Sunday, April 19, 2015

The People from Nowhere

Thargothras is a big world, filled with magic, and there is much that happens there that has not been explained. Among these mysteries is the seemingly random appearance of individuals from almost every race and level of skill. There are no records of their existence prior to the day they walk into town. They can be knowledgeable, but will not remember meeting any specific individual before their appearance. They are anatomically normal, but have a higher rate of potent abilities than the general populace. Many are sinister in demeanor, often obsessed with seeking and slaying another person. The reasons may be unclear, but they are often of the same power level and ideally opposed (i.e. paladins hunting antipaladins and vice versa). Some examples include decorated soldiers from nonexistent regiments, dragonslayers decorated with fresh trophies from dragons that were never born (or are still alive), canny merchants with no contacts or records of trade in any trade or market (but who still have an encyclopedic knowledge of trade routes and mercantile law), or even members of species thought to be extinct.

There are competing ideas for their origin. If you like, you can roll or choose one of the origins below, or come up with your own:

1. The people are time travellers, but from an alternate timeline, in which they existed, which was altered, possibly by their own actions, to the current state of affairs, with the unfortunate side effect of making their own existence impossible. Instead of being destroyed by the paradox, they are unceremoniously deposited at the same point in spacetime that they left, in a universe that no longer remembers them.
2. The People from Nowhere are not quite real, and have accidentally came from a partially formed universe left in the Void Beyond Space among thousands of other potential times, places, and realities. While they are physically whole, every fiber of their being is foreign and possibly disruptive.
3. There is a magic mirror that creates nemeses from the subconscious fears of anyone looking into it. If these nightmarish reflections made flesh can kill the person who birthed them, they can permanently live in Thargothras. Otherwise, they will fade away the moment their counterpart dies.
4. Somewhere in the Spirit World, a god lies sleeping, dreaming of epic heroes and villains clashing and scheming. Sometimes the characters from these dreams escape when the god accidentally wills them into existence. With nothing else to go on, they seek a living mortal most closely resembling their counterpart to battle.
5. There is a secret ritual that lets a person erase their own past, either from history or from the minds of others. The people from nowhere are actually from Thargothras, and have discovered and performed this ritual as part of some greater scheme.
6. A strange intelligence has made copies of people with great potential who led unremarkable lives, and these copies have been imbued with alien wills and false memories of choices that would make them far more competent than their real selves. They are the first wave of a massive invasion, and their sole purpose is to deplete Thargothras of any heroes or villains with the power to turn the tide against them.
7. An unknown or undocumented side effect of a major artifact causes two very similar individuals, one from the far past and and one from the far future, to merge in the present... 1d1000 years after each time the artifact is used. The People from Nowhere are this side effect, and have no more idea why they exist than anyone else.
8. The People from Nowhere are planar tourists, trying to blend in with the native life and have a few strange adventures before returning to their strange eternal existences. They never reveal this under any circumstances, as doing so would violate the Rules set by their home plane.

Who are the Imperial Watchers?

The Empire is large. The Empire is powerful. But the Empire does not own the world, and it does not control everything. There are things beyond its borders that could threaten the Empire and its people. And so, in his wisdom, the Emperor has decreed that some of his most courageous and brightest citizens will be sent out into the wider world to seek out and analyze new monsters, natural/magical phenomena, and people of great intrinsic power, and if necessary, dispose of them preemptively. These brave souls are culled from the finest schools, steeped in trivia, and tested for magical ability, and above all, loyalty. Those who pass the rigorous tests are declared dead and their names are changed to protect their identities, and exiled to serve the needs of the Empire beyond its borders. To this end, they receive a complement of gear and means to contact a handler within the Agency of Foreign Intelligence. It is rumored that 20% of the knowledge contained in the great libraries, gathered anonymously and collected under pseudonyms, was in fact sent directly by the Watchers.

Imperial Watchers often ally themselves with other adventurers early in their careers, and may or may not reveal their cause and profession, but absolutely never reveal their birth names. Should they ever return to Imperial lands as part of some quest, they take care to avoid their home settlements and often disguise themselves with whatever means are available just in case.

A player who plays a viskanya investigator native to the Empire has the option of taking Imperial Watcher as a special background. At first level, an Imperial Watcher must take the Oathbound faith trait, the Without a Past social trait, and the Courageous combat trait. You must also take the Oppressive Expectations drawback. They often take the Subtle Appearance racial trait, but this is not necessary.
At first level, you gain Survival as a class skill. You also gain the Track ability. You also gain a +2 bonus on diplomacy checks made to gather information. Remove Perform from your class skills.
At 4th level, you can make use of some of your survival training and can make a DC 15 survival check once per day that takes 8 hours to complete. If this check succeeds, you can find and ingest vitamins and minerals that increase the toxicity of your bodily fluids without presenting any danger to you. 8 hours after completing the check, the ingested materials metabolize and you gain a racial bonus to the DC of your poison equal to half your level. This bonus lasts for 24 hours. In urban areas, you can use diplomacy to gather information instead of survival to find the right ingredients, but the check still takes 8 hours to complete. From this level on, you have one fewer slots for the highest level you can cast.
At 8th level, when an Imperial Watcher fails a knowledge check to identify a creature's strengths or weaknesses, he adds a +1 morale bonus to attacks and damage against that creature as (s)he seeks out  weak points in its defenses. On a successful check (s)he learns one more quality than normal, as though the knowledge check had been 5 points higher.
At 12th level, a Watcher has a heightened awareness for large-scale threats, and gains a +4 competence bonus on spellcraft checks to identify dangerous magical phenomena or impending disasters, and a +4 competence bonus on survival checks to identify dangerous natural phenomena or impending disasters.
At 16th level, an Imperial Watcher can reroll any knowledge check once per day per knowledge skill. This reroll can be made up to a minute after the initial check failed.
At 20th level, the Imperial Watcher has surpassed the experience of all existing Watchers. It is unknown what (s)he may gain from this pinnacle of power.

These abilities, as with all special backgrounds, require dedication. An Imperial Watcher must always seek out new threats and assets to the Empire, and learn as much as possible about them before reporting all information back to his or her handler. A Watcher must regularly send reports via magical or mundane means, and if prevented from doing to on time must reestablish contact as soon as possible. A Watcher must remain loyal to the Empire at all times, whether overtly or covertly, as the situation dictates, defaulting to covertly in uncertainty. A Watcher must keep a detailed record of their findings when encountering anything unfamiliar. Failing to uphold these duties will result in the Empire refusing to send any form of aid or information, and in the event of treason, an expensive bounty will be placed on their head.