Supporting Cast

The Duchess Of The Gulls

for GURPS Fourth Edition

by Phil Masters

Note: This character is designed for the "Alchemical Baroque" setting described in GURPS All-Star Jam 2004.

The Duchess of the Gulls dwells on a tiny, fairly remote island in the White Archipelago. Her name means terror to the sailors of those parts, as she and her gull-subjects are forever swooping down and raining storms and potent curses on passing ships, many of which have been wrecked as a result. She has even been known to assail villages on nearby islands, and the scope of her reign of fear seems slowly to be widening.

She is clearly a powerful witch, but the people of the Archipelago do not really think of her as human. Those few souls who have seen her well enough to describe her, and survived, say that she is dark as night, though always clad in robes white as snow, and her words are as strange and incomprehensible as her actions. Her subjects are clearly no ordinary gulls, and old folk huddled round the fires say that some flocks in those parts have always been odd, but until the Duchess came, a bare five years or so ago, they had never been so terrible.

The White King is now looking for brave souls to end this terror, and shrewd adventurers might wonder if they should learn more about the Duchess before they set out to deal with her; but the true story of her life is as obscure and strange as it is sad and human.


Many years ago, in a land far to the south, where the Southern Plains rise up to the rocky hills of the Solar Empire, a local witch took herself an apprentice, a clever young girl of useful talent. The girl learned fast, eventually matching her teacher, who by then was old and slow and toothless. However, the girl was less clever in love than she was in witchcraft, falling for the sunny smile of a local shepherd-lad who had broken several hearts before he came to her. She thought that no boy could possibly break a witch's heart, but there came a day when the shepherd-lad proved otherwise, saying unkind words to her before he went away whistling to tend his flock.

At his back, the girl grew terribly angry, and called upon powers that she had been told not to name, cursing the boy with ill-luck. That is not a good curse to suffer when you are tending sheep in a land of high cliffs and hard rocks; the boy was distracted by the petty troubles it brought him, and eventually slipped and fell and broke his neck. The girl had to pretend to herself that she was glad, but not show it to others.

The rest of the village guessed, though, and began to whisper behind her back, until she heard, and realized that she could never be happy there again. And so, she set out with certain souvenirs of her experiences, heading north, where, she had heard, the lands were as cold as a broken heart.

She did not mean to go terribly far north, but her heart had not been properly hardened yet, and several times, when she settled down somewhere for a while, some handsome foolish peasant lad or proud son of the gentry broke it again, and she would throw some curse, and set out before anyone could take revenge on her for that. By the time she had hardened her heart entirely, she had traveled beyond the edge of the land, out into the White Archipelago, where she at last found a place that was remote from the men she had come to hate.

She still found someone to talk to, mind; the island she had come to was occupied by a flock of gulls who were strange and interesting company, being in fact fairies who had settled here some years before in corporeal guise, and then forgotten, not only why they had done so, but much of their true nature. (They retained some supernatural power, however, being startlingly strong, and also able to call down strange fogs and create terror in the minds of mortals.) They had no interest in breaking her heart, and little in the mass of humanity, and so she liked them; they saw in her a kindred spirit, wild and cold and somewhat lost, and returned her friendship.

The girl, now a woman, settled into a very old, ruined fisherman's cottage on the island. The supplies that she had brought with her, along with her magic and the aid of her new friends, sustained her for a while, and she soon learned to fish and to gather food, but she really needed much more, especially when she began improving her new home and working on new magics. Having foresworn the company of her own kind, and locked her heart away from all human sympathy, it was not hard for her to decide to take what she needed in whatever ways were most convenient for her. She began flying off across the sea with a few gulls as company, seeking out human ships and small villages, driving away anyone who sought to guard them, and taking what she desired. She used magic and plunder to make her house more homely, and settled down to improve her powers and extend her knowledge. She never thinks of herself as a tyrant or a terror; she simply cares not at all what others think, or whether they live or die. The only reason that she is striking further afield is to acquire more and different supplies, and because ships have learned to avoid the close vicinity of her island.

Very occasionally, when the Duchess needs supplies which she cannot obtain any other way, she dons plain clothes, boards a small sailing boat, calls up a suitable wind, and, escorted by a gull or two, sails to a distant port on the mainland, where her reputation is more or less unknown, to trade. She never enjoys these journeys, which she keeps as short as possible, but she can endure them. Still, any ignorant man who annoys her enough while she is in these distant harbors is likely to be in bad trouble -- possibly along with anyone else on the same ship, if he is a sailor or a traveler.

Defeating the Duchess of the Gulls would be hard work, as her gulls will defend her with the screeching fury of seabirds, while her own magic and cunning are very considerable indeed. She might most likely be driven away, only to settle in some other place, and to begin once more seeking solitude and simple comfort -- however much destruction she must cause in the process.

Game Details

The Duchess and her gulls are detailed below using GURPS Fourth Edition, aside from her magic, which still necessarily references GURPS Magic and GURPS Spirits. (Similar rules should eventually appear in Fourth Edition supplements.)

Instead of "Alchemy (Potion-Brewing)," witches should now take Herb Lore skill (treating it as equivalent to Alchemy for the purpose of creating elixirs), which can never differ by more than 2 levels from their Ritual Magic (Witchcraft) skill, and which cannot exceed their Pharmacy (Herbal)/TL4 skill. Herb Lore can be used to analyse elixirs in this setting, but at -2 to analyse the products of Herb Lore, or -5 for the products of any version of Alchemy skill. References to Flight (Unwinged) skill should be replaced with Aerobatics.

Because TL5 is now considered to begin around 1730 A.D., and this setting is technologically similar to our world c.1700, the base TL is now considered to be late 4 (although a very few natural philosophers and clever artificers may have reached early TL5). Also, wealth does grant free Status.

The Duchess of the Gulls (423 points)

A stern if attractive woman with jet-black hair, swarthy skin, and green eyes, always dressed in plain white silks, and usually carrying a short walking-staff topped with a human skull. Age 32; 130 lbs.

ST 9 [-10]; DX 13 [60]; IQ 15 [100]; HT 13 [30]

Secondary Attributes: SM +0; Dmg 1d-2/1d-1; BL 16; HP 10 [2]; Will 15 [0]; Per 15 [0]; FP 13 [0]; Basic Speed 7 [10]; Basic Move 7 [0]; Dodge 10.

Social Background/Languages: TL 4 [0]; CF Known Lands Society [0]; Modern Golden Spoken (Native)/Written (Accented) [-1]; La Langue Spoken (Accented)/Written (Broken) [3]; Norderwerten Spoken (Accented)/Written (Accented) [4].

Advantages: Ally Group (Gulls: 20 51-point characters -- less than 25% of starting points, appear 15-) [24]; Attractive [4]; Deep Sleeper [1]; Filthy Rich [50]; High Pain Threshold [10]; Less Sleep 2 [4]; Mystic Symbol 3 [30]; Ritual Adept 1 [10]; Ritual Aptitude 5 [5]; Spirit Empathy (Specialized, Fairies, -50%) [5]; Status +1* [0].

*Free from Wealth. (Even her victims think of the Duchess as having high Status, thanks to her nickname, practical power, style of dress, and manner.)

Disadvantages: Bad Temper (15) [-5]; Callous [-5]; Delusion (All men are heartless seducers above all) [-5]; Enemy (Some lords of the White Archipelago and hireling adventurers, as a Large Group, Hunter, Quite Rarely) [-15]; Loner (12) (Only with regard to humans, -40%) [-3]; Oblivious [-5]; Overconfidence (15) [-2]; Reputation (-4 as an evil sorceress, Throughout the White Archipelago, All the Time) [-10]; Stubbornness [-5].

Quirks: Refuses to worry at all that people are unnerved by her staff; Dresses like a stereotyped "ice witch," in white silk and silver (but disdains gold and jewels); Truthful when she feel no threat or stress. [-3]

Skills: Aerobatics-11 (DX-2, H) [1]; Boating (Sailboat)/TL4-13 (DX, A) [2]; Camouflage-15 (IQ, E) [1]; Dropping-12 (DX-1, A) [1]; Fishing-15 (Per, E) [1]; Herb Lore-18 (IQ+3, VH) [20]; Hidden Lore (Fairy Lore)-14 (IQ-1, A) [1]; Housekeeping-15 (IQ, E) [1]; Intimidation-15 (Will, A) [2]; Knife-13 (DX, E) [1]; Meditation-13 (Will-2, H) [1]; Naturalist-14 (IQ-1, H) [2]; Navigation (Sea)/TL4-14 (IQ-1, A) [1]; Pharmacy (Herbal)/TL4-18 (IQ+3, H) [16]; Ritual Magic (Witchcraft)-20 (IQ+5, VH) [28]; Stealth-13 (DX, A) [2]; Survival (Arctic)-15 (Per, A) [2]; Survival (Island/Beach)-14 (Per-1, A) [1]; Survival (Mountain)-15 (Per, A) [2]; Survival (Woodlands)-14 (Per-1, A) [1]; Weather Sense/TL4-14 (IQ-1, A) [1].

Paths: Cunning-16 [8]; Luck-16 [8]; Nature-16 [8].

Rituals: Journeyman's Curse-14 [2]; Read Thoughts-11 [8]; Veil-13 [2]; Ward-13 [6]; Weatherworking-16 [10].

Formulary: Antidote-16; Beast-Speech-18; Bird Control-18; Death-18; Endurance-18; Fear-18; Fire Resistance-18; Flight-16; Healing-18; Health-17; Invisibility-15; Invulnerability-15; Long Slumber-18; Love-16; Madness-18; Transformation-18; Vision-18; Water-Breathing-17.

Equipment: The short staff which the Duchess usually carries is topped with the skull of the first man to break her heart. She stole this from the graveyard the night she fled her home village; she was unsure why at the time, and might even have admitted that she had gone a little mad, but since then, she has made it into her Mystic Symbol, and always wields it while working her rituals. (Note that with this and her default in any path of 14, she can cast many rituals at default with a good chance of success.)

The silk gowns which she wears are always very plain in style and pure white in color. She rarely wears or carries anything else of any great value, apart from her potions (which actually represent the largest part of her wealth), although her home has a certain amount of valuable plunder casually scattered around it. She often has a small knife somewhere on her person, but would be unlikely to draw it as a serious weapon.

The Duchess's house holds a herbalism laboratory equivalent of "home workshop" quality. She usually has several elixirs to hand, including a couple of flight potions, and rides a broomstick when flying.

Fairy Gulls (49 points)

Apparently normal (and quite small) seagulls, plain white with yellow beaks and feet.

ST 4 [-60]; DX 13 [60]; IQ 8 [-40]; HT 13 [30]

Secondary Attributes: SM -3; Dmg 1d-5/1d-4; BL 3.2; HP 5 [2]; Will 10 [10]; Per 12 [20]; FP 13 [0]; Basic Speed 7 [10]; Basic Move (Land/Water) 5 [-10]; Dodge 10.

Social Background: TL 4 [0]; CF Fairy Society [0]; Norderwerten Spoken (Native)/Written (None) [-3].

Advantages: Amphibious [10]; Blunt Claws [3]; Damage Resistance 1 (Cannot Wear Armor -40%) [3]; Fearlessness 2 [4]; Feathers (Perk, equivalent to Fur) [1]; Obscure 7 (Vision, Area of effect increased to 4 yards +50%, Defensive +50%) [28]; Sharp Beak [1]; Temperature Tolerance 2 (cold) [2]; Terror (Hideous screech, Costs 2 FP) [27]; Unaging [15]; Winged Flight (Move 14) [30].

Disadvantages: Cannot Speak [-15]; Dead Broke [-25]; Indecisive (15) [-5]; Innumerate [-5]; No Fine Manipulators [-30]; Odious Personal Habits (-1, Constant screeching) [-5]; Short Arms (Both) [-10]; Social Stigma (Uneducated) [-5].

Quirks: Broad-Minded; Dislike holy symbols, True Faith, etc., and will avoid such things if possible; Distractible; Dull; Somewhat curious, and will summon the rest of the flock to investigate novelties. [-5]

Skills: Area Knowledge (Home Islands)-10 (IQ+2, E) [4]; Brawling-15 (DX+2, E) [4]; Fishing-12 (Per, E) [1]; Survival (Island/Beach)-12 (Per, A) [2].

Article publication date: November 12, 2004

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