Friday 23 October 2020

Vinculus Hive, A Scifi Setting For Dungeon Bitches

 So one thing that I'm finding with Dungeon Bitches is that, while the tone and themes are pretty concrete, the actual setting is never firmly pinned down. This is reflected in the games that have already happened; we've had a couple of grimdark fantasy campaigns, a biopunk post-apoc game, one in spooky 1920s america, a space-opera one, and one planned to be set in the 1990s with the PCs as a touring band. So you can take the structure to a few different places and it still works.

By way of demonstration, then, here's a little scifi setting that I'm gonna roll up. I'm fully intending this to be something I run when I next have a slot in my busy playtest schedule.

The initial hook, then, is gonna be a mix of Necromunda and Blame. A huge old urban environment, high-tech but left to decay. We can divide the sprawling complex into two parts;
-the Hive, which is still maintained and inhabited by the mainstream bulk of society. Still grotty and rundown, but functional and mapped out. Basically the Town, and using those random tables to generate it.
-the Wreckage, no longer maintained or properly explored. Coming apart, inhabited by outcasts, criminals and monsters. Dangerous, but with undiscovered technological relics in the depths that an explorer might discover. Basically the Dungeon, and using those random tables to generate it.
I'm gonna roll up both to get a feel for the place, and then pin down the rest of the setting a bit more firmly - including how various PC types fit into that - once I've got that picture.

First up, the Hive. To begin with, let's drop some dice and consult the relevant table, to see who the powers and factions of the Hive are. Doing so, I get this:

I'm also going to roll a few quirks and oddities for the town. Here's what I get:
-Gold-smelting industry
-Religious fervour
-Industry declining

This works pretty well, I think, but I wanna update things a bit and give these different factions and factors a bit of a scifi bent to them. First up, I'm gonna swap 'gold' out for 'uranium', and have the complex be a declining uranium mine and nuclear facility.

Next up, we have a church, a splinter-church, and general religious fervour. So let's define them.
The main church are going to be sun-worshippers. Seeing the local star as a divine manifestation, its nuclear fire bestowing the gifts of light and life. There is some irony here, since the complex is mostly urban sprawl, and the common people don't see sunlight much. Perhaps the main church is built below a single huge window, with the natural sunlight as a centre of worship. They're probably politically powerful, and control access to much of the power-grid in the Hive, literally controlling the difference between light and dark. I think they probably see the nuclear reactors the place runs on as being a sort of earthbound reflection of the sun's nuclear fire. Gonna give 'em some strong theocratic vibes. To hit home the themes of Dungeon Bitches as a game, we can make 'em pretty patriarchal and socially conservative. Perhaps they're Let's keep things simple, and call them the Solar Church. 
Our splinter-cult, then, has turned away from the sun in search of some other source of divinity/life. For now, I'm gonna keep things vague, and have that be something in the Wreckage: we can get more details as we roll the Wreckage up. I'm gonna call them the Church In The Shadows for now, and we can come back to them later. The point, for now, is that they're a hidden, largely persecuted religious minority. 

Next up, the nobility. I wanna make these a caste slightly set above normal society. So, let's make them physically a little distinct. Perhaps they're a result of genetic engineering or selective breeding in the ancient past, perhaps its just inbreeding. Give them some distinctive traits; albinism is common, and pallor is seen as a mark of good breeding. Obsessed with parentage and lineage, and with a rather nasty patriarchal streak as a result; arranged marriages among the extended noble house are common, to cement alliances and try to produce more pure-bred offspring; think the worst of the Crusader Kings games. They're wealthy, insular and control society via proxies. Most business can only legally be conducted with a license from them, and they charge a tithe to those they grant such charters to. Let's call them House Vinculus. It seems they seem to be covertly supporting the Church In The Shadows, mostly as a political matter since it reduces the religious hegemony of the Solar Church, their main political rival.
Linked to these is our secret Vampire, or rather Vampires. I'm going to make this a pathogen, an outright supernatural viral infection. The Strigoi Virus has a number of minor strains, the most notable consistent features being pallor, a need to consume blood, and physical mutation over time. The infection doesn't spread easily between hosts, but the child of a host will invariably be infected themselves. While the infection is somewhat entrenched in the main population, it's endemic among House Vinculus, where the physical symptoms tend to match the typical traits of the house, letting it go unnoticed for a while. Among the general population, somebody infected probably relies on an underground market to get the blood they need, and resist giving in to their condition. However, the infected among House Vinculus see the virus as a blessing, and form a secretive cabal within the noble house - the Fine Drinking Society - and use their position of privilege to prey on the commoners without repercussions. Rumours likewise talk about gangs of Strigoi dwelling in the Wreckage, hunting those who venture down there.

After this, we have our narcotic gang. Call them the Society Of Many Fingers. Since its tied to both churches, let's give the drug it sells a distinctly religious flavour. Call it Sacrament. Taking Sacrament causes the user to become suggestible, to find significance in even minor things, and to experience a sort of euphoria that mimics religious devotion. Both churches, suffice to say, make use of the drug in their rites, both as a recruitment tool and to ensure the loyalty of the faithful. It's also commonly used as a recreational narcotic on all levels of society. Sacrament is harvested from something in the Wreckage - I'll get back to this when we roll the wreckage up - and the Society have an extensive network of harvesters, guards, smugglers and dealers to ensure the supply continues.

Then our inn and scandalous theatre, which I'm gonna roll into a single entity. Call this the House Of Delights, a moulin-rouge style den of pleasure, vice and bohemianism. A release valve from the pressures of life in a dark, claustrophobic hive full of religious weirdos, and somewhere the less reputable and acceptable members of society can emerge from the shadows to express themselves.

Lastly, we have our mad doctor. We know he's tied to the Solar Church, but other than that pretty isolated. So perhaps his work is a project they started that's spun of in its own direction. I think I wanna have him mostly be working to produce what he considers to be 'new men', a race of altered humans able to better survive radiation exposure and life in the dark, cramped confines of the hive. Of course, this means he needs material to work with to bring his 'new men' into the world, which means kidnapping victims to experiment on. Often pretty young girls, due entirely to his own vices. 
He's not working alone, with a small group of disciples as assistants, and then using his creations as muscle to snatch more victims off the street and out of their beds. We can call him Doctor Kyrchus, and he's a total bastard.

So, now we've got a picture for the Hive, let's roll up the Wreckage. First a map of the place, and then the factions and powers.
The map looks like this:

And the powers look like this:

And then we just gotta roll up the place's details: Who Built This Place, Why Was This Place Built, Aesthetics and Weirdness. In order, we get:
  • Built by an ancient monarch.
  • Originally built as an underground palace.
  • Ornamented with grotesque carvings.
  • A domain of the Wounded Mother, things don't die down here despite their wounds.
And now things start to come together rather nicely. Immediately, this suggests a history for the hive and wreckage below. I'm thinking that this was originally built as a palace for the ancestors of House Vinculus, who at that point held absolute power over the site's uranium mines and were utter sadistic bastards ruling with an iron fist. The plight of their various subjects - horribly abused by their masters and all slowly dying of radiation sickness - drew down the attention of the Wounded Mother, who sent them a pair of gifts; the fungus Soma, and the wounded-daughter prophetess Saint Iulia The Bloody. Suffice to say, a horrible civil war ensued, with all sides thoroughly fucked by the conflict. Somebody created the Strigoi Virus as a bio-weapon, infrastructure fell apart, the dead were interred in a mass grave and sealed up. In the end, the hive was left a shadow of its former self, with House Vinculus managing to claw their way back to power from the rubble, and Saint Iulia driven into the lower ruins to hide.
That was many centuries ago, and here we are now, in a crumbling radioactive hive that's slowly falling apart, year by year.

Let's give our locations and powers a little bit more detail. I'm gonna roll an aesthetic or weirdness for each location, and then tie them into the setting.

First up, the lodge to the wounded mother. It gets a Weirdness, and I roll 'Nothing Rots'.
I'm gonna call it the Immaculate Fracture. It's a haven in the greater wreckage, decorated with hydroponically grown flowers, populated by a small cadre of Wounded Daughters - I'm gonna make them our mystery cult - who defend the place. At its heart, what remains of Saint Iulia, reduced to a half-awake shell of herself, mumbling prophecies and warnings in her delirium. 
The mystery cult, then, I'm going to call Iulia's Little Sisters, and have them be mostly wounded daughters, or at least daughter-adjacent even if they've not gone all-in yet. They've got a religious devotion to the Wounded Mother as a preserver of life and protector of the downtrodden. Their lodge is a sanctuary for the mad, the desperate, the outcast, and the sick. Their rites are straightforward and visceral, sexual and bloody celebration of the unquenchable life that burns within them.

Next, the fungus, known as Soma, which is both a power and a location. A dreaming mind of mycelium created by the Wounded Mother. Not properly conscious, but a flood of ideas and emotions. Unreasonable hope, visions of better possible worlds, dreams of change. The fungus breaks down dead things, and gives rise to new life. Soma is harvested by the Society Of A Thousand Fingers, who process the fungal matter to create the drug Sacrament. The euphoria and sense of purpose experienced while high on Sacrament is a corrupt reflection of the dreams Soma brings.

Our abandoned laboratory, which I'm gonna call the Chambers of Dead Inquiry, roll 'dead flesh twitches and stirs uneasily' as their weirdness. I think this is where the Strigoi virus was engineered, along with other bio-weapons. Dr Kyrchus's work is probably a distant derivative of the research that was conducted here.

The Prison is, I think, a horrible place. When the Wounded Mother turned her gaze on the hive, her attention created monsters. Raw, untamed life, running riot in its many horrible forms, that cannot truly die, that always comes back adapted to each new threat. Unkillable, and sealed away. The architecture here is stark and brutalist, and the inhabitants fearsome. 

Likewise the Halls of the Unquiet Dead. Here, the grief and pain of the dead is palpable. You bleed, from the eyes, nose, between your legs. It hurts to be here. The ghosts that linger are blind, mad, lashing out at intruders. 

Lastly, the treasure-vault. Here, the greatest wealth gathered by House Vinculus in the distant past is kept, inaccessible to the nobles now dwelling in the hive, guarded by horrible defensive systems and vicious security measures. Here can be found fabulous treasure and terrible weapons. This is the prize that many Bitches seek, delving through the rest of the wreckage in search of the power hidden in the depths.

And then, onto powers. Firstly, I'm going to tie our Corpse Doll fleshcrafters and Metamorphocist Witches into a single broader faction. These two teams - The Beautiful Dead and the Confluence of Nerves, respectively - seek to elevate mortal humans to something greater. Witchcraft and necromancy are combined with the sheer vital life of the place, and their work draws close to completing its first step. In the depths of the Prison, from twitching flesh and mycelium, they have created something - a fleshy womb-chrysalis-crucible that transforms those who rest within. What you come back out as is always different, unique, the fragile frame of humanity stripped away to reveal your true nature.
This, I think, is what the Church in the Shadows worships, although they're only dimly aware of its true nature. Mostly, the two covens use the Church in the Shadows as useful patsies, a distraction to keep attention away from their work.

And lastly, we have the Gorgon Aesthetes. Three sisters who stepped into the metamorphosis's crucible and emerged changed. Equal parts elegance and horror. Refined beings, who see beauty in the truly monstrous. They treat the Prison as a sort of gallery or zoo, and bring truly strange and dangerous creatures here so they can be preserved and appreciated. They have an arrangement with Iulia's Little Sisters; when a Wounded Daughter is too far gone, her humanity stripped totally away, reduced to a feral monstrous shell of her former self, the Trio come for her, taking her to their cells, where she can be allowed to rest safely, and poses no threat to her former sisters.

This, then, is the state of the setting. What of the specific PCs? Let's handle each archetype one at a time:

Amazons can stay pretty much the same. The place is horrible, and some women respond to their oppression by lashing out, and get good at it.

The Beast (formerly Lilim, Spider, etc) gets renamed again for this setting, becoming the Strigoi. Whilst you can carry the strigoi virus and not be a member of this class, those who have particularly potent strains, that come to be dominated by them, fit in here. Of particular note, the move Horrid Form lets you represent a Strigoi who's been dramatically mutated into something gruesome-looking by the virus, and the move Beseech The Mother Of Monsters lets you tap into the virus's collective mind, drawing on the oldest of the Strigoi for advice.
A more standard Beast might be a monstrous resident of the Prison, now escaped, or perhaps somebody who allowed the Confluence of Nerves to metamorphose them.

Corpse Dolls are pretty easy to fit in here. Girls resurrected by magic or science don't need tweaking. Tying them in as escaped victims of Dr Kyrchus perhaps, or maybe they're allied with the Beautiful Dead.

Firebrands, like Amazons, fit right in. You're pissed off at the state of the things, and that revolutionary zeal has made you enemies. Perhaps you're roughly aligned with the Church In The Shadows, but equally you might be part of a more dispersed radical underground.

Banshees get renamed Psychics, and work just like you'd expect. Think unsanctioned psykers from 40k, or Carrie. Most are isolated individuals.

Runaway Nuns have a few options. Maybe you got driven from the Solar Church (they are, after all, utter bastards), or got burned by the Church In The Shadows, and left out in the cold as the Solar Church's inquisitors came for you. Or maybe you have a Wounded Daughter move or two, and are one of Iulia's Little Sisters, not so much 'run away' as merely away from home.

Lantern Girls likewise fit into the setting without too much change. It is, however, worth noting that the Solar Cult imbues religious meaning into light, so a Lantern Girl's choice to carry a light might carry some subtext there; is she still clinging to a faith that rejected her, or does she view it as subversion or reclamation of the forces that oppressed her? There's room for some overlap with Runaway Nuns here.

Witches continue to be witches. Witchcraft is practiced in hidden covens, condemned by both churches. Perhaps you're aligned with the Confluence of Nerves, perhaps you commune with the massed dead, or perhaps you're part of the criminal underground with the Society Of A Thousand Fingers.

Disgraced Princesses are likely fleeing from the horrible rape-culture that is House Vinculus. It's pretty cut and dried, really.

Lastly, Wounded Daughters work exactly like you'd expect, and are pretty key to the setting. A wounded daughter might be one of Iulia's Little Sisters, but a setting this dismal and horrible will produce plenty of others. You might be a victim of Dr Kyrchus or the Fine Drinking Society, a member of the petty gangs that lurk in the wreckage, or a survivor of a smaller and more personal tragedy.

In terms of rules hacks? I'd let anybody take one of their two starting moves as a Wounded Daughter move, just because those girls are so prevalent here. Likewise, I'd let any character who wanted to be a carrier of the Strigoi Virus have their second move be one from the Beast. 
I'd make it so being Broken doesn't make you *die* while you're in the wreckage. Instead, your mind shatters irreparably, and your flesh warps into something monstrous. You are no longer who you once were, now merely a thing of unkillable roiling flesh and insanity. The best you can hope for is for the Gorgon Sisters to take you home to the prison, but the person you were is gone forever.
The presence of radiation sickness also makes you more fragile: reduce your maximum Hurt from Four to Three.
The Steal move can be used to cover covert, subtle hacking etc. Likewise, you can Lash Out to brute-force technology in some situations.

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