Shaman: The Masked/Chapter Three

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Masks are the central aspect of Shaman, the Masked, and it thus behooves us to cover the systems governing them first.

What is a Mask?[edit]

Masks are, obviously, the way a Shaman channels their power. But they're more than that. They are how a Shaman protects their identity from the infinity that is the World Soul. If not for the Mask, a Shaman's mind would quickly be torn apart by the powerful forces within the heart of the Earth. A Mask calls upon a tiny aspect of the World Soul, calling up a single speck of the infinite variety within it with symbolism that resonates with the concept. Shamanic scholars are uncertain exactly why the Masks work only for Shamans, or why Shamans are even capable of using Masks. Some believe that using a Mask awakens the World Soul, and actually brings a portion of it to the physical, while others believe that the body and soul realign themselves into the Mask's identity through some kind of Sympathy. Others believe that the world itself is merely the dreams of the World Soul, and that Masks are a way to remind ourselves that this world is an illusion.

Behind the Mask[edit]

Masks are certainly powerful tools for a Shaman, but they all carry a risk in their use: With each use, the Mask's persona becomes more powerful, increasing its Identity.

Each Mask has two Compulsions, one Lesser and one Greater. You can fulfill each once per scene. If you've fulfilled, the Lesser Compulsion of one Mask, for example, and then change to a different Mask in that Scene, you can't benefit from the Lesser Compulsion of the new Mask (although you can still benefit from the Greater Compulsion if you haven't used it yet). You still can suffer breaking points from them. A Lesser Compulsion replenishes 1 Willpower and adds 1 Nox to the Mask's Reserve. Fulfilling a Greater Compulsion grants you a full Willpower refresh, a Beat, and as many Nox as you are able to spend in a turn based on your Synthesis.

Each Mask also has an Identity rating from 1 to 10. This represents how independent the Mask is, as well as how difficult it is to stop using it and how close it is to taking control. If a Mask reaches Identity 10, then the wearer risks becoming a Skull Child, as the Mask takes total control, the wearer becoming nothing but a vessel for a small part of the World Soul. Different actions act as "Breaking Points" to increase Identity, rolling its current Identity score or its Power (whichever is greater). If the wearer suffers a Breaking Point as a result of using a Mask, the roll is made at +2, and the wearer may spend 1 Willpower to impose a -3 penalty.

  • Identity 1-3: Wearing the Mask
  • Identity 4-6: Acting on a Mask's Lesser Compulsion
  • Identity 7+: Acting on a Mask's Greater Compulsion

The only reliable way to reduce a Mask's Identity is not to use it. Any Chapter in which a Mask is not used, it must make a Breaking Point roll (again, the greater of Identity or Power) or lose 1 Identity. The Shaman can spend 1 Willpower to impose a -3 penalty as above.

Sidebar: Wearing a Mask[edit]

While it might be easy to discern when one is wearing a more traditional Mask, a Mask need not be a literal Mask that one wears on their face. As long as it is an object that can be worn or held prominently, and carries strong symbolism toward its subject, it can be a Mask. "Wearing" such a mask means that one must wear it on their person or hold it in their hand, making sure that it is on prominent display. One can not surreptitiously wear a Mask (although some do try to make the Mask a bit less obviously unusual, to varying degrees of success). Ceremonial tools, robes, and talismans are popular choices for non-mask Masks.

  • Identity 1: Inanimate. The Mask is little more than a Mask. You can't use its Active Effect in this state, which cripples all but the weakest Masks, but the Mask is totally silent, and won't bother you at all.
  • Identity 2-3: Subservient. Masks at this level are highly subservient, and can only make their desires known with subtle mental influence. This usually manifests as a gut feeling or a brief urge that's easily shaken off. This offers no benefits, but also levies no penalties.
  • Identity 4-5: Willful. The Mask has awakened to a true personality. It encourages the Shaman to wear it, and will often try to convince them to act on the Mask's Compulsion. You gain +1 to Empathy and Animal Ken rolls with characters that fit the Mask's Resonance while wearing it.
  • Identity 6-7: Demanding. The Mask becomes agitated when not regularly used, and will protest when removed. In addition to the effects of Willful, you gain a Beat any time you purchase a Power Dot for this Mask, and you gain the Obsessed Condition relating to acting on the Mask's Compulsion while wearing it. (Which is resolved upon doing so, or upon removing the mask.) If you put on the Mask, and take it off in the same scene, you gain the Spurned condition keyed to that Mask.
  • Identity 8-9: Controlling. The Mask is more in charge than you are, and audibly demands to be used. You receive the Addicted condition pertaining to any Masks with Identity this high, which can only be resolved by destroying the Mask or allowing its Identity to drop over time, and removing this Mask requires you to spend a point of Willpower. Your Empathy and Animal Ken bonuses with this Mask rise to +2.
  • Identity 10: Absolute Control. The Mask has completely taken over, and you risk becoming a Skull Child, a creature born of the World Soul and made manifest in reality.

Anatomy of a Mask[edit]

Origin: This is the general category into which the mask fits based on what it symbolizes. The Origins are as follows:

  • Caelum: Stars, planets, the sky, constellations
  • Corpus: Physicality, animals, bodily function
  • Sensus: The mind, the senses, dreams, the Astral
  • Vis: Elements, physical forces, natural cycles
  • Larua: Spirits, ghosts, souls, the supernatural, other worlds (excluding the Astral)

Power: The Power Rating of the Mask. This dictates part of the Dice Pool for a Mask (if any), as well as often affecting the potency of its effects. Unless the Mask has a Power Rating of at least 1, it will only have a Passive Effect.

Identity: The Identity rating of the Mask, as explained above. If its Identity is less than 2, its Active Effect is unusable, and it's totally inanimate.

Resonance: The symbolic associations the mask holds. For example, a cheetah mask might hold Resonance with cats, but also with predation, swiftness, and the plains. This affects the kinds of ephemerals that one might be able to Feed with the Feed Spirit ability, as well as serving to identify the Mask to those capable of sensing resonance.

Compulsions: The Compulsions of the Mask, as noted above. The Lesser and Greater Compulsions might be similar but vary in scale, or they might display two different aspects of the Mask's inspiration.

Sidebar: Growing Powers[edit]

A Mask's function isn't necessarily set in stone at its creation. It can grow and change organically as it's used. A mask made to walk through flames might one day learn to help its master wield flames, and a mask that speaks to tigers may give its maker a tiger's form. How a Mask develops is ultimately up to the player, but should remain in the spirit (pun entirely intended) of the Mask, and have powers that flow conceptually from whatever power it already carries. It's especially common for a Mask's effects to change as it gains Power or Identity, or its maker gains Synthesis.

Passive Effect: The passive, constantly active effect of the Mask. As long as you wear the Mask, you receive this benefit. It's usually a minor benefit, like a bonus toward a specific task or group of tasks relating to the Mask, usually +1 on a broad category of rolls, +2 or 9-again on a narrow set of rolls, or +3 or the rote quality on extremely specific rolls. High-Power Masks often have somewhat more favorable effects.

Active Effect: This is second effect of the Mask, which is only available to Masks with a Power of 1 or higher.

Dice Pool: The dice pool of the Effect. Usually an Attribute + a Skill + Power.
Cost: Active Effects always cost at least 1 Nox, which can be paid from a Mask's stores or the wearer's personal stores. Sometimes, the cost scales with the severity of the desired effect. If you can't pay the Nox cost to to use a Mask within a single turn, you can spend multiple turns "charging up" the power, spending to your limit each turn up to the total required. If you stop focusing on the power you're activating to do something else, the spent Nox is lost to no effect (although it might attract a hungry spirit).
Action: Unless otherwise noted, an Active Power is an Instant Action.
Duration: Some powers have a stated duration, usually a Scene or a length of empirical time. Unless otherwise noted, the wearer can dismiss the effects of the Mask's powers freely. Removing a Mask will terminate its effects automatically unless otherwise noted.

Some sample masks can be found here.