So big news in my world is that I just got the Black Cube in person. Having these tangible game products has my imagination racing and I’m starting a new series of NPCs for your campaign.
I’ve had the digital version of Invisible Sun for some time (and I’ve been writing about it a lot if you missed it) but there’s something about having the actual Black Cube on your table that makes you feel part of the game. Partly it’s the craftsmanship, partly it’s the thematic presentation of all the material, but there’s also this thrill of the shooosh that the matte finish makes as the leaves of the box slide open and the arcane symbols everywhere. It’s just a really great product and I’m glad that I had the opportunity and means to treat myself as an anniversary gift.
To channel all the ideas that I have with this physical box in my hands, I’m going to be writing up collections of NPCs for the Satyrine, the City of Notions, and I decided that a good theme would be to gather together artwork from other games as inspiration. To start with, I’m going back to my first roleplaying love and arguably the reason for Monte Cook Games to begin with: the Planescape setting. I definitely know Monte originally from this setting and he’s cited the project’s lead (Zeb Cook who I’m shocked to find out is not Monte’s brother) as an inspiration for a lot of Monte’s work. Looking at the strange and wonderful city of Sigil, defying explanations and sitting amid a wild collection of planes and strangeness… It’s not hard to see that there are likely some direct lines between Monte’s work on Planescape and his writing for Invisible Sun.
To me, the look and aesthetic of Planescape has always been and will always be the artwork of illustrator and font of creativity Tony DiTerlizzi. If you want some inspiration for your roleplaying campaign check out Tony’s artwork in The Care and Feeding of Sprites and Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide as well as the wild stories of the Spiderwick Chronicles and the incredible novels of the WondLa Trilogy. Today, though, I’m pulling exclusively from Tony’s work in Planescape and creating NPCs for Satyrine, City of Notions, in the style of the classic sourcebook Uncaged with NPCs for Sigil, City of Doors.
Mr. Biffin Auroff-Arynx
Among the fine folk of the Marquis Quarter, everything is for sale. The wealthy visit changeries for an afternoon look, they order delacies from across the Suns, and dab liquid emotion as perfume. When they want to have a unique affect on their social circles they visit Vox Clamantis, the fashionable shop for bespoke voices by Mr. Biffin Auroff-Arynx. A zilat with an unusual affinity, Auroff-Arynx introduces himself as a “laliamancer” and he excels in magic related to voices and language.
Mr. Auroff-Arynx’s shop is a clean and open space in the Marquis District with a central circle of countertop for making purchases and registering orders. Most of the shop, though, is filled with brightly colored rods of crystal and glass that run floor to ceiling. These creations are both beautiful and functional, the medium with which Mr. Auroff-Arynx crafts his voices. As visitors (and the zilat himself) walk around the shop, the rods seem to resonate with soft versions of the voices they contain, usually describing their qualities to potential buyers. Customers leave the store with much smaller crystals containing the voice they desire which they can then adopt by holding it to their throats for five minutes without talking. Typically these voices last for just a few hours (enough for a party) but permanent voice changes are also available.
Using Biffin Auroff-Arynx: Many of the voices in Vox Clamantis are curiosities, strange-sounding voices that can stand out in a crowd or custom-made voices for partners who want to swap for the thrill of it. Of greater interest, however, and likely more use to player characters are the voices that cause different effects. A high voice or odd accent are all well and good but how about a voice that can cause sadness or delight in those that hear it? How about a voice that speaks a lost language or that sounds like it’s coming from across the room? These voices can be created using the Effect by Level table (p. 21 of The Way) and priced like the crafting materials in The Key (p. 192-193).
Many throughout Satyrine have seen Jessa Belladon and done business with her but no one knows much about her origins. She seems to live nowhere in particular but she’s always impeccably dressed and at home in a situation no matter what part of the city she is in. Though she appears to be an average and relatively unremarkable human woman, Jessa does have the quirk of casting a cat’s shadow instead of her normal one. She has an affinity for felines and often slips food to strays and might trail a few into a bar as she comes to meet you.
And why might you meet with this half-cat woman? Because Jessa Belladon is one of the few vislae who has been to the Deeps of Sleep under the Blue Sun and maybe the only one willing to talk about it freely and openly. Most of the time she will talk for hours about the Deeps for the price of a few drinks, seeming to relish the chance to expose the truth of this location that remains steeped in mystery and taboo even among the very learned. On rare occasions she has even been willing to as a guide to the Deeps of Sleep but only for vislae who’s cause seems intriguing and when they can provide her with something she needs for her own research.
Using Jess Belladon: This NPC has two hooks to draw in player characters. First and most obviously she is a source of information and potential guide to the Deeps of Sleep. Because she is fickle in her opinions and is not hard-pressed as a professional guide, the GM can always turn the PCs down if Jessa’s expertise would ruin their plot idea. On the other hand, though, Jessa has her own agendas and her own projects so seeking some straightforward answers from her might draw the PCs into her own business. Considering the fact that Jessa Belladon is willing to talk casually about a realm of the Blue Sun that many vislae fear to visit, one shudders to imagine what threats might acutally worry her.
Gosfarr the Nullifier
Stoic and reclusive, Gosfarr is one of the masters of the emotion mills of Satyrine. Gathered from the distintigrating chunks of reality in the Unfathomable Archipelago, emotions are ground down and sold in Satyrine. In fact the trade first put the city on the map way back when so many visitors to Satyrine are here for the emotion trade. However, not all emotion leaves are the same and those skilled professionals who know how to make truly pure and exemplary emotion leaves are highly sought after.
Gosfarr is one of them, a member in good standing of the Emotion Mills Consortium but given tremendous leeway due to their skill. The Consortium has manufactories where emotion leaves are produced on a large scale, though there are impurities and variations in strength, so wealthy customers custom-order their leaves from the Consortium and they send these orders out to folks like Gosfarr. While they’re more than capable of making pretty much any emotion you want (given time and price) they specialize in anti-emotion, a type of leaf which involves some secretive alchemy to press and can’t be mass produced. While a leaf of love or hate or joy can be used to create those emotions in another person, anti-leaves of those emotions will remove it. If someone were to cook an anti-leaf of fear into their cooking, for example, someone would be left literally incapable of feeling fear after eating it.
While they’re not the only “nullifier” in Satyrine, Gosfarr is undoubtedly the best and is even requested by name. They strongly adhere to the Consortium’s structure, though, partially to avoid the hassle of being blacklisted by this powerful organization but also to avoid direct contact with customers. Acknowledged to be a bit of a shut-in, Gosfarr avoids any contact with other people as much as possible. Some visale say that it’s more than just agoraphobia and that Gosfarr is hiding something sinister in their workshop, but this is most likely to be merely jealousy.
Using Gosfarr: As a crafter of rare materials, Gosfarr is immediately useful to any vislae out there. Makers in particular are likely to seek out their anti-leaves for their creations but just about any vislae with schemes in plans (which is to say, all of them) could think of uses for anti-leaves. One particularly sneaky use is as a poison particular to certain kinds of creatures throughout the Suns. Angels, demons, and stranger things are vulnerable to emotions which form their antithesis and they know it. So if you wanted to bring low an angel of benevolence, you can be assured that she has wards to prevent concentrated selfishness from getting anywhere near her. She’s much less likely to worry, on the other hand, about such a rare abstraction as anti-generosity…