The Bleak Cabal
The Bleak Cabal Faction Symbol
Ever since the faction was born more than nine centuries ago, acceptance of the Bleakers has waxed and waned according to whichever philosophies had the biggest toehold in Sigil at the time. During periods of intense recruitment by other factions, when a factol would try to boost his numbers for some scheme or another, the Bleak Cabal's numbers would fall to the point of almost nonexistence. (Never in the Cabal's history has the faction actively tried to recruit members, instread growing solely via word of mouth.) But in time, the other factions' numbers swelled and grew ungainly. When attitudes eventually shifted and some other philosophy came to the fore, folks'd all jump on the latest bandwagon. At the end of all these cycles of up and down and up and down, many members would renounce their vows, seeking freedom in the nihilistic approach offered by the Cabal - that the multiverse made no sense. Thus, the Bleak Cabal regularly became the single most powerful faction in the Cage; every few hundred years, its point of view prevailed throughout most of the city.
Although the Bleakers had (and still have) some desire to mold others to their way of thinking, the very nature of being Madmen defeated them. See, when their numbers increased, so did the pressures and tensions of dealing with the loss of belief. Particularly stressful was the inflnx of new members, for many of them hadn't yet found the peace and acceptance notable in older Bleakers. And when the Cabal's ranks became glutted, the tensions became too much for older faction members. Many went truly insane, fleeing Sigil or retreating into the depths of the Gatehouse. (The Gatehouse is an asylum that serves as faction headqarters for the Bleak Cabal.) Most often, this madness lingered until merciful death.
The Grim Retreat, as the Bleakers came to call their ange illness, struck each time their faction numbers swelled too quickly. The factol and other high-ups in the Cabal were frequently the first victims, leaving only inexperienced members behind to take the reins. Today, even after the Cabal‘s focused on achieving inner peace, they've got the highest factol turnover rate of any faction. (Several ex-factols are said to be still alive and functioning - if those terms truly apply to the insane - in the darkest cells of the Gatehouse.)
Although modern-day Bleakers still contract the Grim Retreat now and again (mostly because of the pressures and tensions of living in the teeming City of Doors], the faction's learned a thing or two about mental health over the centuries. The success rate of patients' recovery is now quite high. The faction also tries too keep the number of Bleakers stable, currently maintaining a registered membership of some 10,000 beings in Sigil, though a considerably larger population inhabits Pandemonium (the Madmen's primary plane of influence]. Lhar's been factol for approximately three years now, and he's determined to maintain the policies established by the previous factols - mostly because they seem to work. It's been over 30 years since a mass Grim Retreat, and the number of Madmen seeking voluntary commitment in the Mad Bleaker wing of the Gatehouse has dropped dramatically.
Part of this good fortune stems from the Bleak Cabal taking a greater interest in Sigil. Oddly, of all the factions in the Cage, the Bleakers are arguably the most charitable. Why do they like to help others? Some no doubt find relief in caring for sods worse off than they are; a few Bleakers even suffer from messiah complexes and want to save the world from madness and death. But most just figure that by doing good works, they'll move closer to finding the true meaning that lies within. And besides, expanding the faction's presence and influence in Sigil is never a bad thing.
More than a century ago they opened up an almshouse in their faction headquarters, helping to care for the poor and lost. It still operates today, along with small soup kitchens throughout the city. These places of safe haven are open to a body in need of a warm meal, regardless of race or creed. And if the sod happens to be a Bleaker, he and his cutters can get a cot in a back room for a night. The Fraternity of Order, the Harmonium, and the Mercykillers all view such concern for the welfare of the city‘s poor with something other than a compassionate eye. These lawful fations've had their run-ins with the Bleak Cabal in the past and they're suspicious of the Madmen's motives.
Most of those who work at the kitchen're content to simply dish out food, but one Bleaker in particular's quite well known for always having a joke or a good word to pass on - which is probably why other faction members think he's gone over the edge. Fact is, his real name - if he ever had one - has long been lost, and folks just call him "Addle-pated," or "Addle" for short.
Factol LharLhar was horn in the Hive, the worst part of Sigil, to a blind human father and an orc mother. His parents came to the Cage seeking only acceptance; his mother's grotesque appearance made them outcasts on their Prime Material world. They found that acceptance, but it didn't put food on their table. To make matters worse, shortly after Lhar's twelfth birthday, his mother became pregnant again. The couple couldn't care for a newborn and a fast-growing adolescent, so they turned Lhar over to the orphanage at the Gatehouse. the establishment where d e family'd received food and shelter in the past. Left at the entrance to the building, Lhar never saw his parents again. (Factol Lhar's sought his parents - to no avail - ever since.)
Even today, the Gatehouse is all that Lhar knows. He's intimately aware of every squarefoot of the structure, having spent many hours as a child roaming the gray-slated halls. Aghast at the growing squalor of the Hive surrounding the Gatehouse, Lhar realised the increasing need for expanded facilities and more faction members to help run the headquarters. As such, he's planning to build an additional wing jutting out of the hack of the Gatehouse to house more orphans and indigents. Further, he's planning the potentially risky maneuver of increasing membership in the faction. History shows the strong possibility of triggering another Grim Retreat in the Cabal, but Lhar hopes to stagger the influxes and somehow avoid the trauma of past increases.
Lhar's set up soup kitchens in the other wards (all of which are considerably richer than the Hive] in the hope of gaining donations, for the proposed wing will cost considerably more than what's in the Bleakers' coffers. Likewise, he's creating his network of Madmen to understand more of the political nature of Sigil; to often in the past, Bleakers‘ve turned a blind eye to events influencing the other factions. Lhar wants to he prepared for any event, and he wants to understand the forces moving throughout the Cage. He's struggling to keep his faculties together long enough to raise the jink necessary for the wing's construction. Once it's finished, bar plans to succumb to the Grim Retreat.
Unlike his predecessors, however, Lhar intends on returning to his position as factol - something never before accomplished in Madman history. To thd end, he's promoted four bloods in his, faction, in the hopes that they'll help see him through his coming madness.
The central part of the Gatehouse is a tall, semicimular, roofless tower with numerous sprawling wings attached to it. The Bleakers admit to adapting their faction symbol from a design inlaid in the tiled floor of the tower. (Who or what the tiled pattern represented has been lost in the millennia; the Gatehouse is an ancient structure, even by planar standards. The Madmen derive a certain ironic serenity from using an empty symbol in a world where nothing means anything.) The entry to the building looks like nothing more than a giant portcullis, but the steel bars are fully 5 feet in diameter. Scholars have long speculated on what the former inhabitants could've wanted so desperately to keep out. The size of the gate makes it impossible to move. However, the gaps between the bars are 15 feet apart, wide enough to allow the thronging poor and the lost inside.
During the last hundred years or so, the Gatehouse has been opened up to the indigent Outside the headquarters, sods without a coin to their name line the street, waiting for their turn to enter. They're looking for a hot meal and a bed for a few days before having to return to their slums, and they can usually find it in the Almshouse wing of the asylum. But the Gatehouse also holds an orphanage and several different wings for those whose minds have snapped. Many sad parents wait in line with children they can no longer care for, ready to hand them over to the orphanage, and just as many tearful children wait to commit their aging, addle-coved parents to a mental health wing.
Sad fact is, most of the folks who wait patiently to enter the doors are mentally ill. Some seek treatment on their own; others are brought hy caretakers as a last resort. The Cabal tries to accommodate everyone, but it can only let in 50 sods each day, regardless of which wing they're directed to. The rest must wait outside, the line of those seeking admittance snaking down the Bedlam Run and hack into the Hive. Some parties wait weeks before finally getting inside the tower. Even if a body only wants to ask a Bleaker a few questions, waiting in line is the only way most sods ever get into the Gatehouse. An impatient berk could swap places in line with someone who's been waiting longer - for the right price. Faction members and friendly high-ups get in without having to wait. A sharp cutter'll realize that the constant stream of desperate bodies outside of the Gatehouse attracts knights of the cross-trade faster than razorvine brings the dabus. Many berks who need muscle for shadyjobs here and there just flash a hit of jink, and a dozen hungry sods from the line'll scramble to sign up. And there's plenty of peelers looking to cheat a dimwitted body out of his last copper piece. Most of the criminals who prey on the folks in line come from the Gatehouse Night Market, an underworld bazaar a few blocks deeper into the Hive where the right price'll buy secrets, stolen property, or even slaves.
'Course, that's not to say that the criminal element is all a body'll find near the Gatehouse. Bleaker artists canvas the long line of sods, boldly sharing the sour fruits of their introspection with the masses. The atmosphere outside the asylum is often that of a funereal circus, with the latest anguished poems, elegant dirges, and gloomy stunts all battling for a spectator's eye. If a body shows any interest, one of the "Bleakniks" (as they're called) will most likely take him back to an artist's tavern or cafe a few blocks away, there to beg his sponsorship or simply discuss the great Cabalist poets of the last hundred years. Indeed, a pub called The Weary Head is a well-known gathering place for Bleakniks of every artistic persuasion.
The central tower of the Gatehouse houses the faction's bureaucratic offices, as well as the living quarters of various high-up officials: Facto1 Lhar resides on the fifth floor. Folks who've waited in line are ushered into the open area behind the huge portcullis for processing. Half a dozen Bleakers are posted here each day, answering questions and directing those in need of help to the right wing (only fellow Bleakers are allowed into the faction quarters). Sods being admitted to the asylum are separated from their caretakers and sent to another Bleaker hovering nearby, who escorts the new inmate to the proper wing. Only the processing rooms located in the first floor of the tower are open for public viewing; the upper floors of the tower are for Bleakers only.
Lhar's promoted four Bleakers - Ezra, Tessali, Tyvold, and Sruce - to the high-up status of factor; the four are second only to Lhar himself. They serve as administrators in the Gatehouse, each overseeing one of e four wings.
The scholar Ezra runs the Almshouse wing. He regulates the number of beings who're let in each day, how long they're allowed to stay, and what work [if any) they must perform in exchange for the charity. The conditions in Ezra's wing are often cramped, dirty, and squalid. He's woefully understaffed, having only a handful of helpers at the Gatehouse - most of the Bleakers in his jurisdiction are out in Sigil operating the kitchens. In times of great need, Ezra can cram upwards of 3,000 homeless sods in his wing, though that leaves virtually no room for sleeping or moving about in the small (20-foot by 20-foot) quarters.
Tessali and Tyvold are elven cousins from Arborea. Their most important contribution thus far to the Bleakers' treatment philosophy was a mazelike, walled garden to the hack of the Gatehouse. Greenery's a bit rare in Sigil, but the Gatehouse has a full-time staff of 40 members tending the grounds and fighting off razorvine.
Tessali's got the formidable job of trying to control the agressive berks in the Criminally and Irretrievably Insane wing. The barmies confined to these tight (5 feet by 15 feet) quarters are truly the worst of Sigil, and it's mostly their screams that passersby hear throughout the day. The two-story wing can hold 188 patients in individual rooms. Unfortunately, it's currently full to capacity and then some, with many rooms holding two berks each. Because these inmates are the ones most likely to by to escape from the Gatehouse, they're allowed to exercise only in the two walled courtyards at the ends of the main wings, and then only under heavy guard.
Tyvold has perhaps the easiest area to govern: the Orphanage and Insane Asylum wing. He has a staff of 45 Bleakers, but Tyvold's never at a loss for new assistants. Many cutters who join the Bleak Cabal have a deep interest in mental health and in healing others, though few have the courage to apprentice in Tessali's wing, and apprenticeship to Sruce is by invitation only. Furthermore, each of the three floors in Tyvold's wing is, for the most part, a large, open space, which makes cleaning and observation easy. The top floor is earmarked for Sigil's orphans, children age 14 and younger. The bottom two floors are devoted to mentally ill folks who're expected to recover, given a little time and treatment.
The wizard Sruce is in charge of the five-story Mad Bleaker wing, the area that houses faction members in the throes of the Grim Retreat. She's originally from Krynn, though she didn't venture onto the planes until her fiftieth year. Now 70 years old, only her haunting eyes betray what she's seen and endured the past two decades. The pressure to heal the mad Bleakers and return them to their duties is enormous, but Sruce does what she can. The wing contains 280 barren cells, each 10 feet by 10 feet, though currently only three floors hold Cabalists struggling to regain their minds. Sruce lets out the extra rooms to travelers. Bleakers stay for free, but others must pay 10 gold pieces per day - and take a solemn vow never to discuss the odd sounds heard at night.
The cells are by no means luxury accommodations, as they're meant for Bleakers who feel they're truy going insane. Fact is, each cell contains only an old straw pallet for bedding. The outside of the windows are lined with bars, the inside with black, dilapidated shutters that always remain closed. (Among the Hive children, it's a mark of bravery to run up to one af these windows and try to peek through the cracks in the shutters)
When a Bleaker commits himself to the wing (or is taken there by friends), one of Sruce's staff escorts him to the nearest unoccupied cell and closes the ironbound door, locking it with a heavy steel bar. A metal shutter slides into place across the door, cutting off all light and life. How long the Bleaker chooses to remain there - forgoing all food and drink, in a state of transcendent despair - is up to him. A number have died in their cells, never finding the strength to grasp the faction's code. Most, however, cry out their reaffirmation of the Bleaker philosophy, even as they collapse from starvation or dehydration. A staff member finds the fallen sod sooner or later. If be's not dead, his door's left open by the worker so the Bleaker can later stumble away on his own. But if the Bleaker looks bad, he's taken to an upper floor and tended to until he's well enough to leave. (The faction forbids its members to discuss the Mad Bleaker wing with anyone other than fellow Madmen.)
Fact is, no matter which wing they're taken to, most folks eventually leave the Gatehouse fully recovered. But they all keep mum about their treatment, saying only that the Bleakers were "kind" to them.
Within the Ranks
The question often arises as to why any Bleaker would bother to join a party of adventurers or undertake any sort of quest in the first place. Wouldn't it be easier to remain in Sigil and perform charitable works to ease the pain and suffering of others, as well as one's own? Wouldn't it be more fitting to lie in bed all day and refuse to show interest in anything the world bas to offer?
Perbaps, but a true Madman welcomes his duty to embrace the pain of life, wrestle with the demons of insanity, and emerge the stronger for it all. For the same reason why the Cabal endures the tormenting winds of Pandemonium, so do Bleakers set out on adventures - the madness of it all moves a cutter farther along on the path toward selfawareness. After all, the faction's core belief says that a body's got to find meaning within bimself, but such meaning can't come without first experiencing the intrinsic folly of the rest of the multiverse. Exploring the ruins of a castle or escorting an infant prince across a desert won't mean much to a Bleaker other than what be can take away from it - how the experience can help him look inward and find truth.
A Bleaker doesn't dwell on treasure the way other adventurers often do, but that doesn't mean be won't take his fair share. He'll hold on to it, prepared to spend it in whatever fashion he thinks best - perhaps to bolster a struggliig orphanage or aid a sage's medical studies toward relieving mental illnesses. But if he can't think of a suitable use for a pile of jink, a Bleaker just might leave it where it lies - one of the many reasons why other factions call them Madmen.
Of course , all of this assumes that a Bleaker's made his daily saving throw against the futility of existence. A Bleaker must roll ld20 at the start of each game day. A result of 20 means the sod‘s thrown into a fit of melancholia, overcome by the pointlessness of life. He won't take any actions unless his comrades can provide a convincing philosophical argument as to why be should bother. Demonstrating that the action will relieve the Bleaker's depression may work, as might appealing to the sods charitable inclinations. However, the mere sight of a friend being menaced by a monster isn't enough to rouse a Bleaker who's failed his daily roll. What's more, a Madman who is role-played to the hilt is likely to steel himself against arguments that his cutters throw at him repeatedly, forcing them to come up with new and better reasons for the Bleaker to take action.
A Bleaker's daily roll can get him into trouble in other ways, though. A roll of 1 indicates a state of manic euphoria. The character's overcome with flights of fancy and free association, and he's likely to believe that he's some sort of a messiah. Fortunately, this only lasts for one day. To role-play this manic state of mind effectively, a player can speak very quickly, jump from one thought to another without logic, and respond to everything he hears by word association.
Bleakers can be of any alignment save lawful. Lawfully aligned characters can't stomach the basic premise of the Cabal, that the multiverse doesn't make sense, for without sense there's no order. However, further distinctions of alignment seldom trouble Bleakers. "Good" and "evil" aren't necessarily the standard definitions to Madmen; instead, they prefer "sanity" and "insanity." The thin line that separates these extremes for any given Bleaker is often a faint one, blurred by tying to live and keep at bay a body's inner demons. A member of the Cabal can be quite sane one day, and a fortnight later he in the throes of a depression bordering on true insanity. It's all a matter of outlook.
Similarly, Bleakers of opposite alignments can work well together despite clashing viewpoints. If the factol assigns two Bleaken to tend the soup kitchens near the Foundry, they will. The chaotic evil fellow will dish up broth with as much speed and determination as his chaotic good partner, though his heart may not be as gladdened by the deed. The two Bleakers have a far more primal urgency to deal with - their own internal struggle for sanity. At one point or another, all Madmen share the pain inherent to their faction, and not even alignment can separate two Bleakers who know the terrors the other has endured.
Intelligent characters - notably wizards, priests, bards, and other classes with scholarly inclinations - are particularly attracted to the Bleak Cabal, with its emphasis on the mental over the physical. Thieves and fighters can also join the faction, but these classes typically do so later in life. Perhaps a warrior sees too much killing, or a highwayman spends too many years on the run - whatever the case, the burden of life takes its toll and sends him a bit off the edge. Their haunted pasts drive them to even greater acts of sacrifice and compassion.
In game terms, this means that all Bleaker fighters and thieves of 10th level or above must turn over 50% of all treasure gained to a local charity (most likely the soup kitchens run hy the Cabal, but not always). By trying to soothe their consciences in this manner, these characters receive some measure of relief from despair. Interestingly, these characters gain one extra Charisma point for every 2 levels they rise (regardless of their racial limitations), to a maximum Charisma of 25. An aura of beneficence surrounds these characters, even if their physical appearances are displeasing; they're looked on with great favor and often considered genuine heroes by folks in Sigil. When a Bleaker's Charisma score reaches 25, he's automatically granted the best possible outcome in any meeting with those of opposing viewpoints - a Harmonium patrol won't even scrag the Madman for jaywalking.
Bleaker MembershipAt first, it seems like joining the Bleak Cabal's as easy as stepping through a portal. A body's just got to decide that he wants to be a member and then make his decision known to any Bleaker, whether at the Gatehouse, in a soup kitchen, or on the howling plane of Pandemonium. But then comes the initiation period, which tend to break most berks. The Bleaker's response to the applicant won't be mcu more than a grunt or a shrug of the shoulders. He won't explain what to do, where to go, or anything of the sort - the sod's on his own. Oh, he can tag along with the Bleaker he's attached himself to and continue to struggle for acceptance, but the Madman'll try to ignore the sod and may even try to talk him out of joining. Most berks change their minds in the face of such repeated disinterest or downright antagonism. But those whose hearts are truly bleak, whose will is such that they persevere, eventually get accepted into the faction as namers. Typically, this initiation period lasts from six months to one year. A sod who makes it through the initiation has to drop his last name or family name; all members of the Cabal are known only by their given name. It‘s a sign of their willingness to give up a life of past "meaning".
Those who perswere and make it into the faction find themselves with a number of special powers tied to their beliefs. First of all, Bleakers are immune to all madness-inducing spells such as chaos, confusion, delude, feeblemind,Otto's irresistible dance, and Tasha's uncontrollable hideous laughter. They're also allowed a saving throw vs. spell against all ESP spells directed at them.
What's more, Bleakers are naturally immune to certain psionic abilities, including ego whip, psychic crush, and psychic surgery. And once a faction member reaches 7th level, be gains an ability that's a natural extension of his own immunity: the power to absorb artificially induced madness in others. This power works on sods driven insane by spells or magical items, but not on those who've gone insane natually. To use the power, a Bleaker must first meditate for one hour, cleansing hismind of all thoughts. [This is often impossible. A Bleaker's got a 15% chance of failure; if he fails, he can try only one more time to cleanse his mind for the same victim.) The insane berkss got to hold still, either voluntarily or otherwise, and the Bleaker then begins a ritualistic massage of the victim's head. The massage must be kept up until the barmy's body grows numb,at which point the insanity is absorbed by the Bleaker. The process is exhausting, taking ld12+4 hours to complete. If the ritual is interrupted, the Bleaker must start over; otherwise, success is guaranteed and the victim regains full mental health immediately. However, the Madman'll suffer mental anguish for twi days afterward, during which time he sorts out the absorbed insanity.
Course, members of the Cabal have to endure a few setbacks along with their new abilities. The most immediate problem is the daily ld20 roll against futility. A Bleaker who fails the roll three days in a row (or five days during a single month) may be considered for incarceration in the Mad Bleaker wing of the Gatehouse. 'Course, it's up to him whether or not he wants to commit himself to the asylum. But if he chooses to postpone or forgo the trip, he faces the possibility of extended madness - the very next time his daily ld20 roll results in either a 1 or a 20, the Bleaker immediately goes insane and will remain in that condition until he's taken to the Gatehouse for treatment. What's more, the player must make the roll secretly, so other players won't automatically know if the Bleaker's gone mad. While insane, the Bleaker may wander off if left alone, may try to lead his group into trouble, won't be able to take direction or cast spells, and won't make a distinction between enemies and friends in combat.
Any faction member who enters the Mad Bleaker wing for treatment is allowed as much time as he needs to recover, receiving the care (such as it is) of Sruce and her workers. Only one of three things can happen.
- The Bleaker dies in his cell. There's a base 10% chance of death; for each CON point above 14, the chance is reduced by 1%.
- After much soul searching, the Bleaker returns to his faith in the Cabal and is released. He won't be subject to extreme melancholia for the next six months of game time.
- If the Bleaker neither dies nor reaffirms his faith, his will to live is shattered by the horrirs within his mind and the weakened physical condition broughton by inaction. He can do nothing to escape, nor can he intimate to anyone that he wants to escape.
Even if a Bleaker keeps making his daily 1d20 roll and never goes insane, he still faces a greater drawback to belonging to the faction. All members of the Bleak Cabal suffer from a shortened life span, as years of living with madness an dmelancholia eventually take their toll. For humans and tieflings, this penalty is relatively minor; a subtraction of 10 years from a character's expected life span. Halflings lose 20 years, while gnomes and half-elves lose 50 years. Full-blooded elves are the hardest hit, losing 100 to 200 years. (Oddly enough, dwarven and bariaur Bleakers suffer no ill effects.) 'Course, many faction members see this as not a curse, but a blessing. Think about it - who'd want to live long in a multiverse that didin't make sense?