Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Visitant: Shekt Gift trees

You either know the score by now, or you have no idea what is going on. If the latter, I heartily encourage you to go back a few posts. In fact, maybe go all the way back to something more entertaining, like the Imperial Fists podcasts or the ones where I make sarcastic comments about poisonous doorknobs. Those were the days.

It may not come across, but I tried to give each Gift pool set of names that were thematically equivalent, so that you don't get a big aesthetic clash; I didn't want really purple names sitting next to "Levitate" or whatever. So the Guise names are a little fancy, Protoplasm is fairly matter-of-fact. Mosa Gifts have pretty short, punchy names that try to describe them as briefly as possible (Taste the Wind is an exception, admittedly).

Today, Shekt gifts! The insect swarm folks get two pools, one based on making buzzing noises, and the other on... well, being made of thousands of insects. Seems fair. For Shekt, I went with alliterative song-based names for the Cadence pool, and fancy-pants florid names for the swarmy ones. No particular reason, I just started with I Am Legion and went from there.

I would also like to note that I'm aware "One With Everything" sounds like a pizza. This is not accidental.


The Cadence pool focuses on sound, from subtle mind-affecting resonances to destructive pulses of ultrasound.

Some cadences are directed, others spread across an area. The exact range of a cadence is situational, but typically no more than five yards. A shekt may try to extend this by increasing their volume at the cost of increasing the difficulty of their rolls. For every yard above the first 5, to a maximum of 20 yards, the shekt suffers a -1 penalty to their roll. They can also limit their effects to a smaller area than usual, without penalty.

Background noise has no effect on cadences.

Lotus Lied

Since they often behave or react in unusual ways, shekts tend to prefer their humans inattentive and drowsy. Some are able to produce this state through subsonic hypnotism, calming human brainwaves and damping down their senses. The target feels distant, distracted and unable to quite get their thoughts in order.

Deafness provides the target with protection equal to the penalty it normally inflicts, treated as a penalty to the shekt’s roll, or a bonus to the target’s roll in contested actions. Ear protection can also penalise cadences.

Tell: None.

Action: Instant

Dice Pool: Presence + Expression vs. Resolve + Inhuman Attribute.

Success: The target spaces out, apparently engrossed in something – reading, surfing the internet, daydreaming. Any perception rolls for the character during this time are reduced to a chance die. If someone actively engages the character, the effect is lost. The shekt must be able to see the target when this power takes effect, but the effects persist until the end of the scene.

Exceptional Success: Nothing special.

Failure: No effect. The shekt can try again (apply a cumulative –1 modifier for each successive attempt on the same target).

Dramatic Failure: The shekt manages to trigger alertness centres in the target’s brain. They gain a +2 bonus on perception and reaction tasks for the remainder of the scene.

Harmonious Hum

It's good to be popular, providing that doesn't draw unwanted attention, and shekts sometimes resort to special measures to keep their company genial and friendly. Far beyond the range of conscious human hearing, a harmonious melody soothes those who hear it. The effects of stress, misery or anger are mitigated, and morale improves, making it easier for the shekt to get what they need. This ability affects all targets within speaking distance, typically around 5 yards; the range can be increased by raising the volume, imposing a -1 penalty for every additional yard radius. The shekt can choose whether or not to receive the effects of this ability.

Deafness provides the target with protection equal to the penalty it normally inflicts, treated as a penalty to the shekt’s roll, or a bonus to the target’s roll in contested actions. Ear protection can also penalise cadences.

Tell: None.

Action: Instant

Dice Pool: Manipulation + Empathy – highest Composure present

Success: For the duration of the scene, all targets grant a +3 bonus on Social actions that rely on agreement, trust and harmony. If using the Social Manoeuvring rules, the impression is improved by one. Penalties for bad mood are ignored, though there’s no fundamental change in attitude. Attempts to begin meditation, resist Frenzy or otherwise restrain emotion gain a +3 bonus. Arguments become quieter, and no target affected by the Embed will initiate violence. If combat has started, all affected targets back down (mechanically, they surrender). Intentions don’t change, so a mugger may still demand money or a police officer arrest a suspect, but they do so calmly, and don’t readily take offence.

Exceptional Success: As above, and targets feel benevolent enough to abandon a hostile action (such as mugging), or offer aid to the character.

Failure: No effect.

Dramatic Failure: The audience are irritated by a noise they can’t quite consciously hear. For the rest of the scene, they suffer a -1 penalty on attempts to reach agreement, socialise or establish trust. If using the Social Manoeuvring rules, the impression is worsened by one. Attempts to control emotions also suffer a -1 penalty.

Dissonant Drone

Even sound beyond the range of conscious hearing can affect the mind and body, invoking subconscious responses or having purely physical effects on delicate systems. A shekt may train to produce controlled, dischordant pulses of ultra-low and ultra-high sound, flooding the nervous system with disruptive signals. The shekt can affect all nearby creatures, or focus the drone in a general direction.

This cadence is unaffected by deafness.

Tell: None.

Action: Instant

Cost: 1 Focus

Dice Pool: Presence + Focus - target's Stamina + Inhuman Attribute.

Success: The target gains the Nauseous Condition, or the Nauseated Tilt if in combat. They feel inclined to seek water, medicine, shade or somewhere to lie down; any attempt to encourage them gains a bonus equal to the shekt's Focus rating (maximum +5).

Exceptional Success: the target immediately abandons any non-vital task to look for relief. If the task is vital, they are overwhelmed by nausea within a minute or two, and lose interest in their surroundings. If in combat, the target gains the Sick Tilt (moderate).

Failure: No effect. The shekt can try again (apply a cumulative –1 modifier for each successive attempt on the same target).

Dramatic Failure: The shekt produces an obvious and peculiar noise: a feedback screech, a rubbery squeak, a hollow booming sound. This is a Subtle Tell.

Silent Susurration

The science of active noise reduction is in its infancy on Earth, but certain races have developed this to great heights. One useful application is in dampening noise around oneself, either to avoid inconveniencing others, or to escape their attention.

This cadence is unaffected by deafness.

Tell: None.

Action: Instant

Dice Pool: Wits + Expression

Success: the shekt manages to cancel out any noise they make as long as they maintain the cadence. They can move and carry out normal activities in total silence. If they make any unusually loud noise (such as using a firearm or shattering a window), there is a -5 penalty to detect it. Unexpected noises, such as a mobile phone suddenly ringing or another character speaking, are harder to stifle; these have a -1 penalty in the first round, but afterwards are treated like any other noise. The effect extends approximately 1 yard from the shekt; sounds originating beyond this point cannot be nullified.

Exceptional Success: as above, except the shekt exerts enough control to selectively permit certain sounds (such as their own speech) if they wish.

Failure: The shekt misjudges the necessary tones, and their attempts are useless.

Dramatic Failure: The shekt greatly misjudges their counter-sound, making noise far more prominent in their vicinity. They may boost certain parts of the audio spectrum, introduce jarring distortions, or create peculiar echoes. The noise attracts attention from bystanders, and grants a +2 bonus on any sound-based rolls to detect the shekt and their activities.

Harrowing Howl

When subtlety is inadequate, direct methods may be required. Shekts with advanced sonic capabilities may focus these into useful weapons, able to damage resonant substances and inflict pain on humans.

The shekt must decide what kind of target they wish to effect. Most living creatures can be affected with the same frequencies, but different properties are required to shatter glass or crack wood. Only resonant substances can be affected by this gift: wood, stone, glass and hard plastics are vulnerable, but metal and rubber aren't. Many devices contain glass, crystalline or hard plastic components that can be damaged to disable them.

Deafness is no defence against this cadence, which is physical rather than neurological. The focused sound is directed against a single nearby target.

Tell: None.

Action: Instant

Dice Pool: Presence + Expression - Stamina or Durability.

Success: each success inflicts one Bashing damage to the target. Against objects, each success inflicts one Damage.

Exceptional Success: one-third of any damage inflicted is Lethal, inflicting nosebleeds and microscopic cracks in bone. Against an object, ignore Durability up to the shekt's Focus rating.

Failure: The shekt is unable to regulate the sound, and it has no effect.

Dramatic Failure: The noise spills over into the audible spectrum, and a metallic shriek echoes around the shekt. No damage is inflicted, and the sound attracts attention.


The Thousand-Sided Jewel

Composed as they are of thousands of individual minds, the compound mind of a shekt is a compromise. Any one alignment of minds is merely one facet of its capabilities, memories and insight. With suitable training, a shekt can learn to temporarily shift its network, allowing new mental patterns to form and offer new thoughts. However, the swarm cannot maintain such an unbalanced alignment, and will soon revert to its normal self.

Tell: None.

Action: Instant

Cost: 1 Focus

Dice Pool: Resolve + Empathy.

Success: The shekt succeeds in shifting its mental alignment, opening up new avenues for dealing with a situation. For each success rolled, the shekt can shift one dot between its Mental attributes. The upper limit on any attribute thus changed is the species maximum or Focus, whichever is the higher. The changes last until the end of the scene.

Exceptional Success: Nothing special.

Failure: The shekt fails to establish a new network, and resumes its normal pattern.

Dramatic Failure: The strain of trying to rebuild its mind gives the shekt considerable mental discomfort. It gains the Dizzy Condition.

I am Legion

The ability to return to their native swarming state can be a valuable asset for a shekt, but can also leave them terribly vulnerable. They have not evolved to fight as a swarm. Certain shekt work to overcome these disadvantages, training to defend themselves, manipulate human environments, and use their numbers effectively in combat. Whenever the shekt enters swarm form, it can choose to use this ability.

Tell: As Disperse ability.

Action: None

Cost: 1 Focus

The shekt transforms into a boiling cloud of drones with radius 3. Any creature within the swarm radius suffers a -2 penalty on all rolls due to distraction, unless that creature is an allied shekt.

The shekt can target a number of creatures within its radius up to its Focus rating, automatically inflicting 1 Bashing to each. Alternatively, it can focus on a single creature, inflicting 2 Bashing. When attacking a single creature, it can attack a specified body part by making a Dexterity + Medicine roll. Armour applies as the Disperse ability (or the Swarm Tilt).

The shekt swarm suffers no damage from most physical attacks, easily parting to avoid them. It remains vulnerable to non-physical damage, area effects, and very large objects. When it takes damage, the swarm’s radius is reduced by 1. If the swarm reaches radius 1, and each time it takes damage subsequently, it must make a Composure + Stamina roll. On a failure, the benefits of this ability end and the swarm returns to the basic rules for the Disperse ability.

A Mind Apart

The resonant bioelectrical networks that hold a shekt-mind together rely on proximity. However, with extensive training, a shekt can learn to maintain resonance over much greater distances, allowing it to detach a few drones and thus to act remotely and in secret. Unless under the tightest observation, a shekt can easily despatch a scouting cluster without being seen. The process can be risky, however, as lost drones can become unwanted evidence.

Tell: None.

Action: Instant

Cost: 1 Focus

The shekt detaches a small mass of drones as a scouting cluster with Size 1. The drones travel with Speed 5 and can hover a few feet from the ground, remaining together. The shekt can perceive normally through the drones, but they are too few in number to use any Gifts. The cluster has Strength and Stamina 0, but otherwise uses the shekt’s attributes. It cannot take Social actions, except with another shekt. Any damage to the cluster destroys it.

Drones can attempt to manipulate small objects, interfere with machinery, and otherwise affect the environment. The drone cluster can attempt one such action in a round. When physical force is required, the drones can lift an item weighing up to 20g (including a key or ID card). Buttons, keys and switches require considerable force to use; in general roll a single die to determine success. The drones can sabotage certain machinery through introducing contamination, or through self-sacrifice (chewing cables or blocking moving components). Roll Intelligence + either Crafts, Computer or Science as appropriate to do so effectively.

Drones appear to be striking irridescent insects a few millimetres across. Close inspection using Intelligence + Science cannot match them to any known species, and may require a Compromise roll. If the drones are dead, there is a -3 penalty on the roll.

The scouting cluster can be maintained until the end of the scene, or at a distance of around 100 yards. Beyond this point the connection is broken, and the drones return to instinctive behaviour, seeking shelter and darkness. A lost cluster can be reassimilated within 24 hours of using this ability, otherwise they die. A shekt cannot assimilate drones from another swarm.

Tides Within

Though a shekt swarm is highly resilient, within its skinsuit it can be as vulnerable as any human. Injuries to key locations can disrupt the neural network, damage skinsuit functions or simply destroy the drones operating a crucial joint. A shekt may train to coordinate its swarm for emergency repairs, drawing drones from the inner swarm to replace the dead or injured, or rapidly patching biocircuitry to restore capabilities.

Tell: Subtle.

Action: Instant

Cost: 1 Focus

Dice Pool: Composure + Stamina.

Success: The shekt redistributes its drones, allowing it to shake off a harmful condition. The shekt can resolve one Condition or Tilt resulting from injury to a location, such as Disabled, Arm Wrack, Leg Wrack, Blinded or Deafened. Instead, the shekt takes one Bashing damage.

Exceptional Success: Nothing special.

Failure: The shekt is unable to compensate for the damage. Further attempts to remove this Tilt or Condition using the ability suffer a cumulative -1 penalty.

Dramatic Failure: The shekt is badly disrupted, its skinsuit significantly damaged, or both. This Tilt or Condition cannot be removed using this ability.

One with Everything

A shekt swarm’s ability to act is limited by the range of their bioresonance, keeping them in close proximity. With special training and microsurgery, however, a shekt can maintain a medium-range resonance that supports essential functioning. Higher thought and reasoning shut down entirely, but the shekt can remain alive and barely conscious while its drones are distributed across a substantial area. This talent is occasionally used to gather information, but its primary benefit is in survival, allowing a shekt to bury itself away out of sight while danger threatens. Eventually, instinctual signals draw the swarm back together and it awakens again.

The miniscule size of shekt drones means that almost any environment provides room enough for a swarm to disperse and hide. The shekt fades away, unseen and undiscoverable by any but the most meticulous scrutiny, such as biological hazard inspection or forensic examination. Drones burrow under carpets and into furniture, find cracks in bricks or plasterwork, lurk in clothing or flatten themselves between the pages of books. A sensible shekt finds a means to conceal their skinsuit before using this ability, but in extremis it can be a simple escape plan.

Tell: Varies with the observed behaviour, as noted in Species Tells. In most indoor environments, seeing a swarm of insects at all is at least a Subtle Tell.

Action: Instant

Cost: 1 Focus

While this ability is active, the shekt is essentially invisible. As its neural network fades to a bare minimum, even mental abilities are unlikely to detect it. Passive inspection reveals nothing. Active physical or mental searches suffer a -10 penalty, reduced to -5 if searchers know what they’re looking for.

As always, loss of a few drones is irrelevant to the shekt. If a shekt is discovered and systematically attacked, an attacker can inflict one Bashing damage per minute through standard attacks. Fires, toxic gases, demolition or other large-scale effects can cause more substantial damage.

The dispersed swarm is barely conscious. The shekt cannot communicate (even with other shekt), nor take any actions other than attempting to reform. The drones’ senses allow rudimentary perception, sensing movements and activity, but the conscious mind registers little of it. The shekt must roll to perceive details, such as words, specific actions or identities, and does so with a -2 penalty. The Storyteller determines how often this should be rolled; typically roll once for each useful piece of information.

The shekt can remain dispersed for up to one hour per point of Focus. At any point during this time, they can attempt to reform by rolling Presence + Resolve. Beyond this point, it becomes increasingly strenuous to reform and return to consciousness. For each additional hour the shekt remains dispersed, they suffer a cumulative -1 penalty on attempts to reform.

Note that the normal rules for starvation and thirst still apply to shekt when they are dispersed.

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