Dharavi, India's largest slum, spills out of Mumbai's beating heart. It huddles between the Harbour Line and the Mithi River a few miles north of downtown. The juxtaposition of its makeshift roofs with the surrounding high-rises casts India's socioeconomic disparities in harsh relief.
Right now, it's monsoon season and Dharavi's one million souls struggle to keep their heads above water as crime and disease clutch their ankles like the fingers of the hungry dead.
Rumors of a mass haunting have been swirling about Dharavi for weeks: strange noises and apparitions, missing persons, even murders. Here's what you hear...
- "The yakshas are angry about all the pollution." The monsoons are overflowing Dharavi's already strained sewers and people are also going missing near one flooded waterway in particular.
- "There's a serial killer on the loose!" The Koli, a group of former fishermen who were Mumbai's original inhabitants, have been dying in droves. Each corpse also shares a few grisly details, like a missing eye and a hole through the back of their skull.
- "There's a cursed object out there, a thuggee silken cord, and anyone killed with it returns as a hungry ghost." This isn't the first time rumors about such an weapon have circulated. If anyone knows where to find it, it's the 60 Feet Fixer.
- "This is all a bunch of nonsense, a hoax created by those property developers to scare people out of their homes." The Dharavi Redevelopment Project died during the global recession, but there are still a few firms trying to turn street markets into malls.
The Kadam family has asked a few of their friends to investigate the hauntings and take corrective action. The investigators all know each other from past encounters with the supernatural. (Encourage each player to include one of the other protagonists when filling in their karma.)
Myra Kadam, Ghoulish Gravedigger
There are many cemeteries in Mumbai and much work for gravediggers, but the pay is shit. That's why Myra dabbles in smuggling and grave robbing. She harvests human organs for her family's business (selling meat to other ghouls). Plus, coffins make great hiding places for all kinds of contraband, from narcotics to occult relics.
As a ghoul, Myra has the ability to cloud unenlightened minds. At work, she uses this power to appear as a teenaged male. At home, she lets her hair down and projects an attractive female in her late twenties. When need be, she reveals her true face: emaciated with deep eye sockets and an elongated, almost canine maw.
This is not her first ghost rodeo. Myra packs a sawed-off shotgun loaded with grave dirt. Extremely short range and useless against the living, but it'll dispel a hungry ghost for a few minutes and make them think twice about coming back.
Aarush, the Blood Poet
Trained to hunt monsters by Shiva's Dancers, Aarush's real passion has always been poetry. Tamil Nadu has a long and proud tradition of epic poetry and Aarush considers his entire life an entry in that tradition. He often narrates his own thoughts and actions in rhyming verse, but never with such inspiration as when he's beating the tar out of a cannibal-sorcerer.
Aarush has mastered the Still Mind and Illusions of Mass, which makes him a wire-fu superhero. He plays many instruments and is never seen without at least one on his person. His trusty katar is never out of reach. When hunting ghosts, he also carries a phurba, but that's pretty much everything he owns. More often than not, he hunts barefoot.
The Blood Poet goes where the muse takes him. He's had a few run-ins with the Kadam family in the past, but he gave up trying to kill them after Mohinder saved his life. He still trusts ghouls about as far as he can throw them, but he can throw them pretty far.
Ishaan Saxena, Aghori Mystic
Certain ascetic monks believe that all dualities are an illusion, even purity and impurity. To transcend this illusion, they sleep in graveyards and eat from hollowed human skulls. They wear burial shrouds stolen from corpses and consume all manner of foul substances.
Like cannibal-sorcery, these transgressions give them power. Ishaan has mastered the Still Mind and Transmutation of Matter, which makes him a skilled healer. (Handy when you spend a lot of time with cadavers.)
Ishaan usually considers himself beyond the concerns of the living, but the Kadams are old friends. He's agreed to investigate with the others and do what he can about the various outbreaks in Dharavi.
Eva Malhotra, Bodhiskeptic
The Buddha himself considered magic a big crock of shit. Even the siddhi, he claimed, were just distractions that lure people away from Nirvana. Eva Malhotra is a professor of philosophy who understands the true nature of reality. She's also a bodhisattva who's made it her mission to shatter the chains of superstition.
That's not to say she doesn't believe in ghosts. She does. It's just that ghosts aren't really what people think. They're not the souls of their loved ones, they're just the psychic echoes of a life bound by desire. And they need to be put in the ground!
Eva's not a mystic or a Dancer, but she knows the proper rites for disposing of a corpse, and how to build a spirit trap, which is more than enough to exorcise most ghosts. She's also mastered the lesser siddhi, which makes her fearless in the face of most threats.
The 60 Feet Fixer
Before 2013, a sheet metal shanty near 60 Feet Road was home to Dharavi's favorite fence. If you needed something you couldn't find in one of the street markets, chances are Pari Mehta either had it or could get it. They called her the 60 Feet Fixer in reference to her social stature as much as to her geography.
About a year ago, her stockpiling accelerated into outright hoarding. Her hovel went from an organized repository of everything imaginable to a chthonic maze of garbage, scrap metal, and broken appliances. Vermin became her roommates. When one of her makeshift walls collapsed, burying her alive, her roommates watched her die.
Spelunking through a cave made of crap.
Her daughter, Aadhya, has taken over both the hovel and the hoarding. She collects garbage from all over the slum, because that's what her mother's hideous ghost eats. She doesn't sell anything (The Family has taken over as Dharavi's premier fence), but rumor has it there are still invaluable occult relics buried beneath the rubbish.
Getting inside the hoarder's den is like spelunking through a cave made of crap. Pari's old living space itself lies at the center of a labyrinth of junk heaps, sheet metal walls, and plastic tarp roofs. Even with Aadhya as a guide, the protagonists should expect to climb over, crawl under, and squeeze through enough festering trash to give them tetanus by association. Even the potent smell of woodsmoke, billowing from beneath a pile of drying laundry, cannot cover up the smell of decay.
The Silken Cord is real enough, but it's not the cause of Dharavi's hauntings. If you want to introduce it, the Fixer's house is as good a place as any. It's a just a few feet of silk cloth, very old and a little bloodstained, with a large knot in its middle.
It was created by a yogi during the British Raj, when tales of "thuggee" highwaymen ran rampant. Using the siddhi of Limitless Wealth, the yogi created a powerful hoax and a tool of punishment for murders.
The cord is, in fact, an excellent killing tool. When wrapped around a victim's throat, it renders them incapable of harming the wielder. That's handy for an aspiring assassin, but here's the catch: anyone killed using the cord returns as a hungry ghost and haunts their killer.
The House is Not Clean
Touch too much of "her stuff," and Pari's ghost goes berserk. We're talkin' full-on poltergeist: doors slamming shut, dangerous projectiles flying around, trash fires igniting, the works.
Pari's daughter will freak out, too. She loves her mother, even this monstrous caricature, and will fight to protect her. Normally a polite woman and dedicated hostess, any violence toward her mother will send Aadhya into a rage. She's not much of a martial threat, but she can block exits and distract protagonists while her mother takes care of business.
The ghost manifests as a grotesquely corpulent, naked woman whose bottomless stomach spills out over its own legs and feet. Its translucent flesh is jaundiced and covered in bed sores. Its fingers stretch to reach whatever's going into its mouth next. Pray that isn't you.
A phurba to the vast gut is probably the easiest way to be rid of this ghost. Her body is still in the house, carefully preserved by her grieving daughter. The protagonists can find it inside an old refrigerator. It's conspicuously plugged into a gas generator in one corner of the shanty.
Good luck getting to it without drawing the ghost's attention.
A proper burial or cremation can be whipped up in a matter of minutes, but dispersing the ghost with grave dirt or cremation ash will make things a whole lot easier. Erecting a quick spirit trap over the shanty might help, too.
Whether or not the protagonists find a cursed thuggee garrote in the Fixer's house is at the Director's discretion. If the hoarder's ghost seems like a dead end, that's okay. She's just one point in a line that will eventually lead to The Family.
Plus, exorcising the ghost will flip one of Dharavi's bad karma to good.
Long ago, Dharavi was a tiny fishing village. Its original inhabitants, the Koli, still live on the west side of the slum. Their wooden homes are just a bit larger and sturdier than most.
It's been a generation or two since any Koli earned a living from the sea. There are other industries in Dharavi, now, from manufacturing and hospitality to drug smuggling and protection rackets. That last one has become the trade skill for one Koli family in particular. They're not Dharavi's landlords (that's more The Family's scene), but they make their profit from territory just the same.
The Koli kingpin, an old salt named Brahm, is laying low after a year of gang violence that's left Dharavi's underworld decimated. It seemed to come from nowhere; gang leaders just got paranoid and trigger happy all at the same time. This descended into a vortex of reprisal killings soon thereafter. The Family stayed above the fray, then moved in to fill the power vacuum, but no one's pointing the finger at them just yet. The survivors are still busy licking their wounds.
A few weeks ago, Koli bodies have started piling up again, this time as the apparent victims of a serial killer. Each has been found with their right eye missing and a massive puncture wound through the back of their skull. Most have no criminal history; they're linked only by their ethnicity and the gruesome details of their demise.The Fisherman
Consequently, Koli Village is under high alert. Some suspect an undead killer and have lined their doors and windows with grave dirt. Others believe it's all the work of a property development company that wants to buy up their land.
Enter the protagonists, who look like an answer to the prayers of those who blame a ghost or rakshasa. The Koli elders will be more suspicious; they remember the days when false holy men poisoned wells so they could swoop in with magical cures. They'll want to test the protagonists' abilities before accepting assistance.
In any case, it should be no problem for the players to extract exposition from the locals. They'll hear about serial killers and conspiracy theories, but they'll also hear about the rival gang leader who was shot through the eye last year. Some Koli soldiers, long since revenge-murdered, ambushed him in a taxi a couple of blocks to the east. If asked, the locals will speculate that his body was dumped in Mahim Bay, a muddy floodplain nearby, but no one knows for sure.
If the protagonists don't set a trap for the ghost, it'll come to them. Unfortunately, so will the vetala (see "The Family" below). It wants to make sure Brahm gets sent to his next life, since last year's pawns couldn't close the deal. It'll show up in a fresh corpse, so no one can connect it to The Family.
When the shit starts flying, the Koli will be right in the thick of it. They'll have shotguns loaded with grave dirt, but little else. Lacking both coordination and discipline, they're more likely to create hazards for the protagonists than for the ghost. Feel free to pluck out a few of their eyes to establish some threat credibility and free up corpses for the vetala.
Brahm will be hiding in his house, the doors and windows thoroughly barricaded with cremation ash. Frustrated, the fisherman will respond by spree killing any Koli he can find. If the resulting mayhem isn't enough to flush out Brahm, the vetala will set his house on fire.
If that's not enough to keep your players busy, establish a few side conflicts like saving innocent bystanders from the fire, rescuing children from being trampled, or getting trapped in a flashback hallucination courtesy of the vetala.
The vetala can serve a number of narrative purposes in this scene, from amping up the danger to exploring protagonist backstories. Some tactical options to consider...
- Possess the corpse of a fresh Koli victim and mix it up with the protagonists as a purely physical threat. (Remember, it still can't touch the ground, so this tactic is best used indoors.)
- Cloud the protagonists' minds and make them see decoy ghosts everywhere they look. Or decoy elders in danger.
- Cloud an elder's mind and lure them outside with the face of a loved one or trusted bodyguard.
- Invade a specific protagonist's mind and make them relive (i.e. ask the player to make up) a past trauma.
- Do any of the above with the intent of disturbing the grave dirt barriers so the killer ghost can get inside.
- Set Brahm's house on fire to flush him out.
Finally, if it looks like the fisherman is losing, the ghost might try to possess one of the protagonists. Play this out like any other conflict: bid a die to force the protagonist to do something, with the player bidding dice to resist or add details. (Remember, the lesser siddhi helps a character fight possession, but does not make them immune.)
Once the dust has settled, the Koli village should be saved and the protagonists should have uncovered one more connection between the hauntings and The Family. If the ghost has been exorcised, flip one of Dharavi's bad karma to good.
Rumors of a particularly haunted waterway in the center of the slum should draw the protagonist's attention. Dozens of ghosts have been sighted there and nearly as many people have gone missing. Common wisdom is that severe pollution has angered the local yakshas (nature spirits), who are taking revenge on humanity.
Public sanitation in Dharavi is severely lacking, with less than one tenth of a toilet per capita. Communal lavatories are often inaccessible due to long lines or disrepair. Consequently, many people dispose of their waste in the open sewers that wind their way through the slum.
Now, with the monsoons in full swing, all manner of befoulment is back-flowing into the streets. Water-borne illnesses have surged in households along one canal in particular. Dozens of people have gone missing after heading into the area after dark.
Under any other circumstances, all this pollution + missing persons would = rakshasa. If your players get really excited at the prospect, there's no reason the shit-eaters (see below) couldn't form a symbiotic relationship with a rakshasa. They might even follow one around and do its bidding, if given the opportunity.
If you do add a rakshasa on top of this mess, it'll use the ghosts as pawns, sacrificing them to cover its escape. (Truth be told, it probably doesn't like the filthy buggers and would be happy to see them exorcised.) Roll at least one extra Trouble die per player and let them decide if they'd rather devote their dice to wiping out the ghosts or catching the cannibal-sorcerer.
When the protagonists investigate, they'll find a mob of colorfully-dressed people struggling to clean up a canal choked with trash and sewage. People in surgical masks and rubber gloves are picking through the garbage on both banks and filling up row upon row of trash cans.
But the place is still a biohazard. Even in the rain, the stench worms its way into your sinuses. Brackish water sloshes slowly downstream, absorbing all light that contacts its surface. It's bound on both sides by high walls of sheet metal or poured concrete. A footbridge spans the gap every few blocks. The nearest one is speckled with shrines, memorials to the people who've gone missing.
Photo by Jon Hurd
The cleaning crew will ask if the protagonists are there to lend a hand. Questions will be deferred to their nominal leader, Dr. Navya Pillai. She's been volunteering in the area for a few weeks. She'll tell them how she was walking home one evening, shortly after dark, when she saw a man relieving himself into the canal.
"Suddenly, these tiny creatures appeared out of the water and grabbed him! They whispered nasty threats to me as they dragged him down into the sewer. I ran, of course, but now I realize that the yaksha are the real victims here."
The next day, she started telling people about what she'd seen and mobilizing them to clean up this disaster area. Only then will the spirits be appeased and the sick cured, she believes.
This should smell like bullshit, because it is, but Dr. Pillai really did see what she describes. There are dozens of hungry ghosts in the waterway, victims of the vetala's madness (see "The Family" below). When it's in a hurry, the vetala likes to give starving people a compulsion to eat poisonous things, like household cleaners or human feces. When they get sick and die, no one suspects foul play. "They were eating feces! Of course they died!"
But the compulsion sometimes survives and they end up here, eating shit and garbage out of an open sewer. Their wide mouths split flat heads in half like trash can lids, but their withered and concave stomachs can never hold enough to satisfy them. Their bulging, milky eyes give them the appearance of toads, but their backwards-pointing, human feet spoil the illusion.
Normally, they'd have no interest in the people who feed their sewer, but like all hungry ghosts, they're unreasonably possessive. Anyone who gets too close to their stuff (e.g. waste matter of any kind) raises their hackles. Naturally, trying to clean the place up will make them lose their shit.
Their favorite combat tactic is to dogpile a victim and drown them in the canal. Simple and effective. However, they're also dangerous individually, because their touch is poisonous, not unlike a rakshasa's.
As soon as the protagonists start shooting or stabbing, they'll also have to deal with the New Agers, who will fight to protect the marauding "spirits." The players might be rewarded for saving someone with a swift kick in the junk. Not cool.
Still, the main challenge of this shit-eating swarm is neutralizing their numbers. There's just no way to run them all down individually and stab them with a phurba or shoot them full of grave dirt.
- Setting up spirit traps would be helpful. Then, all you have to do is burn the traps. Chasing down the stranglers should be easy enough and would add a little action to the scene.
- Depriving them of their food would also do the trick. Through the siddhi of Transmutation, Ishaan could clean up the entire canal with a snap of his fingers.
- Speaking of Ishaan, the shit-eaters will be strangely drawn to him. His ritual impurity gives them a sort of kinship. In fact, he could tame the whole herd and keep them as pets.
If anyone bothers to listen to their whispering, be sure to drop a clue. They know that a vetala is responsible for their deaths, though they don't know its whereabouts. The only way they can communicate this is by quoting a line from the Baital Pachisi, a series of medieval tales told to a king by a vetala.
"Who are thou and whither art thou taking me?"
For something more explicit, Ishaan will have to commune with the ghosts to experience one of their deaths. It's a horrible, slow surrender to a painful intestinal disease, but Ishaan will recognize that the compulsion to eat feces was inflicted using cannibal-sorcery.
Cleaning up the sewer, even temporarily, is enough to flip one of Dharavi's bad karma to good. So is exorcising the ghosts.
Despite its obvious poverty, Dharavi is an economic engine for people from rural communities where opportunity is limited. Those with nothing to sell but the strength of their backs can sacrifice their health in a sweatshop to feed their families back home.
Most street vendors sell merchandise right out the front of their homes, so they save a bundle on rent. That's not to say they have money to burn. Dharavi merchants are as concerned with theft as anyone, which is why people are rattling their sabers over a rash of mysterious burglaries.
When the protagonists investigate this rumor, they find the locals rattling something else: a black town car. They're just about to roll it over. Inside, two terrified people are bracing themselves and screaming for help. If the protagonists do nothing, the victims will be mildly injured by the crushed roof and broken glass, then pulled out and beaten by the lynch mob.
Photo by Thomas Leuthard
To hear the locals tell it, the occupants of that car have been perpetrating a hoax to scare them out of their homes... and stealing from their businesses to boot! Whether or not that justifies a lynching is a judgment left to the players.
According to the victims, the locals just want someone to blame. They're agents of Sharma & Patel, a real estate firm that's been trying to carve up the slum for years. Most firms lost interest after the Dharavi Redevelopment Project went kaput in the aughts, but Sharma & Patel never gave up the ghost.
Proclaimed innocence aside, they seem to know all about the burglaries. It's more than just missing food and merch. Victims report strange noises, ominous shadows, whispers from the darkness. No one's ever caught a glimpse of the burglars; stuff just keeps disappearing.
To Catch a Thief
There are many ways the players could go about investigating and all of them should end with a thrilling rooftop chase over the sheet metal skyline...
- Patrol the area until something goes bump in the night.
- Use the shit-eaters (see above) to create a street-wide network of ghostly alarms to detect the first sign of a break-in.
- Get the lawyers to bankroll a honeypot (fill one of their properties full of tempting merchandise, then tell everyone about it).
- Spread a rumor that the protagonists already have evidence against the burglar(s) and wait for someone to come looking for it.
As long as their plan seems reasonable, let it work. What they catch won't be a ghost, though. Not yet. The burglars are actually a pack of nefarious orphans who use pranks to distract their victims and throw investigators off their trail. They lure guards away with strange whispers in the night, open and close doors, turn lights on and off, move furniture around, all the usual poltergeist crap.
Then, they steal your stuff.
Run these shenanigans as a conflict where the players want to catch the orphans in the act and the orphans want to make off with something valuable. Note that those are not mutually exclusive outcomes. No matter who wins, at least one of the orphans should get spotted, because then they can be chased. And chases are cool.
So, now you're chasing at least one thieving, acrobatic orphan across the rooftops of Dharavi. Dreams do come true. The children have speed and size on their side, but in order to make this a real challenge, take full advantage of their superior knowledge of the terrain...
- Run across a damaged shanty that can't support adult weight.
- Dash through two connected shanties, leaving angry occupants in your wake, then out an unexpected side.
- Drop through a trap door that's propped open, then pull out the support so it locks behind you.
- Squeeze through a tiny gap in a wall.
- Climb up the side of a multi-story shanty and throw things down at pursuers.
- Stampede through a sweatshop where fragile, ceramic jars are being packaged, enraging the employees.
So that's it. Mystery solved. Brush your hands off and put your feet up, right? Dead wrong. A ghost might not be the burglar, but that doesn't mean there's no ghost.
The orphan(s) will plead to be let go. "My mother will be so angry! She'll put me in the dark place!" If questioned about parents, the orphan will claim that "They died. All the adults died. It's just us kids, now." And yet, they're still worried about angering Mother. "She'll whip me and drink my tears!!!"
You see, these kids weren't orphans until a year ago. Before that, they had a kind and selfless mother, but the vetala got ahold of her and things fell apart. She became paranoid and strict, even violent. There were beatings, yelling matches, hungry days and fearful nights. When she died, the children had to learn to provide for themselves.
Then she came back.
She still doesn't provide for them, though. Quite the opposite. She makes them cry so she can lick the tears off their cheeks with a long, hummingbird-like tongue. She's impossibly tall with a swan's neck and painfully pursed lips. Her feet point backwards and always hover a few inches off the ground.
The Bad Mother
When she shows up to rescue her orphan(s), the rest of the children are in tow. They'll defend their monstrous mother as best they can, which is pretty damn well. They've got knives and bats and broken bottles. And they're fast little bastards! Don't be afraid to throw some pint-sized kung-fu into the mix.
To contrast this attack with the 60 Feet Fixer, focus Mother's telekinesis on large, heavy objects. Have her tear nearby shanties apart to fling cement cannonballs and sheet metal guillotines! She can do the possession trick, too, or grab things with her prehensile tongue.
Illustration by Bradley Wind
The clue at the end of this horrible rainbow comes from the lawyers. A little research (or Myra giving it some thought) will turn up the old rivalry between their firm and The Family. The slumlords acquired many of their properties by beating Sharma & Patel in crooked bidding wars.
This time, defeating the ghost isn't enough to improve conditions in Dharavi. Only if the protagonists can put an end to the children's larceny can they flip a die of bad karma to good.
Sooner or later, the protagonists will want to take a closer look at Dharavi's unofficial slumlords, the Balasubramanium family. Their story is well-known by many, from their own street thugs to the lawyers of Sharma & Petel or anyone who owes The Family money.
They came from Kerala in the aughts and forced their way into Mumbai's real estate market using family connections, hard currency, and violence. They were gonna score big on the Dharavi Redevelopment Project, but those hopes died in 2010 when the global recession landed on India's shores.
It was a disaster for Omar Balasubramanium, the patriarch who had masterminded the whole Dharavi gamble. His son seized control and locked the old man away until disease and madness could finish him off. The corpse was sealed in a steel drum and hidden on their property.
Spoilers - Omar's not the vetala.
Twenty-five year old Krishna Balasubramanium is the patriarch now and he's found new uses for all his worthless property. The Family uses people's shanties to smuggle everything from guns and drugs to pirated DVDs. They run prostitution rings and gambling dens. They charge street vendors rent, but it's more like protection. They make predatory loans and fence stolen goods. In just a few years, they've annexed most of Dharavi's criminal underworld.
What the street doesn't know is that Diya Balasubramanium, Omar's elderly sister, deserves the lion's share of credit. She's become Krishna's most trusted advisor, helping him expand The Family's operations into new rackets and seizing territory from rival gangs. Her track record is even more impressive when you consider the fact that she's been dead for two years.
Diya succumbed to an outbreak of leptospirosis in 2012. Moments later, her corpse was possessed by a vetala. The cannibal-spirit's been haunting their family for centuries, since before they lost their feudal holdings to the British Raj. It torments each male heir until they're either hardened sociopaths or gibbering madmen.
Krishna is teetering between the two. He's become increasingly paranoid and his grip on the throne has grown tenuous. When the long knives finally come out, they'll be in these hands...
Krishna's enforcer, a younger nephew, is known as much for his lack of ambition as his lack of conscience. That's a great combination for a second-in-command, but the vetala has been whispering things in his ear. He's been complaining, lately and loudly, that Krishna doesn't give him enough respect.
Aryan commands the loyalty of most of The Family's soldiers. Outside of the compound, he's already the king.
The Family's accountant and lawyer. His stock was tarnished by the failure of the Dharavi Redevelopment Product nearly as much as Omar's, but he managed to survive Krishna's coup and remained consigliere.
Recently, the vetala has so eroded his influence that now Kayaan fears for his life. He's made overtures to the Mumbai Police, seeking protection in return for testimony. However, he also holds the purse strings and could make a bid for leadership if anything ever happened to Krishna.
Krishna's wife rules The Family's penthouse compound with a firm, even hand. Her fair-mindedness has earned the loyalty of Krishna's closest cousins, servants, and the soldiers who guard them. If push came to shove, they'd side with her against Krishna or Aryan.
Angel loves her husband, but she's no fool. She knows his mind is slipping and suspects that Diya is somehow the cause. When and if Krishna goes off the deep end, she's ready to lock him up just like he did Omar, and have Diya thrown out the nearest window.
The protagonists won't discover the actionable gossip by questioning cousins and street thugs. To map out The Family's political situation, they'll have to get inside their compound.
The Family lives in a complex of gutted penthouse apartments on the northern edge of Dharavi. It's a deep defense fortress built atop stories of civilian lookouts and stuffed to the gills with guards. Some of The Family's business is conducted here, but they keep most of that on the streets. The compound is a circle of trust.
Here are just a few ways the protagonists could infiltrate...
- Aarush might get hired on as muscle; Krishna could use an outsider with no ties to any of his lieutenants.
- Pose as police detectives and try to flip a cousin or even one of the major players (most likely Kayaan).
- Inform The Family that there's a vetala in their midst and offer to exorcise the fiend.
- Kick down the doors and storm the place, reconnaissance be damned!
Don't throw too many obstacles in your players' path. The interesting thing is what they do once they're inside.
Shit-Eating Madness Vampire
Whether or not the protagonists get drawn into The Family's production of Hamlet, they'll have their work cut out for them trying to identify the vetala. If it seems like they're searching for an obvious monster, remind them that vetala can delay decomposition while possessing a corpse, at least for a little while. Physical changes creep in over time, but that has more to do with cannibal-sorcery than decay.
They can unmask the vetala by discovering any of the following...
- Since her battle with leptospirosis, Diya almost never leaves the compound (because she doesn't want to touch the ground).
- Diya's room is kept very cold with multiple air conditioners. This slows decomposition when the cannibal-spirit is elsewhere.
- Diya's feet have twisted all the way around and now point backwards, a fact which she conceals under a long sari.
- Diya's mouth now has multiple rows of teeth! The new ones are tiny and razor sharp, like a shark's.
- Diya will react violently when threatened with grave dirt, cremation ash, a phurba, or a spirit trap.
The vetala will go out of its way to never be alone with the protagonists. It will want Krishna present, as its most devoted defender, but will at least insist on having a few bodyguards around at all times. Unless their loyalty has been subverted in some way, they'll protect Diya with their lives (or, more likely, their knives).
Angel might be suspicious of Diya, but she'll side with her against a bunch of violent outsiders. Same with Kayaan, but both will turn against the vetala if they see the backwards feet or extra rows of teeth. Neither Krishna nor Aryan will turn so easily. Random soldiers will flee at the first sign of anything supernatural.
The best way to prevent the vetala from just hopping into the nearest dead body is with a spirit trap, but carefully constructed barriers of dirt or ash will also work. (Vetala can survive outside of a corpse, but they lose their intelligence rapidly. Their minds need real human hardware.)
Exorcising the vetala, or at least scaring it off, is enough to flip one of Dharavi's bad karma to good. Taking the whole Family apart isn't quite so cut and dried...
Hopefully, the protagonists improved conditions in Dharavi by thwarting a few killers, relieving socioeconomic tensions, and cleaning up health hazards. If so, Dharavi's location karma could be a positive 7/1. Your players can push it even higher by setting up institutions to reinforce these improvements: charities, community policing, sewage or power infrastructure, etc. Such endeavors should spawn whole scenarios of their own; these are intransigent problems.
Any protagonist who succumbs to their Trouble while duking it out with the vetala could end up with a permanent psychological disorder. Add it to their character sheet with one die of bad karma. Likely symptoms include...
- Post-Traumatic Stress manifesting as panic attacks, flashbacks, or the persistent feeling that the vetala is still inside their mind.
- Hallucinations of supernatural threats, mostly ghosts. (Given the setting, these will be difficult to distinguish from reality.)
- Paranoia concerning the true motives of their friends and allies.
If they kicked The Family in the teeth, they'll have an underworld land grab to deal with. Increase Dharavi's bad karma by one die for each gang that strikes your fancy...
- D-Company cell supporting terrorists.
- Monkey-men running a protection racket.
- Cult whose leader is actually a rakshasa.
- Pathan mafia running vice crimes & extortion.
On the other hand, if they played kingmaker or helped Krishna be all he can be, they've now got powerful connections in Dharavi's underworld. Myra might just stay on as the new consigliere.
If the vetala survives, it could become a recurring villain. They're are notoriously squirrely, known for escaping into a nearby corpse at the moment of their apparent defeat.
Locations have karma dice, just like protagonists. Players can use them to gauge the effect their actions are having on the game world. The Director may roll them to determine what events or environmental conditions the players encounter. (See Playing the Game.)