The Seven Bees
A Greed-Driven Organization for GURPS Horror and Cabal Campaigns
by Michele Armellini
Shadows Of The Past
The first hazy references to the Seven Bees hark back to Orphic Mysteries. Then, they remained unmentioned for centuries, but they were active under other names and cover groups, which is their standard modus operandi. The symbol of the Seven Bees is first described in connection with a palace that was razed down by crusaders in Constantinople in 1204. The symbol consisted then in six stylized golden bees on a white background, arrayed in three lines forming a wedge: the lower line with three bees, the middle with two, the upper with just one. The total is six, yet the building was known as "the Palace of the Seven Bees."
This apparent contradiction might be explained by an obscure reference Aleister Crowley reportedly made in 1905, stating that "The bees you see bring their golden gift, but the seventh bee, the one you don't see, brings the sting." This was just a casual comment, reported by an acquaintance; Crowley never put anything in writing about the bees.
A lucky researcher might unearth a letter mentioning "the bees, one of them an important Italian merchant" as providers of rare alchemical ingredients for Paracelsus in 1540. Also, a French diarist reports that Jacques Thibault, a discussed scientist, was about to publish a booklet about "L'Ordre des Sept Abeilles" in 1792, but he lost the manuscript, together with all his belongings, in a fire.
There are other oblique references scattered throughout history, and there's a pattern. They emerge as an unwanted consequence of some accident; and they quickly become dead ends -- often literally. Coincidentally (or not), Paracelsus was murdered within a year from penning that letter, and Thibault was ruined, discredited and interned.
What's Going On
Magic exists. Monsters exist. Apparently, a monsters' secret organization, called the Cabal, also exists. This might be an all-powerful far-reaching global conspiracy, or just a beleaguered mutual-aid society among freaks. The individual monster's main objective is probably just survival, which is understandable (but no less scary if the guy lives on human blood). What is known about their Cabal seems to imply that the organization is primarily interested in knowledge and power, but also in utter secrecy . . . which may be a limiting factor to the other two concerns. In a way, that's good for the ordinary humans. Indeed, we humans may believe in the history of the world as we know it only because those wizards have hunted knowledge for knowledge's sake and largely coveted it without using it too much. Similarly, those elder vampires mostly use their fearsome power among themselves. So, we can carry on with our short, petty lives (as long as we aren't unlucky enough to become snacks).
But there are beings that don't think that knowledge is power. To them, knowledge is wealth. It is a commodity, and the world is their market. They are the beings of the Seven Bees.
This incredibly ancient, self-serving, ruthless organization never wasted time in theoretical pursuits, nor played power games. They were out to make a profit, and they did it.
Just like the most powerful Cabalists, the top-ranking members of the Seven Bees realized long ago that immortality was the highest prize. They also saw that this kind of quest would be incredibly expensive. So wealth became their requisite tool; and the wealthier they became, the more they understood that their riches meant nothing if they couldn't enjoy them -- forever. So wealth was soon both a means and a motive.
Some of those beings have now achieved something closely resembling immortality; unbelievable longevity, or, in some cases, undeath. But the research for the real thing continues.
Long ago, the secret masters of the Seven Bees established that occult knowledge could be applied to very mundane business, yielding a significant edge over those who were in the dark. This approach is nothing dramatic, and it can stoop as low as wizards or psychokinetics using their arts to cheat casinos; something a lofty Cabalist would hardly consider. Yet, this is probably the most profitable business line, providing steady, safe, and huge incomes day in, day out.
At the other end of the range, the Seven Bees will tackle an elder demon or challenge a vampire lord for their customers . . . if the price is right. There are six known business lines. Each is traditionally entrusted to one of the Six Hives (see below for more details).
A key tenet of the Cabal is secrecy. The less humans know about the occult, the better. Cabalists actively promote our ignorance. This is why we believe that ghosts are the stuff of tales.
The Seven Bees, however, are a commercial enterprise, and as such, they need publicity. The customers must be informed about their services and products! So, the Seven Bees routinely break the rule of silence. They don't do this foolishly; since their prices are outrageous, only a very limited circle can afford them, so there would be no reason to advertise the existence of vampires during prime time. Yet, they do let a few chosen ordinary humans know much too much.
So They Can't Be Cabalists
At least they cannot be faithful Cabalists, not being interested in maintaining the secret at all costs. It is perfectly possible that Cabalists, even high-ranking ones, are members of the Seven Bees, too. Having infiltrated the Cabal upper ranks would prove invaluable, and the Seven Bees probably have done just that.
So, this organization divulges the Cabal's most important secrets for gain, and, maybe, it has also infiltrated the Cabal itself. These are reasons for the Cabalists to become deadly enemies of the Seven Bees, if they are ever discovered. The Bees are well aware of the danger, therefore they enforce secrecy, but about themselves, not about the occult. Indeed, the organization works only through a labyrinthine network of fronts, cover companies, puppets and cut-outs. To this day, most Cabalists have never heard about the Seven Bees.
Of course, during the centuries, the Cabal happened to discover there were individuals, or small groups, bent on disclosing too much . . . and they dealt with these threats, swiftly and covertly. But they just struck the Seven Bees' outer layer.
The organization layout resembles a cross between the typical "onion" of cults, and the cell-like structure used by spooks. The skin of the onion is made of "blind contacts." These are individuals, companies, or organizations that serve as conduits to the customers. All but the most experienced and gifted contacts don't know who they are working for. Their task is to canvass potential customers and to accept inquiries; if the customer is wealthy and his problem has anything to do, even remotely, with the occult, they will refer to their "controllers." They'll do that by means of complex, secure procedures whose purpose is to prevent the contacts from getting to know too much, thus becoming able to betray their controllers. Once a business gets going, the contact will know nothing more about it; he will pocket his hefty commission and never ask questions. The contacts often have no occult knowledge whatsoever; many of them are encouraged to think they are just part of a fraud.
The next layer is made by many independent "fronts": companies, societies, or lodges that apparently do business on their own. They can range from an import-export company with offices all over the world, to a small three-person private-eye firm, to some sort of blandly occultist lodge. The fronts are better informed than the contacts. At the very least, their personnel know that some very weird things may happen in their business line; often, the owners or managers (the contacts' controllers) have a basic awareness of occult things. While the contacts only evaluate the potential customer's wealth, the fronts' first task is a rough estimate of the customer's requirements; they prepare a preliminary investigation, a feasibility study, and a tentative budget. Many relatively mundane transactions are entirely carried out by fronts. In other cases, the business at hand may be managed as separate tasks. If a customer needs dragon's blood, for instance, the front will take care of the commercial end and of a safe delivery; but the actual procurement will be entrusted to the next layer. A front's manager will have a safe way of contacting his supervisor.
The middle layer of the onion is made by surprisingly small "operative teams." They step in when the going gets tough. Each team is made by hand-picked, experienced, and/or very gifted individuals; most teams have one or two specializations. The team members do know that vampires exists. Indeed, a few of them are vampires. While still having a lot to learn about the occult, they are players to be reckoned with. They get utterly secret, sensitive, but relatively non-dangerous jobs, and after a while they consider them as routine; and they often get terribly dangerous, albeit very profitable, missions.
Each member also serves as supervisor for several fronts. They are paid very handsomely, but they also run terrible risks (death often being the preferable outcome when things go bad), and they spend a lot of time training.
At this level, references to the bees reappear, even though nobody ever says "the Seven Bees." For instance, "bringing home the nectar" means accomplishing the mission. Most importantly, each team's inner-level contact is called "the queen bee." Some teams have a closer relationship with their queen bee than what would be best for security. On the other hand, the queen bee isn't just a boss for the team members; she's a mentor, teacher, trainer and confidant. Wise queen bees, however, always keep their real identity a well-guarded secret.
The inner structure is made up of the "families," or "hives." They all have a network of queen bees, apparently each one controlling no more than a couple of operative teams. Most queen bees are female beings; the organization believes that they are usually more pragmatic than males, who more often tend to wander off the profit-making and into worthless speculations or dreams of absolute power.
However, the exact structure of the hives beyond the queen bees is a secret. Possibly, there is another inner circle, the real owners of the hive; or maybe the queen bees are actually the ultimate leaders. Another possibility is that each Hive is a law unto itself. For instance, the Paoli Hive is said to have a Leader of Leaders, while the Hans seem to be run by a family board.
It is rumored that apart from the Six Hives listed below, there is a Seventh Hive -- the unseen one. It is probably tasked with troubleshooting, and it may be something of an "internal affairs department." Maybe it also takes care of the overall secrecy of the organization, and of settling inter-hive disputes. Nobody within the organization seems happy to speak about the Seventh Hive.
The Six Known Hives
Each of the Six Hives has its specializations and peculiarities.
HQ in Tokyo, major offices in Hong Kong, Taipei, New York, London
The Hans specialize in "applied thaumatology." This actually means practical uses of the occult, like the cheat-the-casino jig mentioned above, which made the Hans the richest family. Every day, relatively simple forecasts about the stock markets' fluctuations earn the Han Hive incredible amounts of money; some nice earnings also go to those savvy customers who chose their front companies as brokers. Insider trading, development plans, scientific research, political campaigning, every mundane endeavor can greatly benefit from foreknowledge, a little probability juggling, basic alchemy, supernatural influencing and so on. Also, customers availing themselves of expert consultants won't build tourist resorts on inter-dimensional fault lines.
The Hans' unofficial motto is "less nonsense, more business"; they solve problems by buyouts. They are maybe the least secretive of the Hives, and indeed more details are known about them than about all other families . . . unless it isn't all disinformation. For instance, it is known that they are indeed a "family" vaunting a common Chinese ancestral origin, and that they are mostly human mages, but willing to "adopt" gifted beings.
HQ in Dipkarpas (Northern Cyprus), major offices in Beirut, Cairo, Istanbul, London
The Mabrouk family deals with "collectors' items." They are the traders of the organization, and they own a network of import-export, shipping, and wholesale front companies. They will buy and sell anything that's very valuable, from mundane diamonds, uranium, narcotics, arms, and priceless artworks, to occult objects such as alchemic ingredients, a copy of the Necronomicon, or actual magical items. The Mabrouks are great collectors themselves, and known for their artistic whims. Apparently the core of the Hive is made not by one, but by a few very ancient dynasties . . . including vampire lineages and werewolf clans. There seems to be much infighting within the Hive. Some priceless artworks that disappeared throughout history are sure to be found in the Mabrouks' vaults.
One of the families is rumored to be British, and to have infiltrated the Cabal's secret library within the British Library, in London. When encountering difficulties, they prefer the indirect approach: finding the subject's weak spot, or secret desire, distracting him with diversionary tactics, or confusing him by decoys.
HQ in Los Angeles. Major offices in Chicago, Washington, Paris
The Barretts' bread and butter is "pest control." They can sanitize haunted houses, cauterize infestations from the Abyss, and close demonic gates. They are the ones to call if one really needs anti-vampire bodyguards or anti-werewolf foresters. Of course, in certain jobs the best defense is the offense; so the Barrett Hive are considered as dangerous competitors by the Paolis, below.
The Barretts are somewhat looked down upon as the newcomers, and indeed most of them are less than 150 years old. They make up with efficiency and flexibility for what they lack in traditional clout; one can never know what to expect from a Barrett. They are very meritocratic, too, at every level.
HQ location unknown, but with fortress bases in Sicily, Corsica, Algeria; it has major offices in New York, Moscow, Shangai
They take care of "active measures" (centuries ago, the term used was "scourge"). Ordinary killers sometimes aren't enough, especially if your enemy is supernaturally endowed. For the proper consideration, the Paolis will enter assassination contracts for anyone. "Search and destroy" missions are also a mainstay. But this Hive makes its greatest profit out of kidnapping; and their underground shelters have facilities for detaining terribly powerful entities.
The Paolis are notoriously paranoid, and they believe that any problem can be solved with a secret murder (or more); their trademark is a seemingly accidental death. Therefore, very little is known about them. Certainly they seem to focus on exceptionally gifted humans; very few undead and monsters made it into their clique. They may be less refined than other Hives, but they are considered the most dangerous one . . . not counting the Seventh, of course.
HQ in London, offices in all continents
The Hood Hive supports "free enterprise." They specialize in grand, long-term projects, contracted by filthy rich but mundane customers. If an incredibly wealthy eccentric lacking occult knowledge of his own wants the Holy Grail, his best bet is to fund the Hoods (as of now, they are carrying out exactly that quest, for three separate customers; they have been, it must be said, for more than three centuries). Building a Place of Power, locating and exploiting a Ley Line, creating magical items -- the Hoods have done all of this. It is rumored that in special cases they are not above keeping the final results for themselves, instead of delivering them to the paying customer.
The Hoods are eccentric snobs and somewhat less pragmatic than the other Hives. They seem to have an inner structure that replicates the outer one, with further layers, their queen bees being little more than team leaders. Most of them have little or nothing in common with mankind, which makes them the natural opponents of the Paolis. Their modus operandi is trickery and deception, but they aren't averse to elegant, deadly set-ups. Silvery, hooded capes are their trademark clothing, and when push come to shove, a foe will often find there's nothing under the cape.
A split HQ between Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro, with offices everywhere
This hive provides "health services." Needless to say, their ultimate objective is immortality. But meanwhile, lots of rich old men would pay a lot for just a few years more, and they are the ideal customers: the Silva can milk them for as long as they can keep them alive. They have a multi-disciplinary approach, using mundane medicine, advanced transplanting, genetic meddling, clonation experiments, magic, alternate-dimension storage, memory banks, and, as a last resort, vampirism. The Silva charity clinics throughout South America provide plenty of nameless organ, blood, gene and body donors.
This Hive seems to be the less structured, possibly being just a loose federation of groups (maybe directly led by the queen bees); their scope is very limited, but they assume it's the most important venture within the organization. They come through as really self-confident and they know that what they can offer is interesting for almost anybody. Sometimes, enemies of this hive discover they have a rare disease that only the Silva can cure . . .
The Mabrouks often say that the other Hives are the best customers, and the worst. Indeed, security and secrecy aren't such an issue when offering your services to another Hive; but they will expect favorable prices, and won't be easily fooled.
So it is mostly tough but ongoing business. Everybody will tend to offer their specialty. It wouldn't be uncommon for a Hood project to be bankrolled by a Han-controlled bank and protected by a Barrett-sponsored security firm, possibly under supervision by a Barrett team. Of course both the Hans and the Barretts might want not just money, but also a share of the outcome. Fringe products and fringe areas will bear competition. For instance, a paramilitary task might be carried out both by the Paolis and the Barretts, and they are more likely to vie for such a contract if it is to take place, say, in Chile, where they both lack local offices.
Competition may sometimes turn nasty. Each Hive will usually play the game in its own ways, and, initially, the ones to lose will probably be the pawns of both sides: contacts and fronts, and no queen bee will cry for them. If the conflict escalates, an arbitrator will usually be needed; in some cases this may be a panel jointly appointed by the interested Hives, or by all Six; but in similar cases, the Seventh Hive is rumored to have barged in, too. In the past, queen bees who went overboard in a inter-Hive dispute happened to disappear.
Patrons, Duties And Enemies
A Hive is an extremely powerful Patron, with unusual powers and reach. Its basic value is 40 points. It might provide equipment (+5/+10 points, see p. B24). For anybody below the level of operative teams, a Hive would be a Secret Patron (p. CI28, -5 points), taking great care to cover its traces, and it would only appear rarely (roll of 6 or less on three six-sided dice, halved cost). Note that a Secret Patron may well not really care for the characters, and this is only too true of the attitude of a Hive towards lowly contacts and fronts.
Queen bees and operative agents may also see, rarely, the intervention of their Hive in a Patron role, but it's not a secret for them. A controller or supervisor, a queen bee, or a faction within a Hive can also be Patrons (point value ranging from 10 to 25).
In any case, it would be perfectly possible that no Hive or queen bee ever acts as a Patron. They all tend to be coldly calculating bosses, ready to sacrifice their pawns.
The Seven Bees taken together can't be a Patron. The agendas of the various Hives are almost always conflicting, and seldom if ever they would unanimously help anybody.
Anyone working for the Seven Bees, either directly or indirectly, may well have a Duty (p. B39), also in the Extremely Hazardous form (p. CI78); the latter would especially apply to the operative agents.
A Hive can be an Enemy, worth -30 points. The Seven Bees as a whole are worth -40 points. They will appear rarely (halved value), unless somebody has something they really want. They will usually be Unknown Enemies (-5, p. CI77) for anybody not in the know about them, i.e., almost anyone. The Seventh Hive can also become a fearsome Enemy, always Unknown (basic value -45 points).
The Seven Bees And The Characters
PCs can serve the Seven Bees as unwary pawns, i.e. as contacts, for a low-power, high-paranoia campaign. They'll soon understand weird things are going on, but also that it would be safer not too ask too many questions; then they'll learn -- at their own cost -- that their employers have mighty enemies. They may soon find themselves on the run from powers they can barely conceive.
If the characters are mid-powered, they may start as operative agents; the party is one of the operative teams, the queen bee is the GM's mouthpiece. Better yet, the adventurers might start in one of the fronts: a private-eye firm, an occultist lodge. In this case, they know more than the iceberg's tip the average mundane citizen can see. They'll be gradually entrusted with more responsibility by their faceless supervisor, until they might be offered to become a team, or join one. The Hive they belong to may be chosen by the GM, taking into account the players' preferences; inter-Hive joint ventures can be used for a change.
For high-power campaigns, the characters are queen bees in the same Hive. There are their own teams to command (this probably rates as a group of Allies), and Hive agendas, backstabbing and politics to look after. They'll need to watch their backs against the Cabal, mundane busybodies, competitors from other Hives, and the dreaded Seventh Bee.
Of course, the Seven Bees may be used in a purely adversarial role, if the adventurers are Cabalists or mundane law-enforcement agents, or simply unwary researchers.
For the true maze-of-mirrors feel, the characters can be members of both the Cabal and the Seven Bees . . . but who are they double-crossing?
- Curiosity killed the cat (Supers, Horror, Cops). The characters are well-known adventurers who get a lot of exposure to unusual, weird situations. A mysterious "middleman" contacts them. He offers nice commissions if, when encountering "seemingly supernatural occurrences requiring intervention" they'll just step back and call him in (they'd be recruited as contacts, see above). The adventurers being their usual nosy selves, they might well snoop around the middleman . . . a dangerous choice. Or they might accept, but then they'll be devoured by curiosity. Will they go back to the potential customer they reported, and start asking questions?
- An offer we can't refuse (Horror). "Hi, Jack, it's me, got news from our Mister Smith. This time we're in it, big time. Yes, he'll employ us full-time, . . . wait till you see the cash he already gave me! Yeah, there's a catch, we can't go empty-handed . . . the Scepter of you-know-whom. OK, I know, you think it's jinxed, but don't forget Mister Smith is almost our only client by now, and he knows all of our little dirty secrets, too . . . ."
- First day on the job (Horror). The characters aren't beginners with the occult, but they aren't members of the Seven Bees, either . . . until now. A queen bee will lure them. She has had her team wiped out by the opposition, and she needs to react now. If the newbies are similarly defeated, not to worry: they knew nothing and were expendable, at least they'll have distracted the enemy. If they survive . . . well, they'll have proved they can be worth the effort of training them as a new team.
- We're not alone (Cabal). The characters are up-and-coming young Cabalists, and they are tasked with investigating on a company named "Spirit Busters." If it's not a fraud, the party should make sure they don't divulge serious secrets. It seems they do. So the party will take care of them. But they'll also uncover intriguing clues. The company was just a front. Who's out there, not in the Cabal, and knowing so much about spirits? And why a senior Cabalist is suddenly so interested in their investigation? And who booby-trapped their car?
- Ancient vaults (Swashbucklers, Age of Napoleon, Horror, Cabal). 1798. The French eagles are going to Egypt, and Napoleon will take the best French scientists and archaeologists with him! A Mabrouk search-and-retrieve team must infiltrate that scientific elite and see what they can plunder from the pharaohs' tombs. The Cabal is also present among those archaeologists. The Hood Hive is understandably interested in the pyramids. The local occult powers (the Djinns?) won't be friendly to all these invaders. Scimitars, muskets and illnesses provide more mundane dangers. And who knows what still guards those vaults?
- Pushing the envelope (Steampunk, Horror, Cabal, Victorian Age). 1899. It's a great age for anthropology, ethnology, and other less reputable research fields, and London is the heart of it all. Lord Ramsey, a hard-nosed British administrator, comes back from his colonial post, bringing with him a group of beings that, he claims, will "widen the concept of humanity." His claims immediately become the target of a racist campaign. He'll present his "findings" at a Royal Society meeting, in a week. If they survive; yesterday, Lord Ramsey's country manor was burnt down. But is he alone in this, or is there a shadowy sponsor? What are those beings, who are their enemies? And can the Seven Bees make a profit either way (or both)?
- Genetics is the key, is it? (Cliffhangers, Horror). 1934. Germany and the Soviet Unions are in friendly terms, formally. A German scientific expedition is leaving Tiflis for the highest Elbrus ranges, escorted by local guides, an advisor (a Communist Party official) and a military outfit for protection (the commander is a NKVD agent). The German scientists actually belong to the SS Ahnenerbe (ancestral heritage) department, tracking down the origins of the Aryan elite. But among them, there is a Silva team, interested in one aspect of the local genetic pool: longevity. There's a chieftain who still leads his men from horseback, and he's allegedly 92! Is this natural longevity, or . . . well, the other kind? The Silva researchers will need to keep their secret from both the Nazis and the Soviets; not that the warlike natives are particularly friendly with the Communists. The environment is forbidding, too. And what if there is another, competing expedition around?
- Ending the embargo (WWII, Supers, Alternate Earths, Time Travel). October, 1941. Luckily the Secret Service heeded the anonymous tip and kept the President elsewhere yesterday, while two bullet-proof winged beings attacked the White House. This is a job for the Barrett Hive, though the Secret Service won't be happy about sharing the responsibility, and the FBI must not get wind of the new bodyguards' special abilities. Were the attackers Japanese supers? The Cabal is said to be in cahoots with isolationist, conservative cliques, and those things might have been gargoyle-like golems. What if the attackers where from a Paoli operation? Of course they might come from anywhere -- or anywhen! Is there anybody who already knows what's going to happen in a couple of months? Is it true that the VP favors easing the oil embargo against the Japanese? Is the Han Hive siding with Japan?
Article publication date: April 30, 2004
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