DisCLAIMER: HEAVILY UNTESTED
The fleshcrafters practice a trade as useful as it is distasteful in the eyes of many would be rulers. Through the arts of transmutation, animation, and the usage of the enigmatic blood silos, they produce servitors and soldiers in the form of the flesh atronachs. These beings can suffer a dozen blows and keep coming. They do not tire, nor do they require food- at most they need air and the barest amount of water. Despite their status as living beings they lack internal organs and blood and are immune to poisons. Being mostly mindless, they can not be persuaded or bribed.
It is simple to see how a king may use this.
In ancient times, large cylindrical holes were bored into the earth, with uniform sides and perfect geometries. Whoever carved them dug up to two miles deep and up to half a mile in radius, then erected out of nigh indestructible metal a tower in the center of the hole to fill half the radius. At or near the surface, these towers can be filled with the corpses of the deceased (or, on occasion, still living). Most of the length of the tower had been filled in ancient times, requiring the flesh cults of modernity to only top off their respective silo. At the bottom of the tower, faucets and taps disgorge the pinkish syrup referred to the fleshcrafters as corpus essentia. From this fluid, all their crafts flow, for the hardiness and survivability of the otherwise living flesh atronachs derives from some unknown factor or property of the essentia.
Entire settlements form around these blood silos, named from the partially erroneous belief that they contain the blood of sacrificial victims. The bloodtown resident need only eat a vegetarian diet, use no contraceptives, and give their bodies up to the blood silo when they die or reach the age of sixty. In return, they have access to the greater medicinal knowledge of cult acolytes and physicians that travel here to practice their trade freely. The simple law codes keep order and ensure the the supply of bodies, and the only harsh punishments are meted out in the case of that supplies interruption. The tax rates are amongst the lowest in the known world, and the streets are kept clean to prevent contamination. War rarely comes to these places, as each having their own personal garrison of the deadliest atronachs the cult has to offer. For the practical and distinctly non superstitious person these settlements are very attractive. Indeed the greatest of the cults are more akin to theocracies equipped with an ultra efficient bureaucracy, all in the name of keeping the blood silo filled as high as possible with corpses.
Though the alchemical process for rendering bodies into corpus essentia is well known, the construction of the silos greatly increases its efficiency and ease, perhaps owing to the great pressures and temperatures the fodder is subjected to within. Alchemists can spend a good week rendering a sow into a single quart of the (surprisingly light) essentia with complex formulae and labyrinthine reaction chains. The fleshcrafters need only to dump bodies in their silo, and (according to the calculations of one cult headmaster) reap nine twentieths of the creatures total mass in the precious liquid. Even though the silos will disgorge no fluid unless filled past a certain point (or otherwise, the cult masters will not allow such a depletion of their vast stores), the limiting factor in the creation of armies is more often a shortage of capable labor and equipment than raw materials.
The atronachs must be assembled. First, the bones are made by filling cylindrical casts with the essentia, whereupon a reagent is added, turning the encased fluid into hard marrowless bone. Joints are cast in roughly spherical molds, then lubricated with an essentia exposed to a different reagent.
Note: it is entirely through the use of varying reagents that the essentia is rendered into solid tissue for use in the atronachs. All the cults know how to make bone, muscle, skin, nerve, basic ears and basic compound eyes. Some have more advanced reagents that allow for the creation of more capable atronachs. The cult at Letsulian can create tissue the generates electrical discharges, for example.
The various bones of the atronach are made each in this way. Eight cylinders, a combined ribcage and pelvis, thin slabs of bone for feet, and anywhere from sixteen to twenty joints depending on the specifications of the spine The most basic golem lacks a head, merely having a raised slant of flesh for a neck where the eyes are mounted. The nerves are then created using delicate molds, the key of these being a cluster that gives the atronach the ability to follow orders. The nerves are delicately intertwined with the bones, and attached to the sensory organs. Then the bones and covered sensors are mounted in molds filled with essentia that is then made into muscle. This step is where the atronachs obtain the metal hooks appearing to pierce their flesh; they once suspended the bone in the mold, and removing them after the fact was found to be far too great an inconvenience, even in places where the art of doing such without damage to the product is known. The entire body can be done at once and often is to save labor. Stitching together the limbs after casting them seperately is more expensive but yields more able servants. After this, the skin is added by covering the surface of the atronach in reagent- really, all this does is increase the rate of oxidation. Usually a short sword and shield are attached in place of hands, in addition to adornments. The basic atronach is thus created, with a shield and simple blade:
Basic Flesh Atronach – 2HD+2, Lesser DR Physical, AC 10+2, Sword 1d6, MV 20’
When the eye covering is removed, the creature immediately imprints on the first creature it sees and will follow its commands. It can guard areas and attack enemies in a general direction, though differentiation between friend and foe is beyond its capability. They can also be ordered to stop attacking. The creature can not see further than 10’ and make terrible sentries. They are also easily knocked prone, and will begin to decay after a year.
The basic golem costs 1000sp. Size can be increased, the first increase or decrease in either direction costs 2000sp and adds or subtracts 1 HD. The cost doubles for each increase after that, stacking with skin layers (see below). However, most cults can only go one size down and 2 sizes up. Almost every cult can provide the following generic upgrades: (the following prices are meant to be relative more than anything else)
Stitched Arms- +2 to attack, 3000sp (1500 per)
Stitched Legs- MV 30’, 4000sp
Diplomacy Cluster- A very basic brain. Can distinguish between friend and foe and follow more specific instructions, like patrolling or attacking a specific enemy. Can also accept orders from others. 2000sp +1000sp for skull.
War Cluster- +2 to all attacks and can attack with both hands in a turn or wield two handed weapons. 4000sp
Slaughter Cluster- +4 to all attacks and can attack with up to four limbs. Requires War Cluster. 4000sp
Primate Cluster- can run, sprint, and climb if hands are attached. 4000sp
Targeting Cluster- can use piercing and ranged weapons, and knows how to reload a crossbow. 2000sp
Nerve Encasing- Greater DR Physical. 6000sp
Layered Flesh- +1HD, cost doubles each subsequent layer. 2000sp
Hands – Can now wield two-handed weapons and theoretically complete simple tasks like opening doors and carrying stuff. Just don’t give them glass you don’t want broken. 6000sp
Spinal Hooks- allows the attachment of a storage unit. 500sp
Red Sphere Eye- can see up to half normal human range, but can’t sense color or depth. 1000sp + 1000sp for skull.
In general, the cost of equipping the golems with armor and other weapons costs as much as the equipment itself. The only ranged weapon they can use with any efficacy is a crossbow, which can be attached with a hook on the opposite hand to reload it. Most cults have other permutations that only they know how to create, such as adding extra limbs, biological weaponry or making quadrupeds. Many also tend to specialize in creating a certain “model” of atronach. Those and their attached cults will be detailed in the next post.
The guiding tenets of the cults posit that the corpus essentia is the most basic unit of life, that the blood silos are sacred objects, and that creation of atronachs/artificial life is an act of divine perfection. Most aren’t overly concerned with who built the silos, because interest in such would require acknowledgment of the greatly fallen state of fleshcrafting; scholars have found evidence that once the silos were used to create complete, reproductive life, including troglodytes, man-eating cats, and wargs.
Heterodoxy between cults is common, leading very occasionally to horrific holy wars, but each cult strictly enforces its own beliefs amongst their members. The cults are famously conservative and haughty, and their crafts have scarcely changed in the past hundred years. Most cling stubbornly to humanoid models, and those that don’t cling instead to quadrupedal ones. Convincing them to experiment with different forms and potentially waste precious essentia is a nightmare and a headache, and only happens when very large states fight very large wars.
Their conservatism runs over into their political matters, and many warlords have been inconsolably frustrated when their attempts to forge an alliance inevitably fail. Gifts, threats, and promises are ineffective on their own. Protection and money they have in abundance; their political organization likewise precludes marriage alliances. The only thing that can be trusted to sway them is the donation of meat, an incredibly unpopular, usually infeasible, and potentially suicidal proposition for most leaders. Even then the supplicant in question had better be the most powerful person in a war that is going well, otherwise the cult leadership will probably err on the side of neutrality.
Things the Cult Wants:
- Flesh, obviously. Slave traders and callous ransomers often make rounds to the silos. If the party finds themselves suddenly in possession of a herd of cattle, they are well-advised to drive it to the nearest blood silo. The cult will pay half again as much for large livestock.
- Favors. The cultists may have some of the most powerful militaries in terms of sheer power, but there ability to act discreetly in carrying out specific and delicate tasks is sharply limited- the party may be useful in this regard.
- People. The bloodtowns built around blood silos run on the industry necessary to support the sale of atronachs. Auxiliary forges for crafting the weapons the cult doesn’t or can’t provide, for example. This industry needs humans to power it, as the atronachs are of limited manual dexterity. As an added bonus, any settlers will eventually feed the blood silos.
- Bribes. Avaricious cult leaders can be swayed with lucre, but since they are rich already this can only get one so far.
As for day to day organization, the cults apprentices are taken in at a young age and put to work in the various manufacturing processes. The youngest boys clean and generally page for higher members. The older boys work in the forges and keep animals if the cult directly owns any. The bulk of initiates never get beyond this point, within the cult but not trusted by it. If they initiates family has money, or is part of the upper ranks of the cult, they can enter the cult studies branch. Here they learn anatomy, letters, bookkeeping, and are put to work casting the atronachs. If they appear trustworthy and capable or their parents have enough money/influence, they move on to learning the practical alchemy of producing reagents and the theoretical musings of various long-dead cultist scholars. On completion of these studies they will be inducted into the cult as full members, and be privy to most of its secrets. Some cults also teach transmutation and animation and maintain a corp of wizards for problem solving and defence.
To the outsider these cults function more like guilds, probably because they are more like guilds. The leaders (usually organized in a council) will be the best managers and businessmen, or those with the best connections, not the best scholars. Their actual religious practice is esoteric, complex, and apparently not terribly important if you want to interact with them. Treat them like exacting and shrewd vendors.
The final consequence of their ultra-careful approach to politics is a healthy distrust of adventurers. The powers that be don’t enjoy the rabble running around with deadly and resilient semi-mindless servants, and the cults feel obliged to keep their best customers as pleased with them as possible. If you want atronachs, expect to have to do a favor or five to get into the cult’s good graces. Even then overt destructiveness may cause them to cut off the supply. If you run domain games, any sufficiently rich and powerful lord can purchase freely, but widespread use of them within the domain or amongst regular forces will hurt morale. There are various services that can be used without their trust, however.
Additional Services and Goods
- Medical Attention. As mentioned above, the cult acolytes can serve as effective physicians. Beyond that, the town above usually has a profusion of practitioners of varying ability and professionalism.
- Vitium. This pinkish foodstuff is densely packed with energy and does not spoil. A week’s worth for one person costs 500sp but weighs only one of whatever weight system you use. The creation of the material costs essentia and the cult is thus loathe to provide it, so expect bribes and higher costs.
- Banking. The rock-solid continued neutrality of the bloodtowns make them excellent places for moneylenders and bankers to settle down. Expect mostly unfair rates, however. On occasion, cults themselves also provide financial services.
- Anything else you would expect to find in a medium-sized trading town, with the added benefit of cheap iron weapons. Mercenaries and especially wizards also tend to congregate in the bloodtowns, hoping to be picked up along with the atronachs. In general, all sort of outcasts can be found within.