Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cherskii Mafia

Although I never got around to writing up a sample encounter and stat block of a member, this post has otherwise been complete for a couple of weeks. I decided to go ahead and post it as is. Coming up with statblocks for NPCs is easy, after all, and it depends on the system. Since this is supposed to be viable across three related systems, coming up with stats was a bit problematic, and I hadn't quite decided which system I wanted to use.

The Cherskii Mafia is the name that outsiders give to Наший Вешъ (Nashii Vyesh), "Our Thing." The roots of the hamazin mafia go back to the fall of the grand empire of Baal Hamazi itself. When the empire fractured into several independent and quarrelsome city-states and smaller statelets, most hamazin incurred a significant loss of quality of life. Their life of indolence as the privileged overlords of human slaves was over, and they now had to work or fight for a standard of living very much below what it had been. While many hamazin shrugged and moved on, and several philosophically minded hamazin even saw the development as inevitable and to be welcomed, most harbored a lingering regret for the glory days of Baal Hamazi.

For most hamazin, this was channeled into trying to either build their more local utopias as best they could within the boundaries of their new city-states, or they fled the area entirely, foregoing their heritage as much as possible, in an attempt to make new lives for themselves in new lands, free of the violence and anarchy that gripped much of their former homelands. But some saw it as their divine mission to restore the hamazin to a place of power and prestige no less glorious than that of the past, and hopefully even much more than before. These individuals in some cases formed organizations dedicated to this mission. Most of them were little more than fanatical racist cultists, and many fell victim to infighting. One, however, became a powerhouse. Kašku Sarruma was a former military man, hard of personality and competent, not one of the more indolent civilians, and when he called the now leaderless soldiers that fought with him to his side, they answered.

These violent and pitiless men, seeing their society fall to pieces all around them still lacked the resources and manpower to impose order, stability and the type of government that they desired over the mobs, the revolting slaves, the incalcitrant natives, and others. In a bold yet desperate move, Sarruma engaged in a number of actions at once, all designed to forge the organization he needed to attempt multiple coups over the regional independent governments that were springing up all through the territory of the former Baal Hamazi. First, he needed troops. Aggressive yet very selective recruitment drives coupled with indoctrination gave him a core of elite fighters, perhaps more suited to subterfuge, assassination and other "black ops" type activities than to the more overt military action that they were used to. In addition, Sarruma kidnapped young hamazin women and girls, never too many from one location, and never any that were important enough to be aggressively missed, and enslaved them, forcing them to serve as little more than brood mares for a new generation of indoctrinated warriors. While treated as well as they could be, these poor women and girls lived a life almost constantly pregnant, in an attempt to grow an army the old-fashioned way as quickly as possible for his fledgeling organization.

But all of this distracted Nashii Vyesh's attention away from their original goals, and Sarruma had to admit that he would not be able to establish his glorious Hamazin rebirth in his lifetime, or probably even for several generations. It also required capital. For that, Sarruma picked some of his most trusted lieutenants to go into other lands, especially in the Terrasan empire, and raise money through organized crime, and funnel it back to Nashii Vyesh coffers.

Now, several generations after the fall of Baal Hamazi and the formation of Nashii Vyesh, most of its leadership has forgotten or ignored the mandate of Kašku Sarruma. The organized crime gig is simply too profitable to put it aside for empire building. The only interest Nashii Vyesh has in politics now is in corrupting politicians to turn a blind eye towards their activities, or giving them heads-up of lucrative opportunities that they can exploit. The leadership remains xenophobic hamazin, but they also don't have any qualms about hiring, exploiting, or even partnering with other gangs, as long as they remain in control. In fact, throughout much of the Terrasan cities, the Cherskii Mafia, as outsiders have started calling it--the black mob, referring to the obsidian-like skin color of the hamazin--are notoriously partnered up with the small populations of urban vucari to the point that it's almost safe to assume that half of the urban vucari that you see are gangsters affiliated with the Cherskii Mafia in some cities.

Joining the Cherskii Mafia. Joining the Cherskii Mafia is something that only hamazin can aspire to, but joining the greater organization as a partner, ally or subordinate is something that any competent criminal can possibly hope to accomplish. Prospective real members must be sponsored by someone already on the inside. In addition, they must show some aptitude at a useful skill that the Cherskiians can use. While the Cherskiians freely utilize loosely affiliated gangs and hirelings to manage the less glamorous roles of smuggler, pimp, extortionist and generic muscle, the real Cherskiians are the management, the shadowy leaders and the surgical scalpel called in when things need to be done more forcefully and very discretely. Many "made" Cherskiians are therefore assassins, high caliber cat burglers, strategically placed spies, or well-connected mob leaders. Potential members must be unerringly loyal to the organization and to each other and often go through an extended validation period where the mafia higher-ups evaluate the potential member's performance and loyalty. In addition, to be a "made man (or woman)" the potential inductee must have performed at least one contract killing; any murder for personal reasons do not count, only for professional ones for which the inductee was paid.

Once accepted, the potential Cherskiian is picked up at his place of residence, usually after midnight, by a coterie of his soon to be brothers, and brought to the secret induction ceremony. There, he undergoes an initiation ritual, where he swears the "Oath of Silence" that prohibits him from betraying his organization, especially to lawful authorities or rival organized crime gangs. This ritual is a magical incantation that all of the participants help with the ritual, and all of them take 1d3 points of Constitution damage for participation in the ritual, as well as gaining 1d2 (1d4 divided by 2--or flip a coin, heads is 1, tails is 2) Madness points, because the ritual summons a demon that impresses the Oath of Silence magically on the new inductee (the equivalent of a geas spell.) This is a lifelong compulsion (barring it being magically removed somehow--don't forget, remove curse isn't exactly a readily available spell in the Dark•Heritage campaign setting) and as the saying goes, "You enter [into membership in the Cherskii Mafia] alive, but the only way out is dead."

Entry Requirements:
Base Attack Bonus: +2
Skill Ranks: Stealth 3, Bluff 3
Special: see above, must be sponsored by an existing member, must take (and fulfill) a contract killing (for the Mafia, or another organization, but it must be verified by an insider), must undergo initiation ceremony.

Character Benefits. Being a member of the Cherskiians means access to deep pockets and vaults full of nearly any item you might need... at least, if you're using it on Cherskiian business. Members also have some access to this same equipment and resources (at the GM's discretion) for personal use as well. Being a member also means having access to safe houses, opportunities for work, and other basic requirements of living, although of course, you'll be expected to "work" for it, and by work, of course, I mean further the criminal enterprises of the Cherskiians. In addition, Cherskiians are sometimes nicknamed "Untouchables"--if any made man is ever killed, retribution is swift and brutal, so rival gangs and even law enforcement officials are very wary about molesting or bothering a known made man, even when justified. This deterence means a great deal of safety in any town or city in which the Mafia operates in significant enough numbers. It also means legal protection, and even political protection if necessary; the Mafia has deep pockets to retain barristers or bribe officials if needed.

These resources usually also mean access to illegal witchcraft and sorcery, drugs, and other "performance enhancers" that are rightly illegal in most civilized societies, due to their inherent risk and danger.

Roleplaying Suggestions. Cherskiians are usually proud and accept no insult without repaying it in kind. However, the hamazin elite of the organization are conniving, intelligent, and patient. Cherskiians idolize their founder, Kašku Sarruma, and his military precision and cold, rational, and strategic approach to his enterprises. Although you accept no insult, you're not necessarily in a hurry to exact your revenge either; you're perfectly capable of waiting for the perfect opportunity, when you've managed to arrange everything to your advantage. But you will exact your revenge; it is intolerable to consider not doing so. Your entire existence as a Cherskiian is based on maintaining your reputation as implacable and untouchable.

In addition, you are completely convinced of the superiority of the hamazin race and the Baal Hamazi culture (however exactly you interpret it). You could be a traditionalist, still intent on contributing to the glorious rise of the New Baal Hamazi, or you could be a pragmatist who's happy enough just living large now by taking advantage of the others in the world. In either case, you are convinced that you are above the law, and that your course of action is the right one. You are unconcerned with the concerns of anyone you might have to step on to get to your goals.

The Cherskii Mafia in the World. The Cherskii Mafia is a significant player in organized crime in all of the cities of the Terrasan Empire, Porto Liure, the cities of the hamazin lands, and are starting to spread into Qizmir as well. As of yet, they have had little success (or interest) in penetrating neighboring Tarush Noptii with its vampire overlords, but they have only recently become aware of ripe new markets to exploit in Kurushat. If only they can figure out how not to incur a martial law crackdown by the militaristic Kurushati.

In the cities where the Cherskiians are entrenched, although they tend to keep a low profile, although their influence is pervasive and entrenched. They have politicians, constables, and more in their pockets, and their protection rackets and smuggling operations impact thousands of independent merchants.

They have fierce rivalries with other organized crime families and organizations that occasionally lead to bloody mob warfare in the streets, the exception to the normally low profile. Because they tolerate no challenge or insult unanswered, this occasionally sets the organization back temporarily, but the leaders take the long-term view, that maintaining their hegemony and their reputation as an organization not to cross no matter what is worth the short-term hassle.

Instead of mob warfare, though, they are more likely to use their highly skilled and notorious internal assassins, the Black Hands to quietly (yet publicly) end their rivals.

Organization of the Cherskii Mafia. The lowest level of the Mafia are the often non-hamazin gangs that do most of the day-to-day legwork of racketeering. These gangs are not large, and because the Cherskii Mafia comes from a military background, they are sometimes referred to internally as "platoons" or "squads." Above them are the captains, who keep the gangs in line and make sure that money flows into the Cherskiian coffers. The captains are almost always hamazin, although in recent years, some vucari have been promoted to that rank in some cities. All of the gangs that report to a single captain are sometimes referred to as his "company." Above the captains are the generals, and all of the captains in a single area report to the general. The generals have a "command structure" including councilors, assassin units, sorcerers and other specialists at their disposal.

Above the generals are the leaders of the entire Cherskii Mafia, headquartered in a secret fortress near the Salt Sea in the center of the lands that used to be Baal Hamazi. Along with the leadership, there is a brigade of soldiers, entire divisions of assassins and sorcerers, training grounds and more.

NPC Reactions. As with the real Mafia in the real world, ordinary people are wary and fearful of people with known ties to the Mafia, as well as (usually) disliking them. There are frequent calls to clean up the streets of cities in which the Cherskiians operate, and anyone who dares to stand against them is frequently made a hero... at least as long as he lives. Their activities also tar honest hamazi with an ugly brush in such cities. However, there are also numerous individuals who respect and romanticize organized crime, and who are willing to help anyone associated with the Mafia in the hopes of the favor being remembered.

Typical Member. A member of the Cherskii mob... an actual member, not a gang member that is affiliated with them, is usually a high level character (relatively speaking... take into consideration the low level nature of the Dark•Heritage setting compared to many D&D settings)... a cold, calculating and callous (I like alliteration) individual. They are often urbane and charming when they want to be. They are not vulgar thugs, they are the puppet masters who control the vulgar thugs and hold their leashes. Typical classes could be fighters, rogues, ninjas, nobles, assassins, commanders, swashbucklers, soulknives or lurks. The "outdoorsy" classes are unlikely to be welcome to the Cherskii Mafia as they neither benefit them on a regular basis nor would it be a benefit to those characters. Urban ranger variants could, however, play a role as a specialist attached to a general or a division at HQ. Unarmed fighter classes, such as the survivor or the defender also would be unlikely to attract the attention of a sponsor in the first place. Keep in mind the class list for Dark•Heritage, which is unique for a D&D setting. Sorcerers are not typical members, but those that belong to the organization are highly valued and tend to wield influence and clout beyond what their mere rank would indicate.

Cherskii Mafia Lore. By making a successful Knowledge (History) or Knowledge (Local) (if applicable) check, or a successful bardic knowledge check, a character can discover more about the Cherskii Mafia. If desired, this could also be uncovered by using the Diplomacy skill to gather information.

DC 15: The Cherskii Mafia is an organized crime syndicate that originates up north in the successor statelets of Baal Hamazi, but which is most famous for operating smuggling, racketeering and other activities amongst the cities of the Terrasan Empire, among others.

DC 20: Although the Cherskii Mafia is a hamazin led syndicate, they utilize mostly local gangs for the local legwork of enforcement and other day to day activities. Recently there has been a more formalized tie of some sort between the hamazin and urban vucari.

DC 25: The original founding purpose of the Cherskii Mafia was to funnel moneys into the hands of hamazin, who were struggling to rebuild their fallen empire, but who lacked the resources to unite their fractuous brothers and sisters. Today's leadership of the Mafia shares this goal.

DC 30: Characters who achieve this level of success on their check can find out specifics about Mafia activities and individuals.

Adaptation. To use this organization in another setting, the easiest thing to do is to pick a nation that no longer exists but which might have the descendents of expatriate former citizens living abroad, who desired to rebuild their former nation, but who were distracted by the immediate gratifications of successful organized criminal operations. In Eberron, for example, Cyrans would be an obvious choice, although to be a little more exotic, the survivors of a kingdom absorbed into Riedra would be interesting. Shifters, naturally, would take the place of vucari, and a specific ethnicity of human would replace the hamazin.

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