"is the fact that beforehand a monstrous act against nature - something of the order of incest - must have taken place; then how is one to force nature to reveal her secrets other than by victoriously going against her, that is, though an act contrary to nature. I see this recognition sketched out in that hideous trinity of Oedipus' fate: the same man who solves the riddle of nature - that double-edged Sphinx - must also violate the most holy order of nature as both parricide and spouse of his mother. Indeed, the meaning of the myth seems inescapable, that wisdom and especially Dionysian wisdom, is an unnatural horror, and that the man who through his knowledge plunges nature into the abyss of annihilation experiences in his own being the disintegration of nature. 'The point of wisdom turns against the wise; wisdom is a crime against nature."
- Frederich Nietzsche, the Birth of Tragedy
The Institute and the Study of that which is forbidden:
Turn back now. You will not like what you find this way. The path of illumination is long and harsh and rarely arrives at the destination you set out to find.
Blast you! Fine, carry on. But heed my words, traveler. One day, you'll end up just like me.
The Right and Left-Hand paths:
The Right Hand path is the path of Revelation. It exalts truth and reality. It venerates order and seeks to impose it on Chaos. The Right Hand Path will usually preserve a system that is unjust, in the hopes that it can be preserved. It fears chaos and subversion above all else.
The Left Hand path is the path of transcendence. It believes that the secrets of happiness, wisdom and all good things lies not in an order, but in the Chaos that underpins it. It believes in diving into those hidden things, that which is taboo or forbidden. It believes the created order misguided or even evil. It raises the individual above all things. It fears stagnation and arbitrary power more than anything.
By proceeding onward, you will be following the Left Hand path.
There are many euphemisms your instructors will no doubt use, but I will speak plainly here, with the original symbology. Much of this will be written about in religious language, which were the words originally used to describe the process. However, as you know, the Institute does not believe in deifying nor exalting the Powers. Unlike those who do, it is the official verdict of the Institute that the Powers be treated as what they are, psychic projections of Human feelings, anxieties and fears. The Powers are not alive nor do they act in our world. Accept and internalize these tenets before continuining.
From there, to open yourself to the Left-hand path requires an act of desolation. The links between you and the psycho-corporate mass of Humanity need to be broken. You must rebel against your programming. You do this by performing your Act of Desolation. This is usually a profane or wicked act, ranging from the disturbed to the truly hideous. They are not all bad, but generally, they often are. Universally however, they all feel wrong. Each one is a crime against nature, which is the only way to open the Left-Hand path. Do not allow yourself to succumb during this move- many a great man have crumbled at this threshold, breaking as they attempt to cross. Remember Oedipus!
From there, your studies will begin in earnest.
"Sell your soul"
It is often presented in fiction as dramatic, as with a single stroke of the pen, your destiny is decided. This is mere myth, which while on its face, untrue, conceals something deeper. It is possible to do so, to decide one's life with one action. Usually however, it is not one bold move, but a thousand smaller moves, many small steps that take you to your destination just as surely as hailing a cab and proceeding straight there.
To gain the knowledge, and power, you seek, you must mold yourself into someone who makes the correct choices and align your spirit with a specific perspective, a mode of being. But even more then that, you must act.
You will find tomes of power, bearing strange philosophy, bizarre mental exercises and soul-bending conundrums. You will speak to wizened mystics with ashen souls and cold, mocking voices sheltering wherever blasphemies are permitted to take root. You will meditate in darkness or light, relying on your own training or consuming large amounts of psychedelics to open the doors you have willingly concealed from yourself.
Yet all these steps are pointless unless you act on them. All the knowledge in the world won't help you if it remains mere information locked up in your skull.
Studying is more then just learning. You must take what you learn and put it into practice. And above all, be patient. Communing with and making yourself a channel for one of the Powers is a task that can take years of patient practice. But once you can open yourself, you will be ready to take the next step.
The Open Paths:
There are 5 Open Paths we have prepared for you. I will provide more details below, as best I am able. You are taking notes, right? If not, start now.
Besides the 5 Paths, there are others. But The Smiling God and The Palace are not as generous and their servants more greedy, having managed to hoard the information relating to these Powers under one roof. Our access to information on such powers is largely non-existent. We only have scraps and fragments, not sufficient for study on their own.
To walk the Way of Light or to study The Court is forbidden. Such is the path of treachery- of black-hearted monsters, evil spirits who will be remembered for how they betrayed Humanity for their own selfish gains. For this, may they be shriven and scorched with fire.
The Way of Inferno:
To follow this path requires allegiance to The Blaze. This is not a path I would recommend for you, it is one that is glorious, but short and violent. The servants of The Blaze live fast and die hard. Likewise, they tend to be distrustful of authority, including that of our Elder Brothers. Additionally, because of its nature, those who walk this path tend to never be considered for leadership positions, nor advance to the upper levels. Most don't mind that and you may never wish to lead, but it's best to keep one's options open.
There are few among us who could teach you anything useful about The Blaze, but the few that have stayed with us are quite impressive.
To walk the Way of Inferno, what you need do most of all is rebel. Disobey the rules, whether that take the form of laws, customs or traditions. Be a firebrand, if you'll excuse my pun. But most importantly, rebel against Logos. Shun the rational part of yourself as much as possible and embrace your emotional side. Teach yourself to act on your emotions. Don't think, just act. There are those who say that you should aim to be as animalistic as possible in your decision-making, that if you are a true servant of The Blaze, it will protect you. I tend to hold to the middle way, that one should emphasize emotions, but keep your reason with you, just in case it becomes necessary.
AC Ceramic (Blunt 1d8) or Diffusion Tile Vest (Lasers 1d8)
Atk Laser Rifle (2d6, save vs firearm) or Firebomb (2d6, save for half + 1d6 per round until extinguished)
Saves 9 or less
Ally to Disaster: Inferno Novices are the allies of disaster. Whenever a danger posed by a man-made disaster occurs, such as smoke inhalation from a fire or shrapnel from an explosion, it does its best to avoid harming them. If they must make a save against such an effect, they receive a +4 bonus to their save.
- Throw grenades at clumps of enemies
- Use the chaos to pick off the survivors
- Use fire and smoke to cover escape
Inferno Novices, when not disguised or traveling incognito, favor long robes made of quilted fabric with layers of belts, buckles and zippers. The fabric of these robes are flame retardant, and the intricate nature of the stitching enables them to keep superhot air out, to protect against, well, fire. They also wear rebreathers to protect themselves from the smoke caused by the fires they inevitably start whenever they fight.
Inferno Novices are also known to shave their heads and get tattoos of flames on the non-visible parts of their bodies. Some will also go so far as to shave their entire bodies, to leave themselves hairless.
When called into dangerous situations, Inferno Novices will wear heavier armor and respirators to filter out smoke and prevent damage to the lungs. They also usually wear thermal imaging goggles that enable them to see heat signatures through thick smoke.
AC Ceramic (Blunt 1d8)
Atk Kero-Whip (1d6 sharp + 1d6 fire + grapple) or Autopistol (1d8, save vs firearm, can target 2 adjacent creatures)
Saves 12 or less
Immune to Fire and its effects
Laser-Resistant: When they take damage from a laser weapon, the opponent should roll damage twice and take the worse result.
Ally to Disaster: Inferno Experts are the allies of disaster. Whenever a danger posed by a man-made disaster occurs, such as smoke inhalation from a fire or shrapnel from an explosion, it does its best to avoid harming them. If they must make a save against such an effect, they receive a +4 bonus to their save.
Direct Destruction: As an action, an Inferno Expert can cause a disaster or direct a pre-existing one. For example, an Inferno Expert can cause an object in a fire to reach its flash point instantly, exploding into a ball of flame, or trigger a pipe explosion, or a power outage, etc. If any of these disasters could cause damage, a saving throw should be allowed if possible, and the damage done should be 3d6 or less.
- Rush in under a hail of bullets
- Break out the whips
- Use the environment as a weapon
Inferno Experts are mostly older men and women, with long manes of tangled hair and muscular frames, clearly the work of many years of dedicated physical training. Their bodies are covered in dozens of burns and scars, from fire as well as other instruments. They used to fear fire, but after conditioning themselves and embracing the riotousness of The Blaze, now none of nature's undirected weapons scare them. Fire is included on this list, but that is because to become an Expert in the Way of Inferno, you must become so close to the fire that it no longer burns you, even when you stand in it.
Inferno Experts are not harmed by heat or flames, though plasma can still burn them. Lasers merely tickle them, however.
They are mostly known for their use of the Kero-Whip, a metal whip that through a sophisticated piece of technology, constantly lubricates the whip's fibers in a flammable liquid. With the push of a button, this liquid can be ignited, transforming the Inferno Expert's whip into a long thread of burning fire.
The Way of Shackles:
To walk this Way requires allegiance to The Cage, a most difficult master. While none of the Ways are easy, I always thought that this one was the most difficult. It requires abasement, a humility so many in this order lack. It is a groveling in the dirt, and it is usually in vain, for The Cage is never satisfied. Yet at the same time, Shackles might also be an easy Way to follow, as it only requires acceptance.
If you wish to follow the Way of Shackles, there are plenty among us who could teach you. It is the second most common Way, I suspect, though that could just be an impression I gained because of their meticulous record keeping.
To walk the Way of Shackles, rob yourself of your pleasures. Give up drinking and women and staying up late. Go to bed and rise at regular intervals. Slowly move down, till you are rising at the crack of dawn and retreating at the first sign of shadows. Give up music and ice skating and poetry. Exercise regularly. Read only works that educate and inform. Eat plain foods that are calorie rich. Read subversive literature and learn the crimes of the authorities set over you, but never act on this information. If you can, convince yourself that nothing can be done. If possible, come to agree with those authorities. But do not forget us, nor your oath to us. If such a thing is impossible, come to think of us as those authorities and align yourself perfectly with us.
AC Ceramic Vest and Helm (Blunt 1d10)
Atk Stun Baton (1d6/1d6 electrical, non-lethal) or Bola (save vs DEX or be knocked prone)
Saves 9 or less
Socialization: The Shackled Acolyte can, as an action, give an order. All non-Diabolic Scholars who hear the voice must obey the Shackled Acolyte or be harmed. Each time someone takes an action contrary to the Shackled Acoytle's Order, they take 1 damage and must make a COG save. On a failure, they also take 1d4 COG damage. If this reduces a creature's COG to 0, that creature must obey. If a creature chooses to obey, they must only obey the letter of the order. Additionally, those who are acting under orders need obey only one order at once. Newer orders automatically supersede old ones. Creatures who have not been raised in society or have rejected it through a monstrous act against nature are immune to this ability.
- Use 'Socialization' to try and get the enemies to stop fighting
- Throw bolas at the enemies with ranged weapons
- Target the prone and vulnerable
Shackled Acolytes are the peace-keepers of the order, carrying out judgement and maintaining the often tenuous links between the various path-schools. They always wear blue. Looking at an Acolyte, you can determine their position within the hierarchy by the shade of blue they are given: the rawest recruits were sky or powder blue, while the NCOs wear Ultramarine or Cobalt, while those about to graduate to Stewards clothe themselves in Midnight or Egyptian Blue. Their uniform, for that is what it is, consists of a long blue coat and matching trousers, with braids on the shoulder and lacy collars. They usually wear short chains, usually concealed within headbands or silk scarves, wrapped around their heads, chests and left hands.
The usually wear body armor, but only put their helms on in case of an emergency.
Stefan Celic on Artstation
AC Ceramic Vest (Blunt 1d8)
Atk Chastener Baton (1d6/1d6 lethal or non-lethal) Laser Pistol (1d8, save vs firearm)
Saves 10 or less
Oversocialization: The Shackled Steward can, as an action, given an order. All non-Diabolic scholars who hear the Steward's voice must obey the Steward's command or or be harmed. Each time someone takes an action contrary to the Shackled Steward's Order, they take 1d4 damage and must make a COG save. On a failure, they also take 1d6 COG damage. If this reduces a creature's COG to 0, that creature must obey. If a creature chooses to obey, they only to the letter of the order. Additionally, those who are acting under orders need obey only one order at once. Newer orders automatically supersede old ones. Creatures who have not been raised in society or have rejected it through a monstrous act against nature are immune to this ability.
Know your Place: As an action, the Shackled Steward can target one creature within 30'. That creature must make a CHA check that should be compared to the Shackled Steward's COG- 15(+1). If the creature wins the contest, it takes no damage and becomes aware of the Shackled Steward's attack, as well as the Steward's position, if it was not already known. If the Steward wins, that creature takes 1d10 damage. The Shackled Steward may only do this every 1d4 rounds.
- Open with 'Know your Place'
- Keep your distance unless the enemy is vulnerable
- Let others take the risks
- Move in if you see a weakness to exploit
Shackled Stewards dress all in black, to separate themselves from their Acolytes. Unlike those same Acolytes, who are sneering and belligerent toward those who refuse to toe the line, the Stewards regard everyone with a mix of condescension and quiet contempt. They speak quietly amongst themselves and snicker at the others, especially those of a lower rank. They are insufferably smug and endlessly self-assured.
The Way of Hunt:
To walk this Way requires allegiance to The Peak, an aloof and distant Power. The Peak does not demand much of its adherents, but it gives little as well. This is the Way for those who are supremely self-reliant and feel the constant need to improve themselves. It is also the topic of many cruel jokes, but I feel comparing it to stunt casting is nonsensical, The Peak is a perfectly valid path, it just happens to be one that is only rewarding to a specific few. That is no crime, as far as I am concerned.
The servants of The Peak are both few in number and sparsely spread across our organization, but the few we have are very driven. You will not find finer men in all of our organization.
To walk the Way of Hunt, shed the restraints of civilization and the softness it has forced upon you. Become accustomed to hardship as much as you can. Spend time outdoors as much as possible. Learn survival techniques. How to find water, how to identify edible plants, how to track, fish and hunt. Learn your knots. Take up a martial art and train until your knuckles bleed. Learn how to use weapons, both of the modern and primitive varierty. Master the use of a knife. And above all else, train. Harden your body to the peak of its potential. Strength is good, but agility and quickness will serve you better. And stealth. Train in the art of invisibility. I am unsure why that is so important, but I have a strong suspicion it has to do with the large number of our brethren who walk this path disappearing without a trace, or dying violently.
AC Hardened Bodyglove (Blunt 1d6, Sharp 1d6)
Atk Knife (1d6/1d6) or SP Pistol (1d8, save vs firearm)
Saves 10 or less
Secrets of the Hunt: Hunted Students receive a +2 bonus to hunting, tracking or hiding in a natural environment or one with foliage. They halve this bonus when in an urban environment. They can double any bonus they do receive if they have some time to disguise or camoflague themselves.
Martial Arts: Hunted Students can reduce the damage of a melee attack by 1d6, assuming that the weapon their opponent is using isn't an Autocutter or Powerblade. They may do this for one melee attack per round.
- Rely on the element of surprise
- Lure the opponent into melee combat
- Stab them repeatedly
Hunted Students are paragons of physical fitness, with sculpted bodies and solid frames. They are scrupulous in their diet and care of themselves. They generally dress in bodygloves that show off every irresistible inch of themselves, usually in dark blue or green or occasionally, black. When they know they need to fight, they will dress themselves in camo and paint their faces. Despite their strong builds, they tend to very sneaky, capable of slipping by most defenses.
They are generally well-liked, and not just because they're usually really attractive. Hunted Students are known to be straight forward, hard-working and motivated. They are generally reliable and only occasionally leave their comrades to die.
Their favorite thing to do is tell ghost stories and gossip. Their favorite topic of conversation is always where the rest of the class went or what happened to them. For every time a new group of students are recruited for the Way of Hunt, they start getting picked off quite quickly. It's rare for more than 50% of a class to make it to the end of the year, with the numbers who disappear or get involved in horrible "accidents" gradually trailing off, but it never truly hits zero. They say only when you become a Master will you be safe.
AC Preternatural Toughness (Sharp 1d6, Blunt 1d6)
Atk SP Rifle, with Bayonet (2d6, save vs firearm) or Bayonet (1d6+1) + Butt Stroke (1d6)
Saves 13 or less
Secrets of the Hunt: Hounded Masters receive a +4 bonus to hunting, tracking or hiding in a natural environment or one with foliage. They halve this bonus when in an urban environment. They can double any bonus they do receive if they have some time to disguise or camoflague themselves.
Martial Arts: Hounded Masters can reduce the damage of a melee attack by 1d8, assuming that the weapon their opponent is using isn't an Autocutter or Powerblade. They may do this for two melee attacks per round.
- Be unafraid of anything
- Rush in if you can hurt your opponent
- Go in hard and fast
- Utilize stealth if possible
Hardened old men, embattled and surrounded on all sides, yet they stand proud, unafraid. The Masters of the Way of Hunt have seen it all. They have dueled gods and monsters alike, and now they are unbowed and peerless. They know what happened to their friends and students and colleagues and mentors. They know who is responsible. They plan on finding him and making him pay. Occasionally, one of them finds out his location and races off to try and find him.
None of them have ever succeeded.
The Way of Web:
To walk this Way requires allegiance to The Order, a name that disguises the Power's true nature. So does the name of this Way. This is the path of those who follow The Conspiracy, a secretive Power that shrouds herself in illusion, a tempting but always elusive target that slips through the fingers of anyone who attempts to seize her. This Way requires a devilish patience and a soul shriven of principles. You must be flexible as a cat and just as willing to wait, standing by a mousehole, waiting for hours till the unfortunate creature pokes its head out, only to then pounce as if you had only just started waiting. However, that is not enough. It also requires one to be fatalistic and willing to accept tragedy, suffering and absurdity. One must be both hunter and prey when dealing with The Order.
You would never guess it by asking your colleagues, but the path of The Conspiracy is either the most common or the second most common of all those with us at the Institute. Those who walk the Way of Web do their best to keep this fact concealed and some go so far to impersonate those walking the Way of Inferno or Shackles. Still, as long as you can cut through the tedious rhetoric, you will find teachers to guide you and peers to measure yourself against.
To walk the Way of Web, become an unprincipled man. Become skilled in deception. Learn to lie and cover your tracks so your lies cannot be discovered. Assume false identities. Develop the ability to betray. And never, ever trust anything you read, see or hear. Only trust yourself, if you can.
AC Diffusion Tile Vest (Lasers 1d8)
Atk Laser Pistol (1d8, save vs firearm) or Concealed Dagger (1d6)
Saves 7 or less
Covert Signals: Order Operatives can communicate with each other without words through a series of small gestures as long as they can see each other. They also have a complex verbal code that they can employ to discuss private matters in inoccuous terms.
Suicide Pill: If an Order Operative is about to be captured, he must make a Morale check. If he passes, he will attempt to take his own life rather then allow himself to be interrogated and risk exposing others or "The Plan".
- Remain in hiding for as long as possible
- Conceal yourself from detection
- Strike from the shadows
- Never reveal the plan
Order Operatives are the useful idiots of our Order adepts. They are endlessly devoted to their ideological convictions, which namely are that the Institute is the only thing standing between humanity and total extinction. The fact that they are somewhat correct only makes them more infuriating.
When they aren't in disguise they wear the grey uniforms of The Order, with polished buttons, plumed hats and intimidating, official-looking greatcoats. They tend to wear body armor under their thick outer clothes and constantly preen themselves, striving to look their best. They are insufferable.
AC Hardened Body Glove (Sharp 1d6; Blunt 1d6)
Atk Concealed Sword (1d6+1) or Collapsible Laser Rifle (1d8, save vs firearm)
Saves 10 or less
Covert Signals: Conspiracy Controllers can communicate with each other and with Order Operatives without words through a series of small gestures as long as they can see each other. They also have a complex verbal code that they can employ to discuss private matters in inoccuous terms.
Escape Route: Conspiracy Controllers can always find an escape route from a dangerous situation or an area they are confined in, even if an area is otherwise impossible to escape from. They can find hidden weak spots, long abandoned maintenance tunnels, predict inexplicable power outages or otherwise make a mockery of your defenses.
- Never take risks
- Let others do the fighting
- Never reveal yourself until you absolutely have to
Conspiracy Controllers are a ruthless bunch, not to be trusted. Unlike their lesser subordinates, they despise each other with a quiet loathing that you won't ever see until you stand between two of them. The Controllers regard themselves as above everyone else, possessing superior wisdom and judgement. They whole-heartedly believe that the Institute is the proper tool for the guidance of mankind, but they all disagree on the matter of who should lead it. They all dislike the current leadership, though they would never say so publicly. Each and every one of them is scheming against the others. Unlike their subordinates, they have no illusions of a grand master Plan. They all have their own missions and objectives and seek to wrest control from the Board of Supervisors or more often, from the Committee of Information and Data Security, the unofficial official head of Order adepts in the Institute.
When not melting into the crowd in disguise, they wear flawless white, in an almost ironic statement, a bold declaration to the world of their innocence, purity or invulnerability: perhaps all three. "If you disbelieve, prove it," was the challenge their glittering brocade and starched clothes seemed to suggest to me.
They protect each other and cover each other's secrets. They are a brotherhood of secrets and a family of vendettas. Few survive the elevation, but those that do are the most fearsome and cunning individuals in the entire Institute.
The Way of Maw:
To walk this way requires allegiance to The Maw, as the name implies. It is the path of endings, entropy and inevitability. It is not for the faint-hearted, nor the idealistic. Those with grand ambitions should and likely will look elsewhere. This is a path that leads to no destination but one, a stubbornly inflexible way that crushes all who attempt to resist the flow. Join with the path forward or be drowned.
While it is the position of the Institute, and of this scholar in particular, that the Powers do not think or act as their naive cultists believe, and thus their belief in predestination to be foolish, I for one hold to the opinion that if any Power were to select and draw people to itself, it would be this one.
Those who walk this Way are few and those who have traveled this path long enough to be able to say anything meaningful about it are so few that they can be counted on two hands. Nonetheless, if you choose to follow this Way, a suitable teacher will find you. That is as sure a reality as the open grave.
To walk the Way of Maw, develop a cynicism about everything, especially society and humanity. I recommend religiously following the news bulletins on the planetary networks. Avoid books, especially old ones. Ignore any positive fluff stories, like you didn't already. Become an expert of scandals, atrocities and cover-ups. Cultivate the idea of an omniscient, malevolent conspiracy that controls the world, or succumb to nihilism. Indulge in every sensual pleasure you can, until you find fine food tastes like ash and sex is as tedious as brushing your teeth. Cut yourself off from every person who might love or want to help you. Learn to evaluate people's faults and judge them harshly. Forget how to forgive.
AC Diffusion Vest (Lasers 1d8)
Atk Sword (1d6/1d6)
Saves 9 or less
Deathless: If a Doomed Disciple is dropped to 0 HP, they have a 50% of being able to continue to stay alive at 1 HP.
- Rush in, heedless of danger
- Fight like a fanatic
- Accept your death with grim stoicism
To learn that you are damned inexorably does funny things to a man. Some find themselves lost in a morass of sorrow, while others become enraged and rebel against the idea. Neither of these are good responses- the first is useless and the second rarely remains with us. We seek the third kind of common reaction, the one who nods, for in their heart, they already knew.
Our Disciples usually dress in minimal armor, often customized with ghoulish designs and macabre sensibilities. They usually wear lots of leather as well, tight-fitting and black. I am fairly certain this is some kind of inside joke, as none of them have ever been able to properly explain it to me.
They tend to be a happy-seeming bunch, throwing raucous parties and engaging in all sorts of degenerate and risky behavior. We tolerate this, because we know that deep down, they feel exactly the way we want them to.
AC Preternatural Toughness (non-magic or non-holy 1d8)
Atk SP Rifle (2d6)
Saves 11 or less
Deathless: If an Imperiled Elder is dropped to 0 HP, they have a 50% of being able to continue to stay alive at 1 HP.
Charm of Suffering: An Imperiled Elder can, as an action, absorb the damage caused by an incoming attack or effect. They can then trap that suffering in a charm. This causes the attack to do only superficial damage. If that charm is then smashed or broken, the damage immediately jumps to the nearest person. An Imperiled Elder can only do this to one attack at once.
- Be careful and tactical
- Fight from the rear
- Use your charm only when you have to
We are the oldest members of the Institute, the oldest Way, the one most forgotten. We are not here to advance the mission of the Institute, for like all human institutions, what is done here will ultimately come to nothing. I am wholly convinced of this. Perhaps progress of a sort can be achieved, at least temporarily, but on a long enough time scale, everything comes to nothing.
Or perhaps, that is the wrong way to look at it. After Lightner's humiliation and failure, perhaps I just want it to be true. If that man, the greatest of us all could not achieve the Eschaton, then what hope do we lesser men have?