Cadaver, the Survivor

It’s not uncommon for a writer to re-purpose something he wrote previously that went unused.  Ironically, one character I created found new life in a different setting…

WotC ended most of D&D’s campaign settings in 2000, among them my favorite setting and inspiration for this website, Planescape.  With the setting’s cancellation, I was left with a big hole in my sense of enjoyment.  Planescape was fascinating for me, full of limitless potential to be had by those that merely believed.  I dabbled some with fan-run groups that were intent in “adapting” Planescape to the new 3E rule set, but invariably every one of those projects fell apart.  The culprit is the usual bravado many fans feel wanting to be part of the effort to return Planescape to its rightful place in the hearts of gamers everywhere, but the enthusiasm of these same people invariably wanes as the work begins.  The projects fall apart soon there after, and a lot of good work gets wasted. By 2002, every project updating Planescape had dried up.

Time went by, and in 2004 a discovered a new setting in which I could immerse my interests: Iron Kingdoms, by Privateer Press.  Where Planescape had the expansiveness of a limitless horizon, Iron Kingdoms had the claustrophobic imperialism of medieval Europe.  Where Planescape had your characters rubbing elbows with the Powers of the multiverse, Iron Kingdoms had you eking out a living in the mud and grime.  But both had lavishly written and illustrated products that simply blew away the competition.

I tried pretty hard to get Privateer Press to notice me.  I posted heavily in their forums, hosted their games at my hobby store, All The Fun Stuff, and contributed to some of the fandom’s online projects.  When PP finally started accepting freelance submission, I sent off a stack of ideas for consideration (after extended talks, I’ve been waiting to hear back on a spec piece for almost six years now).  When they held an open contest for the position of Game Designer, I game them my best ideas (see my Scrapyard Scrounge blog for a more in-depth account of that story).  While I always had good results, never quite enough to get published by them.

Closest I came was in February 2006, when the fan site Buccaneer Bass held a Five Fingers Contest as a tie-in to the RPG supplement Privateer Press was releasing of the same name.  Privateer Press sponsored the contest, provided prizes, and served as the judge.  Like most fan contests, the idea was the submissions would be collected and released as a netbook for free download (but that never happened).  It wasn’t until December of 2007 that the winners were announced, and I won Best Character/Organization for my submission “Cadaver the Survivor“.

Nathan Letsinger, then Editor in Chief of No Quarter Magazine, commented:

"It's a very nicely presented and interesting concept of a very
creepy character. Very flavorful and interesting character which
harking back to the same sword and sorcery pulp books that Five
Fingers aspires to.  The author gets bonus points for making use of
the little-mentioned "Gnasir" human subculture, a little remembered
group listed in our "Other Ethnicities" section of the IKCG."

Nathan later wrote, in a personal email during the aforementioned writing submissions:

 I'm a big fan of Planescape and Lankhamar, and your entry had that
kind of grit to it.

Turns out the reason it reminded him of Planescape, was…  it was originally written for it.  Cadaver was originally written as a submission for the Mimir, the official Planescape website that unfortunately ceased activities right around when I wrote it.  With only minor edits, replacing any mention of “Sigil” with “Five Fingers”, or “Factions” with “High Captains”,  a couple of out-of-left-field details (the use of the Gnasir, for one) and a D20 statblock, I sent off my submission for the contest on the day of the deadline!

So, here is Cadaver, the piece of Planescape in the Iron Kingdoms.  I’ve re-re-edited it, restoring the Planescape setting but this time preserving the Iron Kingdoms origins.  Of all the versions, I think I like this one best.

Cadaver the Survivor
by William James Cuffe

Many a seasoned veteran will flap their gums about how they shouldn’t be alive to tell their harrowing tale, and most of them are spouting more tale than truth.  The poor beggar known only as Cadaver is different — the poor sod’s everything short of undead, and still around to talk about it.

Leprosy, gout, scurvy, black lung…  Cadaver’s mortal coil is a twisted, fetid, decaying mass of flesh and disease.  He has agonized through the attention of each illness at one time or another, through sheer force of will alone.  The joke is he has every marasmus known to man, and if ever he’s cured of them all will be the death of him.  But he’s still kicking.  Crazy as loon, but still with us.

He’s suffered the wrath of more sickness than all of the Scharde Isles.  Still, that didn’t stop him then, and doesn’t stop him now.  Soon after appearing in Sigil from some nameless swamp, he began to make a name for himself among the untouchables, the beggars and the sick.  While the foppish and the elite turn a cheek so as not to have to set eye on his scar of a body, Cadaver did what the beggar does best — survive.

That’s his secret — survival.  As long as you live, as long as you resist giving in to the soft, sweet slumber of death and live, you have succeeded.  You have beaten the enemy.  You have survived.

…You have won.

Cadaver; Human (Gnasir) Exp6: CR 5; ECL 6; Size M; HD 6d6-6; hp 14; Init +2; Spd 30 ft; AC 12, touch 12, FF 10; BAB +4; Grapple +3; Melee Unarmed +3 (1d3 – 1); AL N; SV Fort +1, Ref +4, Will +6; Str 9, Dex 15, Con 9, Int 16, Wis 10, Cha 17.
Skills and Feats: Escape Artist +7, Gather Information +13, Hide +11, Knowledge (Local) +12, Listen +8, Move Silently +11, Profession (Beggar) +9, Profession (Street Rat) +9, Search +8, Sleight of Hand +7, Spot +5, Survival +8; Armor Proficiency (Light), Dodge, Mobility, Run, Simple Weapon Proficiency, Sprint.
Reputation: 15

Those that have the stomach to look at this flotsam of society don’t look long enough to note Cadaver’s features.  His pate is nearly bald, with limp, thin hair like cobwebs hanging from his crown.  His left eye is milky white and sightless while the right is crossed with a scar.  He is missing a chunk off the tip of his nose, lost to frost bite so he tells, and his split lips mask gums as mauve as Caspian plumbs.  With a mouth that is a toothless gape, his whole face gives the impression it is caving in on itself.  He is missing the last two fingers of his right hand, and the thumb of his left is malformed and useless, immobile and growing at an odd angle.  Cadaver’s limbs are scraggly and thin, the translucent skin splotched with jaundice pulled taut across the nearly non-existent atrophied muscles of his venerable age.  His chest is little more than a ribcage draped in rags, and his spine is so curved that it hurts just to see him doubled over.  His right foot is amputated at the ankle, leaving an uneven nub that twitches involuntarily.  Of the yellowed, thickened toenails on the other foot that are not gangrenous or ingrown, the nails have grown so long they have curved over like claws and are now growing back into his flesh.  Many colors of ichors and fluids ooze from just as many scabs and sores on his body, and best be warned whenever he moves suddenly.

Despite is visual repugnancy, he is quite charismatic and intelligent.  Between heavy wheezing and hacking up parts of his infected lungs, Cadaver can charm most people if they didn’t have to see him… or smell him.  He has led a long life riddled with stories and wisdoms, all free to anyone resolute enough to see beyond his afflictions.

Cadaver’s Clingers

Secrecy: Secret (Gather Information DC 20); Organization: Loose; Enforcement: Brutal; Size: Unknown, believed to be Mob (1,000+ members); Location: decentralized all across Sigil; Operations: Begging, Theft, Intrigue; Alignment: N; Cash Limit: Special; Member Assets: Special; Membership Requirements: Trial by Fire (Survival on the streets); Leaders:Cadaver the Survivor (male Gnasir Exp6), various minor cell leaders across Sigil.Notes:  Clingers own little beyond the clothes on their backs and maybe a crutch or cobblestone to protect themselves.  However, due to the fact that the well-off tend to ignore their presence, clingers learn secrets that even the Factions don’t know.  At any time, there is a 50% chance that the clingers know where to procure whatever item they need or gain access to some resource, be it stolen from a home’s balcony or the secret entrance to a warehouse.

Survival at all costs is Cadaver’s motto, the mantra mumbled under the breath of his followers.  Live for the sake of living, their maxim.  Beg if you must.  Cheat your employer and steal from your friend if given no alternative.  Choose enslavement over death.  Predator or parasite, be what ever it takes to feed, clothe, and protect yourself.  Situational ethics are your guide.  The means justify the ends, but only so long as the ends mean survival.  Stealing to better one’s self is a despicable act, as cheating to endanger another is evil.

Half a beggar-king, half a living martyr, the Survivor has few enemies, mostly low-level crime bosses who harbor delusions of grandness that the presence of Cadaver would mar.  The closest competition, the Brotherhood of Beggars, have many cross-over members (those genuinely destitute instead of being too lazy to work) but the difference between the two is gangs is vast.  The Brotherhood is in it for the money and power, while Cadaver is in it for survival.  Cadaver’s operatives, if you can call them that, are called sometimes called “clingers”.   They work independently in cells much like anarchists, secreted away in all wards of Sigil.  While information will trickle its way to Cadaver’s one good ear, no clinger actually reports to him directly.

“No stoolie like a clinger” is a common enough insult in Sigil, and this one is based in truth.  Both law enforcement and organized gangs alike turn to clingers for information when necessary, and clingers sing sweetly to either side.  It’s only the low threat to their criminal operations and the dispersed organization of the beggar snitches that keep the crime lords from wiping the clingers from the face of the Planes.

Due to their malleable willingness to suffer through domination in all forms, these clingers must be of at least partially neutral in alignment (if not completely true neutral).  While they normally endure the requirements imposed upon them, they forever seek ways to void, twist, or simply break a restriction that threatens their continued survival.  Yet they believe in beneficial laws, and will uphold them in every way possible until their livelihood becomes endangered.

Call them Idealistic Utopians or Opportunistic Realists, but clingers care only about making it to the next day.  Comfort is good if you can get it, but their actions aren’t motivated in that direction.  Living is the bottom line, and giving the Deadbook the slip for another day their reward.

Clingers see society in terms of themselves.  Enslavement is tolerated if the only alternative is death.  A law is abided by so long as its punishment for infraction is not fatal.  No clinger believes in the death penalty or murder, but does believe in justifiable homicide.  Most are atheist, turning their back on the gods they see have turned their backs on them.

If a clinger is attacked by an obviously inferior opponent, he will seek to disarm or incapacitate the attacker.  If the attacker is plainly superior to the clinger’s abilities, then lying, cheating, stealing, and killing are all justified.  Clingers will rarely be the aggressor, instead begging for mercy and scurrying away before forcing an issue with violence.

A clinger automatically gets Profession (Street Rat) as a class skill if it is not already one.  Further, all clingers know the location of bolt-holes in every section of Sigil where they can hide should the pressure come down on them.  These are usually things like basements of abandoned houses, rarely moved stacks of crates in warehouses, and the like.  They’re not the most palatial of kips, but there’s a roof over your head and a wall to hide behind.  Finally, clingers get a +4 bonus on any saving throw any mind-affecting effect that causes them to do harm to themselves, so strong is their will to survive.

Cadaver has set up his begging territory around a ramshackle free clinic named the Weary Spirit Infirmary, where often times he allows himself and his followers to be experimented on in the name of medical progress.  In exchange for exposure to mysterious maladies and testing treatments with alchemical curatives, the clingers have the run of the place, can freely come and go, and receive (perhaps not so beneficial) medical attention whenever needed.

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