In the world, the dispossessed and forsaken of the world have developed a unique mythology. Their tales, recounted in back alleys over metal barrel fires, speak of a small group of people who are no longer human. Whose power and ferocity is awesome and who reserve their worst brutalities for those who would prey on and abuse the weak. These urban myths are not far from the truth. In the largest cities hidden amidst the unwitting masses, the Pariahs make their home. They can be anywhere. The old man pushing a shopping cart mumbling to himself, the young kid ripping off car stereos, the quiet volunteer at a soup kitchen… Any and all of them could be Pariahs. Able to remake their bodies into living weapons. The survivors of terrible ordeals, they live apart from humankind, only stepping in to rescue others like them and to punish the worst victimizers.
Some among the Gifted lived tortured, miserable existences. Victims of years of abuse and privation, their powers acquired a unique form, enabling them to remold their bodies in a variety of ways. Due to the anger and self-loathing that often afflicts abuse survivors, their shape shifting is almost always monstrous and terrifying. Persecuted and named unclean by normal society, these Gifted hid. They dwell among the homeless and the runaways. They recruit members from among the shunned, the destitute, the helpless. They teach neophytes about turning their misery into anger, and their anger into power. They call themselves the Pariahs and have been part of the urban landscapes of the world since the beginning of history. Although few in number, the Pariahs’ influence among the dispossessed and powerless has been long lasting.
What sets the Pariahs apart is their ability to channel their suffering and anguish through their bodies, allowing them to transform their flesh in strange and bizarre ways. Pariahs are masters of the Disciplines of the Flesh, a bizarre Gifted power which channels the Essence of the person through his body. Altering it in monstrous and terrifying ways. Some Pariahs love piercing and self-mutilation. Others can adopt gruesome visages. Their special powers are very effective, but carry a high price: to activate them, the Pariahs must relive the horrors that triggered their transformation in the first place. This continual reopening of emotional wounds has a terrible effect on their psyches.
The Pariahs can trace their history back to Biblical times, when they were called the Tsara’ath, or the Defiled. They were considered to be suffering from a variety of leprosy. The word “leprosy” comes from the word lepros, which means defilement. One that turned its sufferers into inhuman monsters. Both true lepers and Pariahs, and sufferers of many other diseases, were lumped into the same category and shunned by their communities. Persecuted as monsters and demons and filled with self-hatred, many Pariahs retreated into the wilderness and died there. Others hid amongst beggars, street urchins and other outcasts, living in the worst hovels on the outskirts of cities or villages. A few traveled the length of the world by foot, encountering others of their kind. Pariahs marched with Alexander’s army all the way to India. Others went North, among the Celtic tribes, while others visited the kingdoms in the deepest regions of Africa.
At the height of the Roman Empire, the Pariahs became more organized, adopting many of the traits of the Mystery Religions that started appearing in Southern Europe and the Middle East of that time. The Pariahs made their headquarters in the city of Rome, and there they remain to this day. Having survived centuries of sackings, destruction and rebuilding. The network suffered a great deal during the Middle Ages and the Reformation, and many Pariahs were burned as witches or thought to be harbingers of the plague and stoned to death. The Beggar Kings remained almost completely independent, and only the influence of the Purveyors, many of whom were very long-lived, kept the society from completely disintegrating.
As cities and the numbers of humankind grew, so did the Pariahs. Wars, refugee camps and the cycle of abuse created more and more of them. When the Black Plagues decimated Europe, the Pariahs stalked empty towns and cities. During World War II, Pariahs fought during the siege of the Warsaw ghetto and Stalingrad, bringing terror to the monsters of both armies. And in modern times they have become part of the underground lore of the slums. Another urban legend that contains more than a kernel of truth.
The world is full of monsters, but most of them do not have claws or slink around in the shadows. The Pariahs’ main enemies are those who destroy innocence: child molesters, purveyors of kiddie porn, serial killers, and the worst pimps and drug dealers. Their enemies also include supernatural creatures and organizations, including all kinds of predators, practitioners of Black Magic, and Mundane exploiters. The Pariahs believe that their powers were given to them for a reason: to avenge the crimes committed against the helpless. The Pariahs refuse to perceive themselves as victims anymore. They have the ability to fight back and to become agents of justice, or at least vengeance.
In addition to this mission, the other purpose of the Pariahs is to protect themselves from the rest of the world. Since ancient times, their kind has been feared and loathed by “normal” humans, and they have been exiled or killed when they publicly used their powers. To prevent further persecution, the Pariahs avoid public notice and operate in the most forsaken parts of civilization, the slums and sewers of cities, living in condemned buildings or sharing space with the homeless in back alleys and abandoned tunnels.
Pursuing those goals requires resources, of course. Although the Pariahs live amongst the poorest people of the cities, the organization has access to large amounts of money. The Pariahs are an ancient brotherhood, and over time it has accumulated a great deal of wealth. The distribution and oversight of these funds is the main purpose of the central leadership of the organization. No Pariah ever enjoys the lifestyle of the wealthy, but some of their underground safehouses are surprisingly comfortable and well-equipped, and no member lacks food or basic necessities. In fact, in some cities the Pariahs own several derelict buildings, which are secretly rebuilt. The boarded up, fenced facade remains intact, but the inside is transformed into high-quality housing. Some of the organization’s money also goes to help the community at large and is anonymously donated to soup kitchens, runaway counseling centers, and shelters. Most of the Pariahs’ funds are administered by foundations or dummy corporations, the largest of which is the Chimera Investment Group, based in New York City.
Besides money, information is the major resource needed to achieve the Pariahs’ purposes. While many Pariahs live on the streets and have no official job or occupation, a significant percentage (about one fourth of the members) work in the occupations that straddle the “normal” world and the shadow universe of urban decay, poverty and despair. These are mostly social workers, parole officers, volunteers and even the occasional police officer. They help to discover new Pariahs and to locate possible targets for termination. Many an abusive spouse or parent who laughed in the face of a social worker has been later visited by the Pariahs. Members who live on the street also develop their own informal network of informants among prostitutes, the homeless, petty criminals and runaways.
Of course, the avowed purposes of the organization are not always followed in real life. The victims of abuse are no more virtuous than anyone else, and many Pariahs have turned their local Kingdoms into criminal organizations. They use their powers to extort protection money from local merchants or participate in the drug trade. The worst offenders are eventually stamped out by the Purveyors, but corruption and the abuse of power are common in many places, even while the leaders pay lip service to the goals of the secret society. Even worse, some Pariahs have, due to their mental problems, turned to the worship of the Darkness. These renegades continue thinking of themselves as victims, and betray all of Reality to gain a measure of revenge against the world.
This group recruits people from among the most victimized, exploited and brutalized. Survivors of child abuse, incest, slavery, and worse are the preferred members.
The Pariahs are loosely organized. Outcasts all, many of them suffering emotional or mental problems, organization is not a strong point. Each city or region where any significant numbers (anything more than a handful) of Pariahs congregate has a Beggar King, a title that originated in the Middle Ages when the Pariahs hid among the poorest and most destitute in the infant cities of Europe. The power of a Beggar King varies. In some places, they are only in charge of providing money and assistance to their fellows, who otherwise do as they please. In others, their word is absolute law. While members are subject to the decisions of their local Beggar King, although for the most part they are free to do as they please. Their rules are few but rigidly enforced: defend all Pariahs from outside enemies, maintain the secrecy of their existence from the Mundane world. Although Pariahs recognize that other Gifted are privy to many of their secrets, they don’t like it. When possible, save those who are enduring the same horrors that created them. “Deliver others from the horrors that made you” is a Pariah motto; like many ideals, it is followed less often than some would like.
Beggar Kings are usually selected through a rough form of democracy. They tend to be the older and tougher Pariahs, but they must have the support of the majority of the local population. Which seldom numbers more than a couple dozen individuals, although this is changing in the larger cities. A challenger must prove himself better than the incumbent, usually through a number of tests and challenges determined by the group. Trial by combat is common among some groups, although the most frequent tests involve puzzles, riddles or contests to achieve something before one’s opponent. Sometimes, a local supernatural danger is made the “prize,” and the two rivals must devise a way to destroy the threat without help from any others.
A few cities even have more than one Beggar King. New York City, for example, is divided into several kingdoms, roughly corresponding to the boroughs of the city. These leaders are in contact with the Roman Pariahs, who serves as a central source for funds and material assistance to local communities.
The Purveyors are Pariahs in charge of finding and assisting members of the organization. They have access to the money hoarded by the Pariahs over the generations, but they are no mere accountants. They also act as troubleshooters, preventing Beggar Kings from violating the basic rules of the Pariahs and providing help when a community is threatened. The Purveyors answer to the Roman Pariahs, who are the nominal leaders of the organization. The Roman Pariahs, some of whom are hundreds of years old, are selected from the ranks of the Purveyors and Beggar Kings, with the occasional talented or heroic common Pariah thrown in. The Roman Pariahs rarely intervene in the affairs of any community except in case of emergency. Their main concern is to protect the group from the Mundanes and dealing with rogues or traitors who have turned to crime or the worship of the Darkness.
The rank and file Pariahs include the Disciples of the Flesh, a special kind of Gifted human. The Disciples gain their abilities when latent Essence Channeling powers are awakened through some unspeakable act, usually some form of torture or child abuse. Nobody willingly becomes a Disciple. They are victims of dehumanizing acts. Their souls have been broken and then haphazardly put back together. When the world ceases making any sense, when the ultimate acts of betrayal have been inflicted, a Disciple may be born. Out of thousands of unfortunates, a few emerge with the ability to turn their bodies inside out, to mold the flesh of their hated bodies like a sculptor reshapes clay.
The Disciples also have the ability to recognize one another on sight. Their Essence senses allow them to “see” the tortured aura of their kind. This allows them to band together. The Pariahs are the largest such group, but not the only one.
The group’s membership is not limited to the Disciples of the Flesh, however. In fact, the Disciples only comprise about half of the organization, although the actual proportion varies from place to place. Other former victims can also join the group. About a third of the Pariahs are normal humans, or Gifted with other abilities with Second Sight being the most common who underwent ordeals similar to those suffered by the Disciples. The remaining members are other Supernatural beings, including Phantasms, Vampires, Ferals, and the Relentless Dead. In the case of Undead or Ghosts, these Pariahs died as a result of abuse and have come back looking for revenge. In a “typical” group of five to six Pariahs, one would find three Disciples of the Flesh, one or two Mundanes, and a Gifted human or some type of Undead.
The Pariahs often come into contact with other supernatural organizations. Many Pariahs only wish to be left alone, but they seldom are. By their mere existence, they attract the attention of other beings and powers in their vicinity. Also, many Pariahs are driven by revenge and rage, which often leads them into conflict with foes both Gifted and Mundane. Most Pariahs know little of the other groups. The Beggar Kings and the Purveyors are more knowledgeable, however, and their followers take most of their cues from their leaders opinions and feelings towards those groups.
The Pariahs have little to do with the main Magic groups, except on the rare occasions when members of both groups find themselves battling a common foe. Wicce Covens tend to be more sympathetic and helpful towards the Pariahs, while the Rosicrucians find them distasteful at best or utterly repugnant at worst. Urban Wicce often exchange information and aid the local Pariah bands. The Pariahs themselves have no strong feelings for those groups one way or another.
The Society of Sentinels considers the Pariahs to be a “dark cult,” with supernatural members and dubious goals and affiliations. In many places, the Sentinels hunt down the local Pariahs just as they would any supernatural infestation. To the Pariahs, the Sentinels are hypocrites who claim to be defending humankind while often ignoring horrible crimes committed right under their noses. For the most part, the Sentinels and Pariahs are in a state of hostilities just short of outright war, each new casualty exacerbating the hatred between the two groups.
The Psychic Network has long known that severe psychological trauma can often trigger latent psionic powers, so they often watch the victims of such abuse. They consider the Disciplines of the Flesh to be a special type of psychic Power, the ability to reshape one’s body with the power of the mind. Close study of this power has proven impossible, however. To date, no Disciple of the Flesh has joined the Network, and the Pariahs will not have their members studied or prodded by anybody, no matter how well-meaning they might be.
Some Storm Dragons have come across the Pariahs in the urban jungles of the modern world. These encounters have ranged from tentative alliances to savage battles. By and large, the Pariahs respect the Dragons’ physical prowess, but consider their Eastern Wisdom to be little more than “fortune cookie psychology” and quite useless to people who have had to confront real horror and tragedy.
The few Pariahs who know of the Fellowship of Judas respect its goals. Most Purveyors have contacts with the Fellowship, and collaborate with them on occasion. The goals of the Iscariots are more ambitious and far-reaching than what most Pariahs are willing to pursue, however.
Skills and Abilities
About half of all Pariahs know the Disciplines of the Flesh, the eerie ability to remold their bodies by awakening memories of their life’s suffering and misery. This ability requires the character to know Anguish, a Special skill. A smaller percentage are Gifted with the Sight, and a sizable fraction of the group is made up of Mundanes. The Pariahs have little access to magical knowledge; many of them are not even sure magic exists, and think it is merely some form of the Second Sight. No other Arts are commonly known.
Many members work as social workers or participate in organizations that help the abused and helpless. One can find Pariahs manning battered women shelters, soup kitchens, and similar institutions. Woe to any abuser who tries to break into those places. Other Pariahs lead double lives, often masquerading as homeless people, prostitutes and other undesirables. The better to find others of their kind, and to deal with those who would harm them.