The Mystic Pimp of Bollywood
The grandest house on the highest hill in Mumbai was created from the thoughts of a madman. Deep inside its walls, he makes human beings in his own image and dreams of becoming a god. He wakes only to tend his sprawling web of graft, blackmail, and coercion.
Arjun Bhatnagar began his life as the son of a University professor. He grew up well-fed in body and mind, but felt an emptiness of spirit. At the age of fourteen, he robbed his parents blind and ran away to Mumbai, where he lived on the street, trading menial service for mystical tutelage.
As his spiritual powers began to bloom, he fell in with a gang of vanara and turned his mind to crime. For years, they lied, cheated, and stole from tourists, the poor, anyone who lacked the power to protect themselves.
Then he unlocked the siddhi of Limitless Wealth. He turned his back on his former friends, conjured himself a palatial estate, and started making people.
He started selling slaves.
After his anima, Aahana, made a name for herself in Bollywood, Arjun began tailor-making tulpas for producers and pimps. It wasn't even about the money, though Arjun is ruthless with those who don't pay their debts. His sex slaves form a network of spies and blackmailers that Arjun uses to protect himself from the authorities, his rivals, and the Four Arms of Vishnu.
Now nearing sixty, he has set his sights on godhood once again. The god-man's path to enlightenment is a potent mix of Tibetan mysticism and Jungian psychology. The guru creates tulpas from his own subconscious and interacts with them to gain self-knowledge.
The process requires long weeks of meditation, during which Arjun is effectively cut off from the waking world. Consequently, he's been forced give his tulpas more and more freedom.
Arjun thinks he's in the home stretch. Fearing his enemies will try to take advantage of his vulnerable state, he's ordered his tulpas to pre-emptively assassinate them.
All of them.
How morally reprehensible the tulpas find this mission is up to the players. They already find their master and his empire of exploitation completely reprehensible, but they have little choice. If they disobey, Arjun can unmake them with a thought. Even worse, he could remake them to take pleasure in their work.
Arjun's tulpas are the recommended protagonists for this scenario, but other approaches are possible. You could easily run any Arjun's enemies as the protagonists, since the god-man is the only real villain here.
Aahana, the Anima
The first step on the god-man's path is the creation of a complementary, opposite-sex self called an anima. (The male form is "animus.") Arjun is arrogant and ruthless; Aahana is humble, kind, and compassionate. She is also beautiful and charismatic, better at temptation and diplomacy than her creator.
She was made to love Arjun, which she does with her whole heart... but often against her better judgment. He was never a good man, but he wasn't a slavemaster when she first set eyes on him. And now he's about to become... something else. A god? She prays he'll fail.
Because she was the first of Arjun's tulpas, Aahana considers herself their leader. It's a contested title, now that Arjun's created a proxy, but Aahana has more than enough underworld influence to back it up.
She also has the ability to Turn Back the Wheel, a Greater Siddhi that she cultivated on her own. It allows her to see the future. Her player can use it in two ways...
- At any time, Aahana can pull off impossible acts of grace or acts of synchronicity, as if she's practiced them a thousand times before. (No mechanical bonus, just narrative permission to be unaccountably awesome.)
- If something terrible happens, the player can ask to reset the action at an earlier moment, no more than a few minutes, and replay the same events with new dice rolls and narration. (Note: This gives the Director leeway to narrative brutal and tragic turns of events.)
Hanuman, the Guardian
Arjun's bodyguard, legbreaker, and general enforcer is a vanara modeled on the mythological character of Hanuman. He has inhuman grace and strength, plus access to two powerful siddhi: Illusions of Scale and Illusions of Mass.
However, he is also cursed to forget his own greatness, which means he'll often fail to use his abilities unless reminded by a friend. (You can also use this trope to introduce new abilities at hilarious times.)
Two things keep him estranged from the local vanara. First, those who know he's a tulpa don't much like his master. Second, those who don't know he's a tulpa think he's insane (like a Frenchman who claims to be Napoleon).
Hanuman was made to be a loyal soldier, and he's done terrible things at his master's command, but he wasn't made to be sadistic or amoral. He'd love nothing more than to be free of Arjun's karma, but outright betrayal isn't easy to contemplate. Neither is it impossible.
Arjun the Lesser, Shadow
One of the last steps on the god-man's path is the creation of a shadow self, one that embodies everything the mystic fears and denies about themselves. Such is the sad fate of Arjun the Lesser.
He's the part of Arjun that regrets a lifetime of cruelty and avarice, the part that knows Arjun's quest for spiritual perfection is, in fact, a desperate bid for immortality.
Physically, the Shadow resembles Arjun's father: a more bookish, middle-aged version of Arjun himself. Frown lines are etched deep on an otherwise kind face.
Arjun the Lesser has not been granted access to any of the Greater Siddhi, but he's fully capable of unlocking them on his own. His greatest power may be the fact that Arjun cannot unmake him without setting back his quest for godhood.
Arjun the Second, Proxy
He may look in his fifties, but this tulpa is less than one year old. Created to act in Arjun's stead during long meditations, he's the mystic's (slightly younger and better looking) twin.
Like Hanuman, he was made to be loyal, but he's too much like his master. He knows a fully realized god-man will have no use for a proxy and lives in fear of the day Arjun scatters him to the wind.
He's been granted a very powerful siddhi (Access to All Places), but he suspects that he could achieve even more spiritual power on his own... if only Arjun would allow it. He must bury these thoughts deep, because they are tantamount to treason.
The proxy's ambitions aren't solely spiritual. He also considers himself the leader of the tulpas and seeks to expand the influence of "his" criminal empire. He thinks they should get out of the sex trade and move into smuggling. In his heart of hearts, he wants to set the tulpas free.
The Gun Buddha
At the top of Arjun's Most Wanted list is a bodhisattva who's been at war with D-Company for months. He's known as the Gun Buddha, mostly on account of the guns. He always has lots of guns.
Varja Singh was a soldier, once upon a time. Raised in a Buddhist monastery, he was well-acquainted with poverty and saw military service as a quick path to trade skills. Sadly, the only thing at which he excelled was shooting people. That left him with a narrow range of employment options after he left the military, so he soon found himself collecting debts for D-Company gangsters.
Twenty years ago, Varja faked his own death and retired to a monastery in the Himalayas, where he made rapid progress. His regret transmuted into compassion, which ultimately led him back to the world as a bodhisattva. He just couldn't abandon all those suffering people.
The Gun Buddha is a serenely calm, smiling man in his late 50s, dressed in a filthy suit and broken sunglasses. He carries lots of guns, but little money, relying on the goodwill of those he's helped for food and shelter.
Not that he needs much of either. Varja can go weeks without food and feels no discomfort from cold or rain. He has seen through the Illusions of Scale and of Mass. He has Access to All Places. His Still Mind gives him perfect aim.
He's kind of a bad motherfucker.
For the better part of a year, he's been tearing apart a D-Company gang in Mumbai, a gang that does frequent business with the mystic pimp. Arjun wants him neutralized immediately and he knows just where to find him. Because, sometimes, Arjun can see the future.
The tulpas will find Vajra Singh in the courtyard of a U-shaped tenement building in the Dharavi slum. At precisely 8:37 am, he'll come barrelling out of an apartment on the 9th floor, leap backwards over the railing, and float down to the ground like a lotus leaf.
Moments later, a man cradling a briefcase will emerge from the elevator with a mob of armed goons. The former will run for his car while the goons run interference. If and how the tulpas intervene in this mess is up to the players.
Varja isn't in the killing business, anymore. He only uses his guns to disarm and disable. He'll be positively disposed toward the tulpas, even if they ambush him, and offer to teach them the Still Mind they'll need to break free of their master.
Whether or not they accept his help isn't as important as whether or not they believe him. If it's possible to survive the death of their master, then he's lit the fuse on one helluva powder keg. If they try, each of the tulpas is capable to achieving the lesser siddhi on their own.
Mohinder the Butcher
Modern ghouls occupy a liminal space in Occult India: the Four Arms allows them to practice a relatively benign form of cannibal-sorcery (they eat the flesh of the dead) so long as they're registered with a name and place of residence. If they drop out of sight for any reason, they're considered just another rakshasa.
However, getting a "do not shoot" from the Four Arms doesn't mean they'll cover up your grave robbing. Ghouls are still on their own when it comes to keeping their pantries stocked with long pig.
Mohinder "The Butcher" Kadam has become a sort of godfather to the ghouls of Mumbai for operating a home delivery service (aka smuggling ring) for human organs. He buys them from crooked coroners, steals them from medical schools, and bribes cemetery groundskeepers to ignore all those men with shovels who visit in the dead of night.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
To stay out of prison, he counts on two things. First, as a ghoul, he knows how to cloud the minds of others. He can conceal himself from sight, change his appearance, and generally make people see (or not see) whatever he wants. That's a handy skill for any criminal.
Second, he occasionally acts as an informant for the Four Arms. He usually knows what the local ghouls are up to, if there are any rakshasa prowling the city, and how to tell a real haunting from a hoax. In return, his Four Arms friends have made evidence disappear for him.
Arjun got on Mohinder's bad side back in the 90s, when he was running cons with the vanara. They'd been selling various animal parts to ghouls as human delicacies. They had themselves a little gang war for a few months, but neither side was willing to stomach casualties, so they eventually agreed to leave each other the hell alone.
But Arjun never forgot the rivalry and now, in the depths of his paranoia, he wants the ghoul's head on a plate.
Mohinder's not a hard man to track down. His family runs a butcher shop in the Parel neighborhood, near several hospitals and a cemetery. It's an unassuming, three story building with apartments upstairs and a concealed basement where the family does its real business.
Anyone attempting a frontal assault will have to deal with nearly a dozen sets of sickle claws and flesh-eating fangs. But that's just the immediate response of the young and ferocious; once the old folks get involved, expect mind games. The tulpas may walk away thinking they've exterminated the place, only to find out later it's still in business as if nothing happened.
And then the ghouls will retaliate, naturally.
Clever sorts can lure Mohinder into an ambush simply by placing an order for some delicious human organs. He's no fool, though, and will have been keeping tabs on Arjun over the years. Assume he'll know who the tulpas are and where they live, at the least.
Mohinder knows that he can't just run away from an attempt on his life. He's got too much invested in Mumbai. If he does manage to sneak away, expect a full-scale retaliatory strike by ghouls and hired guns.
Of course, if he can negotiate a truce through bribery or blackmail, that's just as good.
The Kings of Princess Street
Most of Arjun's old gang buddies are dead or retired, but their successors still remember "Arjun the Swine" as a traitor and a bastard. They're dimly aware that he's still around and connected to D-Company somehow.
Nowadays, the gang works the congested streets of Chira Bazaar and Marine Lines in south Mumbai, where they pose as street performers. They disguise themselves under layers of dirt, hair, and brightly colored costumes. Their act includes dancing, music, juggling, gymnastics, fire breathing and sword swallowing. Junior members interact with the crowd, telling jokes while sizing up marks.
Their real money, however, comes from acts of acrobatic burglary. They hit the homes and hotel rooms of the rich, usually by climbing to an upper floor and sneaking in through a window. This means they can only make off with relatively light-weight goods, but clothing and jewels are easy enough to carry.
Interacting with the gang can be bewildering. They tend to avoid real names, instead referring to each other via a revolving set of nicknames and grandiose titles. You never know if you're speaking to the same person twice. When talking amongst themselves, they use a confounding pidgin of far-flung dialects and the vanaras' ancestral tongue.
The gang has no mastermind, preferring to improvise their way through most jobs. Even so, there are roles to play...
- The Trickster - Nimble in both mind and body, this vanara hasn't met a situation they couldn't lie, leap, hide, fight, or bluff their way out. They're a gifted traceur who takes point on most burglaries. Despite talking nonstop, a true word never escapes their lips.
- The Face - The short man on the totem pole is an aging con man who looks like Amitabh Bachchan, which greases many wheels. He's resigned himself to life as a petty criminal, bears no one ill will, but he'll shiv you in the back if you threaten his friends.
- The Fakir - Few vanara follow the spiritual path, but this one has unlocked the lesser siddhi. They use it to entertain tourists by driving nails and other objects through their body. They're also a skilled martial artist and, when necessary, acts as the gang's muscle.
- The Rookie - The youngest member of the group is a vanara who's studying to be a fakir. They're also a big, big fan of Aahana's movies and will recognize her immediately. This may be good or bad, depending on the plan.
Should any unpleasantness befall the gang, any survivors will correctly intuit Arjun's vulnerable state and hatch a plan to loot his mansion before burning it down with the god-man inside.
One of Arjun the Second's first assignments was to collect money from a D-Company crook who fancies himself a movie producer. He lends money to desperate Bollywood studios in exchange for interest rates to be defined later, where "defined" means beaten out of you.
Kabir Rao isn't just a loan shark, though. Perish the thought. He takes pride in the high quality of "his" movies and knows how each one fits into the grand history of Bollywood film.
His McMansion on glamorous Pali Hill is dominated by glass walls and display cases that show off his collection of movie memorabilia. It's also packed with hidden stores of guns and drugs. It's one big, expensive action set piece. (If you don't demolish it in a shootout, I'll be a sad panda.)
When Kabir needed a very specific sort of girl for a film, his dream girl, he turned to Arjun's seemingly endless supply of made-to-order talent. It didn't come cheap, but Kabir fell in love the moment he saw her.
Photo Credit: Bimal Bose
And the minute principle photography was complete, he married her. It was a predictable turn of events, so much so that Arjun already had a price structure for it, but Kabir didn't feel like paying.
Arjun the Second was dispatched to collect, but the negotiations went south. Kabir's house is crowded with well-paid soldiers at all times of day and night; they tied the tulpa to a motorcycle and dragged him around the hill until all his limbs were broken.
Had he thought to remind Hanuman of all his crazy powers, things may have turned out differently.
The guru fixed him up, but only after Hanuman carried him back to Malabar Hill, a distance of almost ten miles. He hasn't had the courage to go back and try again, but now Arjun wants Kabir's entire gang wiped out...
Of course, at least one of the tulpas should have another agenda: rescue their captive sister, Shanaya. The trick of it will be convincing her that she deserves rescuing. Because he's a monster, Arjun created her to believe that she's human and littered her demoralizing childhood memories with dead relatives, abandonment, and betrayal by friends.
She didn't even object to the wedding, because she thinks she has nowhere else to go. Persuading her otherwise should be difficult enough to merit its own conflict. Throw some dice and let the players make their best case (or knock her out and carry her to the getaway car).
The E-Cigarette Smoking Man
The last target on the list may be the most irrational. For years, Arjun's had a government official so deep in his back pocket the guy could scratch his taint. Now, the mad mystic want's his stoolie's ass, even if it means bringing the Four Arms down on his own head.
Reyansh Chopra is a lawyer by trade and a politician by necessity. As a member of the judiciary, he is well-placed to block search and arrest warrants that might threaten Arjun's business or safety. That includes investigations by the Four Arms.
Unfortunately, Reyansh is a humble and honest man. He earns enough to provide for his family and was happy to settle into a long, unremarkable career in civil service. His only vices are donuts and cigarettes.
To gain his cooperation, Arjun staged a hit-and-run accident. He created a tulpa for the sole purpose of throwing it in front of Reyansh's car on a dark, rain-slicked night. The wretched thing bled to death on the pavement while Reyansh sped off.
Arjun caught the whole thing on video, but he never needed to use it. Just hinting to Reyansh that he knew about the "accident" was enough to secure the lawyer's fealty.
Since then, Reyansh has obstructed enough justice to put himself behind bars for the rest of his natural life. And if that wasn't enough to ease Arjun's mind, the yogi can always zap him with the siddhi of Absolute Lordship, and yet... he's on the hit list.
Reyansh has been on a health kick, lately. He's nearing retirement age and beginning to regret those vices of his. Most mornings, he can be found jogging (slowly, with lots of walking and maybe a little sitting) in one of the parks near his suburban home in Navi Mumbai. His wife bought him an e-cigarette, to which he's taken with a vengeance.
He still eats donuts, though.
His office is in Mumbai proper, so he commutes across the Sion-Pavel Expressway every morning and evening. The court building has respectable security, but nothing extravagant. Still, if you're gonna assassinate a guy, probably pick a place that's not already full of cops and lawyers.
Reyansh Chopra is not, however, a fool. His involvement with Arjun has made him paranoid, over the years, and he now carries mace with him wherever he goes. He keeps his eyes up and flees an area if he notices anyone suspicious. His wife knows to take the kids to visit an out-of-town relative if he doesn't come home on time.
He's not quite ready to shoot somebody, but he's given it a lot of thought.
If you wanna bring the Four Arms into this picture, there should be no shortage of opportunities. Even if the tulpas have been cultivating their karma, finding ways to let everyone live and keep Arjun in the dark, the Four Arms has eyes and ears everywhere...
- Kabir Rao is already under investigation by law enforcement.
- Reyansh Chopra is such a creature of habit, any irregularity will raise his coworkers' suspicions.
- Mohinder's a Four Arms informant and well-known to pretty much every ghoul in Mumbai.
- Vajra Singh has been making enough noise of his own to alert the dead.
The moment anything clearly supernatural happens, the Four Arms will dispatch Chakra agents to surveil the tulpas, which will lead them to the madhouse and the guru inside. This close to enlightenment, he'll be humming like a metaphysical HVAC. It won't take long for them to figure out what's happening and mobilize an encounter team, search warrant be damned!
Their mission: Neutralize the god-man by any means necessary and send everything he's made back to the void. That includes his tulpas.
CODENAME: HARSH TUTOR
The encounter team will be lead by an ascetic monk who specializes in intervening with yogis who've strayed from the path. Those they cannot help, he lobotomize with the siddhi of Absolute Lordship.
At his day job, he's a famous yoga instructor who helps the rich and famous keep their chakras loose. He even has his own franchise, which doubles as a surveillance network for catching power-mad mystics before they happen.
After they happen... HARSH TUTOR is less about helping and more about damage control. His encounter team's job is to get him close enough to talk to the target, at which time he uses the siddhi of Absolute Lordship to make the offender regret their misdeeds and give up on spiritual pursuits forever.
"Those who seek power are not fit to wield it."
If that doesn't work (i.e. because the target also has Absolute Lordship), he creates a bullet-sized distraction for the encounter team's appointed executioner.
HARSH TUTOR is an athletic man in his late forties, though the only real sign of age is a little grey at his temples. He works in simple, loose-fitting attire and is usually barefoot. He approaches every situation, no matter how dangerous, with a relaxed smile.
CODENAME: HINDU KUSH
"Encounter" is a loaded term in modern India. It refers to an extra-judicial killing by a police officer. They became an epidemic during D-Company's heyday in the 1990s.
HINDU KUSH sees the practice as a necessary evil. There are certain things civilized people just can't do, but civilization itself cannot survive without. Murdering psychic time bombs before they blow is one of those things. HINDU KUSH accepts that responsibility so other people can have the luxury of refusing it.
This attitude has served her well in the National Security Guards (NSG), a military law enforcement organization that specializes in anti-terrorism. Their training, firepower, and aversion to media attention make them perfect for Four Arms encounter teams. HINDU KUSH will have about a dozen of her fellow soldiers under her command.
"It's a dirty job. Now shut the fuck up and do it!"
Unfortunately, HINDU KUSH's sense of moral martyrdom means she doesn't waste much time second-guessing her killer instincts. She tends to shoot first and never ask any questions. That's great for a hired gun, but bad for innocent people (and tulpas) who get caught in the crossfire.
HINDU KUSH is a hard-nosed military careerist with steady hands and a confident swagger. Her code name likens her to a deadly mountain range in the Himalayas; some say it translates to "Killer of Hindus."
CODENAME: SKELETON KEY
When you put down a rakshasa hiding in the sewers, no one's the wiser. When you gun down a human being in broad daylight, even a human being who's twenty stories tall and surrounded by holy fire, you need a public relations specialist.
SKELETON KEY is a Mumbai power broker with personal connections in the media, government, and civil infrastructure. His job is to cover up supernatural incidents. For example, he once engineered a gas leak to explain away the demolition of two city blocks and convince bystanders they'd hallucinated a rakshasa's true face. Probably saved everyone a fortune in therapy.
Unlike the rest of the team, SKELETON KEY isn't in the game to protect and serve. He just likes the lifestyle: money, access, power, money.
And did I mention the money?
The tulpas are most likely to encounter SKELETON KEY at the beginning of an incursion. He'll pretext as a tax assessor who just wants to "ask a few questions" about the property. He'll confirm that Arjun is inside, then distract the tulpas while the encounter team makes their move.
SKELETON KEY is a well-dressed businessman in his mid-thirties, flashing whatever ID or badge the situation requires. He's professional, but charming, giving away no hint of tension or deceit.
Sooner or later, the tulpas will have to face their creator. If they don't instigate a showdown, Arjun will. He'll either finally notice all the secrets they're trying to keep from him or decide that he cannot achieve godhood without reintegrating his Anima and his Shadow (at which point, he'll have no need for the other tulpas, either).
The tulpas may or may not have allies in their corner. The Gun Buddha, in particular, would be willing to back them up against Arjun. Tactically, allies seem like a great idea. Dramatically, you don't want them taking the spotlight away from your protagonists.
If you need to keep supporting characters busy, there are a few things you can do...
- Have Arjun conjure monsters for them to fight.
- Let your players run the allies in addition to their normal characters.
- Have Arjun turn them against the tulpas using the siddhi of Absolute Lordship.
- Just flat out kill them early in the fight to demonstrate that Arjun is a serious threat.
If the tulpas have learned new siddhi, or the Still Mind, ganging up on Arjun might be a fair fight. In addition to murder, consider these metaphysical solutions...
- Use Absolute Lordship to give Arjun one of those mystical lobotomies HARSH TUTOR likes so much.
- Limitless Wealth can be used to unmake physical objects, including human beings.
- Transmute Arjun into something inanimate or return him to childhood (and give him a second chance).
- Use Transmigration to take over Arjun's body, even as he's trying to do the same to a protagonist, and snuff his soul out of existence.
- Allow him to reintegrate with Aahana and Arjun the Lesser, because it'll make him a better person. Then, maybe even let him become a god.
If Arjun meets his existential end, one way or another, the tulpas may not survive. Any who've cultivated a Still Mind will be fine. Otherwise, their soul ceases to exist. That means they won't be able to use the other siddhi, even Limitless Wealth, to keep themselves alive.
However, someone else could do it for them, effectively taking over from Arjun. The only character in the immediate cast with that siddhi is HARSH TUTOR, so that might take some convincing. The Gun Buddha doesn't practice Limitless Wealth, but he'd be willing to work on it.
And don't forget the rest of Arjun's harem. If no one takes responsibility for maintaining their existence, they'll all blow out like birthday candles.
One last detail: If the action takes place at the madhouse, it blinks out of existence when Arjun does. Anyone inside suddenly finds themselves standing in an empty foundation, as if the mansion had never been.
If the tulpas have grown on you, there are plenty of ways to continue their story. Any who haven't mastered the Still Mind will want to continue their spiritual training, naturally. They could find a mentor in the Gun Buddha or even the Kings of Princess Street and inherit their adventures, but hopping to another master might not be their cup o' tea.
The good news is that they can always teach themselves.
Responsible types might want to roll up what remains of Arjun's slave trade. That means tracking down all the other tulpas, teaching them Still Mind, and cleaning up whatever mess Arjun sent them into. After that, they could do the same for tulpas all over India.
Alternatively, they could decide to stay in Mumbai and use Arjun's criminal contacts to build their own syndicate. They could use his smuggling apparatus to enter the black market in occult artifacts or pick up Arjun's stockpile of blackmail secrets and put them to new uses.
Consider that last option even if your players move on to other protagonists. A cabal of free tulpas would make great supporting characters for other vignettes.