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Sanctum

Sanctum: Generation Hex

by Russell Bailey
Sep 07,2005

 

Sanctum: Generation Hex

by Russell Bailey

You may know this month's guest author as "Emprint," an RPGnet forums regular. He's also the man behind the Wushu Wiki and "Good & Evil, Incorporated." He's packed his article with enough teen-aged, superheroic goodness to fill a double issue, so we'd better get to it...

Adolescence is hell, and doubly so for the students of the St. Rychen academy. The scions and heirs of the world's most fiendish scientists, the “Sanctum” teaches them to control their demonic legacies- and then to use them to kill their less fortunate peers. They are the world's most unlikely heroes. They are children raised by an organization that fears and hates them.

They are Generation Hex.

Source material includes comics like the X-Men, movies like Scanners, and especially Stephen King's Carrie. All of these feature stories about youngsters with amazing and dangerous powers, and the problems they have fitting in. This is a setting about harrowing heroics, romantic mishaps, and having problems nobody understands. Growing up is tough, healing yourself is tougher, and being well-adjusted means being the enemy.

The School

The St. Rychen Academy for Troubled Youth sits in the hilly country of upstate New York. A long, tree-lined driveway leads to the campus grounds. The buildings are an eclectic mix of Georgian, Gothic, and more utilitarian styles. A few of the more unusual buildings date back to the Victorian girls' school which originally occupied the site- the tall, tapered headmaster's residence was once a mock-windmill, and the small chapel is a rather stylized pagoda. These are scattered among several acres of slightly overgrown gardens and playing fields.

The main building is a stately, four-story Georgian mansion. A large dormitory is connected by walkway to the west wing. The east wing is largely disused, except for the headmaster's office. The overall effect, depending on your perspective, might be charming, creepy, or cloying.

Student Life

Recruiting

Most students are found when they slip through the cracks of medical and religious establishments. The Sanctum spends a lot of its time tracking down failed “exorcisms” and cases of unusual mental illness, and then persuading the prospective student's guardians to send him to the Academy. This persuasion has been known to involve cash, drugs, and firearms in varying applications and combinations. Other students are “orphans, the (semi) innocent children of sorcerers found on search-and-destroy missions.

Classes

Other than the “therapy”used to teach students to control and suppress their demons, classes at St. Rychen's are quite ordinary. A state-approved high school curriculum is taught and remedial programs are offered for young or disadvantaged students. The handful of college-age students on campus are sent elsewhere for classes, and/or supplement the staff.

Time Off

In theory, student recreation is strictly supervised, with a complicated system of faculty responsibility, student aides, and plain old tattletales. In reality, the inmates are running the asylum. Students are largely able to fraternize as they like and communicate without likely staff observation. The crazed architecture of the school makes this even easier - there are over a dozen paths between the boys' and girls' rooms, and that's not including the over-large ventilation shafts.

Tags

Like any other group of upset and uprooted people, the students have developed their own culture, one that finds pride in being outcasts with unusual abilities. Each student eventually gets a “tag: a tough-sounding or embarrassing nickname that reflects her demonic legacy. Since the idea of pride in sorcerous taint is disturbing to the staff, the students tend to use these tags only in private.

Field Work

Students with particularly good control, or those whose powers are particularly useful, are often called upon to help the staff hunt warlocks in the field. They serve as the firepower, and sometimes the bait, that the Sanctum uses to contain or flush out witches.

Students selected for field work occupy a strange position with their peers. On the one hand, they're clearly close to (or at least monitored by) the staff. On the other hand, they're superheroes in a secret war, and the other kids tend to think that's cool.

Students

Each student has a set of demonic powers (their Legacy), a drawback to those powers (Downside) and a weakness that, if overcome, could lead them down the path to evil (Temptation). Here are some examples, for use as player characters or supporting cast.

Myra Jones, "Scatterbrain"

Myra was just an ordinary girl- still is, when she's around ordinary kids. Unfortunately for her, she was also a curious girl. Her desire to fit in and make friends gradually turned into a fascination with what makes people tick. That's when her demon started whispering to her- but not in its own voice. Rather, it whispered to her in the voices of those around her, narrating to her their most secret thoughts and feelings. After a while, it started letting her whisper hers back to them. In a more strong-willed child, this might have engendered a bitter cynicism and a cruel, manipulative streak. Doubtless, this was what the demon hoped. Myra, however, simply accepts those around her with a shrug and a how-do-you-do.

Legacy: Myra can read the thoughts of those around her, though separating unfamiliar "voices" can be difficult. She can also push her own thoughts into other people's minds, causing them to believe and do what she wishes.

Downside: Myra can't always distinguish between her own feelings and those of others- particularly those who know her well. In situations evoking strong emotions, such as sexual attraction or anger, she sometimes loses control and treats others as they would treat her. Additionally, she almost always picks up some of the opinions and quirks of people in her immediate vicinity.

Temptation: Self-esteem. If Myra ever realized that she was as legitimate, good, and interesting a person as everyone else, her demon could lead her to think she was better, to embrace her powers and reshape others' minds in her own image.

Damian Willen, "Dawghouse"

Damian's always had an affinity for animals- even his grandfather's Hellhounds and Nightmares. When an earlier generation of Sanctum students came to destroy Edward Willen, they found his grandson huddling in an empty doghouse. Taking him in, they soon discovered his Legacy: a legion of half-sleeping demons in animal form.

Legacy: Damian can draw chimerae- the animal-like remains of his grandfather's demons- from within his own heart.

Downside: Even the dreams of demons seek to destroy. If Damian fails to control them closely, his chimerae attempt to slake their thirst for blood and death.

Temptation: Justice. While he realizes his grandfather's actions were wrong, Damian is still a gentle, peaceful soul. Part of him hates the Sanctum for murdering his grandfather, no matter how good the reason. If Damian were, in anger, to allow one of his chimerae to kill a foe, he'd be hard-pressed to resist using it to do the one thing he's always fantasized about, and never admitted: hunting down the former students who killed his grandfather and burning the Sanctum to the ground.

Katy Lee Hart, “Macabre”

Some kids grow up too fast. Others just whither on the vine. Katy Lee is one of the latter, a dead-end kid from a dead-end town. She took up with an older guy as much for security as for anything else. Things were okay when she was his girlfriend, but got pretty weird once she was his apprentice. Katy Lee saw a lot of things she has trouble describing- monsters, futures, hallucinations, and things that might be all three. Eventually, when her boyfriend got killed by a bigger, badder warlock (a Chessmen Rook, though she doesn't know that), she went on the run and eventually ended up in the Sanctum.

Legacy: Katy Lee can accelerate the natural processes of fatigue and decay. Though most effective against living things (whom her touch can age, kill, and rot in a matter of minutes), this power also destroys metal and stone. Even the lightest dose often induces a state of comatose shock.

Downside: Katy Lee's deadly touch affects her, as well- just much less than it affects her victims. The most obvious symptom is that she looks several years older than her fellow students, an effect she blames on her admittedly serious cigarette habit. Less visible, and so far known only to herself and Doctor Rei, is that several of her internal organs simply seem to be tiring out.

Temptation: Purpose. Katy Lee has an incredible aptitude for sorcery. Right now, she's driven mainly by fear and boredom, which keep her at St. Rychen's. If, however, she were to discover a higher calling (a way to cure herself, a thirst for revenge, or even a moral crusade) she'd have few qualms about unbinding her demons, and few obstacles in her path to earth-shattering powers.

Anderson Kerry, "Molotov"

Anderson comes from a long line of warlocks, but he doesn't know it- after all, he killed them before he could be initiated. As a small child, Anderson was subjected to a ritual meant to loose his demons. Momentarily, it worked, but the fiery creatures inside him incinerated his family and the attending warlocks. After a string of unhappy orphanages and foster homes, he came to the attention of the Sanctum.

Legacy: Anderson's a good, old-fashioned firestarter. He can create and control flames, from the tiniest spark to raging infernos.

Downside: While increasing the size of a fire is easy, dowsing the flames cause Anderson intense physical pain- as if he was smothering them within his own flesh.

Temptation: Forgiveness. The only thing keeping Anderson's demons in check is guilt over his family's deaths. If he ever discovers that they were among the evil sorcerers he has been trained to hunt, he could forgive himself, handing his soul over to the demons inside.

Sample Staff

Doctor Carlton Rei, School Physician

What you see

Dr. Rei is a short, slight man with thinning black hair. His expression is severe and his sentences are short. He's rarely seen outside the infirmary, but the faculty are often seen coming in to talk to him.

What you hear

"Rei's got some major damage. I mean, he fixed my arm, but he acted like I was wasting his time."

"Ever notice how clean it is in there? Creepy."

"You should go see the doctor. That's not a suggestion."

The Truth

Carlton Rei is, in fact, one of the world's foremost experts on diablobiology- that is, studying and treating the physical changes demons work on their hosts. Anti-social and disinherited by his brother, he has virtually nothing except his infirmary and work. Rei isn't unsympathetic to the students, but he also comes off as more than a little cold. He knows how likely they are to die or fall, and therefore, how likely they are to end up on his dissection table.

Parker, the Janitor

What you see

Parker's been the school janitor for the last twelve years. At a small outfit like St. Rychen's, that means he does everything from cleaning up spills to fixing leaky roofs to bugging the occasional dorm room. He's a quiet Australian in his early sixties who doesn't smile or frown too much.

What you hear

"The janitor's not a bad guy to talk to. He's a little quiet, but he knows his stuff."

"Mr. Parker? He served in the Vietnam War with the Australian Army Corps of Engineers, then moved into the private sector. We hired him to improve our physical security."

"Parker got my back once, when Dr. Rei was being a real shit. He's a good guy."

The Truth

Parker's not from Australia. He was in an army. He's not a janitor. He's the Janitor, the master of keys and gateways. And as you might guess, that means he's a Warlock. No gate, lock, or threshold can bar his passage. Of course, he's now got a bit of a problem. The Chessmen cell that placed him in the Sanctum is long since exterminated. Parker's got access to quite a bit of indirect information on the Sanctum's activities, not to mention a pool of promising potential Pawns. Unfortunately, he no longer has a place to send that information. Unless, of course, he wanted to go into business for himself....

Cabals

Many of the enemies in Generation Hex work together, arraying themselves in armies of corruption and murder.

The AbomiNation

"Change yourself, change the world."

Some warlocks are so scarred, so changed by their magic, that even ordinary people shrink from them in fear. Such are the AbomiNation, a cabal of people so hideous and bizarre some would call them demons themselves.

What You See

Most of these warlocks start as ordinary tattoo enthusiasts or body modders, but the practice of magic gradually mutates the AbomiNation's bodies. Experienced witches take a hundred-thousand hideous forms. Some merely have scars in unusual patterns, bestial body parts, or odd smells. Others have more mutable forms, their flesh constantly melting and dripping into new shapes. The worst corrupt the very ground they walk on, fouling air, spreading disease, and inducing horrible nightmares and visions.

What You Hear

"Parker said they live in the sewers. Like rats. Or trash."

"This so-called 'AbomiNation' is a rabble of delusional freaks, but they're a dangerous rabble. Spotting them is no challenge; today, you'll learn to kill them."

"My brother went off with those freaks right before you transferred. I hope he's alright."

Bad Plans

The Nation's primary goal is to expand. They have an extensive and inconsistent body of beliefs called the Canon, the basic premise of which is that the flesh and the senses must be mutilated with mutations, mortifications and drugs just as the soul is mutilated by the practice of sorcery. By performing these rituals, they hope not so much to attain enlightenment as to effect enslavement, changing the world to resemble their ever-shifting drug dreams.

Henchmen

No two members of the AbomiNation look alike, but the lowest members of the organization, the Canon Fodder, tend to fall into a few categories.

  • Brutes: Men of great strength or speed, often "upgraded" with animal body parts or built-in weapons.

  • Peepers: Witches who slither and slink at the edge of your vision, gathering their time and waiting for the kill.

  • Changers: Those who perform the Nation's sacred mutilations on the devout and the unwilling alike.

The Carrion Crone

The woman at the center of the AbomiNation is slowly going blind, but has plenty of vision. A hundred-some years ago and across the pond, she was a wife, a businesswoman, and a cannibal. She harnessed her demons to bring her wealth and exact revenge. By now, however, she knows just how foolish that was. Why resent and consume your enemies when you can use them? The Crone is no longer a subtle manipulator, however; she uses the bodies of her foes as spare parts. Some, she cooks and carves and binds to her followers. Others, she forges into symbolic vessels for her demons, letting them taste the air and walk the earth once again.

  • Engine of Endings- In her former life, the Crone perfected herself a body built for murder. She still calls upon this Behemoth (though stiff and rotted from disuse) when her person is threatened.

  • Followers- The Carrion Crone commands not only her AbomiNation, but the sorcery-forged bodies that house her personal demons.

  • Changeling Hands- Those who fall into the Crone's clutches and survive don't often recognize themselves afterwards.

The Chessmen

"There's the rich. There's the powerful. They wish they were us."

The Chessmen apply paranormal might to practical ends. Less a single society than a common philosophy, they dedicate themselves to getting what every thug, capitalist, and daydreamer wants: the big payoff.

What You See

The Chessmen hide themselves in plain sight- politicians, yuppies, and mafia bosses fill their ranks. Apparent status means nothing, however; the Chessmen's formal ranks, internal economy of favors, and strong tradition of blackmail mean that a bank president could very well be in the thrall of a clever accountant.

What You Hear

"Witches run everything. The water, the power, maybe even the cops."

"The Chessmen even hide from each other. That way, they can't name names."

"You're gonna go rogue, those are the guys you wanna bend over for. They've got everything."

Bad Plans

The Chessmen move slowly and methodically, preserving and expanding their bases of power and wealth. They use demons to fix odds, to terrorize competitors, to see the future. The Black prefer subtle intricate strategies involving thousands of maneuvers. The Red prefer the simplest and most reliable path to a goal, particularly when it goes through the enemy's still-beating heart. Some say the Chessmen are ruled by a Board who somehow direct the individual cells, and which has another plan entirely, involving conquering the Earth itself, and then trading it for some other, far greater prize. Take this with a plate of salt. Of course, most Chessmen are just out to make a buck, and don't give a crap about the future unless it involves a retirement plan.

Henchmen

The Chessmen organize themselves according to the positions on a chess board.

  • Pawns: Even being a Chessmen hanger-on is a pretty good gig, until they send you out to die. Spot these by their sharp suits, demonic bodyguards, and shiny new firearms.

  • Knights: Masters of poisons, traps, and other such indirect strategies, the Knights kill you when you least expect it.

  • Bishops: Everybody wants to hold the purse strings. A cell's Bishops are tasked with taxing members for the money and power necessary to carry out the cell's Bad Plans.

Jonathan Rei, the Red King of New York

Leah and Jacob Rei wanted their sons to be doctors or lawyers. They got both. Where Carlton Rei became a skilled physician, his younger brother drifted from liberal arts to law school. Landing a job with the prestigious C&A LLP right out of school, he discovered two things that could motivate him: money and murder. Jonathan hasn't talked to his brother since their mother's funeral, and the bitter arguments over their parents' house that followed. Neither is aware of the other's affiliations, but the rift runs deep enough that, should they meet again, they might kill each other anyway.

  • Liar- Jonathan Rei is an accomplished deceiver, to the point that his subordinates have no idea that he lacks demons of his own.

  • Killer- Rei gets great pleasure from murdering his enemies personally.

  • Rich (Really Rich)- As a bleeding-edge corporate attorney and the lord of a secret empire, Rei can probably afford to buy everyone and their grandmother.

Final Touches

When playing Generation Hex, keep the following situations in mind.

Alienation

The students are alienated from the adults, and their unique problems make it hard to relate to anyone but each other. At the same time, they're pushed apart by their individual problems and character flaws.

Romantic Conflict

Any romantic interest between player characters probably has one of the following problems:

  • Obviously Doomed: While young love blossoms, something more sinister arises. For example, the relationship might help one of the young lovers embrace her Temptation.

  • Too Shy: Neither character is able to confess their interest.

  • Untouchable: Like Too Shy, but all metaphorical! One or both of the participants actually can't participate, due to an obvious and dire consequence. Say, a Downside that wounds anyone he touches.

  • Triangular: The oldest and maybe the best. Both of the characters are in love... but not with each other! Student A loves Student B... and Student B's interest in Person C falls somewhere else on this list.

Most of these are resolvable somehow... and when they get fixed, you can come back and pick another one! A couple issues of The New Mutants or a few episodes of Gilmore Girls should provide you with enough fodder for dozens of relationship problems.

Heroics

A lot of this column has been about how it sucks to be a kid at the Sanctum. But let's have a little more perspective than our characters will. They're doing something important. They're saving the world every week, and they mostly take it for granted. They take the spiritual bullets for the rest of humanity.

Most of all, they're doing one of the hardest things anybody can do: trying not to be evil. Even if they fail, all of these struggles are worth something, are something to be proud of.

And hey, girls dig that.

Next Stop: The spooky shores of colonial America, just in time for Halloween!

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