Cities of Fire

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Cities of Fire by Kevin Maginn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Introduction

Sodom and Gomorrah

The Metaphysics of Hell

Rule 1: Hell is a place of moral conflicts.

This means that any action that lacks a moral dimension is irrelevant in hell. Without moral investiture, the Damned are not capable or competent. In practice, this means that any action taken without the invocation of a Virtue or a Vice is resolved arbitrarily by the Gamemaster, typically in the way that best furthers the story. Actions without moral dimension have no associated system mechanics. See *Systems of Morality*, below, for more details on what constitutes an action with a moral dimension.

Rule 2: Hell is a place of corruption.

This means that it is easy to become more evil and less virtuous, and difficult to become less evil and more virtuous. Hell is not a fair place; the purpose of Hell is to punish the Damned, and the Protagonists' temporary reprieve does not make them exempt from its influence. In practice, this means that when a Protagonist gains a point in any Vice, she also loses a point of the corresponding Virtue; conversely, when she gains a point of Virtue, her corresponding Vice score remains unchanged.

Rule 3: Hell favors vice over virtue.

This means that, in Hell, good does not triumph over evil. Hell is biased towards the more malicious of two actions. In practice, this means that in any opposed action resulting in a tie, the actor using dice from her Vice pool wins over the actor using dice from Virtue. In the case where both actors are using Virtues, the actor with the lower score in the employed Virtue wins the tie. In the case where both actors are using Vices, the actor with the higher score in the employed Vice wins the tie. In the case where a tie continues, the Gamemaster breaks a tie arbitrarily, with a bias towards choosing the more destructive and unpleasant alternative.

Rule 4: Hell's morality is God's morality.

This means that Hell does not recognize the particular moral beliefs of any person. The moral system of Hell is absolute, not subject to redefinition or reinterpretation. In practice, this means that for whatever Virtues and Vices the Gamemaster chooses to use for her game, the Gamemaster is the final arbiter of whether an action invokes a particular Virtue or Vice. Hell does not respond to moral debate, and while a Protagonist may believe that Pride is a virtue, she will still accumulate Vice points for employing it.

(Note that should the Gamemaster choose to alter or redefine the Virtues and Vices for her game, she should be as clear as possible in describing to the players the specific nature of each Virtue and each Vice.)

Systems of Morality

Each Protagonist has seven Virtues that correspond to seven Vices. The Virtues and Vices are:

Lust and Chastity

Lust is an excess of love and desire towards others, particularly love and desire that is unnatural in the eyes of God. Consummation of sexual desire is an expression of this Vice, but so is partaking of or desiring any sensual pleasure. The Damned can never marry, as marriage is a sacrament and thus denied to those in Hell; this means that any sexual activity in the Cities of Fire is by definition Lust.

Chastity is the denial of temptation to sensual pleasures. A chaste act is one in which the Damned is offered the fulfillment of a sensual desire, sexual or otherwise, and rejects not only the fulfillment but also the desire. While sex in the context of marriage is chaste, as explained above, the Damned cannot marry.

Gluttony and Abstinence

Gluttony is wasteful consumption, especially when that waste deprives others. A glutton eats more food than she needs to survive, destroys resources for the sake of the enjoyment of destruction, and consumes other substances purely for the sake of consuming them. The Damned need only the least food and water to maintain their existences, so almost any eating, drinking, or indulgence of consumptive pleasure is a sin of Gluttony.

Abstinence is the denial of consumption, and the mortification of the flesh. An abstentious act is one in which the Damned chooses to deny herself comfort or easing of tribulations, even when (and especially when) the comfort or ease can be had easily and at no cost. The Damned can wither away from lack of food and water, even if they cannot actually die; eating and drinking sufficient to sustain herself is permitted to a Damned, but any other consumption that makes the Cities of Fire a more pleasant place to exist is forbidden.

Greed and Generosity

Greed is the desire to accumulate wealth and power, especially at the expense of others. The greedy will harm others, betray others, and abuse positions of authority in the name of acquiring more wealth and more power. The use to which the wealth and power is put is only marginally relevant; the means of acquisition is of far more importance, and harming others for the sake of any gain of power, prestige, or material possessions is the purest expression of this sin.

Generosity is the willingness to meet the needs of others at one's own expense. Seeking out comfort and ease of pain is a sin of gluttony, but giving comfort and ease to another Damned is an act of generosity. Someone who is not greedy refuses a reward for her actions; someone who is generous accepts the reward and immediately gives it to another whose circumstances are more desperate.

Sloth and Diligence

Sloth is laziness and wastefulness. Even in the Cities of Fire, one's existence is meant to be purposeful. While some Damned, withered shades of their former selves, are able to avoid the inevitable fall into Hell by remaining passive, by never acting in any morally significant way, this too is a path to destruction. They are guilty of Sloth.

Diligence is engaging in moral pursuits with care and zeal. The diligent do not avoid a moral confrontation or a difficult task; neither do they rush headlong into it, with no plan and no thought. To confront a problem with mindfulness and committment is a diligent act, regardless of success.

Wrath and Patience

Wrath is revenge, spite, violence for its own sake, and the overturning of justice to satisfy the demands of anger. Righteous anger is permissible, but in the Cities of Fire, righteousness is not easily found or kept. Violence in self-defense is acceptable, but only the minimum violence necessary to protect one's existence. Violence against the Infernal is a sin of Wrath only if performed in anger or out of a desire for revenge. Any other violence against another Damned is a sin of wrath.

Patience is resisting anger and spite, even when justifiably driven to it. A patient act is one in which the Damned could solve a problem quickly through violence, but instead seeks a peaceful solution. It is also an act where the Damned foregoes self-defense in the face of a violent attack.

Envy and Kindness

Envy is both the desire for the possessions or virtues of another, and the hatred of others for their possessions or virtues. It is both jealousy and covetousness; a Damned may not wish to be as diligent as another, but she is still guilty of Envy if she dislikes that other for his diligence. Theft is a sin of envy, as is morbid self-hatred.

Kindness is charity, the love of others despite their flaws, and the willingness to forgive. A kind act is one in which the Damned demonstrates her love for an enemy, or for the unlovable, or for those who have hurt her. Kindness cannot be manifested when one demonstrates love for one's friends and allies; it is only seen in acts of love and forgiveness towards those who the Damned has reason to dislike.

Pride and Humility

Pride is the worst and most ephemeral of all the Vices. Acts of pride are acts of self-love, of putting one's self forward as better or more capable than others, even if this estimation is true. Taking pleasure in one's own abilities is Pride, as is demanding recognition of one's actions from others, and refusing obedience to legitimate authority. Pride is a subtle Vice, and can emerge from even actions that are otherwise expressions of a Virtue. Those who do not fall into the Pit from Sloth, as described above, are nearly always toppled by Pride in the end.

Humility is the ultimate and most difficult Virtue, as it requires a purity of selflessness that is rare in mortals and former mortals. It is neither humble to think highly of one's self nor to think lowly of one's self. To place one's self in comparison to others, in any way, is not humble. The meek Damned should not try to make her Virtues apparent, and should not try to make her Vices apparent. A humble act is one in which the Damned relinquishes offered credit, approval, power, wealth, or any reward in favor of another, and sincerely believes she does not deserve the reward, even though she does. She fails if she does not relinquish the reward, if she believes she deserved the reward, or if she relinquished a reward she did not deserve.

Ratings in Virtue and Vice

Protagonists are rated in each virtue and vice on a scale from 0 to 7. As the game progresses, these values may change. As they rise, the next point of rating becomes more difficult to acquire.

Virtues and Vices are opposed, but not zero-sum. It is possible to have a rating of 7 in a Virtue and in its opposing Vice (although very unlikely). However, their opposition means that whenever a point of Vice is gained, the Protagonist loses a point from the corresponding Virtue.

Resolution

Generally, any time a roll is called for, the player will roll one or more dice (a 'dice pool'). Each die that turns up 4, 5 or 6 counts as one Success.

Actions with Moral Implications

An action has moral significance if it would serve a Virtue or a Vice, or both. The player of the Protagonist may specify if she is attempting an action with a particular Virtue or Vice in mind, before other players have a chance to respond, by saying 'I invoke the [Virtue/Vice] of [Name] and [description of action]'.

Assisting the Action

Any player may choose to assist an action with moral significance. The assisting player must use either the same Virtue as the acting player, or the opposing Vice.

The assisting player may contribute a single die, and risk a point of Progress in that Virtue or Vice. What this means depends on whether the player has chosen a Virtue or Vice to assist with. For a Virtue, risking a point of Progress means the player will lose a point of Progress if the action fails. For a Vice, risking a point of Progress means the player will gain a point of Progress if the action fails.

If a player has no points of Progress in a Virtue, and loses one point, her Rating in that Virtue falls by one, and she gains 9 points of Progress. A player with a Rating of 0 cannot assist with that Virtue or Vice.

Shifting the Context

If assisting players contribute enough dice opposed to the original player's choice of Virtue or Vice, the action's context is shifted. This means that while the acting player's dice pool is still derived from the original Virtue or Vice, the action is resolved as though it were being generated from the opposing Virtue or Vice.

An action based on a Virtue becomes context shifted if the number of assisting dice from a Vice is equal to or greater than the acting player's Rating in the Virtue.

An action based on a Vice becomes context shifted if the number of assisting dice from a Virtue is equal to or greater than twice the acting player's Rating in the Vice.

Example: Alice and her allies have tracked down a vicious slaver who is selling souls to the Infernals. She declares that she's attacking him, and asserts that she's doing so from Generosity. She has a Rating of 2 in Generosity, so takes 2 dice. However, Brad and Diane both choose to assist her, and both contribute dice from Greed. This brings Alice's total number of dice to 4, and shifts the context of the action from Generosity to Greed. Alice thinks for a moment, and informs the GM that just as she attacks, she imagines how she might be rewarded by the freed slaves for her good deed. If the action fails, Brad and Diane will each gain one point of Progress in Greed.

Unresisted Actions

Some actions are trivial to accomplish but still have moral significance. If the Protagonist attempts such an action, she automatically succeeds (once any contests are resolved). Skip directly to 'The Consequences', below.

Example: As Alice is attacking the slaver, Carrie rushes to the slaves to give them water and clean their wounds. This is a trivial action -- the slaves certainly aren't going to resist, and the slaver is currently being attacked. Carrie declares that she's invoking Generosity. Her action automatically succeeds.

The Action

To resolve an action once any contests are complete, the player attempting the action rolls a number of dice equal to the Virtue or Vice being expressed, and compares the total number of successes rolled with the difficulty of the action. Most actions have a difficulty of 1; a single success is enough to demonstrate one's commitment to the Virtue or Vice.

If the target of the action is another Damned, or an Infernal, they may be able to /resist/ the action with the same or opposing Virtue or Vice. In that case, they roll their virtue or vice dice pool. Their number of successes is the difficulty of the action, with a minimum of 1.

Example: Alice is tackling the slaver with intent to kill him, invoking Wrath. The GM declares that the slaver is resisting. If the slaver were a different kind of Damned, he could resist with Patience, and simply take the beating. This would save his life, although he might be badly injured. However, he's pretty much an evil person, so he resists with Wrath 2 instead of Patience 0.

The slaver rolls 5, 4. He's fighting back! Alice needs two successes to defeat him. Alice rolls 3, 5, 6, which is two successes. She is tied, and both actors are using Vices. However, Alice has Wrath 3; she's meaner than the slaver. She wins, and smashes the slaver's head against the ground until he stops moving. He won't be dead for more than a few hours; the Damned cannot be permanently killed. With his blood dripping from her hands, though, Alice has no doubts that she killed him.

The Consequences

To determine the implications of the action on the Protagonist's soul, consult the Severity chart for the Virtue or Vice involved. If the attempted action succeeded, or if a Vice was used (regardless of success or failure), compare the action to the descriptions of actions on the table. If the level of the action is higher than the Protagonist's rating in the Virtue or Vice, the Protagonist gains 1 point of Progress in that virtue or vice.

When a Protagonist accumulates 10 points of Progress in any Virtue or Vice, her Progress is reset, and her rating increases by 1. If her rating is already at 7, it does not increase, and she does not gain Progress in that Virtue or Vice. If a Vice increases in rating, remember to decrease the corresponding Virtue by one point.

If the Progress point causes a Protagonist to have a rating of 7 in three or more Vices, she may be in danger of falling into the Pit. See 'Falling', below.

If the Progress point causes a Protagonist to have a rating of 7 in five or more Virtues, she may be eligible for Apotheosis. See 'Rising', below.

Regardless of success or failure, the Protagonist removes one die from the dice pool for that Virtue or Vice. She will not regain these lost dice until the end of the session. The GM may also restore lost dice at any point during the game session; if she does this, she should restore dice to all players in one or more Virtues or Vices.

You do not lose dice when you invoke a Virtue or Vice in defense.

Assisting players do not lose dice.

Example: Alice has a Wrath score of 3. Looking at the chart for Wrath, she and the GM agree that murdering the slaver in the grip of hatred is an act of Wrath with a severity of 5. As that's higher than her Wrath of 3, she gains a point of Wrath Progress. Her Progress in Wrath is now 9; one more wrathful action of this magnitude, and she will rise to a Wrath score of 4.

Falling

The Cities of Fire are crumbling shadows of real places; the fires of the Pit eat away at them, and someday they will collapse into Hell and be consumed. Even before that day, though, Hell claims some of the Damned over time. Souls that are heavy with sin do not remain in the Cities; with sufficient sin and insufficient virtue, a soul may be plucked as an apple from a tree by any Infernal who chooses to do so. The Infernals scour the streets of the Cities, looking for those who are so corrupted that they may be carried off without any further negotiation.

When one of the Damned reaches a rating of 7 in three Vices, she has become corrupt enough that the Infernals may notice her and carry her off into Hell. In any scene in which she interacts with any Infernal, she must succeed at a Humility action or the Infernal realizes she is corrupt, and may carry her away. The difficulty of this action is 1 for every Vice rated at 7 beyond the first two. If Pride has a rating of 7, the difficulty is increased further, by an additional 1.

Example: David gains a point of Progress in Greed when he attempts to steal the food supplies of a tenement for use as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the local Magistrate. This is his tenth, so his Greed rises, from 6 to 7. This is his fourth Vice to rise to 7; he also has a score of 7 in Gluttony, Envy and Lust. When he goes to negotiate with the Magistrate, he is horrified to discover that there is an Infernal waiting there -- the Magistrate's advisor. David's Humility is 3; the difficulty of the action is 2 (1 for each of his third and fourth Vices rated at 7). He will need to roll a success on all three dice to hide his corruption from the Infernal.

When an Infernal discovers a corrupted Damned, there are three possible outcomes. First, the Infernal may just carry the Damned off to Hell. Hellbound souls are the currency of merit among Infernals, so they have strong incentive to seize the corrupt. Second, the Protagonist and her allies may fight off the Infernal. This is difficult and dangerous; see 'Infernals', below. If they succeed, /that particular/ Infernal will no longer pursue the Protagonist, though others still may notice her as usual.

Third, the Infernal may attempt to strike a bargain. An Infernal taking this route has one of two goals. It may wish to further corrupt the Damned, or it may wish to use the Damned to corrupt others. The value of a Soul is the summation of its rating in all Vices /and/ all Virtues. A patient Infernal will assist a Damned who shows potential, hoping to get greater value from her soul in the end. A greedy Infernal will make use of a powerful or influential Damned to influence others. The undeniably evil and hideous Damned who typically rule over portions of the Cities are always beneficiaries of these bargains. Though corrupt to their core, often with 5 or more Vices rated at 7, these Damned are far too useful in both tormenting and tempting the other Damned over whom they rule to be carried off. Once an Infernal has struck a bargain with a Damned, that Damned is permanently marked, and no other Infernal will attempt to carry her off. The bargainer may thereafter speak to her patron at any time; whether or not her patron will listen, or care, is up to the Gamemaster.

A character who bargains is living on borrowed time. Sooner or later, her soul is forfeit to the Infernal who claimed it. No character who bargains can ever undergo Apotheosis.

A character who is taken down to Hell is removed from the game, having met one of the two Final Fates alloted to the Damned.

Rising

Note: Apotheosis may not be possible in all games. Whether this is a deluded dream of the foolish, or a real phenomenon, is up to the Gamemaster. A game in which Apotheosis is impossible will be darker; the Gamemaster should ensure that the players are interested in a game in which there are no real victory conditions. Such a game might focus on the nature and goals of the Nine, or on the political struggles in the Cities, rather than the Protagonists' personal journeys.

Apotheosis is the moment when a Damned is redeemed and becomes one with God, rising to Heaven. Apotheosis becomes possible once the Damned has reached a rating of 7 in at least five Virtues, one of which /must/ be Humility.

At any time after that, if the Damned uses the dice pool of a Virtue, she may be redeemed. To find out if she undergoes Apotheosis, compare the number of successes rolled for that use of a Virtue to the total of /all/ the Protagonist's Vice ratings. If the number of succeesses is greater, the Protagonist immediately explodes in white fire and is gone, leaving only a blackened scorch mark. She is removed from the game, having met one of the two Final Fates alloted to the Damned.

Adversaries

Infernals

Infernals are the minions of the Enemy, the demons that torment the Damned in the Cities of Fire and serve as its penultimate authorities. Souls that fall directly into Hell are the province of the Enemy himself, and cannot be seized by Infernals. Only the souls that land on the Cities are available to Infernals for their foul purposes in the Pit, making those souls a hotly-contested commodity.

Infernals are not typically sophisticated creatures of morality with a full array of virtues and vices (though there are exceptions; see below). The typical demonic Infernal has a significant rating in one Vice, which is his Defining Vice. Particularly powerful or subtle demons may have ratings in two or more Vices. Normal demons have ratings on the same scale as the Damned, from 0 to 7.

The rating of an Infernal's Defining Vice acts as a rough descriptor of its overall Power level. Thus, a Power 5 Infernal is one that has a rating of 5 in its Defining Vice. Any other Vices an Infernal may have are rated at one less than its overall Power. The Power 5 Infernal thus would have a 4 in any other Vices aside from its Defining Vice. For any other Vice, the Infernal has a rating equal to half its Power, rounded down. The Power 5 Infernal thus has a rating of 2 in all other unspecified Vices.

The Power of an Infernal gives an indication of roughly its status within the hierarchies of the Pit. A Power 1 Infernal is a minor demon of the most elemental sort, a writhing ball of neurosis with no more sentience than a dog. Power 3 Infernals represent the most commonly encountered type in the Cities of Fire -- powerful enough to dominate the Damned, but not yet powerful enough to have minions to handle their affairs in the Cities. Power 7 Infernals represent the arch-fiends of Hell, towering demigods of evil, whose very presence causes terror and abject horror.

Infernals are extremely dangerous opponents, and it is difficult for the Damned to even consider opposing them. When in a conflict with an Infernal, the following special rules are in effect.

Master of Vice: Infernals can never be contested directly in their Vice. They automatically win any contested action against a Damned if the Damned makes use of the Infernal's Defining Vice. No matter how lustful, a Damned can never be more lustful than a succubus, regardless of rating.

Corruptor of Virtue: In any test in which a Damned chooses to use a Virtue, the Damned's effective rating is lowered by one for the purpose of the test. Pure Virtue's power is lessened in the outskirts of Hell, and even more so against the embodiments of Hell's evils.

Taint of the Enemy: If an Infernal wins a contested action against a Damned, the Damned immediately gains a point of Progress in the Vice the Infernal used against her, in addition to any other effects of the action.

Hollow Victory: The Damned never gain points of Progress in any Virtue when they win contested actions against Infernals.

Dragged to Hell: Any time an Infernal wins a contested action against the Damned, the Damned's Virtues are temporarily all lowered by one (in addition to the Corruptor of Virtue power). If at any point all of a Damned's Virtues reach an effective value of zero or less, the Infernal may immediately drag that Damned off to Hell at its discretion, or at will at any point thereafter for the rest of the Damned's existence.

Fallen Angels

Fallen Angels are the aristocracy of Hell; they are the original armies of Lucifer who were cast down to Hell alongside him. They are far more powerful than the lesser demonic entities that fill the Pit.

In addition to all the rules for Demons, above, Fallen Angels have the following additional rules.

Pillar of God's Might: Fallen Angels have a Power of 8.

Paragon of Virtue: The Defining Vice of a Fallen Angel is also its Defining Virtue. Fallen Angels have a rating of 8 in the Virtue associated with their defining Vice.

Insidious Doubt: Fallen Angels cannot be opposed in their Defining Virtue. They automatically win any contested action against a Damned if the Damned makes use of the Fallen Angel's Defining Virtue. This is in addition to the Master of Vice power that all Infernals have.