Thursday, August 9, 2018

API: The Celestial Arbiters: Heaven's Holy Hit-men

There is a belief in modern, Western culture that God is love.  For example, Jesus is described as an all-loving man who never spoke ill of anyone.  Or maybe he was a nice, friendly socialist who never claimed he was God and was just a moral teacher.  And that's for the religious people.  Some people just don't believe in any God at all, either directly, or they claim to believe in God or Allah or they're a Buddhist, but they don't practice what they preach, so to speak.

Some even go so far as to claim that everyone goes to Heaven, just by different routes.  Allah, Jesus, Brahma, all these are just one side of the same infinite, multi-faced beings.  That is a comforting thought.

Which is exactly why you know it is not true.


The Nature and Character of God

God is love, yes, but he is also a God of Judgement.  God can grow angry.  God can and does destroy people for their sins.  He is not the all-forgiving being that most pop culture portrays him as.  When the chips are down, so to speak, God is not the type to accept wickedness.  This is the God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorroh, who tore down Jericho's walls and sentenced the Caananites to death for their crimes.  Modern people don't like to acknowledge this part of God's character, because it makes them uncomfortable.  Many mainstream denominations don't even speak about Hell, and the Pope even reportedly said that there is not eternal fire awaiting sinners after death.  But to quote a famous Jew, "Facts don't care about your feelings."  Judgement awaits us all, one day.      

But it is important to note that God is not evil or arbitrary.  His punishments can seem that way to mortals, but they do not have the perspective to see as he does.  These are not the random actions of a tyrant, but they are punishments inflicted for sin.  However, before these punishments, God always gives people a chance to turn from their ways, to repent.  Sometimes he will even delay in destroying someone, for his own ineffable reasons.  But he always come to lay the guilty low.  He has done this to every wicked person, to every organization grown corrupt and vile, and to every civilization that has become decadent and prideful.  So make no mistake, he is coming for you.
 

 The Sins of API and the Modern World

The Modern World is an illusion, a display of smoke and mirrors to keep the real power out of the hands of the people.  It is a stage-play to distract people.  At first, this theatre production was merely there so the oligarchs could hire a Mageling to summon a Succubus or two while the wife was out of town, without worrying about having to answer certain questions.  But now the play is there to distract people from the fact that their city is burning to the ground, and no one seems to have a solution to the problem, cares enough to solve it, or is denial about there being a fire at all.  But the fire is very real, and it will eventually consume everything, if nothing is done.

These fires are the sins of the Modern World, and they are largely self-inflicted.  And first and foremost of these sins is the actions of API.  Now in the past, I've been a little cagey about the specific moral stance of API, so now I will be clear.  The Company is a mixed bag, morally speaking.  There are wicked people among its ranks, such as those who are more interested in lining their pockets than doing anything about the problems or those who just want to be able to kill Humans and Xenos without repercussion, only doing their job as a pretext.  These corrupt individuals are more common in some areas, especially in the so-called Frontier offices, where the Company essentially operates like a protection racket or a feudal Lord, collecting lavish gifts and tithes in exchange for loyalty and obedience.  Additionally, many otherwise noble Agents of the Company will help to cover up the crimes of others, especially those within high-level positions in society or within the Company itself.  Even common criminals can sometimes escape legal repercussion, if Agents feel they are better served as an informant than another convict rotting behind bars.  Additionally, the opposite sometimes occurs, as Agents take it upon themselves to punish and execute criminals who have nothing to do with their primary duties, taking their induction into the Company as an endorsement of their personal feelings on Justice.

Secondly, one could argue that the very laws that the Company acts under and enforces are illegitimate, that API is nothing more than a tool used to suppress violence and those the nations who employ the Company feel are threats.  But is there truth to these theories?  Perhaps there is some, but the Company has not degraded so much that it is thoroughly rotten.  At least, not yet.

New Mercies for a New Day

For this reason, among others, is the reason why God has not destroyed the Modern World and the civilizations that make it up.  For now he will wait.  But he could, at any moment, unleash a great disaster, and either let the flames of our making consume us, or use some kind of outside force.  The Company is in the business of trying to prevent the Apocalypse, and there seems to be quite a few of them these days.  There is the Ninth Extinction, a massive outbreak of Toxic that is said will replace Humanity as the dominant species on planet earth, the arrival of the Chromatics, a super-flu or pandemic bio-weapon designed by murderous Lochs, or just some some fat-fingered bureaucrat pushing the little red button and finally letting us play, Fallout: Real Life edition.  Or if none of those come to pass, it could be something we never see coming, like Cthulhu awakening from beneath the Northern Pacific or Jesus finally coming back in a big way. 

So until something like that goes on, God will continue to wait, and be content to only judge those on the local level.  He does this through the Moral Law.  The Moral Law can be roughly summarized as "You reap what you sow."  If you live an ordered life, then you will be safe from self-inflicted tragedy.  Catastrophe can and will inflict itself upon you, but it won't be your fault.  But if you do not live an ordered life, you will only cause yourself problems and exasperate those problems you already have.  And this usually works.  The Moral Law is sufficient and self-correcting.  Most criminals are caught, most liars exposed, most adulterers get drug through divorce court for years, etc.

But some people get away with it.  Through their own cleverness or through the nature of the world, they manage to escape punishment.  And since God is not usually willing to directly get involved, he does what every smart boss does. 

He delegates.


The Celestial Arbiters, Enforcers of the Moral Law

You see, if you were in his shoes, you might see a problem.  God wishes to see the Moral Law enforced, but where it fails to enforce itself, what can he do?  God cannot just override free Will, he does not want to be a dictator.  Even in the Garden of Eden, he gave Adam and Eve a choice to follow his laws or not.  So what is he to do if a sinner escapes punishment, but he does not want to impede that person's free will and doesn't want to directly intervene yet?  Well, he does what anyone else stuck in a situation where they cannot directly act.  He crowd-sources. 

Specifically, he calls upon the Celestial Arbiters, the Hit-Squad and Hatchetmen of the Almighty.  The Celestial Arbiters come from all walks of life, from all species, and from all time.  Most are humans granted a last minute pardon on condition that they serve for the rest of their ageless lives, but they are not the only type of Arbiter.  Among their ranks you can also find strange beings, other-worldly creatures, Pagan Gods who got bought out, or beings from outside our Universe.  These varied beings work together to see the Wicked punished and the Innocent protected.  But it's a big universe, and there is a lot of wickedness to punish.  So the Celestial Arbiters focus on the big fish, those who won't get their just desserts any other way, and work their way down.  See the list below for the most common reasons the Arbiters are sent out.  

Crimes worthy of Celestial Arbiter Involvement:

- Preaching False Gospel.  Self-explanatory.
- Sexual Immorality on a grand scale.  It'd have to be really, really bad.  Also, as a Referee, be careful with this one. 
- Attempting to summon those on the spiritual No-Fly list.  Certain Outsiders are simply too dangerous to be allowed anywhere near Humans.  If the OSR version of Bill Cipher or something like it is trying to slither into our universe, they will show up to send him back.
- Being a target on their Kill List.  It's a long list, and you have to be really, really bad to actually get on it.  If you do managed to get on it though, odds are you're likely to quickly terminated.  
- Attempting to violate the Laws of Death (Lichdom, in danger of finding the fountain of Youth, etc).
- Creating a hole in the Universe.  God worked hard knitting the fabric of space-time.  Plus, if it get ripped, who knows what awful places it could lead to. 
- Attempting to change history or Time Travel.  Especially if they are trying to stop the Crucifixion or interfere with Christ.  That will earn you a one-way ticket to Hell, no questions asked.
- Theft of holy relics.  Self-explanatory.
- Attempting to use a holy item for something profane- a blessed silver bullet to kill an innocent, etc.
- Attempting to bring about the Apocalypse.  You need to submit the proper paperwork for that.
- Attempting to contact/find Hell.  No good could possibly come from that.
- Attempting to contact/find Heaven.  See: "The Tower of Babel".
- Attempting to subvert the Church for an evil end.  Self-explanatory.
- Anything that you (the Referee) feel unduly threatens the children of the Living God.  Self-explanatory.

If you see something here that looks like what an NPC is doing, send in the Arbiters.  But note that since God knows all, he only sends the Arbiters if an act of this nature has A) any chance of succeeding, and B) no one else is going to stop it.  If the PCs are already on their way, then the Arbiters might just send them some silver bullets and let the JV team sort it out.  But if they are coming, keep going.

Heaven's Holy Hitmen

They travel in groups divisible by 3 or 7.  3, 7, 14, 21, 24, 27.

Depending on what their objective is, you can select from the varieties below, or generate a custom team for any mission.


Possible Configurations:

Scouting/Infiltration Team: Sent to gather information or act as Moles: Cleric, Friar, Teacher.

Hit Squad: Sent in to kill a specific person: Teacher, Prophet, Father.

Kill-Team: Sent in to kill everyone: 1d6 Deacons, 1d3 Lambs, 1 Prophet, 1 Black Noble. 

Bodyguard: Sent to protect the VIPs of the Most High: 1d3 Fathers, 1d2 Lambs, 1d3 Deacons, Cleric.

Retrieval Team: Sent out to retrieve hostages or take them: 1d6 Deacons, 1d6 Fathers, 1 Lamb, 1 Prophet.

Custom Configuration:


Roll 1d8 (3 or 7 times) to see what the group contains.

1d8
1- Black Noble
2- Friar
3- Cleric
4- Deacon
5- Father
6- Lambs
7- Prophet
8- Teacher

Base Celestial Arbiter Statblock
HD 3  AC 14  Atk Varies
Mor 10  Saves 10+

They come in Seven Varieties:

Celestial Clerics:

They tend to be older, usually male, with bushy beards and heavy, jeweled rosaries.  They prefer to wear robes (unless they're traveling incognito) and heavy, jeweled rosaries.  They are said to perform miracles on behalf of the Almighty, and while are sometimes known to burn heretics to dust, usually use their spells to weaken enemies and support their allies.  Their spells are a gift from the Almighty, and as such, are holy. Their spells cannot hurt someone innocent or virtuous, or someone God wishes to use for other purposes.  

Statblock Changes:

Weapon- Staff 1d6

Spellcaster: Can cast spells as a level 3 Wizard.  Immune to Chaos and Corruption.  Spellcasting dice still burn out on a 5 or 6, however.  The Cleric will have up to three spells prepared that might be useful on his current mission. 

Example Spells:
- Aegis
- Healing Touch
- Fireball
- Fogbank
- Healing Touch
- I'll build a Stairway to Paradise
- It's only a Paper Moon
- Lucky
- Ounce of Prevention
- Prismatic Defense
- Prismatic Ray
- Turn Undead


Celestial Deacons:


The rank and file.  Commandos from God's throne room.  Clad in camouflage or dark blue, wearing helmets and bulletproof vests, each one covered in purity seals and prayers written on parchment pinned to their armor.  Armed with sub-machine guns, grenades, military tactics and extensive training.  Fight with weapons close enough to modern humans that they could be mistaken for a Special Forces Raid if not for their unusual uniforms, tattoos, and back-up.   

Statblock Changes:

Weapon- Submachine Gun 2d8 or Grenade 3d6, save for half

Well-Trained: The Celestial Deacons work very well together.  If two or more Deacons attack the same target, each Deacon gets +1 to hit and AC, with up to a +4 bonus to these stats.  

Celestial Fathers:

Large, brutish humans, taller then most men, covered head to toe in thick armor, with enormous shields that look they were pried off a battleship.  They use these shields to protect softer units.  Kindly and gentle with the wounded and those in need of protection, unless you are a foe.  Prefer to protect the softer units, and not attack you themselves. 

Statblock Changes:


Weapon- Stun Baton 1d6 melee + 1d6 nonlethal

Shield Wall: Fathers carry shields with them.  When struck by an attack, they can reduce the damage taken by 1d8.  If they wish to, they can sunder their shield to reduce the damage by 8, but this destroys their shield and renders them unable to reduce damage until they get another one.

Celestial Friar:

They are the infiltrators and spies on behalf of Heaven.  Their primary jobs are reconnaissance and espionage.  they only come along on missions where their is a certain amount of information gathering or subtlety required.  If the Arbiters can choose a more blunt solution, they will.  The Prophets ensure they almost always get away clean, so their is little need for tact.  But when there is, the Friars are called in.  They tend to avoid fighting if they can, and are always protected by other Arbiters.    

Statblock Changes:

Weapon- Silenced Pistol 2d6 or Flashbang (no damage, save or be blinded)

Choose One:

Flying Man: This Friar can levitate in place and fly at up to 100 miles per hour.

or 

Blink: This Friar can teleport up to 30' as a full action.  They can teleport through walls and into enclosed spaces, as long as they are within range. 

or

Language of Beasts: This Friar can speak to animals as if they shared a language.  Most animals are generally helpful toward the Friar, but dumb.   

Celestial Lambs:

Lambs are living sacrifices, valiant and utterly selfless.  They wear stainless mirrored plate or snow white armor and are banners adorned with their name, family and sins.  They are fearless and never check morale.  They do not want to kill you, but they do want to get you to target them.  They will challenge you to duels, act recklessly, or charge a fixed position with a flaming sword to accomplish this.  They are not trying to die, but trying to get you to target them.  For if any other Celestial Arbiter dies, it is a tragedy and a reason to seek revenge.  But a Lamb dying is not a reason for the Arbiters to stop, it is their purpose.  If a Celestial Lamb dies on the field of battle, the banners covered in their sins burn up, and if you inspect their bodies, you will find they died with blissful expressions on their face.  Their bodies never rot, suffer rigor mortis, or discharge their bowels once they pass.  The Arbiters always try to retrieve the bodies.

Statblock Changes:

Weapon- Shotgun 3d6/2d6/1d6 or Flaming Sword 1d6 + 1d6 fire

Shotgun: Shotguns deal 3d6 damage at close range, 2d6 at medium range, or 1d6 at far range.

Those who Seek Death shall Live: Once per day, if the Lamb fails a save, they may instead act as if they succeeded.

Challenge: As a free action, one target opponent must save.  On a failure, they are marked as 'Enemy of Heaven' and get -4 to attack anyone but the Celestial Lamb that marked them.  For firearm saves, all but the Celestial Lamb get +4 to their saves against the Marked's guns.  The Lamb may only challenge one opponent per round.  This mark deactivates when the Lamb that made it dies.

Celestial Teachers:

The Arbiters are not magical creatures.  They are humans, and most of them did not know much about combat before they accepted the position to fight on behalf of God.  As such, they needed teachers.  Or rather, a Teacher.  A brutal killer who was never caught, the soldier from a doomed unit, the assassin who got away with it, these are where those Teachers come from.  These are men and women whose whole lives were dedicated to war.  As such, they know where to plant a knife, where to shoot to hit from an impossible distance, or how to plant a bomb that it takes out the most people.    

Statblock Changes:

Weapon- Any

Three-Round Burst: If the Teacher succeeds on an attack roll and gets to roll damage, they may roll their damage dice twice and choose the better result.

Celestial Prophets:

These are the Humans touched by God, with his wisdom.  The Almighty's most Holy Spirit whispers to them, telling them the future, letting them see the cogwheels of fate turning before them.  Prophets are fanatical individuals, known for their emotional outbursts, insane actions, and total holiness.  They dress in rags or in stainless robes.  They never hide.  They are never scared.  When they die, they do so with a grim smile and a mad laugh.  Just like they foresaw.  They knew it.  They will curse you before they die.  Call down curses on people, kill enemy morale.

Statblock Changes:

"As foretold through the Prophets": The Prophet will yell out to their teammates what is going to happen in the future right before it happens, giving everyone but them +4 to AC and All saves.  If there is a Prophet in a squad, they cannot be surprised, and surprise on a 5-in-6.

"Vengeance is mine, I will repay, sayeth the Lord": If a Prophet is injured but not killed, they will curse the person who wounded them.  This is especially true if the wound is fatal or the Prophet feels they are unlikely to survive.  Of course, they know if they are going to die.  They have seen it, God has blessed them to know both the time and the hour.  The can curse someone with anything, but for it to work, the target must be able to hear them and understand at least one spoken language.    

See here for a list of potential curses I already wrote down or if none of those please you, consult your favorite list.

Black Noble:

These are especially wicked souls who were recruited for their specific talents.   They are special units and don't fit any specific mold.  They are usually brought along for their expertise, for example, they bring Zeus along when there's a monster seducing Human women, or something like that.  And while most Celestial Arbiters consider the Black Nobles not one of the proper Body (of Christ), the Black Nobles are working on their pardons just as any other Arbiter is, and most of them are just as noble and upright as any other Arbiter.

Statblock Changes:


Black Noble
HD 2d6  AC 10+1d6  Atk Varies
Mor 10  Saves 4+1d4+

Weapon- Varies from Noble to Noble.  For the very weak, give them a normal weapon.  For the very strong, 1d12 melee, 3d6 ranged.

Random Black Nobles
1d12
1- Countess Elizabeth Bathory.  A Vampire, known for her blood-thirst and utter cruelty.  Now she is a lieutenant in God's Army, and three hundred years from her next parole hearing.
2- Vlad the Impaler.  A level 6 Fighting Man.  He wields a variety of powerful magical weapons, though his most famous is his sword.  Called Sultan's Bane, it has the ability where if it strikes you, it forces you to make your next attack against a target of Vlad's choosing.  The person struck knows this.
3- Zeus, God of Olympus.  He was never a real God, but he was allowed to keep his title.  He fires lightning bolts and can shape-shift.
4- Mustafa Kemal Attaturk.  Nullifies magical powers around him.  Makes Angels silly dudes with wings, and Semblance users no better than men.     
5- Roman von Ungern-Sternburg.  Reports of his death were highly exaggerated/fabricated.  Cannot be harmed by Communists, Atheists, or people who are currently breathing.  Hold your breathe and make this shot count, you won't get another.  Ask the Soviets, they never did.   
6- Oda Nobunaga.  Wrapped in the flames of a burning temple.  They do not hurt him.  He can fire jets of flame at those who draw near to him, though once the flames leave his body they act as normal fire.   
7- Timur, Conqueror of the World.  A mongol Warlord from beyond the grave.  Still served by legions of loyal soldiers who continued to serve him after their deaths as an army of ghosts.
8- The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong.  She can shape-shift, turn herself invisible, attacks like a level 3 Fighter and sneaks like a level 5 Thief.
9- Adam, the First Man.  Adam is ten feet tall, telepathic, and casts spells like a level 7 Wizard.  And he's not naked, for your information.  He is beyond genius, with an IQ higher than any human since, with perhaps one exception.
10- Rudolf Hess.  Can rip out people's souls with a touch.  They aren't dead, merely stored in his body. 
11- Judas Iscariot.  Not actually being chewed on by Satan in Hell.  Has the power where if you accept any money from him, you must obey one order he gives you, no matter what it is.
12- Rasputin.  This guy doesn't seem to have any special powers.  But he does have one.  No matter what you do, he cannot die.  Poisoning, shooting, stabbing, bludgeoning, they will all fail.  He's also a good shot and an excellent wrestler.




Treasures of the Holy Ones

1d8

1- Blessed Silver bullets.  Each one has prayers engraved along its length, and is forged in Heaven's armories.  Can injury anything, even creatures normally immune to bullets or certain types of weapons.  Pure silver, but as soon as they are used, they vanish, leaving behind nothing but the memory that they were used.  The bullets fired also disappear out of the body of anyone shot by one of them.
 
2- Flaming Sword(s).  Does 1d6 damage.  As a free action, can be ignited by staining it with blood.  This causes fire to engulf the blade, making the sword do +1d6 fire damage on a hit.  This fire counts as magic.  Wielding one of these when you are not a Celestial Arbiter will either be seen as a very good sign, as they entrusted you with one, or a very bad sign, ie that you killed a Celestial Arbiter and they have been unable to get their sword back.  And the Arbiters will try and retrieve their swords.  Each one is a holy treasure, and they will do almost anything to retrieve one.  

3- Rod of Control.  If the pointed end is stabbed into someone, it does 1d6 Dexterity damage, and gives -1 to hit.  If the Dex damage from this Rod ever equals or exceeds someone's Dexterity score, the wielder of the Rod can control their actions.

4- Cask of Locusts.  A barrel of wood, but light-weight.  When cracked open, released 1d10*1000 locusts which, immediately begin behaving as normal locusts.  This plunges visibility to barely in front of your face, making all ranged attacks do nothing.  Additionally, if you are not near a wall or a solid obstruction, or say inside a car, you take 1d3 damage when the cask is opened, if you are within 30'.  After 1d10 minutes, the locusts die, leaving thousands of insect corpses carpeting the ground.

5- Flesh of the Eternal Man.  A piece of still moving human flesh.  Eating it restores your HP and FS to full, cures all injuries and ends all negative status effects.  If you are a good person.  If you are not a good person and you eat this, your body is consumed with holy fire and you die, no save.

6- Tonic of Angel Wings.  If you drink this, you gain a pair of white wings.  They enable you to fly until you do something morally unpalatable, after which they vanish.   

7- Trumpet of Heaven.  Blowing this summons an Angel.  The Angel summoned will vary depending on who you are and what you need.  If you are a Good person, you may receive an Angel suited to your current problem.  If you are a bad person, when you blow this, an Angel will be dispatched to take the horn from you and return to Heaven. 

8- A folding ladder made of gold.  If unfolded, it will reach the ceiling of any current room you are in.  Once it touches the ceiling, it will create an opening in the roof that you can pass through, to take you up to the next floor.  This opening disappears once you fold up the ladder.  However, if a building does not have a next floor, the ladder instead merely extends, reaching up and up into the clouds.  If you climb it, it will take a series of increasingly difficult STR and CON checks to hold on and maintain your grip for hours.  But if you make them, you will reach the Gates of Heaven itself.  You are unlikely to be actually allowed inside, but the doorman is said to be very compassionate and very knowledgeable.




                                                    By Whitluna
Why use the Celestial Arbiters?

The Celestial Arbiters are a foe best used in a game where the players are a team of API agents, and not just a rag-tag bunch of Those who Know.  This is because the Arbiters are a perfect foil for the Company.  Like API, they have far-reaching powers and near limitless authority, and are above every conventional law.  They have carte-blanche to do whatever they feel is right.  On top of this, they are armed and dangerous, capable of taking down minor deities, rogue Angels, and whatever other horrors the universe can throw at them.  Yet they are few in number, given a task that no mortal could ever reasonably expect to fix.  They have 1 bullet in a target-rich environment, and they know that no matter what they do, someone innocent is going to suffer because of their actions, either directly or indirectly.

But unlike API, which is morally ambiguous at best, the Arbiters are holy.  They come from Heaven itself, ready to do God's work.  The Arbiters never do anything that is not obviously, self-evidently good.  They never have to do anything morally unsavory.  For unlike the Agents of API, they are given the privilege of never having to do something evil.  They do not have to protect violent, malicious thugs or tolerate the presence of evil for the sake of Downworld politics, nor do Arbiters have to execute people who may have done nothing wrong or any of the other dirty business that the Company gets up to.  And that list is just the legal stuff the Company does every day.  Their agents also engage in illegal business all the time, whether its relatively minor crimes like stealing the property of those who are executed or something more heinous, such as killing every Xeno you can because you despise them with a passionate hatred.

Additionally, there is one other difference between the Company and the Arbiters.  The Arbiters are much, much stronger.  They are the fist of God, hand-selected by committees of Warrior-Angels and trained by the greatest warriors to ever live.  They have the tools, the training, and the will to succeed.  Furthermore, the Arbiters have one final advantage.  They believe whole-heartedly that they are right, and because of that, they will never, ever give up. 

But don't worry, they're on our side.  So, you should ask yourself, are you?


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