A Murder of Crows
The family name Blackrose comes from the family line’s progenitor, a chubby orphan who selected the name on no criteria other than that it pleased her. Having rose to prominence, however, that orphan subsequently birthed a handful of children, at least one of whom attained a position of power and infamy in his own right, and the family line has since expanded and produced a number of bastards who hold claim to varying degrees of fame or infamy across the planes.
As with the plant for which the family line is named, the Blackroses produce a good deal more thorns than blossoms. Going down the generations, the family has produced a handful of notable individuals, but somewhat ironically, most of them are – like the clan progenitor – orphans. While one could argue the role genetics plays in the expression of the behavior of the descendants of a given line, it’s clear that there are certain phenotypal characteristics that are prevalent in the Blackrose line, starting with their Matron: uncanny shrewdness, a propensity for selfishness, bizarre and exaggerated sexual appetites, a talent for manipulation, and a taste for power, among them. While these traits serve well a select few, many of the bastards of the Blackrose clan lead lives that are nasty, brutish, and short. Something within the family’s blood understands even from childhood that life is an endeavor to be won; those with the hunger to win but not the talent or luck find themselves having lost, generally at a young age, and more than half of the family has met their end either while performing – or as a consequence of – some wicked or illicit deed gone awry.
There are, however, a fortunate few who possess the happy combination of fortune, intellect, and drive to recognize and seize upon opportunity. Curiously, history indicates that it may be that the secret to a successful Blackrose child is to abandon it utterly: the greatest successes the clan boasts were orphans who learned of their heritage only after having earned their fame. The only exception to this observation is the first son of the family founder, who himself spent much of his life with his hapless and ineffectual father before becoming an adventurer at the very green age of fourteen.
The Blackrose family produces an alarming number of many things – scoundrels, perverts, guests of various correctional retreats – but also tieflings, the fiend-blooded, far-off descendants of devils and demons. In the case of the Blackrose family, this genetic expression manifests with a frequency that is higher than other, similarly tainted families enough to be statistically relevant. The reason for this is that while most families grudgingly endure the shame that comes with having an ancestor who consorted with evil outsiders, in the Blackrose family, consorting with evil outsiders is very nearly a family tradition: the clan founder was, unbeknownst even to her until her adulthood, a type of alu-fiend, the resultant child of a demon and a human (or, as was the case, gnome) pairing. As she matured, she achieved renown and power such that she was able to unravel the mystery of her birth, and, in so learning, decided she wanted to pass on her unique ancestral hand to some children. Herself the child of a human and a nymph-succubus, she bore several young, sired by elves, dwarves, tieflings, aasimar, and at least one incubus. Many of those children, their children, and their children’s children, down through the years, have – when so tempted or able – responded to the call of their blood and have mated with succubi or incubi, but this pairing rarely results in a birth, as intimacy with life-sucking demons unsurprisingly leads to the death of several would-be lovers.
Physically, members of the Blackrose family most frequently have black hair and pale skin, whether they are tieflings or not. Their sons tend to be thin reflections of their father, and their daughters somewhat chubby analogs of their mothers. Eyes that are hazel to the point of being almost a warm orange are oddly common, as is brown and slate blue. Most family members have slightly exaggerated canines and secondary sexual characteristics, bearing the indelible stamp of their lowly origins.
The family symbol is a minimalist, stylized rose in black, first designed by the family Matron as the symbol for her criminal guild. Since her first child, it has been tattooed upon every child born into the family during their infancy. The family has never produced a coat of arms, having never achieved (or desired, in many cases) a rank in the nobility, and accordingly, the family has no motto.
Moxie was born in a brothel, the child of a hapless gnome prostitute of whom she has never spoken, even so far as to give a name. She was raised by a woman named Stella Varonet, friend and employer to her mother, in the brothel in which she was born, in the bustling seaport hub that served as the setting for her childhood.
Moxie learned grift at an early age, using her childish charms to swindle, pick pockets, and run confidence games on tourists and traders who visited the port. A naturally sharp-minded youth, she excelled at manipulation, and learned early on from experience and from watching her adopted mother(s) that much more could be gained through words than steel.
At the age of fourteen, one such con took a turn that would define the young woman for years to come; while attempting a con on a traveling elf swordswoman, she was caught. The swordswoman was, she revealed, a fairly powerful version of combat caster called a spellthief, and far from being mad, she saw in the young girl a quality that she wanted to encourage. She became Moxie’s mentor and, in time, her first lover. Eventually, they had an amiable parting of ways, as Moxie’s mentor traveled on to her next goal and Moxie remained in her home city, where she hit upon the idea of trying to start a gang.
Pragmatic and shrewd above all else, Moxie picked her allies carefully, consolidated her power, and never stepped over the line far enough to cause real concern. Initially she worked with city officials as a legitimate operation that furnished the city with tax revenue from gambling, prostitution, and vice. As the social and cultural influence of the business expanded, however, and Moxie’s cunning was tempered with experience, she soon branched out into activities that were outright illegal, exchanging immunity to prosecution for services rendered to officials in the form of spying, information gathering, acquisitions, and the company of her stable of whores. It was an ideal relationship: her government had a self-policing criminal underworld in their pocket, and all they had to do was look the other way when they weren’t on the government’s time.
Helping matters was the fact that Moxie ran her criminal organization like a legitimate business: employees of the guild were treated to benefits, they were unionized, and their kin were looked after in event of their death. Competition from outside the guild within the region was rare: nobody dared to cross the Black Roses, and even fewer thought they could do better on their own. Punishment, insofar as it was applied, was rare: the Guild Mistress would praise and reward fealty and skill, and punish inadequacy or sloppiness with reduced work, which meant less pay and fewer opportunities. Traitors, conversely, were treated harshly: guild members and non-members operated in criminal capacity outside the guild were often beaten up and “taxed” in excess of their take, while those who turned traitor on the guild were outright killed, generally in spectacular fashion of the sort that would make the broadsheets and serve as a warning.
Eventually, Moxie’s guild achieved stability enough and she had found and recruited sensible, wise, and prudent enough lieutenants that she could expand, and franchise. This was the beginning of her adventuring career, as she traveled the world and the planes looking for opportunities to increase her power and profit. It was during this time that she learned of her heritage, as well as joined a philosophical order dedicated to the pursuit of power and understanding through experience.
Moxie had several children over the years, going through lovers quickly. At the age of twenty-five, she brokered with a god for eternal youth and life, a pact that stole from her her shadow, as well as other things she chose not to speak on. This longevity allowed her to mother many children, as many as fifty, though she has long since forgotten many of them, as she had no hand in raising any of them save those that eventually found their way back to her. Her parenting style could best be described as a high-risk, high-reward game of hide and seek: find mommy without getting killed and get free membership in a powerful guild, free training, and more money than you can count.
Moxie’s life never properly ended, so far as anybody knows. She had been missing for over two hundred years after having lived over a hundred of her own, and the exact circumstances of her disappearance are muddled. What is known is that she never gave up her pursuit of new experiences and sensations, and it’s suspected that it’s this quest that lead her either to ruin or to some place from which she has not yet returned. Her empire, the Black Roses, have been through many changes, but remain a powerful underworld force throughout various parts of the world where they tend to ingratiate themselves into the tapestry of government bureaucracy by providing their services in the pursuit of maintaining the status quo of whoever is in power.
Physically, Moxie has an odd sort of charm: half-gnome, quarter-succubus, quarter-nymph, she is short and somewhat chubby, with shoulder-length, raven-black tresses, creamy, freckled skin, large and expressive eyes, and a red rosebud for a mouth whose most notable feature is a pair of pronounced front incisors, so prominent that those who dislike her have been known to call her “Madame Squirrel” behind her back. In spite of her unconventional beauty, she is beautiful, her bodily proportions so exaggeratedly perfect as to be unreal, fitting into function-appropriate clothing that always shows enough to tantalize or distract. In person, she is genial and polite, bordering on being sweet or flirtatious, and always leaves the person she is speaking with the impression that they are the only person that exists to her and that they are, no matter what their wives or mothers or friends might tell them, very, very interesting.
Maxwell was Moxie’s first child, whom she had bore from an elf when she, living in her perpetual youth, was already over a hundred years old. After he was born, Maxwell was unceremoniously deposited on his father’s doorstep, a continent apart from where his mother maintained her modest criminal empire. A fundamentally dull man, his father accepted this duty almost passively, and raised his child with the rote, formulaic, noncommittal motions of an automaton.
His son had a volume of his mother’s blood in his veins. He grew up mischievous, bright, and dangerously self-effacing. When mocked by other children in his community for his mixed heritage, he frequently invoked the seemingly bombastic tale that his mother was the head of a massive criminal empire in a distant land, information he had gained from reading his father’s private journals. The death threats and claims that his mother would lay low his tormentor’s families were the obvious fabrications of a child hurt by the teasing of his peers and desperate to fit in or rise above his station as the pack omega, of course. But Maxwell believed it, and hung a good deal of his personality, his thoughts, and his plans for the future on the idea of reuniting with his infamous mother.
At fourteen, he made good on his plans, and ran away from his homeland in search of his other parent, in the hopes that he would find in her the parent he needed and felt he deserved. His path was extremely perilous, but Maxwell seemed almost favored by deities of blind fortune: on more than one occasion, he was spared death by some incredible coincidence, and far from being a competent combatant, he managed to defeat incredible odds and opponents through little more than dumb luck, unmitigated gall, and the heavy-handed charm of a rake.