Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Traveller Tuesday: the Count of Upward Failure

The following character is a long-running NPC from my Traveller game (now entering its third year of play). He started out as a thought exercise: What do you do when you roll a character with the stats 2, 6, 4, 2, 6 and 11?

You put the 11 into Social Standing, choose the Noble career, roll on the Personal Advancement charts to raise those horrible stats, and do your best to fail upwards. 

Tobias Stavelot,  portrayed by John Quale
If the rumors are to be believed, Tobias Albert Stavelot, first issue of Duke Walter and Duchess Helena Stavelot of Jewell, was born on Holiday (001) of 1028 and has never stopped partying. 

Growing up in the Ducal household of Jewell, Tobias ("Call me Toby") never seemed to mature into the man his father wanted him to be. Instead of becoming the professional soldier, administrator and politician that would one day one day inherit responsibility of administering Jewell Subsector, he instead possessed what can be charitably called "an artistic temperament" -- in other words, he was undisciplined, hedonistic, and fickle. 

It is believed that this was the result of a radical treatment performed upon him during his early teens. With the onset of puberty came indications of psionic aptitude at a strength that was both remarkable and rare. Needless to say, revelation of the Duke of Jewell having a psionic heir would have caused a scandal within the Imperium, and the proximity of Jewell to the Zhodani border might have resulted in the Stavelots losing their appointment and being recalled to Capital. 

Duchess Helena Stavelot,
portrayed by Audrey Hepburn.
Therefore, the Duke (against his wife's wishes) insisted that his son have all traces of psionic ability purged from him. This was accomplished through what was, essentially, a very precise chemical lobotomy. The doctor who performed this procedure assured the Duke that there would be no noticable brain damage, but in hindsight it was apparent that Tobias deeply missed his psionic connection to the world. Having been robbed of a sense he considered vital, he spent the next 16 years in the pursuit of such vice and chemical stimulation that it would make Hunter S. Thompson blush. 

He became the media darling of the Jewell cluster in the style of Lindsey Lohan crossed with Paris Hilton: famous for being famous, a glorious trainwreck of debauchery followed by the tabloids, equally envied and laughed at by the populace. Were it not for his doting mother, he might very well have been disowned by his father; instead, she exerted her influence with the media to keep his worst excesses off-screen. She believed that he simply needed to come to terms with who he was now, and she allowed him to indulge his vices while providing him with a security detail to prevent any harm from coming to himself or others. 

She was eventually proven correct: by age 25, Tobias decided there needed to be more to life than becoming trashed every night, and asked his father for an internship within the Jewell Diplomatic Corps. When asked what he could possibly offer as a diplomat, he answered "Father, you may know politics, but I know people. I understand vice like you understand war, for I have lived it nightly. Even heads of state let their hair down from time to time -- after all, I have seen the galas you and mother have thrown. Tell me, what would it profit you if I could show an ambassador such a good time that he was predisposed to agree with you?"
Duke Walter Stavelot,
portrayed by Campbell Scott

The deal was struck, and Tobias entered the Diplomatic Corps that night. The press immediately dubbed him the "Count of Upward Failure," and he embraced the term unironically, even going so far as to change his noble title to Le Comte Raté vers le Haute.

For nearly 30 years he did, indeed, manage to fail upwards, essentially a weaponized Keith Richards (with a Carouse skill of 6) who greased the social wheels to subsector politics. At some point along the way he actually became an acceptable diplomat and half-decent administrator, even going so far as to earn a law degree. As a reward for his service to the Imperium, he was granted the family vacation home on Mongo which he turned into a Casablanca for visiting dignitaries. So great was his effectiveness that he became known as "Count of Mongo", despite the fact that the planet never warranted any noble greater than a Baron, and he ceded his inheritance to his younger brother, Eneri. Tobias stepped down to become a mere a Baron of Jewell, and Eneri Stavelot became the heir-apparent. 

Then, in 1081, disaster struck. It's unfair to say that the Count started the Fourth Frontier War. It's more accurate to say that a lapse of judgement led to an indiscretion with a Zhodani ambassador's daughter, which caused said ambassador to return home in a huff. This chilled relations between the two polities, and therefore when tensions arose over the Imperium reopening the Naval base at Quar, diplomatic relations were at a significant low. It is believed that the Zhodani perceived Quar as provocation piled atop insult, which is how the shooting began. 

After this debacle, it was suggested that Tobias quietly retire and leave Jewell cluster, as even his mother's influence could not protect him from backlash. And so, the Count of Upward Failure left to travel the Imperium and sample all the forms of hedonism he could find.

The Most Honorable Tobias Albert Stavelot, 
Le Comte Raté vers le Haute, 
Count of Mongo and Baron of Jewell
Carouse-6, Deception-3, Diplomat-3, Persuade-3, Admin-1, Advocate-1, Blade-0

"My dear boy, I have eaten, drunk, injected, snorted, absorbed and imbibed every substance known to humaniti. I have fucked my way across entire star systems. Once, I even buggered a K'kree. Do not bore me with your pedestrian vices, for I seek the nirvana of stimulation itself." 

Count Tobias (known in some circles as "Count Drugula") has an encyclopedic knowledge of vice. In many cases this gives him rudimentary knowledge of chemistry (drug interactions), medicine (hangover cures), anatomy (pleasure zones), and the like. As a rule of thumb, if a skill roll can somehow be derived from hedonism, allow him to roll half his Carouse instead. 

The Count has very extensive augmentation; in addition to body mods (muscle & bone lace, subdermal armor, advanced antibodies, etc) and mental augments (dedicated neural computer to aid in memory and access to library data), all of his internal organs are cutting-edge biotechnology. The ostensible reason for this is to make him immune to poison and overdose, and allow him to keep entertaining guests when a normal human body would give out. The real reason is closer to "He would have died long ago from abusing his body if his mother hadn't ordered this." At this point, he can metabolize practically any toxin, and probably urinates pure LSD. 

He has been on a steady dose of anagathics since joining the diplomatic corps, as have his parents. Between that and high-TL medical procedures, his appearance is that of a man in his perpetual 30s.

As a result of the medical procedure which burned out his psi aptitude and decades of abusing mind-altering substances, he is immune to telepathy. Oh, his mind can be read, it just returns garbled nonsense, like tuning in to a scrambled television channel. Prior to his indiscretion, he had the best relationship with the Zhodani of any diplomat: they knew he was hiding nothing from them, and yet there was no danger of him revealing any state secrets to them (largely because he didn't know anything of value). 

The Count is fabulously wealthy, with assets totaling over 20 MCr. Nearly all of this is in investments and property, which grants him a lifetime income of 100,000 credits per year for doing absolutely nothing. Some of this money he banks, and some he gambles with, which means that at any given moment he could have several MCr in his pockets, or he could be completely broke. In the rare instance that happens, he practices Imperial law out of a rented starport office (which starport? It doesn't matter) in order to pay his bar tab. 

The Count can be a patron, a foil, or a rival (or all of the above) to Traveller PCs. 

Playing the Count: Imagine Captain Jack Sparrow (a.k.a. Johnny Depp's Keith Richards impression) cosplaying as either Hunter S. Thompson or Denny Crane (from Boston Legal). 

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