Written by: Marek Golonka
There is something magical about the Opera. Music, dance, scenery and acting all melt to create an impressive performance that rolls through audience’s senses and echoes with a wave of applause. Is there anything more wonderful than letting it happen–working for the Opera?
Probably there isn’t, but easier things are far from rare. The more there is to be done, the more can go wrong and there are myriads of things to be done when staging an Opera. To work there one needs steel nerves, otherwise he may soon begin to rabble nonsensically or see ghosts. The latter, however, might not mean insanity. For where Art becomes Magic, ghosts may be born.
Almost every old, renowned Opera building spawns its Phantom–an incarnation of True Art, of that lyrical trembling and dramatic tension that gives an opera its meaning. Phantoms are guardian spirits of their theaters, guiding the venues toward better performances and protecting from intruders–be them evil masterminds or goofy owners.
At the same time, however, Phantoms are parasites. How come? Contrary to popular beliefs, a Phantom of the Opera is not a masked gentleman–it is the mask itself!
An Opera worth a Phantom
Phantoms appear only in opera houses old enough to have traditions and achievements. Such buildings are true art nexuses of power level no less than 2, and anniversaries of Phantom’s spawning are conjunctions of a power level +2 or more.
It is also said that Heimburg Opera staff is so fond of using modern technologies that the building became a technomantic nexus as well.
A Phantom is powerless until somebody agrees to wear the mask and thus to become possessed by it. Such a person does not lose their mind, but can effectively perform only those actions, that both the Phantom and the host agree to perform. The ghost constantly speaks within the host’s mind. Without a person wearing the mask (let us call the person “an actor”) a Phantom is nearly powerless and can only whisper to the person holding the mask. If there is a typical Phantom’s actor, then he is a shy lad of romantic disposition. Opera guardians appreciate cooperation with such young men because their dreams and desires match those of a typical Phantom. For reasons unknown, most of the artistic parasites consider themselves to be of a male persuasion and so rarely they do choose women for hosts, and when they do, it is usually a start of a dramatic albeit platonic romance.
The most worthy candidates are actors and singers, but some phantoms do not shun from using pyrotechnists, fencers, musicians, playwrights and others whose passions revolve around opera. Phantoms know a lot about opera but they haven’t got the gift of creativity and do not possess full knowledge on all matters theatrical. Their famous grace and elusiveness comes not from superhuman agility, but from their mastery over decorations and theatrical property. Contrary to popular believes Phantoms do not disappear like a shadow among the shadows. They simply make stage lights fall in another direction.
The cooperation between the Phantom and his host is often cordial, because they care together for the Opera which is both absorbing and rewarding. However when they do not see eye to eye, trouble arises: the bearer can take the mask off at any moment, but the Phantom may then curse him in any way he finds appropriate–and for such treachery only terrible curses are appropriate.
What can cause such a split? Usually the Phantom himself. He is, after all, born form opera, and everyone after a long exposure to opera has wrecked nerves–no wonder that most Phantoms are depressive, maniacal or fickle as women from Rigoretto’s famous aria. Some Phantoms ready to burn down the Opera down and die with it after first unsuccessful performance, others tend to be hopelessly in love with one choir girl after another and some are constantly on warpath with an aging diva, stupid Opera directors, the progress of cinemas–fighting not to win, but for the pleasure of being a thorn in somebody’s side. Not every host, no matter how enthusiastic about opera, can bear such a madness–in fact not getting accustomed to hosting a Phantom it may be a valuable hint in diagnosing sanity.
Where to meet them: in opera houses anywhere in the world, most often hidden in dungeons full of gothic decorations. Phantoms learn to be lonely and communicate with the outside world via skull-sealed letters.
Cities with famous Phantoms include:
- Heimburg: Kröger, the ghost of Heimburg opera, is fascinated by death and accused of cooperating with venrierites. Always appearing in flawless white suit and with long, silver hair he looks like an angel of death. This may be only a vile lie, but some informed people of good standing claim that he uses that impression to seduce divas he does not like and persuade them to commit suicide! Others say something maybe not worse, but clearly more horrific: that he also kills people in the streets around the Opera like a common murderer! Even if this all is true, his advices are still priceless for stage-managers.
- Lyonesse: the Alfheim Phantom is quite a curiosity, for he is the only known ghost to engage in politics–as a terrorist! He is convinced that PUCK– the enormous difference engine running city’s administration–is a threat to humanity and thus also to art. The vengeful phantom does everything he can to hamper the machine’s efforts by destroying its outposts and golemic servants. Many Alven Yard members swear to have killed him, but he always returns–stating that beneath his mask there is music, and music is bulletproof. He may be right–or good at finding suicidal hosts among young, idealistic citizens of Lyonesse.
- Valen: the Phantom of the Imperial and Royal Opera in Valen and his connections to the royal family are described in Wolsung: Steam Pulp Fantasy core book.
- Ys: in the town of sin there are two Operas and two Phantoms. The first Opera, Theater of Tradition is a treasury of good taste and virtues long ago forgotten in Ys. Its Phantom is a charmingly elegant, if slightly old-fashioned gentleman. The second Opera, The Sloth Stage, is guarded by perhaps the most outrageous Phantom of the world: Mr. Heimburger a.k.a “Sweet Succubus from Sensational Silvanegri”, dressing as a woman–and being a foreigner!
The redemption of Ys
The Phantom of Theater of Tradition is said to keep an enchanted libretto of an unearthly beautiful opera–an opera that, when played, will cure the corrupting aura of Ys. This libretto is not complete, but it gets longer by one note for every person who goes to opera instead of plunging into city’s decadent pleasures.
Daring – the lights turn off, the chandelier falls down and the most heavenly diva of this or any age disappears. She is to be saved from the Phantom! What’s more, the Phantom is to be saved from an angry crowd!
Exploration – it is told that operas having their Phantoms are connected via their deepest cellars. The trouble is, those cellars are nightmarish realms patched from queerest decorations in the history of theater where the most insane characters from madmen’s plays come alive and hungry for attention.
Investigation – the opera house is teeming with masked gentlemen… The first one is the Phantom, the second– a fugitive murderer, the third–the bride of the Phantom’s host wanting to get her lover back. So, who is the fourth?
Society – an eccentric millionaire is willing to donate a profitable cinema to the players. There’s only one catch: first they have to make this place stirring enough to spawn the first Phantom of Cinema ever.
Phantom of the Opera
Default conflict: chase
Opponent, dice pool 3k10, challenge 6
- Skills and resistances of the host–replacing those below if better.
- Opera ghost: the only way to kill the Phantom is to destroy his opera house. A destroyed mask is reformed after a few days in the theater that spawned it.
- Inside your mind: by spending a token in a combat phantom may make all his opponents look exactly like him. This effect lass for one round, and for this time any character attacking the phantom must succeed on spot roll against phantom’s expression–a failure means hitting another character chosen by the opera ghost.
- Master of decorations: while in the opera the phantom may use two cards to improve any roll (plus one additional if the is exhausting a power). This ability does not work during discussions.
- Master of props: once per game session by playing a card, GM can equip the phantom with a gadget with a number of traits depending on the card: 2-10 one trait, JQK two traits, and an Ace gives three traits. The gadget lasts for the rest of the scene.
- True Art: three powers or spells from the Artist’s list.
- Weakness (mask): one can try to take the mask off the phantom and thus defeat him, so any attack with brawl or athletics can be declared a finisher after the dice are rolled.
- Envious mask: when removed, the mask may curse its bearer. The visual effects of such a curse may vary, but it always lowers re-roll range for one of attributes by one. The effects last for one full adventure.
Combat: fencing 6/9+; Defense: 14. Inside your mind, master of decorations, master of props, True Art, weakness. He prefers to fight onstage, where the applause makes him stronger (see scenery rules, Wolsung core book, p. 343).
Chase: athletics 6/9+, hide (in the Opera) 6(9)/8+; Endurance: 18. Master of decorations, master of props, True Art.
Discussion: expression 6/8+; Confidence 16. Master of props, True Art
Special thanks to Aleksandra “Jade Elenne” Wierzchowska for discussing Phantoms with me over and over again, helping a lot to shape them into what they are now – and we both like what they are