I’ve been doing some deep thinking about Doskvol and the Spirit Wardens for my (potentially) upcoming Cults game, and I wanted to flesh out the faction a little. I figured this is something my players will probably never see but I wanted to share it somewhere. I know it’s not strictly rules-as-written (since it says the SWs recruit from outside Doskvol), but I think you’re all okay with taking liberties with the source material.
This piece takes the form of a damaged monograph written by an anonymous figure who previously infiltrated the Spirit Wardens, and details some of their recruitment practices and the ranks by which they call (called?) themselves. I imagine this to be in the possession of The Unseen, who are using it as the basis of their own attempts.
A monograph on the nature of the Spirit Wardens, mistitled. Names have been excised for the reader’s safety. Illustrations not included in this facsimile edition. Descriptions provided instead. Only part of chapter 2 exists.
An Imperial Cult (This facsimile edition - fifth printing, typo in title. Should read “The Imperial Cult”)
The Spirit Wardens
Chapter Two: How the cult recruits and organises
I write this knowing that these are secrets. I made a solemn vow to speak to no one of that which I know, but I did not promise that I would not write what I know. I write this record as a testimony to what I have seen. These observations will live on after I have died, to be a light in the dark for those who need it.
For hundreds of years the Spirit Wardens have served our glorious Emperor, his Undying and Imperial majesty, Immortal Emperor of Akeros, Archduke of the Southern Hook and the Northern Hook, King of Skovlan and Grand Admiral of the Akerosi Navy. They are a part of everyday life anywhere in the Empire, but little is known about them, or about how they organise. I took it upon myself to investigate, to make observations, and to ask the right questions of the right people, even upon threat of my own life and the consequences to my ever-living spirit.
I will not betray my confidences or reveal my methods, but after some months combing the streets of Dunslough and Coalridge I discovered a family who were willing to talk. Their son had been taken by the Spirit Wardens and indoctrinated into their ranks some fifteen years prior, yet they still receive an annual stipend from the Wardens equivalent to the wage he might have provided, had he still lived with his family.
Illustration: maps of Doskvol and the Imperial City (2 plates), not referenced in the text.
Spirit Wardens are recruited from lowly households, from families eager to give up extra mouths. While they may come from humble stock, I believe the Wardens choose their recruits carefully, looking for people that fulfil very specific criteria. (I don’t believe sensitivity to the ghost field is one, since this is a thing that can be taught, and at the early stages of conditioning may actually be a detriment). Also, I have no evidence for this statement, but I do believe the Wardens intentionally forbear from recruiting from among the noble families of Akeros. For an organisation that thrives in spit multiple external threats, the anonymity of its membership is its greatest armour, and this can only be achieved by asking new recruits to sever all family ties. This is an ignominy the denizens of Charhollow or Dunslough can bear in stricken silence but is simply not acceptable to the high nobility of the empire.
The scraps I gathered from among the low-born families of Doskvol were not enough to satisfy my hunger for knowledge. Using techniques of ancient sorcery and inventions of an occult nature, I infiltrated the Wardens’ ranks. Be warned that these methods, which took me only so far before I was discovered, will not work again. I will not describe them here, not merely for the sake of my oath which holds me upon pain of torture and death, but because I will not doom another. And also, there is some chance of this record surviving if I keep my methods circumspect.
All Wardens, from the lowliest member to the most prominent, spend several hours every day engaged in training and contemplation. For the lower-ranked members, this involves tutelage in sparkcraft and sorcery. Higher ranked members are left to their own devices, but they are expected to spend time deepening their knowledge.
In ancient times the Wardens at Bellweather operated immense coal ovens. They exist still, but they no longer run on coal, but on gas vented from the earth beneath Coalridge. There, after they have been processed, are the citizens of Doskvol laid to final rest. Any items that remained with the body: clothing, personal effects & etc., are divested by the Stokers who maintain the fires. The Stokers are the lowest rank on the Wardens’ ladder. They are entrusted with the responsibility for the dead, they update the records in the Bellweather repository, and they work and maintain the machinery of the crematorium part of Bellweather Crematorium.
A brief word about Spirit Warden masks. The masks are not created equal and are a simple way for outsiders to determine a warden’s rank. Visit the crematorium at any hour of the day or night and you will witness dozens of Stokers in their plain black masks. These are constructed out of stiffened linen, perhaps so that they can wick sweat away from the face (see fig. 1a).
Illustration: a plain-featured angular black mask constructed of some lightweight material attached to what looks like a hood.
Above the Stokers are the Listeners . By now recruits are fully indoctrinated into the cult and are expected to have a firm grasp on the principles of sparkcraft utilised by the cult. It is their duty to tend to the deathseeker crows, to maintain the portable lightning barriers and other pieces of spark-tech the Wardens use in their day to day operations. The also care for the animals used to pull the wagons they use to collect corpses from around Doskvol, as well as maintain and repair the wagons themselves. Listeners’ masks are almost identical to those worn by full Spirit Wardens, only theirs are white and appear to be made of bone or porcelain (see fig. 1b).
Illustration: shows an image of a plain-featured angular white mask with narrow eye slits and a downturned mouth.
The final rank is, of course, Warden. At this rank the recruit is a Spirit Warden proper, and it will have taken them from between 18 months to up to three years to complete their training. I did not discover what became of failed wardens at any step in their development, though I suspect they are not wasted at all. The cult does employ several Hollows, and though I suspect these two facts are connected, there certainly are not enough hollows to suggest that this happens with every recruit.
Fully qualified Spirit Wardens are well-versed in techniques of practical magic and the operation of sparkcraft. One does not antagonise them lightly, for even if they appear to be alone, they can move quickly and know the city well. One need not describe the bronze masks they wear, for even the commonest folk will have seen their like abroad, often in pursuit of a distant speck of white shearing across the crepuscular sky.
Illustration: Spirit Warden mask propped up against a rooftop.
What is not common knowledge is that there are several ‘named’ wardens that exist above the rank and file. A secret ‘inner circle’ of Spirit Wardens who oversee various sections of the operation. I could not infiltrate their number – in fact, here my investigation ceased. I met with one called [name excised] who led me in a dance across the rooftops before ending in a terse conversation on a tower top in Crow’s Foot. The only thing that saved me was my familiarity with their rituals, or I might have ended my life on the cobblestones far, far, below.
Our conversation ended with an agreement to meet elsewhere, and over the course of several pleasant evenings I emerged with a picture of the upper echelons – the secret inner circle – of the Spirit Wardens.
There is a sense of paternalism about these inner circle Spirit Wardens. It is as if they were very old, very wise elders, and while they care for their ‘children’ they are ruthless enough to make life or death decisions in the snap of an eye.
Their masks, while outwardly no different to those of the rank and file Spirit Wardens, exhibit certain properties to those who know where to look.
Illustration: Spirit Warden mask on its side.
It is the masks that are named, not the Wardens wearing them. These masks are passed down from elder to willing disciple, so that someone of even temperament and equivalent personality can fully occupy the role. I believe this is one way in which a sense of continuity of leadership is maintained in an otherwise completely anonymous organisation.
And while this could be a weakness to exploit, imagine the lengths you would have to go to in order to secure for yourself such a mask? Whether you had acquired it via direct action (again, I cannot see this being successful), or via subterfuge or deceit, you must still convince the other Wardens that you are one of them.
What happens to the old warden once they have given up their mask? This I can speculate upon. The Wardens have agents in surprising places. It is with this in mind that-
Monograph ends abruptly.