Abyssal Mysticism

Overview

As pragmatic as they are ruthless, most Lasombra regard Obtenebration as a tool. It is an important tool and a gift from their founder, but ultimately just one power among many. Only the most eccentric and arcane savants among the clan understand the true significance of their dark art. Obtenebration is more than mere shadow-play. It is a window to the Abyss itself, that great and terrible unknown that lies at the center of all things. The Abyss gnaws at the heart of the underworld and the doubt in every question never answered. It is present in the absence of light and lurks in every shadow. Ghosts rightly fear its hunger, but they do not understand it. Demons call it Hell, and they only begin to comprehend. No Lasombra knows where it comes from or its purpose or even the purpose of its strange denizens, but the clan’s mystics know the Abyss is the ultimate source of their power. So the mystics vainly pry into the dark places in search of secrets and answers and perhaps more questions. For these driven souls, conventional Obtenebration is only the beginning. With rituals they unlock the hidden powers of shadow and summon the unnamed primordial horrors that lie beyond. Either from fear or distaste, the Amici Noctis follow a policy of ignoring mystics until times of great crisis. Even the most fervently Christian Lasombra do not hunt or discourage Abyss mystics, for it is whispered that the Eldest watches those who watch the void. And so the mystics research quietly in the hidden places, for the Abyss is their calling, their quest, their god.

Morality and the Abyss

Immersed in undying study of a force transcending and ultimately opposing all light and life, Abyss Mystics have little use for humanity or mortal precepts of right and wrong. Most adherents of this dark and heavily ritualized faith eventually gravitate to their own Road of the Abyss, a path which bears disturbing and striking similarity to the Road of Bones (Dark Ages Storytellers Companion p. 24) and Path of Death and the Soul.

While no evidence exists to link the Shadowed philosophy directly with Cappadocian scholars, rumors persist of a strange connection between the Abyss and the Well of Bones. Players may simulate the Road of the Abyss with the tenets and sins of the Road of Bones/Death and the Soul, modified slightly for its focus on primordial darkness rather than death. Any sin that mentions death applies instead to darkness and the Abyss. In addition, Abyss mystics feel no allegiance or responsibility to adherents of the Road of Bones any more than other outsiders; any sins that encourage cooperation apply only to adherents of their own secretive road. Lastly, the aura of the Shadowed is one of Darkness rather than Silence. This aura modifier applies to blind actions and evocations of Obtenebration (including Abyss rituals). The aura modifier does not affect Stealth, as such darkness is too alien and spiritually disturbing to onlookers.

Rituals of the Darkness

The following rituals do not adhere to the same rules as other forms of blood magic, in large part because they build on a Discipline not commonly regarded as a form of sorcery. Cainites may not learn Abyss rituals rated higher than their Obtenebration score. For all intents and purposes, Obtenebration is considered their primary path. Moreover, characters must have a minimum of Occult 3 and Vampire Lore 3 to learn these rituals. They cost what out of clan Thaumaturgy rituals cost.

Finally, most of these rituals have side effects associated with their use as befits the alien and malignant nature of the Abyss. Under no circumstances do Flaws obtained from side effects reward the vampire with bonus or experience points. Owing to the scarcity of Abyss Mysticism and the secretive nature of its practitioners, fewer rituals exist than with most mystical Disciplines. Also, horrific consequences for failure await a careless mystic, from devouring vortices of living shadow to possession by monstrous entities from the other side. Lastly, something is undeniably wrong with the black at the center of every Abyss mystic’s eyes, as though each has beheld something that should not be.

Leve One

Pierce the Murk

It is a simple fact that understanding flows from perception and darkness thwarts perception. Most individuals incorrectly assume no answers are to be found in the dark, but that is simply because they do not know how or where to look. This ritual resolves the first paradox, attuning a mystic’s eyes to the primordial darkness even as they forsake light.

System: The mystic invokes the Obtenebration power Shadow Play and concentrates, focusing the manipulated shadows to gather into a sphere. She holds this intangible sphere in one hand and gazes into its depths, while her player rolls Perception + Occult (difficulty 8). Success means the vampire permanently gains the Merit Darksight (p. 206), while a botch results in the mystic permanently gaining Darksight as a Flaw.

A failure means the Cainite fails to comprehend the lesson and must try again another night.

Side Effect: When a vampire uses Darksight obtained from this ritual, her pupils appear to grow in an inky stain that envelops iris and white in pure black. Those who botch this ritual obtain blackened eyes for the rest of their unlife along with their warped perceptions.

The Shadow of Hands That Serve
This ritual summons the smallest beings that dwell in the Abyss and grants them brief existence in the material world as servitors of the mystics who invoke them. Such entities are not demons or ghosts or true spirits, but rather something else that defies comprehension or classification. All that is certain is that they hate light, hunger for life and bear a malign cognition that would shatter the sanity of any who truly understood it. Although the creatures summoned with this ritual are harmless, they make excellent spies and are so called the Eyes of Ahriman.

System: The vampire crushes and extinguishes a candle in his fist, suffering one level of aggravated damage and prompting an immediate check for Rötschreck (difficulty 4). If the vampire can maintain control, his player rolls Intelligence + Occult (difficulty 6). Botching this roll results in a further level of unsoakable aggravated damage. If successful, however, the vampire tightens his fist until blood drips from his fingers. The blood blackens and burns as it falls, undulating and extending horrible tendrils to reclaim the wisps of acrid smoke. When the blood lands, it shrieks in pain and births a momentary gateway to the Abyss. Out of this brief rift emerges a globe of shadow substance the size of a child’s hand. As the vampire opens and upturns his burnt and bloody palm, the orb flies to his hand and licks it clean with extruded tentacles. The creature endures one night per success on the casting roll before returning to the Abyss. Until this time, it serves the vampire’s spoken will with unquestioning if unimaginative fervor. It can crudely communicate with material beings in images and emotional impressions, but only while in physical contact.

A level-two version of this ritual exists, known as The Heart That Beats in Silence. This ritual follows the same rules and process, save that the summoned being is twice as large and possesses greater mastery of Obtenebration, allowing it to attack its caster’s foes physically. A vampire may not summon more beings through castings of The Shadow of Hands That Serve and/or The Heart That Beats in Silence than his Occult rating.

Side Effect: None

EYES OF AHRIMAN/HEART OF SILENCE

Attributes: Strength 1/2, Dexterity 5,Stamina 1, Charisma 1, Manipulation 3, Appearance 0, Perception 3, Intelligence 2, Wits 3
Abilities: Alertness 3, Athletics 3, Brawl 3, Dodge 3, Intimidation 2, Stealth 5 (In Shadows +1)
Disciplines: Obtenebration 1/3
Willpower: 3/5, Health Levels: Equal to Willpower
Other Notes: Traits in italics or after a slash represent the greater power of a Heart of Silence. Both types of creatures may freely invoke their Obtenebration without spending blood, although they must spend Willpower in place of blood to enhance a power (such as lengthening a tentacle grown with Arms of Ahriman). They can fly at 30 yards per turn and are always assumed to be in shadow form as per Tenebrous Avatar (Dark Ages: Vampire,p. 200). They suffer no wound penalties, but the touch of fire or sunlight instantly destroys these creatures. Communicating with a material being requires contact and a successful Wits roll. Each success transfers one set of related images or one emotion directly into the target’s psyche.

Level Two Rituals

Transubstantiation of Essence

Supplanting her accursed blood with the substance of the Abyss, a mystic may devour the shadow essence to accelerate her healing.

System: The mystic devotes a full turn to meditating; her player spends one Willpower point and rolls Stamina + Occult (difficulty 8). A botch inflicts one level of aggravated damage. For every success rolled, the vampire may spend one blood point to heal two levels of bashing or lethal damage. For the purposes of this unholy healing, the vampire may even surpass normal generational limits on blood expenditure. The Abyss takes its due, however. Whenever the vampire feeds, the Abyss consumes the blood until it has taken a total number of points equal to twice the number of health levels healed. No blood actually enters the vampire’s system until the cost is paid in full. Moreover, this ritual cannot be used again until the Abyss receives its toll and never more than once per night.

Side Effect: The taint of the Abyss never fully leaves a vampire’s blood after casting this ritual. As a result, the mystic’s vitae thereafter has an unnatural darkened hue. This effect is purely cosmetic, though few sights are more disturbing than the ebon tears of a weeping Abyss mystic, save perhaps the horrors that make her weep.

Level Three Rituals

Drinking the Blood of Ahriman

By drawing the shadow essence of the Abyss into himself and fusing it with his blood, a mystic who knows this ritual may undergo a frightening transformation.

System: The mystic summons a Nocturne and cuts her palm with a knife that has never tasted blood. Chanting softly, the mystic flicks blood into the Nocturne, drawing its hunger into her wound. The shadow melds into the palm, traveling through the veins to suffuse the vampire’s entire form. This painful process takes half an hour. During this time the vampire is at –2 dice from the cold agony of the fusion. At the end of the ritual, the vampire’s player rolls Manipulation + Occult (difficulty 8). Failure means the fusion is unsuccessful and the shadow escapes to the Abyss. A botch means the shadow drinks one blood point per 1 rolled before departing. Success causes the vampire’s skin to darken noticeably and her eyes to become the impossibly inky black of the Abyss. In this augmented state, all Physical Attributes lower than her Obtenebration rating rise to that level. All Obtenebration powers up to level three receive a –2 difficulty, and the blood cost to grow or expand an Arm of Ahriman is halved (rounded p). The voidaugmented vampire must spend a number of blood points upon awakening each night equal to her Obtenebration rating. Failure to pay this surcharge immediately revokes the transformation. In addition, the vampire’s shadowy form takes triple damage from sunlight and her Appearance drops by one dot while this ritual is in effect.
Side Effect: Once a vampire spends more consecutive days in spectral form than her highest Virtue, the darkening of her skin becomes permanent. This resembles the darkening of an elder Assamite and grows more pronounced the more frequently the mystic casts and maintains this ritual.

Calling the Hungry Shade

Extending his mastery of the Abyss beyond The Heart That Beats in Silence, a mystic who knows this ritual may call forth an actual Hungry Shade into a circle of blood. Such entities are incalculably malicious and resent attempts to bind them into service. If they break free of the magic that enslaves them, they do not hesitate to drag the errant Cainite to the Abyss or tear him asunder on the spot.

System: A mystic may initiate this ritual any time between dusk and midnight. To begin, the vampire stands at the center of the intended summoning area and slits his left palm. He then turns counterclockwise in silence with bloody hand outstretched to drip a circle of blood. Next he steps out of the circle, taking care to drip no more blood outside its edge. He then begins a whispered chant of invocation as he prowls around the circle in a spiral that winds slowly inward. Multiple Abyss mystics who know this ritual may assist and usually do, circling equilaterally apart from one another in synchronous steps. The total number of participating mystics cannot exceed the highest Occult rating in the group. Make an extended Intelligence + Occult check (difficulty 6) for every mystic involved, rolling once per hour of chant without looking at the dice. The Storyteller should privately keep track of the total number of successes amassed and permit players of the participant mystics to continue as long as they like until an hour before dawn. A botch from any mystic reduces the number of accumulated successes by five. When the mystics choose to resolve their processional litany, they stop and turn to face the center of the circle. Each speaks a syllable of summons in perfect unison and their players spend one point of Willpower. It is at this moment that the air tears asunder and a Hungry Shade rises in the blood circle.

The statistics of each summoned Hungry Shade vary. Each success in casting generates three bonus points that may be used to generate its statistics according to the costs listed on p. 129 of Dark Ages: Vampire…The shade begins with a rating of zero in all traits except Obtenebration and may not have Backgrounds, Virtues or a Road (as it has no need of such Traits). Health levels cost two bonus points each and the creature never suffers wound penalties. It can also store more Willpower than its permanent rating for a cost of one bonus point per additional point of capacity and begins with a full pool. None of the shade’s traits may exceed the rating of the highest Obtenebration score among the participating mystics. The only exceptions are Obtenebration (begins at five dots; cannot exceed a rating of eight), permanent Willpower (can equal double the highest caster’s Obtenebration), total health levels (up to twice the shade’s permanent Willpower) and temporary Willpower capacity (no upper limit). The shade may possess only the following Disciplines, or rather analogous powers: Celerity, Fortitude, Obtenebration and Potence. The shade’s default state is immaterial as per Tenebrous Avatar, so its version of that power allows it to solidify for a turn at the cost of one Willpower point. The shade can see in all darkness, natural or otherwise. It regains one point of Willpower for every blood point consumed or health level of damage inflicted, and all its attacks (including Arms of Ahriman) inflict aggravated damage. It has no blood pool and does not need to spend blood to activate Obtenebration powers but substitutes Willpower to augment shadow effects or use Celerity. The shade suffers aggravated damage from sunlight and fire and soaks like a vampire when materialized. It cannot speak but may telepathically communicate at will in images and emotions with any sentient being it can see. Once the Hungry Shade is built according to the number of successes rolled, the player of the lead mystic makes an opposed roll of Willpower against the sum of the shade’s two highest permanent traits other than Willpower (both rolls at difficulty 4). The vampire receives one extra die per assisting mystic. If the vampire wins, the shade must serve him faithfully in all endeavors for a number of nights equal to his Willpower. This duration may be extended by one night per point of fresh human or vampire blood immediately fed to the monster. It is not possible to increase the duration of servitude after the ritual ends, though it is believed that more powerful summoning rituals may exist for such purposes. If the shade wins the contest of wills, it may freely attack the mystics and usually does, though some have been known to flee the area and wreak havoc elsewhere or even return to the Abyss without incident. A freed shade may remain in the physical world as long as it desires, although it loses points of Willpower equal to its Obtenebration rating each dawn. If it runs out of Willpower, it can no longer bear separation from the Abyss and returns home through the closest shadow.

Side Effect: None

Level Four Rituals

Reflections of Hollow Revelation

By gazing into the sphere of a conjured Nocturne, a mystic with this ritual may reach his senses into the orb to spy through a distant shadow. This is among the more pragmatic powers of Abyss Mysticism, but it too exalts the void on the principle that all secrets do not lie in darkness, but all secrets lie through darkness.

System:The Cainite calls upon the Obtenebration power Nocturne and wills the globe to contract (this costs one Willpower point). The sphere shrinks to the size of a man’s head and becomes tantalizingly translucent, dimming everything seen through its murky depths. The vampire gazes into the orb and concentrates on a being or location he has previously seen. If the target is within a number of miles equal to the vampire’s Obtenebration + Occult and the vampire’s player successfully rolls Perception + Occult (difficulty 7), the target appears in the Nocturne as seen through the shadow that has the best view of the scene. The vampire may continue to spy through this sensory portal for the rest of the scene or until the target leaves the vision of the shadow. Any vampire or supernatural being with Obtenebration, Auspex or powers similar to either may sense the thickening shadow that spies upon them on a successful Perception + Occult roll (difficulty 8). Botching this ritual disperses the Nocturne and leaves the mystic confused for the rest of the scene (–2 to all dice pools). Failure releases the Nocturne to expand and act as normal.

Side Effect: A Cainite who sees and plots too far may not see the obvious. For the rest of the night following a successful casting of this ritual, the mystic loses two dice from all Alertness checks to notice events in her immediate presence.

Level Five Rituals

Whispers in the Dark

All enlightenment returns to the Abyss. The light of life and learning perishes with the death of flesh and soul and no tutelage can pass on wisdom in its entirety. But Ahriman remembers. Ahriman is all that is not, or was and is no more. In the primordial darkness lie echoes and whispers frozen in silent waiting for someone cunning enough to ask the right questions and daring enough to receive the answers.

System: The vampire conjures a Nocturne and forces it to contract as outlined for the ritual Reflections of Hollow Revelation. Rather than staring into the orb and viewing another place, the mystic swallows the darkness and so is swallowed by it. The vampire falls into immediate torpor as her consciousness merges with the Abyss. The vampire may ask one question of void, which may be as mundane or arcane as desired. The Storyteller assigns a rating for the question from 1 to 10 based on complexity and significance. Truly impossible or momentous questions may even surpass 10, rising as high as the Storyteller deems appropriate. The vampire’s player rolls Intelligence + Occult (difficulty 9) at the conclusion of every night the mystic spends in torpid contemplation. Successes accumulate from night to night until they match the rating of the question and the vampire awakens knowing the answer. If the vampire fails to obtain any successes during a night, the interval between rolls increases to weeks. Further failure to obtain successes extends the interval to months, then years, decades, centuries, millennia and perhaps onward to the end of time itself. A fable among Abyss mystics states that the first mystic, a beloved childe of the Eldest, asked the Abyss how he might slay God. It is said that he slumbers still in some forgotten tomb, dreaming the incomprehensible nightmares of that which preceded light.

Side Effect: A vampire who has successfully communed with the Abyss thereafter reduces the difficulty of all Intimidation rolls by one and adds one to the difficulty of all other Social rolls. These modifiers do not apply when interacting with other Abyss mystics. She also suffers the effects of the Flaw Nightmares (Dark Ages: Vampire, p. 305). All who behold the mystic instinctively know she bears the touch of
something alien and inimical to the whole of creation.

Level Six Rituals
Into the Chasm

Other Lasombra elders step from shadow to shadow and audaciously claim to “Walk the Abyss.” To the mystic who knows this ritual, such hesitant journeys are as the tottering steps of a child. For as the Shadowed One did before them when his eyes first darkened with understanding, the mystic may stride wholly into the Abyss to be anywhere, everywhere and nowhere.

System: The Cainite spends an hour painting a circle of glyphs with three points of her own vitae. The circle must be as wide as her outstretched arms and may adorn wall or floor, as long as the surface is smooth and unbroken, like polished stone or glass. Her player then rolls Intelligence + Occult (difficulty 7). Failure means the glyphs burn black and vanish in a cloud of foul smoke, wasting the blood and effort. A botch or success opens the portal, causing the oily black of Obtenebration to spiral into a gaping maw of liquid darkness. The portal lasts a number of turns equal to the number of successes rolled. On a botch, the portal remains open for one turn only and disgorges a number of Hungry Shades equal to the number of 1’s rolled (use sample statistics on p. 179). These monsters attack everyone present and may not be controlled. Anything may pass through a successful portal while it remains open, willingly or otherwise. If multiple characters wish to travel together, they must maintain unbroken contact as they enter and throughout their journey. Otherwise, some may become lost in the void or emerge at very different destinations than their companions. The Abyss is infinite in its darkness. Those with the Protean power Witness of Darkness or any levels of Obtenebration may perceive the shapeless murk in all its dizzying, impossible geometry and thus see the approach of Abyss spirits, vortices or other travelers. Those without such powers are truly blind and must rely on their other muted senses to perceive anything. The only clear sensation is one of soul-numbing cold that inflicts one die of lethal damage to living beings per minute of exposure. In addition to serving as a profound spiritual experience for Abyss mystics, travel in the void serves a more utilitarian purpose. The shadow realm intersects all shadows and all darkness, allowing a traveler to emerge from any patch of darkness large enough to contain her. She need only break the enfolding silence to speak the name of her destination. Her player rolls Wits + Obtenebration (difficulty 6 for those with the Occult specialty Abyss Mysticism; difficulty 8 otherwise). On a success, the shadow-space stretches and tears around the character, disgorging her at her destination with a feeling of falling from a great height. A character must have seen or visited a destination to name it. Failure increases the difficulty of the next navigation attempt by one, to a maximum of difficulty 10. A new attempt can be made every minute until the character succeeds. A botch means the character’s navigation difficulty increases by one and she attracts hostile Hungry Shades as a botch in casting the initial ritual. One character may lead others provided all maintain contact, though this requires the expenditure of one Willpower point from every person led in this manner before they step into the portal. Once a passenger lets go of the group, she must find her own way out. It is worth noting that no denizens of the Abyss bear blood, so any vampire who remains trapped within will eventually starve into torpor and an eternity of forgotten nonbeing.

Side Effect: Vampires who walk in the Abyss risk bringing a fragment of its alien malevolence back with them to the material world. After every sojourn, roll Willpower against a difficulty of trip’s duration in minutes (maximum difficulty 9). A failure means the vampire gains the Flaw Animate Shadow (p. 208), while a botch means the vampire gains the Flaw Harbinger of the Abyss (p. 209). It is possible to gain both Flaws from repeated journeys. Passengers in the Abyss may also develop Flaws from their sojourn, though all such curses fade with the coming of dawn. Only the mystic opening the way risks the eternal mark of that which lies Beyond.

Level Seven Rituals

Evocation of the Oubliette

With this ritual, a mystic may reach out with grasping tendrils of Obtenebration to seize a victim and cast her into the Abyss. The tendrils may emerge from the caster’s fingertips or mouth or perhaps reach from some deep shadow like the arms of a lurking beast. Regardless of their source, the end result is the same. When the oily tentacles withdraw, no trace of the victim remains.

System: The vampire spends a full turn in concentration, focusing upon his victim and the hunger of the void. If the vampire is disturbed during this time or breaks off to attempt any other action, his player must roll Wits + Occult (difficulty 8) or suffer the effects of a botched casting as described below. On the turn following the preparation, the vampire gestures forcefully at the victim and his player spends 3 blood points. The actual attack is made with Perception + Occult (difficulty 6) and may be dodged but not parried. A failed attack means the tendrils simply close on nothing and withdraw. If the attack results in any successes, the tendrils envelop the victim and drag her into a spherical prison of emptiness within the Abyss. The mystic may recall the victim at any time for the cost of one blood point, in which case the nearest shadow disgorges its prisoner with a shuddering sigh. If the mystic does not recall the victim before a number of nights equal to his Occult score have passed, shadows disgorge the victim as near to her original location as possible. On a botched attack roll, the shadows swallow the mystic and keep him prisoner for a number of hours equal to his Obtenebration rating. After this time has elapsed, the Cainite returns to his original location and immediately enters Rötschreck. Weak-willed prisoners of this ritual may go mad as a result of their captivity. If a victim’s Willpower is less than the caster’s Obtenebration rating, the victim gains a derangement that lasts until cured with repeated Willpower expenditure. It is possible for vampires to drive themselves insane with a botched casting. A level 8 variant of this ritual exists called Ahriman’s Beckoning. This ritual follows the same rules, save that the caster need not see the target. Instead, he may simply speak her name to the Abyss. If the victim is within a number of miles equal to the vampire’s Obtenebration + Occult, the tendrils can seize her with a successful attack.
It is said that the Eldest once used an even greater ritual to bring guests to his castle from distant nations, although not in recent centuries.

Side Effects: Upon learning this ritual, a Cainite immediately gains the Flaw Grip of the Damned (Dark Ages: Vampire, p. 309). The kiss of the Void imparts no comfort, only emptiness and pain.

Level Eight Rituals

Cry That Slays Light

Representing the penultimate sacrament of Abyss Mysticism, this ritual tears a vortex of the Abyss that blossoms upward and outward to shroud the sky from horizon to horizon. All beneath lies in unnatural parody of midnight, even under the brightest light of sun or moon or stars. The brightest flames below dim their brilliance and warmth, if not their devouring hunger. Use of this ritual imperils the mystic’s body, mind and soul, and only one casting has been seen in the past millennium. It is unknown if any Abyss mystics capable of such a feat still walk the earth — apart from the Shadowed One.

System: A Cainite wishing to shout the Cry That Slays Light must spend one week in absolute silence. She may not utter the briefest syllable or she must begin her quiet meditations again. During this time, she spends all waking hours mentally repeating a litany of hatred for the sun and moon and the Creator of light — bringing her wrath to the edge of sound without ever giving it voice. Once the ritual is complete, the vampire’s player rolls Intelligence + Occult (difficulty 8). A botch results in the vampire’s banishment into the Abyss for a century per 1 rolled, during which time the vampire gains at least one derangement and loses all blood but never falls into the release of torpor.
When the imprisonment ends, the Cainite returns to the Earth in a frenzy that may last weeks or even longer. Failure on the casting means the caster fails to channel the dark energies properly and nothing happens. Success means the vampire hears the whispers of Ahriman proclaiming the syllable that is opposed to all being. The syllable remains in the vampire’s consciousness and cannot be telepathically extracted or mystically removed by any power short of divine intervention. At any time in the vampire’s unlife, he may shriek this syllable to turn day into night. For one hour, vampires may walk openly without fear — utterly immune to Rötschreck and protected from the sun by the undulating curtain of shadow above. The syllable then passes from the mystic’s memory unless he casts the ritual once more to rediscover it.

Side Effect: Upon actually invoking the Cry That Slays Light to blot out the sun, roll the mystic’s Road rating (difficulty 4). Each success allows the vampire to retain one dot of her road. If this sudden degeneration reduces the vampire’s Road rating to zero, she rampages under the cover of darkness and kills everything and everyone she can find. When the darkness ends, it subsumes her into its being and her hunger is added to the Abyss.