Tuesday, January 31, 2012

From the Kill Pile: The Red Brotherhood, Part 1 of 3

This kill pile salvage is from a PDF line that was going to be about villain groups for 4E, but sadly fell apart before the first one saw print.  First section is background, second will be stat blocks, and third will be other weirdness.  

The Red Brotherhood

            For three centuries the Red Brotherhood has existed in the nooks and crannies of the civilized world, something of an urban legend among nobles and the elite.  Few believe the stories of blood-drinking bandits who prey only on those of noble birth, or at least few admit to believing them publicly.  Behind closed doors, many a country lord has told tales of friends of relatives or nobles of distant lands waylaid and slain in the most horrific manner by the Red Brotherhood.  Such storytellers may laugh at these stories of banditry and murder when they are shared around the dinner table, but even a  rumor of the Red Brotherhood operating in the vicinity quickly results in an expansion of every noble's personal guard. 
            While the Red Brotherhood could revel in such infamy, they instead try to avoid hunting in any region in which their stories have grown too prevalent.  Under the leadership of Orseus, a vampire of extreme age and greater goals than simple thievery, the Red Brotherhood thrives not on force or brutality, but cunning and planning.  They listen to the rumor mill, bribe local officials, and try to avoid all the hard work that goes into normal banditry.  With centuries to perfect his skills, Orseus has forged a highly efficient, trained, and widely feared bandit gang that has few equals; all the while keeping his dark plans for power a secret. 
            The Red Brotherhood is a group of villains suitable for Heroic-tier play, specifically for characters between 6th and 10th level.  This product details the history, members, and tactics of the Red Brotherhood, along with information about how to incorporate them into your campaign.  They can be used as anything from a one-off encounter to a reoccurring group of villains that could be a major threat to the players.
             Orseus Qrang was born the child of peasants, and early in his life found his natural talent for swordplay to be a path to a better life; a path the led to blood money, cheap taverns, and few friends. He lived most of his life as a mercenary of little note, serving whatever petty lord or bandit captain could afford his services.  His life finally changed when he entered the service of the wizard Rothjur the Foul, a thoroughly unpleasant fellow bent on extending his life far beyond the bounds of mortal existence through the necromantic arts.  Orseus was little concerned with this, caring only the large piles of gold he was paid by Rothjur to guard his tower and workshops. Nor did he mind the occasional kidnapping and murder assignments, as Rothjur’s need for more “resources” for his experiments with undeath grew and grew. 
            In time, Rothjur attained his goal of lichdom and immediately set about transforming his minions into undead as well, so his loyal servants could serve him forever.  Told he would become a vampire lord of vast power, Orseus was rather put out when he was instead transformed into a vampire spawn by Lord Vostrag, the vampire lord lieutenant of Rothjur the Foul and master of his military forces.  Orseus put up with this unfortunate state of affairs for several years, living at the beck and call of Lord Vostrag and Rothjur the Foul until Rothjur's tower was assaulted by an army of heroes, adventurers, and other various do-gooders in the hopes of ending the lich’s unnatural reign of terror.  Not interested in being so thoroughly controlled with no payment for his service, Orseus betrayed Lord Vostrag and Rothjur the Foul, lowering the defenses of the tower at a key moment in the siege.  The resulting battle destroyed both Rothjur the Foul and Lord Vostrag, consigning them to history as minor undead tyrants, while Orseus escaped in the confusion along with a small portion of Rothjur's treasure.
            Unfortunately, Orseus, being a vampire spawn, found his new life to be little better if not worse than his time in service to Rothjur.  He had no ready source of blood or anyone to protect him during daylight hours.  He hid as best he could and fed on wanderers no one would miss, doing all he could to avoid attracting the attention of the heroes who so handily dispatched his master.  This deplorable state lasted for several months, until, through some good fortune, Orseus caught a noble lord, Lord Marcus Sarthing, alone on a night's ride.  Attacking from the shadows, Orseus slew Lord Sarthing and drank his blood in short order. 

Then something unexpected happened.
One of Lord Sarthing's ancestors had more than a dabbling interest in the necromantic arts that has ultimately resulted in a terrible curse on his entire family line. The curse stipulated that should Sarthing blood be consumed by an undead creature it would increase the power of the imbibing undead ten-fold.  Orseus went from being a vampire spawn to something more; and while not made the equal of a vampire lord, Orseus immediately decided he wanted more of this power.  He spent the next five years hunting down Lord Sarthing's immediate family, killing them all and feasting on their blood, each victim making him stronger.  While Orseus was never what one would call a genius, he was cunning and greedy, and these two traits allowed him to overcome his other shortcomings in his pursuit of yet more power.  He quickly learned all he could about the family tree of the Sarthing family, hunting down every distant cousin, forgotten uncle, and bastard child he could. This took many, many years, but every Sarthing scion made him more powerful, and so he continued on. 
            After a century of chasing the Sarthings, at which point the family line was all but wiped out and forced into hiding, Orseus found a record of Hulbaer Sarthing, the warlock who had introduced the taint to the family generations ago.  Orseus learned that Hulbaer Sarthing had been part of a group of warlocks, the Bone Cabal, which had made numerous deals with a group of necrotic primordials called the Carrion Lords.  The Carrion Lords were trapped in a prehistoric divinely constructed prison, as is the case with most primordials, but could escape their prison if they gained enough power in the mortal world.  Thus, they made deals with mortal agents with the goal of spreading their tainted power through the blood of their agents, power that could later be collected and returned to the Carrion Lords after it had time to fester and grow in the hearts of mortals. While the Bone Cabal received power for their sacrifices, they became infected by the power of the Carrion Lords, an infection they passed on to their children and which would empower any undead that feasted upon their flesh or blood.  Orseus learned the basics of this story, paying little attention to the role of the Carrion Lords and instead concentrating on the fact that there were other families with blood similar to the Sarthing family.  Orseus came to believe that if he consumed all the blood of the descendants of the Bone Cabal, he would obtain all their power and become sort of undead god, possibly replacing the Carrion Lords. While the records he found did indicate collecting all the extant blood of the Bone Cabal would bring some sort of power, what exactly that power is remained unknown to Orseus. He knew the Carrion Lords existed and were tied to the Bone Cabal, but knew nothing else of their true aims.  
            Now Orseus had a dozen families to track down instead of one, and many of these families had parlayed the arcane power of their ancestors into worldly power, becoming noble houses or families of great economic power over time.  Others married into noble houses, spreading their blood taint.  While Orseus could hunt down a lesser house like Sarthing on his own, some of the greater houses on his list would prove more difficult, thus he came to the conclusion he needed followers.  He needed scholars, charlatans, and warriors to see his cause through, and he knew better than most that all sorts of men can be bought if you look long enough and carry a large-enough coin purse. 
            Thus began the Red Brotherhood, a group of mercenary scholars, thugs, and other criminals working for Orseus Qrang toward his goal of consuming the blood of all the descendants of the Bone Cabal – while making a tidy profit in the process.  Drawn from the lowest of the low, Orseus is served by the sort of desperate scum who would willingly work for a vampire, albeit, one that has little interest in feeding on them.  Recruited from gutters, seedy taverns, and bandit gangs, these unseemly few are loyal little beyond the money Orseus helps them steal and the fear he instills in them. 
            Orseus has kept the Red Brotherhood running in one fashion or another for almost three hundred years, with most of his followers only lasting a few years before meeting an untimely end.  Orseus makes enough money and is successful enough that he can usually find more recruits with little difficulty, but is forced to travel around continually to avoid the law and to keep tales of his few failures from reaching the ears of possible recruits.  Orseus considers the fearsome and yet mysterious reputation of the Red Brotherhood one of his best assets and works hard to keep both intact, often forsaking profit for the sake of furthering the group's infamy.  He has even gone so far as to pay bards and entertainers encountered in his travels to tell tales of the Red Brotherhood, each more horrific than the last.
            Orseus has not told any of his followers of his true goals, preferring to play the part of a vampire with strange tastes rather than one on a mission for great power.  Orseus secretly fears that one of his followers may learn his true goal and try to stop him, or worse yet, beat him to it.  This is the primary reason Orseus has refrained from creating vampire spawn, though his own experience as a vampire spawn also lead him to avoid that choice. So far, Orseus believes he is the only person who knows the secret of the Bone Cabal and has already killed several scholars who have assisted him in the past to keep them from putting the pieces together.   However, Orseus' current scholar, Lorca Junnio, has puzzled out Orseus' goals, a feat that is sure to earn him a swift and painful death should Orseus learn of it. 
            In the last three centuries, Orseus has killed dozens of descendants of the Bone Cabal and scores of other he suspected of being descendants, many of whom were nobles of rank.  This record has made the Red Brotherhood a group feared by the nobles of many regions.  In areas where Orseus is not thought of as an old wives tale there is a substantial price on his head.  Orseus works to enhance this reputation of fear, but also works just as hard to remain more a rumor than a fact.  Cognizant of the many forces that could squash his band if they could find and corner him, Orseus knows the best defense is to be impossible to find. 
            In the last few years, Orseus has attracted a particularly skilled band of ruffians and ne'er-do-wells to his side, growing his operation from a score of men to several dozen, complete with spies, scholars, and magicians.  Buoyed by recent successes and his acquisition of more competent minions, Orseus now looks to gain enough strength to strike more openly at those descendants of the Bone Cabal who have managed to evade him with their castles, armies, and powerful magics.  . 

Important Personages
            The Red Brotherhood currently has around sixty members, though this varies from week to week as casualties and new recruits come and go.  No one really “leaves” the Red Brotherhood as anything other than a corpse, a policy Orseus has worked hard to enforce and keep quiet. Those who do wish to leave are allowed to do so, only to be hunted down by Orseus or Blight a few days later. Orseus regularly spins yarns of past members who retired to lives of wealth and leisure, but such stories are complete fabrications.  Only the group fence, Old Tessers, has been around long enough to know the true fates of those Orseus describes. However, Tessers is eager to avoid the cold hand of death, and he keeps his mouth shut in the hopes his loyalty might convince Orseus to transform him into undead as well. 
            Orseus serves as the leader of the Red Brotherhood, but it has grown too large for him to oversee every aspect of it himself.  To that end, he has recruited an inner circle of lieutenants who each take some part if the band's operations as their responsibility.  These individuals have mostly been promoted from within the ranks of the Red Brotherhood, but some, like Alia Tyy, were immediately promoted upon joining the group due to their special skills.  These lieutenants speak with Orseus' voice in matters related to their area of expertise, but that does not mean he will not overrule them when needed.  Orseus does not trust his lieutenants any more than he has to and works to make sure they have as much invested in the success of the Red Brotherhood as possible. He also tries to play them off against each other, but is not very successful at this, and his attempts are clumsy at best. 
            As a whole, the Red Brotherhood is loyal to Orseus since he provides them with wealth, security, and a fearsome reputation.  Most members know the group would not be as successful without Orseus, so mutinies from within, of which there have been several, rarely find many supporters.  This does not mean that the Red Brotherhood is made up of fanatics, and the loyalty of most members evaporate as soon as they are faced with execution or torture.  While Orseus has tried to impress upon his men that he will track down any traitors and punish them more severely than any agent of the law, his efforts have only met with limited success.  Orseus' own focus on mobility and avoiding the notice of the authorities has limited the scope and reach of his forces to their current state..  While the Red Brotherhood will not betray their master for coin, they will turn their coats to avoid an inescapable death..  Orseus has orchestrated several daring rescues over the years in order to further inspire loyalty in his men, but only in situations where he knew he could prevail. 
            Orseus works to recruit his followers from those who are beneath the notice of the general populace: the poor, the disenfranchised, and those outside the law.  These poor souls are usually recruited from local criminal organizations, slums, and underworld hangouts, but when hard-up for followers, Orseus has been known to press peasants into his service.  Such members of the Brotherhood rarely survive long and tend to get all the most dangerous jobs.  Orseus tries to operate away from the homelands of his recruits where possible to avoid anyone recognizing them and to avoid any unexpected emotional entanglements.  

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