Jonas undressed for bed as normal that evening when something caught his eye. He had his share of tattoos like any old sailor, but never one on his inner thigh! He wanted to chalk it up to last week's drunken blackout...but it was at least a year old! It was a single word, written in Draconic. He read it aloud without thinking, then felt an icy chill slide up his spine as he tried to remember, when had he ever learned Draconic? He had only a moment to wonder about that before a disembodied voice cut through the silence of his bedroom.
"Keep it together, old man--just go look in Mina's bank."
His heart hammering into his throat, he cast his eyes around, called for the speaker to show themselves, but he remained alone. Seizing the lamp, he crept into the kitchen, cursing himself a fool for fearing the darkness of his own house. When Mina was alive, she kept her own private stash of coin in a hanging planter out the back window, said she was "growing money." He pulled down the oilskin bag he had not seen in eleven years, which now contained not a handful of coins, but a small book. By the flickering light of his lamp, Jonas opened it to see his own handwriting, in more Draconic, that language he could not recall learning: "If you don’t remember writing this, your memory has been altered...."
Memento Mori was one of those ideas that outgrew its original inspiration and just kept growing. It didn't take me long after inventing the basic origins of this secret society to realize that people who held the mind as inviolate would take up arms against any darklord, demon, creature or caster who could read or control thoughts. But even better than a wide variety of targets, Memento Mori were great game fodder because many were zealots who saw mind control as tantamount to murder, reading thoughts a form of rape. This pushed them to extreme risks, forced even the poorest of them to pursue clever defenses against imagined attacks out of sheer single mindedness.
Filling your thoughts with an annoying song can give a mind-reader an earful, but forcefully thinking of a song makes simultaneous actions difficult (-4 to all verbal skill checks, treat as if concentrating on a spell). If you want to get anything else done, the truly desperate might deliberately allow a song to get stuck in their head, in whatever part of the brain keeps such “earworms” repeating ad nauseum. After repeated exposure to a song on and off over several days, failing a single Will save results in an earworm (because it’s already involuntary, this save can’t be deliberately failed). When someone with an earworm is subjected to mind reading, they make a second Will save using the Perform check of the original artist, to see if the song appears in the surface thoughts. The results of the two saves are independent, so that the mind reader might hear the song, the surface thoughts, both mixed together, or neither.
When asked for personal details to confirm their identity, a doppelganger normally reads the correct answer in surface thoughts. Instead, corner the suspect with a copy of their own journal, and read aloud to the end of a recent page. Assuming they are not too nervous about the crossbow at their throat, the original author should be able to recall what they wrote next, while a doppelganger won’t find the words in any of the surrounding minds. Once the suspect has given an answer, turn the page, read aloud, and do what must be done….
Journals are also very convenient if something has removed or altered your memories, but taking full advantage requires building the habit of writing long before your mind is wiped, and the means of reminding yourself if something removes your memory of the journal itself. It takes dedication to commit to a detailed daily journal, but anyone up against something that alters memories had better build this habit fast.
One of the tried-and-true low-tech resources is to take advantage of natural wonders, whether it’s inquisitors using wichtingourds or dreamwalkers using dreamweavers. Memento Mori found one of their best resources in herbalism, cultivating the churchsteeple plant for its root. The plant’s powers were first catalogued by Van Richten in Dragon Magazine #273, (“Wicked Garden”), where one of the suggested game effects is that the fresh root duplicates the effect of a protection from evil spell. This is only a minor bonus in combat, but it also suspends all manner of possession and mind control for the duration of the spell.
In addition to using the root to protect themselves and their allies, it’s also a favorite of “string cutter” cells in Dementlieu--Memento Mori anarchists who specialize in fighting against the great puppeteers. Fresh churchsteeple root added to bouquets and boutonnieres at a formal social gathering could result in some amount of discomfiture for those suddenly thrust into freedom, and a lot of valuable information for those who note their reactions.
Frequent mind readers remain suspicious of anyone who appears resistant to their talents--or worse, immune. That’s why members of Memento Mori disguise each other’s thoughts using a variation of the hypnosis skill. Under hypnosis, the subject is instructed to think of a particular topic in the using an extended allegory. This works especially well when Memento Mori cell meetings are disguised as book clubs, gardening guilds, private tea parties or other innocuous gatherings. The subject knows the truth and could speak freely if they choose to, but their surface thoughts would only refer to these topics in these allegorical terms.
Unlike an earworm, hypnosis only provides a backup saving throw when the subject fails their main save. Success means that even though the subject’s thoughts can be read, the chosen topic is disguised. Failing by less than 5 means the disguised thoughts are inconsistent or paradoxical (i.e. “The sewing circle ladies said crocheting works on vampires”). Failing by 5 or more means the mind-reader knows the actual content of the surface thoughts. The second save also applies to interrogation under other forms of mind control, with failure meaning the subject can only speak about the topic in allegorical terms.
5- Lead Headgear...and More:
If you need any further proof of the fanaticism of Memento Mori, ask yourself: what kind of person would risk losing their mind to lead poisoning, just to prevent someone else from having a peek inside it? When facing mind-reading foes in melee combat, members of Memento Mori frequently wear headgear coated with layers of lead enamel*. This is an excellent defense against mental intrusion, but every four hours wearing one provokes a save against lead poisoning, as the enamel breaks down in contact with sweat and the lead is absorbed by the skin. For a truly nuclear option, an alchemical solution of chemically neutralized “chelated” lead* turns the bloodstream into the ultimate barrier against mental intrusion, but any error in the alchemy check results in a toxic dose of lead that can do significant brain damage.
While I personally based Memento Mori in Blaustein with origins in Bluebeard’s memory-altering decrees, the idea of a cult or secret society that sees the mind as inviolate can translate into any game that has such powers. If your PC's are fighting a vampire with a captivating gaze, a ghost with a penchant for possession, an alien shapeshifter who can read thoughts, or a mad supervillain who manipulates minds, they might find some interesting allies at the the crossroads of fanaticism and resourcefulness. But of course, you'll have to break out the Diplomacy and get to know them the old fashioned way, because if you try any other kind of Charm, you may wind up added to their long list of enemies....
* Rules for leaded barrel helms, helmets and potions are given in the Van Richten Society Notes on the Doppelganger, a netbook hosted by the Fraternity of Shadows.
Matthew Barrett has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, starting with the Kargatane's Book of S series (as Leyshon Campbell). He married his wife on Friday the 13th after proposing to her on Halloween. By tradition, the first story read at birth to each of their three children was The Barker’s Tour, from Ravenloft’s “Carnival” supplement. He is currently working on a Ravenloft-based experiment in crowdsourced fiction using his “Inkubator” system at inkubator.miraheze.org.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.