As her feet nearly slid out from underneath her racing around the corner, a grim fate stood before her. The alleyway was blocked by another patrol. With the large book in her hands, the gold foil of its corners and the symbol of their faith clearly visible on the cover, the guards whipped out their swords and held them at the ready, tips pointed straight at the thief. Having lost those precious couple seconds pondering her options, the thief now found herself surrounded at the edge of the public square. Merchants and shoppers alike moved back and began to whisper about her possible crimes and the fate that would definitely befall her.
She knew this as well and was prepared. From within a pocket on her left leg, she pulled out the end of a wire looped over her fingers and held up the book with her other hand. Her mission would not be a complete failure.
“For centuries, you have been warned about the power of this book. Too long have you ignored our warnings, too long have you pledged to solve its secrets and threaten your own people with the monstrosities locked within. My mission accepts no room for failure and if by my death I can protect you from your own stupidity...”
She pulled on the wire. The sound of a fuse spark to life was quickly followed by a flash of flame from her left ankle. The guards to stepped back and looked at each other in disbelief. Within seconds, the flame began to run up her leg and climb up to her waist. With her last words, a grin slipped over her face.
“...then it is a price I'm willing to pay.”
It was not until the flames touched her face that she screamed in agony, dropped down to her knees and brought the book to her chest. Within a minute, the fire had consumed her and the book to ashes.
There is a saying amongst the sages and monks of Cathar pouring over tomes and scrolls of lore: knowledge is power. Through their words, immortalized in ink, the history of all life and sources of great power are revealed. Some can enlighten and better society, others can corrupt the simplest minds without any foresight to the consequences of such concoctions, spells, and schematics. Knowledge can create empires. Such knowledge was once controlled by a lack of education within the general population; the fewer people who could read, the less chance of such information falling into the wrong hands. Only the nobles and military elite were taught and their few numbers never made them a threat. More and more citizens have now been taught to read, libraries are open to the public, and the written word has been granted greater access than ever before. For a select few operating in the shadows, this is a dire catastrophe no one can see coming.
So believes a cloaked organization known as the Guardians of Attakosh, a loose enclave of determined scholars, thieves, and assassins sworn to remove dangerous books, scrolls and other written sources of power. Spellbooks, alchemical recipes, lost accounts of powerful ancient weapons, anything the Guardians deem a threat to innocent lives. Rituals to summon demons, potions of immortality, journals retracing the steps to a lost relic, and others judged a danger become targets for the Guardians to intervene and take – or destroy – any written document they believe to be unsafe in anyone's possession. And they are fiercely determined to get it done no matter the cost.
Public and private buildings, organizations, sects, and esteemed institutions (be they faith-based or not) have been targeted by the Guardians at some point and time. Museums, monasteries, libraries both public and private have come under the Guardians' radar, kept under continuous observation until a cell deems it right to strike. They have claimed books, scrolls, tablets, discs, private journals, even loose pages from complete works to achieve their cause. At times, ancient inscriptions on stone walls or carved into other natural formations have been destroyed by the Guardians. There is no law they are willing to break and no punishment they are will to suffer – even death – to complete these demanding tasks. Even assassination is an option to prevent readers and scribes from sharing the contents of these marked volumes and some cells have destroyed printing presses to ensure an end to particular passages distribution across the land.
Their effectiveness is enhanced by the sheer arrogance of their past targets, powerful groups or individuals who refuse to publicly acknowledge these crimes for fear of revealing weaknesses in their security. While their infamous thefts and desicrations have become whispered legends in the upper echelons of the major cities, the Guardians continue to operate under a cloak of simple rumours and legends, many of them overly exaggerated. For example, it is said the Librum of Maleficient was removed from King Harrick's personal library by a ghost able to walk through walls when it was actually pinched by an Attakosh rogue taking advantage of the library's skylight using nothing more than a long silk rope and prime acrobatic skills.
Devoted To The Cause
Few known about the Guardians as they operate in the strictest of obscurity, refusing to identify themselves publicly by name or branding themselves with icons or signature markers. The earliest accounts of such high profile robberies, murders, and other vicious crimes involving rare and precious texts originate from the empire of Cathar, home to the Earthly Celestial Bureaucracy. Viewed by many in civilized society as the “center of the world,” Cathar is home to countless colleges, universities, and countless other sources of learning. Those living on the fringes of civilization viewed the empire a different way – as oppressors. In hindsight, only in Cathar could a group like the Attakosh could form.
The earliest documented case of the Guardians involves a Cathar general slain in his sleep. A collection of schematics and incantations were removed from his lockbox, the blueprints for the military's top secret army of stone golems. Over the next several month, all those involved with the project were murdered in elaborate public displays to send a warning to those who would push the boundaries of the natural world.
Every mission is completed with extreme stealth and total anonymity to avoid repercussions and attempts to reclaim what some belief to be their rightful property. Their secrecy runs so deep, many within the order have little to no contact with other Guardians. They work in cells scattered across the world with each cell maintaining limited contact with safe houses and underground vaults where their finds are locked away from curious eyes or destroyed should it be judged necessary.
They are never for hire, nor can they be easily traced. Living in a constant state of readiness, few have ever been apprehended before their next mission and less have been caught after the fact. A major part of their elusive nature is their strict loyalty to the cause, including suicide. There have even been cases of an Attakosh burning themselves alive with a book gripped tightly to their chest.
Yet desperate times have called for desperate measures and some cells have turned to outsiders for help. Either bribing officials within their target institution or drafting the assistance of a band of mercenaries to create a distraction or fulfill an essential role in the heist itself, each cell is careful to remain anonymous until the deed is done. In some cases, these temporary allies may be offered a chance to continue pursuing the cause (so long as none of them are spellcasters).
Perhaps the most significant display of their dedication is a willingness to die by their own hands to avoid a book's return to its owners. A signature invention of the Attakosh is a device called the crusader's match, a long tube of highly ignitable powder worn under a Guardian's pants and connected to a wire sewn through a pocket or run over the waist. When the wire is pulled, a matchstick strikes a course striking surface attached to the base of the tube, causing a spark that ignites the powder and sets the wearer's highly flammable clothing on fire. Within moments, the Attakosh is engulfed in flames, burning their target and themselves to dust.
Before It's Too Late...
Should an Attakosh find themselves cornered and activate their crusader's match, it is possible to save either the Attakosh or their stolen text before it is too late. The window is small, but it is possible.
A crusader's match can engulf its wearer's body within 3 Actions and causes 4 points of damage per round. This damage occurs to the Attakosh within the first Action after the match is activated and damages the text held to their chest at the end of the third Action. The GM determines how much fire damage a particular volume of text can sustain before it is completely destroyed. During the match's three Actions, other characters can interfere with the suicide attempt and remove the text from the Attakosh's hands or put out the first before it completes its task. For every 4 degrees of success on a single roll, a character can reduce this damage by 1 when applicable.
An Attakosh's Armor has no effect on damage caused by a crusader's match as these contraptions are specifically designed to kill the wearer by their own hand. The match gains the Full Cover (-3) modifier if targeted by a ranged attack or the Minimal Cover (-1) modifier from a melee attack. Any character standing adjacent to an Attakosh as they go up in flames must make a Nimble ability test or else take 2 points of damage (+1 damage for every 4 degrees of failure).
Life In The Cell
Each cell consists of two members: a scholar and a rogue. Within a cell, the scholar investigates rumours of mysterious tomes, pours over volumes of research, and determines a threat level. Should it be deemed a significant danger to the people (a call made by each individual scholar based on their personal evaluation), they call upon the skills of their rogue compatriot to pull off a heist. While some rogues have been able to acquire these works on their own, others have been known to deceive others into aiding with the heist without them ever knowing the truth until it is all said and done.
Knowing how each cell operates requires an understanding of its players, the scholar and the rogue.
A typical scholar's outward appearance and skills make them unlikely candidates to run an Attakosh cell. They are all well read, educated, and trained in the magical arts (some even specializing within a particular field), yet their understanding of the dangers many sources yield has brought them to the Attakosh's cause. Many have experienced loss and witnessed the horrific devastation these words can bring and have taken blood oaths to quench such power at its source. No matter their origins and how they came to gain their power, scholars have seen the true danger and are willing to lay down their lives for the cause. Proving this requires a permanent sacrifice and simultaneous oath: they must cut off a toe.
Once the proper sacrifice has been made, a scholar is taken in by another experienced scholar and trained in the ways of the Attakosh. When the pupil has completed their first task, they are assigned to a new or existing cell.
For all intents and purposes, the scholars are the leaders of a cell. It is they who choose the text to destroy and they who maintain limited connections to other cells (when necessary) and make the call on whether the pages must be purged by fire or stored in safe keeping away from the outside world. (Some truly dangerous volumes are protected by wards, making them difficult – if not impossible – to destroy.)
While not exclusive, a majority of Attakosh scholars are males as they attract less attention within the public libraries, museums, universities, and other institutions where target volumes and the research needed to trace its possible locations are available. Recent events of summonings and magic-wielding warlords conquering nearby lands around the world have seen a rise in women scholars, using gender bias to move about unsuspected as well as their male counterparts.
Aside from exceptional skills of infiltration and legerdemain, a fundamental aspect of every Guardian rogue is their illiteracy. No rogue within a cell can read the words they attempt to steal, a necessary precaution to ensure they will not be corrupted by the power in their hands. For this reason, many rogues are found within the impoverished streets of distant cities, raised by the cell and trained in the secretive arts of pickpocketing, stealth, and assassination. Their mentor is always an elder Guardian rogue whose time has come to pass on their mantle. Only after they have completed their training are they chosen by a scholar to their cell.
Many cells select female rogues as they are better suited to operate in the open without drawing suspicion, particularly in cultures where women are expected to conceal their face at all times. Using the sexist views of many low paid soldiers and security forces provides the rogues with opportunities to walk into public libraries and museums to fade into the background.
The Hidden Vaults Of The Attakosh
Those sources protected by powerful magic and curses are housed within secure vaults buried within the passages of city sewers. Concealed behind false doors leading to abandoned sections of the underground, sometimes even into nearby caves, these hidden vaults are protected by deadly traps. Each one is deadly than the last and will go so far as to bury everyone, including the source itself, before the Attakosh would anyone to ever touch it again. Some traps have levelled city blocks and remains ruins behind city walls to this day.
Each cell has their own such vault, sometimes a few within reach of their headquarters. Such measures require constant inspection and a cell's rogue often retreats to sewers to inspect and reset traps, if necessary. A cell can be expected to head down to inspect their vault at least once every two or three weeks.
Tucked away inside these vaults are endless possibilities of epic treasures, tomes featuring incredible spells, recipes for unlocking unexpected alterations and potions in all sorts of combinations. Discoveries that may sound exciting at first, but come with dark tidings. If the Attakosh were afraid of it, the repercussions of unleashing the power behind these artefacts could be dire.
Playing An Attakosh Campaign
Viewed as villains and threats to numerous cities, religions, and institutions around the world, the actions of the Guardians of Attakosh may appeal to some players looking to take up their cause and maintain a power balance in the mystical arms race of a Shadow, Sword & Spell campaign. An Attakosh campaign features many similar highlights of a standard adventurer's exploits but with a unique focus on removing treasures from every falling into anyone's else hands rather than claiming such items for themselves or another. If you and a couple other players are eager to take the Attakosh oath and protect the people from their own aspirations, strap on your crusader's match and use the following guidelines.
All Attakosh must have at least 25 Sanity. While their methods may be viewed as crazed by those who do not understand them, every guardian is well aware of their actions and the cost they are expected to pay to serve the cause. It only matters that they have this minimum Sanity upon joining a cell.
An Attakosh character must have a Hook dedicated to the cause. The specifics remains up to the player.
Scholars typically come from Civilized or Advanced cultures and are expected to have a Base Rank in Study and at least two of the following skills: Alchemy*, Bureaucracy, Diplomacy, Herbalist, Investigation, Lore, Magic*, Resist, Streetwise, Tactics
Rogues can come from any culture, but must be poor and illiterate. They are expected to have a Base Rank in Stealth and at least two of the following skills: Acrobatics, Athletics, Defend, Dodge, Observe, Streetwise, Subterfuge
Operating an Attakosh cell is very much like running any other criminal organization on a smaller scale.
*S cholars who understand Alchemy and Magic are forbidden from practising these skills beyond those of ordinary, mundane spells and alchemical concoctions.
A Sample Cell
There is no telling where the Attakosh will strike next or what will be their target. While their numbers are few, their paths often cross with those adventurers as they explore the World facing extreme dangers and encountering rare treasures. Should your heroes intentionally (or unintentionally) intercept a cell's path to their objective, matters could get messy.
This section provides statistics and details for a single Attakosh cell: Kiris Assann, a scholar and Vara Assann-Roche, a rogue.
Advanced Catharian Bureaucrat
Brawn 3, Nimble 5, Toughness 5, Wits 12, Will 10
Vitality 20; Sanity 50; Initiative +9; Actions 1
Skills: -2 Brawl, +6 Bureaucracy, +7 Diplomacy, +6 Investigation, +6 Lore, -2 Melee, +4 Resist, +7 Study, +5 Tactics
Secrecy is the Attakosh's weapon and no one knows Kiris' true purpose in Cathar.
Kiris is willing to die for his cause.
Kiris is a dedicated researcher of the Occult with knowledge of relics and alchemy honed through years of meticulous research.
Kiris operates as a well-respected senator within Cathar with a penchant for gambling
For years, Kiris has sought the location of a collection of nine tomes known as the Necrophage believed capable of resurrecting the dead through a series of nine sacrificial rituals
Brawn 5, Nimble 10, Toughness 10, Wits 5, Will 6
Vitality 35; Sanity 30; Initiative +7; Actions 3
Skills: +2 Brawl, +3 Acrobatics, +5 Athletics, +1 Bureaucracy, +5 Defend, +5 Dodge, +5 Melee, +4 Streetwise, +6 Subterfuge, +3 Tactics
Vara is Kiris' cousin from his wife's side, discovered after her mother turned to the streets to feed her opioid addiction.
Vara is not legally alive as Kiris filed false papers declaring her deceased.
Vara is a dedicated member of her cell and is willing to lay down her life to destroy the information targeted for destruction by Kiris.
Vara's personal network of spies are the orphaned children of Cathar.
Vara is adept at using all manner of weapons and never uses the same ones twice to avoid authorities linking them back to her cell