The Awakening in the District

Overview of the District

The following is adapted from DaveB's AP thread at rpg.net.

DC does not have the very best of histories - a diamond-shaped (originally, there's a chunk missing of it's border after Virginia took it's portion back, hence "broken diamond") lump of swampland that no one wanted, set aside so that no one state would have the capital city within it's borders. A grand plan by a french military engineer for the layout of the city was delayed through lack of funds while the city turned into a cesspit - when it *was* put into action, the distance between the grand design and the reality was laughable. What's important for our purposes is the effect that Design - and the parts of the city that follow it - has on the local resonance, both inclining the areas covered by the "Grid" of traced lines towards orderliness and doing the reverse to the spaces inbetween.

DC in the World of Darkness is worse off than in the real world - the real DC has racial divisions, huge areas of poverty and became the murder capital of the US in the 70s. The World of Darkness' DC still is - the areas off the grid are still suffering the aftereffects of riots that went on longer and harder than in our world, the Control Board never gave up power back to a mayor and the residents of the district still don't have the vote (which they only got in the 60s in our world). In contrast, the "grid" areas are under heavy lock and key, with even more armed police surrounding even more lobbyists and beaurocrats. The WoD DC is more ghettoised, more violent, more partisan and much more judgemental - a grid of imposed order on a semi-permenant lawless hellhole. Without the residents being franschised, there's no reason for the WoD's politicians to spend money on them - the overwhelming majority of DC's funding goes into the Grid areas both subconciously (on the part of sleepers) and, tragically, by the design of one of the city's cabals.

The geomantic pressure exerted on the city by the collected power of it's monuments, public buildings and avenues is constant, unyielding and entirely artificial - like a tracery of pins holding it down in an unnatural shape. The pressure "releases" in the areas not covered by the grid - a weak gauntlet is worryingly common, and things creep into the dark corners of the city from the Twilight, the Shadow and the Abyss. The nature of the city - grandiose capital city overlaid on, coexisting within and cotemperous with a resentful, ignored, almost-imprisoned and poverty-strikken town - has meant that no one City Father has formed - "Washington" and "DC" both have their own City Fathers, and the Shadowlands are locked in a frenzy as the two spiritual ecosystems clash.

Into this come the Mages, of the Pentacle Orders and the Seers of the Throne, with numerous independents and a worrying number of Banishers lurking on the edges. Mages - and other creatures of the night - come to DC from all over the world, looking to gain power and influence, and those already resident have to work hard to keep their own control. Control of the Capital City of the world's Superpower is a prize worth fighting over - covertly, of course: The two main "sides" both agree that the spiritual chaos of the city's shadow should be contained, and that incautious outsiders should not be allowed to meddle with politics. They disagree on who should be the gatekeeping. The Pentacle mages of the city are faced with a City under unnatural stresses, a larger than normal Seer population (with a Ministry rumoured to be based in the city) looking to exterminate them and the unhappy prospect of preventing any of their fellow Pentacle mages from shifting the delicate balances of power too far - by any means neccessary. Much effort is expended to go nowhere, all the sides in all the debates aware that if they stop struggling as hard as the others they will find the city has no room for them.

The dichotomy of the city is interpreted according to Mage's individual prejudices - a sizeable portion of the Awakened believe that Washington DC is clearly in the process of merging with it's own Supernal self, held back by it's Fallen aspect. The difference of opinion among these is over which city is Supernal, and which is Fallen. Others believe that both cities are equally valid, and that the false divisions require healing.

Three of the main cabals of the city's consilium are divided up along that axis - the pro-grid, anti-grid and "unficiation" Cabals. Another is dedicated to the messy business of preventing interference in mortal affairs on a grand scale. The last major Pentacle cabal - and the largest - is based less on DC as a physical or supernal *place*, but as a setting for events - chronciclers of history-in-the-making, students of both populations, they think that the geomantic argument is worthless until the nature of the grid is fully understood.

Power-wise, the Hierarch of the city (a Silver Ladder mage) is the least potent, in terms of personal ability, of the City's Masters - he owes his position to careful negotiation, the disinterest of two of his peers and a deal done with the last - the head of the Gatekeeper Cabal and the senior Guardian of the Vale in DC - to allow that individual and his followers great leniancy in pursuing their mission. That the Heirarch is in this situation is a result of the deadlock - the Silver Ladder's traditional allies in the Adamantine Arrow are predominantly in the Cabal directly opposed to the Hierarch's, so he's had to seek other friends.

The Consilium, painfully aware of the power struggle within itself and the constant cold war against the Seers, issues the following advice to new Mages - adapted from an apocryphal list of advice told to CIA agents about to be sent to Moscow.

  • Assume nothing.
  • Murphy is right.
  • Never go against your gut; it is your operational antenna.
  • Don't look back; you are never completely alone.
  • Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
  • Go with the flow, blend in.
  • Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
  • Any operation can be aborted. If it feels wrong, it is wrong.
  • Maintain a natural pace.
  • Lull them into a sense of complacency.
  • Build in opportunity, but use it sparingly.
  • Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
  • Don't harass the opposition.
  • There is no limit to a human being's ability to rationalize the truth.
  • Magic will always let you down.
  • Pick the time and place for action.
  • Keep your options open.
  • Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is an enemy action.

In an effort to build up his powerbase despite his precarious position, the Hierarch has a habit of poaching new apprentices for himself - he declared long ago that the placement of newly awakened mages would be at the discretion of himself, and coincidentally declared his own cabal as the one that fostered all but a few of the younger mages in the city. He has been forced to abandon this policy after protest from the other Councillers escalated, but has put a vengeful twist on his giving in - the populations of the city's cabals are fixed. New mages will be trained by the city's Prefects, and then formed into a new Cabal, with another Cabal being created every ten years. In this way, those protesting get what they said they wanted, but not what they actually wanted. And he still gets to try to win the new Cabal over to his own point of view, same as everyone else.

Cabals of the District

These cabals are adopted wholesale from DaveB's AP thread at rpg.net

  • The Bringers of the Utopian Design ("Utopians") - Silver Ladder and Mysterium mages who believe that L'Enfant (the sleeper architect who saw DC in a dream) was influenced by the Oracles but that the combination of L'Enfant's mortal memory and interpretation, combined with the city not following the plan exactly enough, has left flaws in the design that create the "sinkhole" areas. The Utopians are dedicated to figuring out what the missing parts of the design are and correcting those mistakes - their members are architects, city planners and stockbrokers (for funding) in their day jobs, and experienced geomancers when acting as Mages. Their leader is a Silver Ladder Obrimos named Banneker, an architect and the Heirarch of the city's consilium. Banneker has evolved his soul into a Legacy based around geomancy and the careful design of buildings, blocks and whole cities to channel resonance, which he has taught to a few of his followers.
  • The Seekers of One Soul ("City Souls") - Silver Ladder and Mysterium mages who take the middle ground in the geomantic argument and believe that the two facets of the city must be united and the pressures dispelled by homogonising the society of DC. The majority of the Cabal's members take the tactic of working in the Shadow first - thinking that by halting the war of the spirits, they can cure the wounded soul of the city. Others work socially, breaking down the barriers between the grid and the rest, and seeking to reconcile the destructive energies in most of the city with the more "civilised" regions. The Cabal boasts two members of the Claviclarius Legacy, one of whom - Suleiman, a Mysterium Mastigos, is the Counciller for the Cabal.
  • The Defenders of the Forgotten ("Defenders") - A cabal of Adamantine Arrow and Free Council Mages (with one Guardian of the Veil) based in, and dedicated to, the overwhelming majority of DC's population - the forgotten mass of people who live off the grid, preyed on by predators of an urban and supernatural nature. The Defenders fight off demons, drive out possessions, slay Vampires and argue that the Grid is the cause of their problems to unfeeling ears. Their Counciller is a Free Council Moros (of the Bokor legacy) named Dantor, though they have a Perfected Adept, a Claviclarius and a Bearer of the Eternal Voice. The members of the Cabal our characters have met are Bedlam, a Claviclarius who despite being institutionalised with a mental illness watches out for anything preying on his fellow patients, and Ulysses, a Catholic priest, Dantor's Prefect and the mentor of one of our characters.
  • The Recorders of Living History ("Recorders) - The largest Cabal in the city, mostly Mysterium and Free Council with one Guardian mage and one Silver Ladder mage. They are the main seat of the House of Ariadne Legacy, though that Legacy (from Legacies: the Sublime. Think Walkers in Mists but urban-oriented) has members dotted around the other Cabals too. Their leader - and Counciller - is Samuel, the most powerful Pentacle mage in the city, Acanthus Free Counciller and the leader of the House. Samuel is a temporal voyer - he spends his days establishing temporal sympathy with eyewitnesses to important events in history and then projecting his conciousness backward and riding in that person's senses while the scene plays out. His prefect is an Acanthus Mystagogue named Blaise, who studies the flow of tourists around the important sites of te city's mall like water on a prayer wheel. He's the inconstant mentor of another of our characters.
  • Project Twilight - The mysterious all-Guardian of the Veil Cabal based in the intelligence community of DC - the CIA, NSA and FBI.
  • The Gatekeepers - The predominantly Guardian of the Veil Cabal dedicated to spotting - and stopping - interference in US politics by supernaturals. They contain a number of Bearers of the Eternal Voice, who use their attainments giving power over people's perception of truth to undo damage and preemptivly strike against troublemakers. Their leader is the Mastigos Guardian (and Bearer) Malakii, who has gained the ability to alter memory through an attainment - and free of his Order's rules about use of memory-wiping magic and it's vulgarity (because attainments aren't supernal magic), he feels justified in using this ability against anyone he likes. Other members of the Cabal are Mr Thursday, the City's Interfector, and Mara, Malakii's student and Prefect and the third of our characters' mentors.
  • The Children of the Book - A cabal based in and around the University of Maryland, which is technically not inside DC, being sitied in one of it's suburbs outside of the diamond border. Their leader - and the fifth Prefect - is an Adamantine Arrow Thyrus Perfected Adept named Marathon.
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