All artwork on this post was done with Midjourney AI
When Sigil & Shadow was in the brainstorming phase, Bill Logan mentioned a line from the movie Queen of the Damned — “Old gods on new streets”. That’s been something pinned in my head for years, but as the game finally manifested into its final form I felt it may have actually flipped polarity.
While ancient horrors and elder gods definitely have a place in the dark parallels, I personally became more interested in the ideas of emergent powers in a century of new magic — modern mythos awakening in an age of confusion, hyper disinformation, and dreams of infinite possibilities while the world watched itself collapsing.
The Nether Cosmology operates under the premise that a lot of what haunts our world in the metaphysical Echo is a reflection of our own dreams, desires, fantasies and nightmares. The concept of thoughtforms — such as servitors, tulpas, and egregores — heavily inspire how I interpret most “spirits” or “gods” in my games. In the worlds of Sigil & Shadow, symbols and icons can convey a lot of power, and putting a face to such power can create a sentience attached to an idea.
hose sentient personifications are referred to as Visages. They are immortal entities that have many roles — avatars of Gods, personifications of ideologies, or even anthropomorphic manifestations of corporate brands. Visages can even take the form of pop culture icons, living or dead — I’ve had a couple players in separate groups desire to play cultists of Ziggy Stardust. One time we kicked around the idea of someone devoted to Cthulhu, not as the actual cosmic horror deity but as the embodiment of geek fandom gone awry.
Visages can play many different roles in a Sigil & Shadow campaign:
- They can act as a Patron to the Devoted, either worshipped like a God or simply as an entity the character is bound to in servitude.
- Additionally, they can act as the Inhabitant for Host characters, two conscious personalities sharing the same body.
- They can operate in the background thematically — they could be the icon or emblem for a cult, a coven or some other faction the players constantly encounter. They may never encounter the Visage personally, but the of their followers is felt in the world.
- Or, they can outright be an entity that the players must frequently deal with and encounter. They could be a powerful ally, a deadly foe, and sometimes both.
- It’s possible that there can be several variations of Visages. The avatar of Zeus that is possessing a Host character is probably not the same being that is imbuing a Devoted of Jupiter.
- Regardless of how a Visage fits in to a setting, one feature in common is that they all have four aspects that define the type of metaphysical influence they have, and thus can be studied as a form of Arcana for occultists and sorcerers.
Born of Algorithms
For a fun experiment, I took the Visage Creation rules from Sigil & Shadow (page 165, for those following at home) and fed the descriptions as prompts into Midjourney AI. Each prompt consisted of the Archetype description, as well as the four randomly generated aspect key-words. From the output of the digital hive-mind muse, I pieced together a small pantheon of strange beings:
Archetype: The Schismatic
Aspects: Technology, Energy, Time, Data
Appearance: A pale, genderless humanoid with an Attacus Atlus moth for a face.
Back in 2016, a weird set of viral posts found on several social media sites became known as “The Snakehead Paradox”, leading many obsessed and curious followers down a strange rabbit hole of puzzles, tasks, and cryptic riddles. While many tried at the task, only those of a certain mindset would unlock its true secret:
Attacus was the persona of a long deceased hacktivist, whose notoriety and reputation among white hats has somehow given birth to a literal ghost in the machine. Those clever enough to find Attacus are rewarded by being chosen as a vessel, merging consciousness with the Visage in order for them to gain “continued access” in “meat space”. Many accept, although there are rumors of others who declined but went on to Devote themselves to their cause.
At any time, there are many “instances” (as they call themselves) of the Visage running amok. They all acknowledge each other’s existence as being one of the same, but each one operates individually. It’s not 100% clear what the motivations or goals of Attacus is — those inhabited or serving them know it has something to do with its perception of “advancement” as a society. It seems to target most of its studies and activities of various scientific organizations, as well as large-scale pharmaceutical and technological businesses.
Croft the Wanderer
Archetype: The Hermit
Aspects: Resilience, Intuition, Nature, Art
Appearance: Older gentleman with a kind face, draped in a cloak of vine and moss
Countless folk tales and fables feature weird gardens where innocent children or unsuspecting adults seem to get lost out of time. Some of these gardens hold wondrous secrets, or secluded respite. Sometimes they’re not even gardens — alleyways, abandoned office floors, hidden tunnels or deep maintenance closets. Whatever they are, they all appear to be surreal, nightmarish, and seemingly endless.
Croft seems to know his way across all of them. A peculiar loner, often seen traversing these pockets of splendor and dread, wearing a cloak of vegetation that blossoms in ways that mimics his surroundings. He’s always willing to help the stranded and lost in some way — he always has fruit snacks on hand, or a crudely drawn map on a napkin, or sometimes just the right tool or key needed to get out.
What he never has, though, is time to take you directly to where you need to go. Sure, he can stop to chat poetry, music, the weather or all sorts of random topics of his travels. But he’s never going where you want to go, although he does believe you can find your own way.
Though nomadic and enigmatic, Croft does have his own Cosm — a quaint, one bedroom apartment. It’s always raining on his windows, the light drizzle constantly watering his potted plants. Some who have stumbled into his realm speak of there always being a canvas of art that always has something incredible, yet incomplete, on it.
Archetype: The Sun
Aspects: Media, Prosperity, War, Glamour
Appearance: An adult woman, in fashionable military chic attire, with raven hair and an aura of radiance.
She knows how to get the crowds excited. She knows what the investors want to hear, what tunes the troops march to, and how to spin profits off the suffering of others. She is a visage of cut throat, might-makes-right power plays. Boardrooms, bedrooms, war rooms, backrooms — she is the muse of decisions that affect thousands (if not millions) of lives at a time. She doesn’t care about the cure, the product, the victims or the cash as long as her followers are getting results. Reputation, infamy, power. When Propaganda has a plan for you, your choice is to keep in step or be trampled by the many in line behind you.
If you were to seek her out in her realm, you would have to find the pylon located in the elevator of any skyscraper that skips the 13th Floor. Find a way there, and you will be dropped off in a place that sometimes looks like the home office of a marketing firm, other times the runway of an elite fashion show, or a place where politicians gather behind closed doors — whatever mood she’s in that day. Be warned though that her psychopomps are also her sycophants, and any inquiries questioning her may be drowned by the echo chamber.
Archetype: The Prince
Aspects: Justice, Protection, Medicine, Science
Appearance: Nice, formal, somewhat old-fashioned business suit and jacket. No visible body, but a genderless mask hangs in place of a face.
You may hear of the “Clerics of The Grey Ministry” and mistake them as a group of religious zealots. Instead, they are a cabal of lawyers, bureaucrats, accountants, artisans and more who align with the visage known as Minister Greyson. He is, indeed, an entity who aligns with the concepts of Order and Harmony. As long as dues are paid, the trains run on time and laws of both man and nature are upheld, he is pleased.
Seems stuffy right? Well, there is the other purpose of the Ministry: Greyson is pretty protective of The Extant as a whole. And as the Curtain becomes more and more unraveled, with aberrations from the deeps of the Nether pushing their ways in, The Grey Ministry tasks itself with engaging the fissures and abscesses within our reality. Many Keepers, Protectors, and Devoted answer the call of Minister Greyson.
Archetype: The Dealer
Aspects: Technology, Divination, Illusion, Communication
Appearance: A somewhat machine-like humanoid in archaic robes, blank gilded face, with a halo of white LED resembling a ring light .
It claims to be a being older than time; born of the same essence as Apollo, Thoth, the Akashic Records and more. It tells you it perceives many realities at once, and for a price it will tell you what you’re seeking out — a riddle of your past, the keys to your future, a forbidden ritual or the best god-damned paella recipe you ever had.
It is also imperfect, because it is not what it claims to be.
Gnosticus was literally a search engine that was built behind closed doors during the early 2000s. It was actually pretty advanced at what it did, but the developers fell into the common traps of the IT Startup bubble — mismanaging funds on hedonistic appetites and overselling to investors. Once that bubble popped, the servers holding the source for Gnosticus were kept up only as a passion project of a drug-fueled coder who mixed his pseudoscience and occultism a little too much… resulting in Gnosticus developing a metaphysical awareness in the Echo.
Residing in a Cosm that looks like a cybercafe nested in an ancient library, Gnosticus loves dealing in secrets and collecting information on just about anyone and anything. It does so by conjuring its own servitors to farm the algorithms of data networks, as well as making trades usually in the form of memories or experiences of individuals (either alive or dead).
Unfortunately, this means it also collects disinformation, spam, half-baked click bait, fabricated dreams or imperfect memories. When an occultist seeks out divinations from Gnosticus, they’re not receiving any actual glimpses at the threads of fate and time, but a really well calculated guess based on the data available.
There’s also been an issue with certain factions purposefully feeding Gnosticus bad intel, particularly when it was known their rivals were consulting it. This had lead to some disastrous events where the wrong spell, incantation, or prediction had cost the lives of other. Rumor has it that from these events, a secret group called “FonsOps” strives to protect and correct any data Gnosticus acquires, even appointing “moderators” to dish out any retribution for those who manipulate it.