society's training with such devices suffers a -5 to all rolls to use them.
Prototypes are generally geared towards concentrations of the Mountain God's energies, living or otherwise. 'Concentrations' of the Mountain God's power include (but are not limited to): Zombies animated by its energies, mutated animals, other supernaturals that draw directly on it for power, breaches that let its essence appear directly and spirits that are either spawn of the Mountain God or tainted (even slightly) by its resonance.
At the beginning of each story, a Society member's rating in this endowment is divided up among a number of types of devices. Each dot 'invested' in a device represents a hunter taking time using, improving and maintaining it. Mechanically, each dot invested into a type of device represents an equipment bonus for rolls related to the device's use, on a one-for-one basis. No two of these gadgets are exactly alike, and due to different levels of sophistication some may require different rolls than others. The Storyteller is encouraged to establish a semi-consistent style of Prototypes available from the local chapter house.
(Author's note: I've always described such devices as being part of the Society's purview since long before C&C came out. If you're not using Compact Endowments as seen in Compacts and Conspiracies, then just have one or more of these turn up as the plot requires or handwave them out altogether and play up the ritualistic aspects of the compact.)
  • Tracking-- From goggles to modified EMF detectors to special radio receivers, the MLPS have developed a variety of gadgets devoted to tracking beings tied to the Mountain God. Attempts to pinpoint the nearest source or follow/establish a trail can be made with Intelligence + Occult (or Science, if using the device is more about maintaining it than simply interpreting readings). Wits is also a viable Attribute for tracking devices that involve analyzing a scene instead of just searching for a strong reading, or situations where the Prototype is more of an art than a science. If triangulating, it might even be a teamwork action.
  • Binding-- From a portable device that can keep a spirit trapped (possibly even forcing it to remain manifested) to a room covered in emitters that will hold it there, there are a few devices that will trap spirits (or occasionally other things) that contain the Mountain God's resonance. Any rolls are usually Science or Crafts-related to keep the thing calibrated or maintained. If it's a roll to keep the spirit trapped, the spirit's Rank is usually subtracted from any roll to bind it (that said, spirits of Rank 4 probably inflict additional penalties and Rank 5+ should be out of the question except at the Storyteller's discretion). Aside from the roll involved, treat this as a binding attempt (page 232 of The God-Machine Chronicle), with the Prototype device counting as one of the target's banes. At the Storyteller's discretion, these devices could also bind things that aren't spirits but are still infused with the Mountain God's energy such as certain witches and undead (possibly at a penalty). Rumors suggest that some luminaries of the Society have maintained entire buildings that could serve as a 'spirit jail' of sorts with a minimum of maintenance and upkeep.
  • Dismissal-- With some adjustment, some of the things that can bind spirits and other entities can be converted to repel them. This works like an abjuration attempt (see page 231 of The God-Machine Chronicle) with an Intelligence + Science roll for the user. If the Storyteller allows a character to use one of these devices against a solid target, the roll should be against their Resolve + Composure (plus any sort of Supernatural Advantage they possess).
  • Capping-- The Mountain God's influence is often made known through loci and verges where the barrier between worlds is weakened and spirits (and other beings) can access Essence or Mana (or Source, if one prefers). Some Society gadgeteers have designed and built devices to help cap off the emissions and cut down on the Mountain God's energies that make their way to the surface. Successes on the rolls to use these devices (often Intelligence + Occult to determine proper placement) can temporarily bleed off a locus' power and lower its rating. Sometimes the energy goes into a battery that's used to power other devices. At the Storyteller's discretion, exceptional successes can provide positive Conditions for using other Prototypes or related half-baked science.
  • Feel free to look at Advanced Armory for inspiration and mechanics for other Prototypes that could pop up. For instance, a Bleeder designed to affect things that draw on the Mountain God's energies would be pretty appropriate if awkward for the hunters to implement in some contexts.

Sidebar: Woodburn Hall's Spirit Grid
Okay, okay, theoretically schmeoretically. The players in my games know that such a long-term grid is possible because their characters interacted with it at West Virginia University's Woodburn Hall. So how would a Society hunter go about setting up a long-term grid? Well, if the Storyteller is cool with it, this is how I recommend handling it:

First, the hunter setting it up has to be Status 5 in the compact. No hunter of less standing will have enough access to knowledge of the area's ley lines, feng shui, and electrical resources to make one of these things work.

Second, it needs to be hooked into the city's power grid in some way. Batteries and generators won't do it. This won't be a problem most of the time, but sometimes a hunter has to explain why a particular floor of the campus building housing his office uses 40% more power than the rest of the building.

Third, every dot allocated to the grid (which doesn't have to be every Prototype dot) has to be invested permanently. The size of a permanent grid is based on the rating, operating on the same scale as housing size (p. 241, The God-Machine Chronicle), but those dots are permanently tied up in the grid and if the building is destroyed they're simply lost. The grid can be improved over time (by purchasing/investing more dots), but any diminishing of it (shutting down part of it, for instance) also removes the affected dots altogether. While the hunter is compensated via the Sanctity of Merits for lost Prototype dots, it's recommended that the player shouldn't use the refunded dots to just build a new grid right away. It should take some effort.

The benefit is that a grid that has this much invested into it will survive after the character's retirement or death. Other hunters, if they know how, will be able to switch it (or parts of it) on and off and could theoretically take it over at ST discretion, though the Merit dots tied up in it wouldn't be subject to Sanctity for the new 'owner.' Really, this is more of a means of having a grid survive an NPC's passing for story reasons, but if a player character hunter is maintaining one and should die without warning it at least means that the whole thing isn't going to fall apart in a few days.

Sidebar: What about other areas?
The question is going to inevitably come up as to whether the MLPS' Prototypes work on things outside the region (or, for that matter, if they work outside the Mountain God's area of influence at all).
  • By default, most of this stuff does very little outside the Appalachian mountain range. But it's possible the MLPS doesn't entirely understand their own technology and it could easily be converted to work anywhere (wouldn't TFV like to know that?). Maybe some of the equipment taps into principles found everywhere but just in particular abundance/concentration in the Appalachian range.
  • Or at the very least it could be reconfigured to work in the energy signatures of another area. Maybe other places have their own unique patterns of naturally-occuring Essence flows and resonance and it's just a matter of compensating for them. Some games may enjoy playing with the implications of a device that can force spirits to manifest but only within a certain radius from a landmark of some sort. With some tweaking, the MLPS could serve as an example of any one of a group of theoretical compacts that draw on the secret history of a region. A compact called the 'Great Lakes Protection Group' might publicly fight pollution because in secret they're disturbing the monsters that slumber in the lakebeds of the region. The hunters known as the 'San Andreas Explorers' might spelunk for geological samples that actually help them learn where the spirits of an ancient dead civilization are breaking through to take some ill-conceived revenge against the surface world.
  • Or, alternately, maybe Prototypes work just fine everywhere. A scanner just happens to track certain types of phenomena but not others. Spirits of a certain resonance are just more vulnerable to a binding field. And so forth. But in a game where this is true, odds are the compact is probably not region-specific (with name adjusted appropriately). Maybe it started as a proactive splinter group of the Null Mysteriis or a forgotten and abandoned division of Task Force: VALKYRIE. Or maybe it started on its own, and through a network of engineering hobbyists and educators is on its way to becoming a full-fledged conspiracy using worldwide academia as a base.

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