Category Archives: Anachronistic Adventurers
Short Fiction: Battle of the Channel
[Following my medical issues of a week-and-a-half ago, I’m going to be digging through my files for content for folks while I recover, and I have no idea how often I’ll post. This may be my only blog entry for the week — we’ll see how it goes.
The early versions of this snippet of fictional history have been sitting on my hard drive since I published Anachronistic Adventures, nearly a decade ago. It was supposed to be broken up as 1-2 paragraph chapter heads for a dieselpunk Second War of the Worlds setting book, which I played with but never got around to seriously developing for publication.
It appears here for the first time.]
From “A History of The Second War of the Worlds. Vol IV, Chapter 11: The First Battle of the Channel”
“Before it can be understood how a flotilla of Armored Rams was expected to hold the Straight of Dover against tripod war machines, and why those expectations were ill-grounded in the reality of the Second Martian Invasion, it’s necessary to understand the design of the Armored Rams as a class, and the Thunderchild in particular.
“Unlike older its namesake, Armored Ram Thunderchild was purpose-built to fight the Martian war machines, though no Earthly designer could have conceived of how much more dangerous the Second Invasion walkers were than what humanity had seen before. Displacing 21 long tons, the Thunderchild-class as a whole had no exposed turrets or smokestacks, as such protuberances would have been nothing but burs for Martian heat-rays to melt smooth in the opening seconds of any conflict. Its exterior was closer in appearance to the bottom of a typical boat, a curved wedge coming to its sharp, heavily reinforced point right at its waterline. Only the massive steel rivets running in long lines along the ship hinted at the thickness of its exterior hull armor, and the armored quarts viewports were nearly impossible to pick out from their metal frames.
“This exterior armor was just one of the Thunderchild’s defenses. The apparently-contiguous armored exterior was, in fact, a series of carefully overlapping plates. Behind that armor were more water pumps than any seaborne vessel had ever carried before, all fed by intakes along the ship’s belly. Combined, the pumps had a capacity of more than 500,000 gallons per minute, sprayed onto the armor from the inside, ready to cool it against the murderous burning of heat rays. The overlapping armored plates running its full 427-foot length allowed steam created by this cooling to escape as quickly as it was generated, and when the ship moved at speed the design was such that air was sucked through the space between the outer and inner hull for further cooling.
“After the outer hull and the radiators and the water-cooling system, thick layers of asbestos insulated the inner hull from the expected hellish conditions of the outer hull dissipating steel-melting temperatures, and then another layer of armor sat behind that. This inner armor was not vented, but instead able to form an airtight, pressurized seal adapted from the French Aigrette-class submarines. The Thunderchild-class was designed not to submerge, but to keep their crew safe in airtight chambers when tripod war machines covered the sea with their villainous black gas.
“The sole exception to this seal was the engine intakes, which drew in air from just above the waterline (assumed — correctly — by designers to be where air would be coolest in a heat ray-enabled battle) and passed it along sealed pipes to furnaces for the ship’s 18 Babcock & Wilcox boilers to power the ship’s mighty steam turbines. While black gas was deadly to any living creature that breathed or touched it, its effect on machines was more a question of greater anticorrosion measures. Having black gas potentially fill sections of the engines that might call for repair necessitated a new class of “smokesuit engineers,” but this was considered a small price to have engines at full power, and a crew safe from the horrors of Martian chemical weapons.
“Finally, carbon dioxide scrubbers and oxygen rebreathers were installed within the ship to form an “air support system,” ensuring that it could operate in its fully-airtight “buttoned up” state for several hours if necessary under full steam, or for roughly 30 minutes if the ship was forced to run purely on battery power.
“Lacking any exterior guns, the offense of an Armored Ram was twofold. First, as the name suggests, the entire Thunderchild-class was a throwback to ram-armed ships of the galleys of Imperial Rome. The entire construction of the keel and ribbing was to brace the thickest, most heavily armor section of the ship, the ram prow or “beak,” which was shaped to carry the ship’s massive tonnage into and throw any other vehicle it struck, be that naval vessel or walker. Secondly, it carried five 18 in torpedo tubes, designed to fire the Mark VII torpedo, each carrying 320 lbs of TNT. The torpedo tubes were mounted forward, centered behind and under the Ram Beak, well below the waterline and presumed safe from both heat rays and black gas.
“The Thunderchild-class were also called Peaceships (as opposed to Warships), because they were designed exclusively to deal with Martian war machines. Though a Thunderchild could theoretically ram an Earthly battleship, their total lack of heavy guns made them no match for modern naval vessels such as the American Virginia class, English King Edward VII class, or Italian Regina Margherita class battleships. As Martian war machines had never used heavy projectile weaponry, it was believed there was no need to develop tactics for anything other than heat rays and black gas, and while the heavy layer armor of a Thunderchild-class vessel could survive glancing blows from 9-inch guns and ignore smaller caliber weapons, the bigger 12-inch naval guns were able to sink an Armored Ram at ranges in the thousands of yards — well before torpedoes or a ramming run were a threat.
“Thus, when the Martians returned in 1909, it was expected the Thunderchild-class and similar ram ship designs worldwide would be crucial to keeping coasts and waterways clear of 100-120 ft. tall tripods. England invested more heavily in such ships because of the heavy fighting in and around harbors in 1896, and the belief that Martians would focus on disabling the English naval fleet. What no one expected was 250- to 300-foot tall tripods splashing down directly in waters all around England, as well as in its interior, and the English mainland falling to Martian forces within days. And, as Europe watched in horror, massive legions of the much-taller tripods marched towards the Straight of Dover, a narrow barrier between England and France no more than 180 feet deep.
“The Martians would not, it was realized, be limited to walking in rivers, coastlines, and harbors. The new War Machines were taller than the Straight was deep, and could simply walk the 20 or so miles to Europe. Fleets were rushed to the waters, but the taller tripods also had greatly increased range of their black gas canisters and could blanket the waves up to 10 miles away. Traditional warships could not get within gunnery ranges without being choked by the gas, their crews choked by the necrotic substance before a single shot could be fired.
“It would be up to the four Thunderchild-class ships.
“Volumes have been written on the command failures of the captains of the Ligetung, Stormspite, and Taranis, which lead to their destruction. Most of these analyses are unforgiving, placing it as purely tactical error for those ships to have stayed at their extreme torpedo ranges, rather than rushing in to ram foes as the Thunderchild did. However, it must be remembered that Martians had not revealed the existence of either their Kraken tendril-canisters or Scylla tendril-augmented black gas canisters. Had the captains of any of the three ships been alerted to the Martian equivalent of kinetic guns, able to fire whirling masses of sliding plate tendrils that could rips targets apart (and, in the case of Scylla canisters, flood an area with black gas while doing so), they no doubt would have closed range as quickly as possible.
“The more interesting question is why the crew of the Thunderchild bore toward the massed tripods walking across the Straight in the first moments of siting the enemy. True, the Armored Ram ships were conceived as close-combatants, but naval doctrine at the time leaned heavily toward soften up any enemy formation at range if possible. Arguably, it was the captain of the Thunderchild who acted in error despite being the only ship to survive the opening minutes of the battle as a result. Tragically, as there were no survivors, the question of whether the officers aboard were driven by tactical brilliance, reckless battle-lust, or a desire to match the boldness of their namesake from the first War of the Worlds will never be answered.
“Moving at its full 22 knots, the Thunderchild proved a difficult target for Martian canister launchers. Even tendril-enabled canisters bounced off its hull too quickly to gain purchase, and the massive spray created by its Ram Beak-enabled prow may have confused Martian gunners. In its first pass, the Thunderchild sank 4 Tripods with ram hits, and one with a lucky torpedo salvo, and disabled the legs of 3 more, leaving them unable to continue across the Straight.
“But this success was not without cost. The expected heat rays did splay across Thunderchild‘s hull to horrifying effect, literally melting and warping sections of its outer armor and largely destroying its port prow cooling pumps. Worse, each time the Thunderchild rammed a Tripod, the naval ship slowed enough for the walker’s tendrils to grasp and scrabble at its upper hull. Numerous plates were wrenched from true, leaving gaps and weak points in the ship’s defenses, and a few were torn free entirely. Reports of the day claim the Thunderchild remained at full fighting capacity after its initial charge, but careful analysis of photos f the conflict put lie to this claim, which was likely more propaganda than bad intelligence even at the time.
“Even so, the ship barely slowed as it arced around for a second pass, which if not as effective as the first still sunk three Tripods and badly injured two more. Though more than two dozen walkers were involved in the Martian advance against the straight, the legend of the Thunderchild and the tripod’s clear focus on the Armored Ram spurred every British vessel able to float to pick that time to flee across the Channel. For dozens of miles up and down the coast, the few remaining naval ships made dashes for France, along with private craft, river ferries, and even makeshift barges. The exodus continued as long as the Thunderchild could float and fight, and is credited with evacuating more than 300,000 civilians and fighting forces. At the time, this was hailed as a great humanitarian victory, and in the years since we have come to understand just how great the impact to the Martian war effort was to remove the people it would otherwise have literally fed into its War Machines.
“By the end of its second pass, the Thunderchild was clearly in distress. It was visible on fire, and had slowed to less than half its maximum speed–a deadly limit for a ship dependent on kinetic impact to do damage. Pictures prove that at least one Kraken and one Scylla canister had found purchase on its outer hull at last, and numerous eyewitness accounts claim a Kraken tendril mass actually climbed into the Thunderchild midships, where only the crew’s small arms fire could possibly slow it. Wounded, boarded, and burning, no one could have faulted the Thunderchild if it had given quit to the battle, and turned toward France.
“But it did not.
“Whereas its previous attack runs had been the swift jabs of trained pugilists, its course plotted to ensure it deflected from each impact on a vector to bring it ramming into another tripod, the third pass of the Thunderchild was the ponderous swing of a drunken barroom brawl. Its only kill was from a final torpedo salvo that took advantage of a tripod attempting to directly block its path, and the two other walkers it damaged simply had their legs bent from glancing blows from the ram’s flanks.
“Though it managed to steam free of the remaining tripods massing to bring it down through sheer weight of tendril attacks, the Thunderchild was clearly in no condition for another attack run. Nearly half its exterior armor was gone, and in a few places its interior hull was also breached. Two explosions had rocked its starboard side below the waterline, and it listed toward that side as it came around. It moved sluggishly at best, and if any of the remaining tripods had tendril-canisters to spare, they could surely have dropped the deadly writhing weapons on Thunderchild‘s near-wreck, and torn it apart at a distance.
“But in a victory as great as the war machines it sank, the Thunderchild had shown the limit of the new Martian weapons. As horrifying as the Kraken and Scylla cannister-launchers were, their reload numbers within each tripod were limited. Most tripods carried only six canisters of this type, and those with prisoner cages carried only four. The slightly larger walkers later identified as command units could carry eight, but at the cost of not having any of the standard black gas dispensers. After the destruction of its sisterships at distance, and three full circuits of its own through the Tripod formation, the Thunderchild had taken the measure of the Martian’s new armament. If heat rays couldn’t sink it, and the ship showed no sign of going down despite belching steam and black smoke into the air, the Martians would have to tear the Armored Ram apart with their Tripod’s own tendrils, in close combat.
“Legend says the navigator for the Thunderchild was the sole survivor on its bridge by this point in the battle, and he lashed himself to the helm to make a final run into the Martian formation. It’s a heroic tale, and one popularized when the navigator’s wife became one of the most famous naval commanders later in the war. But there’s no way to confirm the story and, indeed, no way anyone could have known what happened on the bridge to begin with. But it takes no legends to acknowledge the bravery of the crew of the Thunderchild because, whether helmed by a lone hero lashed to the controls or a few brave men facing what they knew had to be their end, the Armored Ram turned toward the Tripod formation a fourth time.
“There would be no passing through the Martian forces this time. At no more than 10 knots, the Thunderchild made straight for the tallest of the walkers, and the Martian forces swarmed the point to ensure the ship could not escape again. The Armored Ram can be said to have drifted as much as steamed to the engagement, and was riding quite low in the water. As for what happened once it was surrounded, inhuman tripods using long tendrils to tear it apart and pluck bodies (though living or dead it is impossible to say) from its bulk, perhaps it was an inevitable coincidence given the ship’s damage.
“But a case can be made the timing was too perfect. The moment came just as the last War Machines surrounded the Thunderchild, and applied such pressure to its hull that the keel was heard to crack. It might have been coincidence, but if so the coincidence had timing as good as any lone engineer shut into the ship’s bowels could have hoped for.
“For it was only then the Thunderchild heaved in the water and, with a roar heard on the French mainland, exploded.
“No Martian force attempted to cross the Channel for a full2 days following that detonation. Was it fear that held them at the moment no effective defender remained to stop them? Loss of a commander sewing confusion through their ranks? A need to analyze how a lone ship named Thunderchild had, as a generation before, held them at bay?
“The thousands who escaped to France during those two days did not then, and do not today, have that answer.”
Methods of Support
So, a lot of people have offered a lot of support, and I deeply, deeply appreciate it. There are plans moving forward to try to help cover medical bills and loss of income, and when they’re ready, I’ll announce them here. I may end up needing to turn to extraordinary measures, such as a GoFundMe, but I won’t be doing that until I know for certain I have to.
However, if you DO want to offer immediate support, I won’t refuse it. You can join or increase your membership tier at my Patreon, or if you prefer do one-time support through my Ko-Fi.
Storytime: The Insane 20-Person, 14-Hour, Multiple ttRPG Game System Adventure I Played In At WorldCon 1984
Over the weekend I was reminiscing about my first big convention, the 42nd WorldCon when I was 13 years old, and how I wandered around by myself in LA with hundreds of dollars for most of a week. For those curious about the whole post, it’s at the end of this blog entry.
But one of the things I have gotten the most feedback on from that story was mentioning I played in a “20-player, 14-hour game of mixed Basic/Expert D&D, 1st ed AD&D, 2nd ed Boot Hill, & Metamorphosis Alpha.” And, yeah, that was pretty crazy. Several people have asked me to talk more about that game, and it was darn near 40 years ago, but I’ll give a quick rundown to the best of my recollection.
There were lots of “Open Gaming” rooms at the 1984 WorldCon, spread over numerous hotels, which were set aside for people to just organize their own game sessions. I am sure there were organized tournaments and scheduled games as well, but I didn’t interact with that end of things at all (and still rarely do). Instead, I had a backpack with my favorite characters, a bunch of dice, some snacks, and a couple of rulebooks, and looked for people interested in striking up an ad hoc game. That was how gaming had been handled in the tiny convention that was my first taste of cons in Norman the year before, so that was what I expected to be the “standard.”
And, there was a pretty robust 24/7 gaming scene in at least one of the hotels, and I got a few games in. But the one I remember best started about 5-6pm, I think on Thursday (might have been Friday), and came together because a charismatic young man (I thought of him as “an adult” at the time, I’d guess now he was somewhere in his 20s, likely college-aged) stood on a chair in one of the biggest open-game rooms, and shouted he would run a game for any number of people, allowing any characters, from any game system, all together.
There was a lot of slack-jawed disbelief, but when he started setting up multiple fishing tackle boxes of dice, miniatures, and terrain, a bunch of us got interested and went over to see what was up. There were 20 of us players (give or take), and only 3 open round banquet tables in the room. I mentioned there were spare tables a couple of floors down and a young woman (older than me, but I thought not by much — I do not remember her name… I don’t think though it might have been Susan, but she had what I thought was an adorable Canadian accent) said we should go steel them. And she was leading the mission, because she was going to playing an Expert Thief.
So a few of went with her, rode an escalator down one level, cleared and grabbed two round tables no one seemed to be using, rolled them down the hall, had 2-person teams brace them on the escalator for a ride up, and rolled them down to the game room.
The GM had the now 5 tables arranged in a circle, stored his stuff on the floor under them, stood in the middle, and explained the game. First, he really meant any character, any game system. We each got to do one thing in a round, and he’d deal with each of us in our native game system. If there was one monster, the Metamorphasis Alpha characters would fire gyrojet rounds at it, the various D&D players swing swords and fling spells, and the Boot Hill gang (all of one table IIRC) could fan revolvers and unload shotguns. I’m pretty sure he played fast and loose with the rules, all the rules, but it never interfered with the game.
I played a high-level cleric who worshipped Saint Cuthbert of the Cudgel, and carried said saint’s cudgel as an artifact. There were several D&D characters of various editions and classes, a flying psychic telekinetic blue whale and it’s ally a white 4-armed gorilla covered in chitinous armor plates, a Boot Hill outlaw gang (maybe called the Broken Trestle Gang?), and I am absolutely forgetting several folks.
The GM got straight to the set-up, explaining that each of us had a dream where we were told by a wispy voice that only we could save everything, and the End was coming to destroy the Demiurges, destroying all of reality, and we had to stop it. And then our characters woke up on an island covered in various ship, train, and carriage wrecks, with a huge ruby tower at the center. We roleplayed introductions briefly, dealt with the fact several characters thought they were still dreaming (or had gone mad, or were high on bad moonshine, or all of the above)… and then just as we were trying to figure out who would be in charge and what we were going to do, creatures that looked like the garthim from the Dark Crystal came wading out of the water to attack us, and they had small turrets on their shells with machine guns in them.
It was quickly clear that if you didn’t have cover, the machine guns would chew you up. And if you did have cover, the guns would chew it up in a few rounds. So we tried to cover each other and fell back toward the ruby tower. But we couldn’t get in the front door. So, the flying blue whale told us all to climb on board it, and it flew up the tower… and through a big crack in the sky.
And we went reality-hopping on a psychic mutant blue whale. If someone’s character died, they ran to go grab food (we all pitched in), then usually came back to watch, at least for a few hours.
I absolutely can’t remember everything that happened. We stayed up all night, eating cold pizza and drinking warm Pepsi, and I had the time of my life. There were undead WWII battleships, living “evil eyes” that would fly into the wound of a dead person to become a “third eye” and possess them, floating islands, reality and alternate planes curling back on each other, and at least a little time was spent in fantasy, Old West, and Generation Ship in Space settings. One of the D&D rogues ended up with a sawed-off Boot Hill shotgun. One of the Boot Hill gang members got a ray gun from Metamorphasis Alpha. The psychic blue whale sacrificed itself to save us when a spiked ghost train attacked us in the Astral Plane by crashing into it head-on, while an AD&D wizard riding it broke his Staff of the Magi on its cowcatcher.
We worked out that The End wanted all our worlds to stop existing, and had discovered our worlds all existed because the Demiurges willed them to, and all the Demiurges were gathered in one place, and it was going to kill them, but we could stop it. And the flying eyes all belonged to an extradimensional creature that served as a lookout for the End. It had a weird name, like “That Which Disapproves,” though I doubt that’s exactly right.
We played all evening, all night, and well into the next morning. Character after character died, but we knew it was okay, because if we stopped the End, they would live again, and if we didn’t we’d all cease to exist.
We ended up with just 5-6 of us left, in the Modern Era, in LA, hunting the End through the halls of a hotel… and finally found it. It was a scrawny, unimpressive, short boogeyman, lurking outside a room at the hotel. And it was looking through the door at… us.
Us, the players. We were the Demiurges. The End wanted to kill us, and if our characters didn’t stop it, we, as real-world people, would be killed by it. The idea thrilled me…and freaked me out.
But the last few heroes (including my cleric) destroyed the End, ensuring that the worlds of adventure would continue forever. And we realized we could, as our characters, go into the room and meet ourselves, as players. And in that moment, having gorged myself on junk food and soda and been awake for something like 36 hours and playing for 14, I believed. But, we decided in-character that might freak out the Demiurges, so we left.
Also, there was something about a dartboard. There was a folding-cabinet bar-style dartboard in that hotel conference room for some reason, and it came into play in the story of the End, but I can’t for the life or me remember how.
And the game ended. We exchanged long-distance phone numbers and address and promised to keep in touch and I, at least, had lost all that info by the end of the weekend.
Then I went and slept in the Anime Room, because it was closer than my hotel room.
Want to Support This Blog?!
You can join my Patreon, or drop a coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi.
For those of you who want some context, here’s the story I posted on Social Media about my time at the 42nd WorldCon.
I don’t have kids, and I am well aware that things were different 40 years ago. But apparently even people my own age are shocked to learn my mother was fine with me wandering around LA on my own at age 13 with $500 on me.
Though to be fair, $300 of that was traveler’s checks.
It was for the 42nd WorldCon, and I was almost 14.
My mother went with me, and we had a hotel room, but we mostly checked in on a notepad in the room. We rarely saw each other.
She was filking. I was gaming.
I went to a Elfquest #20 Howl/release party. A woman dressed as Nightfall flirted with me and gave me first-ever romantic kiss (from someone I didn’t even know the real name of).
Saw the anime Lensman movie.
Was part of a banquet table heist so we could fit more gamers in a room.
Rode to Disneyland with C.J. Cherryh.
Ate breakfast at a diner counter at 4am, discussing Return of the Jedi with some nightflyers who weren’t, AFAICT, die-hard geeks.
Played a 20-player, 14-hour game of mixed Basic/Expert D&D, 1st ed AD&D, 2nd ed Boot Hill, & Metamorphosis Alpha.
Bought my first junk metal wall-hanged sword.
Broke my first junk metal wall-hanger sword.
Bought my second junk-metal wall-hanger sword.
Got offered, and declined, my first beer from a stranger.
Ordered a delivery pizza just for me to eat watching movies, for the first time.
Saw, for the first time, ALIEN, Dawn of the Dead, Heavy Metal, Flesh Gordon, Dark Star, Sapphire & Steel, The Quatermass Experiment, Mad Max, Life of Brian, Clockwork Orange, and Zardoz. The video quality was often terrible, and some may have been taped off movie screens.
That was my 2nd or 3rd scifi convention ever, and it would be a high-point until I got to a Gen Con in the late 1990s.
I was a BIG 13-year old, in both height and weight. I’d never been unsupervised while away from my home town before. We didn’t have cell phone, or pagers.
Now as it turns out, I was fine. I can’t say if it was genius parenting, or luck, but the experience was formative for me in a lot of ways. Not the least of which was I saw how total strangers reacted when someone whipped out a big wad of $20s, and stopped doing that.
Really Wild West: Doomstone Campaign Ends
I wanted to spread this info over 5 articles last week. I started several of them. but I also got kidney stones… and that derailed everything. So, here is 5 articles worth of content and pictures, all crammed into one post.
End of an Era… of Gaming
Since moving back to Oklahoma, I have been running a Starfinder play mode I called the Really Wild West, in a campaign titled Doomstone. We just wrapped it up in my last session.
I don’t get to actually complete campaigns all that often. Scheduling or relocation usually kills them off first, and honestly burnout of myself or players is more common than wrapping a whole campaign plotline. And, to be fair, some games I designed to be endless sandboxes, so there was no “end” for the storyline to reach.
I originally intended to turn Really Wild West into a commercial setting book, so there is a ton of art and game rules and background for it on this site. Given how far behind I am on other projects that’s certainly not happening anytime soon (thankfully I never took money or preorders for it), and it may never happen. But the material is all still available, so you can see where I was going with it. And I never let anything go to waste, so the core material will likely show up in *something*.
For those of you who were following along back when I was posting session-by-session updates, here’s a super-quick rundown of the campaign, minus subplots. (There’s tons of cool stuff I just don’t have time to go into for a summery –how the PCs got the pistol Killdemon, the redemption of Beardcutter Ben the Shaver’s friend, the duel where Crackers Jack threatened to murder a the mysterious gunslinger who killed his brother only to in the end shoot himself in the hand so honor is satisfied, the Tombspider Inn, BoHoss the Ogre, Tex Tanner the Helium Baron, Ceasear — professional snuggler, “that Goddamn Manticore”…)
Earth, 1891. Magic and fantasy creatures have always been part of the world. Last year, the Martains attacked in the first War of the World.
The PCs (a centaur paladin, mysterious gunslinger, fenrin bounty hunter, human mechanic technopolitin, and orc cartogramancer easterner) were each for their own reasons on a train headed west. It’s attacked by teleporting serpentfolk bandidos who, it turns out, are trying to steal a safe being transported by the Fonts & Bismark company. The safe contains a Martian Power Generator, salvaged from a Martian tripod.
The PCs do some investigating, and come to believe the attack was funded by the East Hudson Bay Fur Trading Company, who have also taken over a local ranch and are making life difficult for its neighbors. Investigating further they discover the EHBFTC is funding a dig into a mesa where a genius known as Professor Adremelich is using converted Martian Digging Machines to access Demiplanes, including one with serpentfolk, and one with svirfneblin the Professor is using as forced labor. Using svirfneblin crystal tech after liberating them, the PCs raid the Serpentfolk demiplane, and cut it off from the Material Plane.
Evidence gather suggests Professor Adremelich wishes to become a Darkling, a more-than-mortal creature empowered by one of the Fates Worse than Death. Specifically he appears to be possessed by the Venom King, a medieval worldwide threat put down by the centaur paladin before she died, and the return of which is why she has been brought back.
The PCs commandeer one of the Martian Digging Machines and the mechanic technopolitan converts to be their expedition vehicle, the “Armadillo.” The PCs begin to see themselves mentioned in the papers, and decide to take the name “Knight Rangers,” rather than be stuck with some yellow-journalism appellation.
They also encounter a Deputy of Death, a psychopomp cavalryman who warns that someone has escaped the Lands of the Dead, and if the deputies can’t bring him in their boss, “The Marshal” will come handle it personally. The Marshal getting into a fight on the Mortal plane could be… catastrophic.
Like, end-of-the-Olmec Empire catastrophic.
Realizing that defeating a proto-Darkling will require mystic aid, the group head to Hellgate, Montana, home of the famous hellgate University which allows the licensed study of fel magic, and thus should have experts who can help. Along the way they face Sumerian Vrock Demons, Angry Minotaurs (who they placate and befiend), and a cyborg named “Barron the Immortal”” who is causing all sorts of trouble, and they deal with him scoffing at the “Immortal” part of his name.
Of course the expert they need is currently lost after taking an expedition into the dinosaur-infested Badlands. Also, Hellgate appears to have a mole, and another cult is found supporting a myserious cigar-smoking man who clearly also wishes to become a Darkling, the Bloodletter, and is not as far along as the Venom King but is apparently working with him.
The PCs go rescue the expert they need, put an end to a spreading ghoul plague among the dinosaur population, drop a boxcar on a ghast allisaurus while using a holy smite to empower it, discover the mole in Hellgate U is the Chancellor who is also the Bloodletter Darkling wannabe, get attacked by Barron the Immortal again (who, it turns out, cut up his brain and used it to empower multiple mechanical bodies), and get a line on where Professor Aremelich is.
Their expert will make them a nail to drive through a Darkling’s shadow, so shooting them with a bullet will kill the darkling position itself, never to return. But, she also recommends they use the Chancellor’s research to find King Arthur’s Spear, Rhongomiant, which was forged to destroy the Darkling of Betrayal but was never used against it. The PCs raid the Chancellor’s secret base, slay a vampire, and get his notes. those take them to a hidden valley where there is a gate to the fiendish demiplane where the lost Legio IX Hispana Roman legion has existed for centuries, having turned to diabolism to survive a massacre and the fall of the Roman empire.
Fight on a giant gearwork dimension device, lots of Roman themed devils, free the people living under fiendish tyranny, get the spear. Encounter a second Psychopomp Deputy of the Marshal of Death, who warns time is getting short.
Upon returning to Hellgate, they discover it’s been attacked by a Martian Walker, the first anyone has managed to get functional since the War of the Worlds. They immediately help the US cavalry track it down, discover it’s a distraction drawing eyes away from a third Barron the Immortal, who is trying to complete a Martian Factory they began building just weeks before they fell to disease. The PCs stomp him and it, and find notes suggesting there’s just one Barron left… the most powerful of them.
They also discover a working Martian interplanetary communicator, and from its signal learn the Martian elite back on Mars are diabolists, and they are planning a second invasion… eventually.
The Knight Rangers still need to deal with the Tripod, and hunt it down with the Armadillo, fighting it in a Ghost Town. They win.
Tracking Professor Adremelich to Helena, Montana, they find the city is cut off by an evil vapor projected from a Paddle Steamer. They sneak up on and attack the Steamer, ultimately dealing with its owner an ancient Sumerian Elf Vulture Diabolist. Upon killing him, the Mysterious Gunslinger PC discovers he has become a Deputy of Death, for bringing in a long-outstanding fugitive, giving him natural ghost gun advantages
Helena saved, they advance on the Monarch hotel, where Professor Adremelich/the Venom King is preparing to perform the ritual to become a full Darkling. To get to him they must face the last Barron the Immortal… who is a giant mechanical spider n the third act.
From there they descend into the basements beneath the Monarch, then the sub-basements, then they discover the builders had ignored numerous warnings from pre-Columbian cultures that said not to dig here. This is because when a Darkling brought down the Olmec Empire, his disciples had fled to North America, and build an underground Ziggurat to try to bring him back. The heroes of the existing lost-to-history native cultures of the time (referred to as the Woodland Mounds culture by some RWW historians) defeated them and left warnings which later cultures in Algonquian- and Siouan-language speaking peoples had maintained and respected.
The builders of the Monarch had not.
It is revealed Professor Adremelich has been hired to build digging machines to go even deeper below the Monarch, had encounter the darkling Cult Ziggaraut, and because of the poisonous Black gas the Martians has used in the War of the Worlds was so power, the dead Venom King had been able to whisper to the professor, hooking him as a host. Now, in that cavern, the Knight Rangers must face the about-to-ascend Venom King one and for all, in an ancient cavern littered with his failed technological and magical experiments, magic teleporting portals, two canopic guardians, a venom specter, a stream from the River Styx, and the Venom King himself.
The fight was long and hard, but in the end, the Canpoic Guardians were destroyed, the mechanic kept the mystic or technological experiments from coming to life, the bounty hunter took down the undead chimera, the technomancer dispelled the Venom King’s displacement and other defenses, the Paladin pinned his shadow to the ground with Rhongomiant, and the Gunslinger took the only and only bullet they had to destroy him forever, and made an attack roll in the open, for all to see.
And rolled an 18. And shot the bastard right between the eyes, destroying that threat forever.
There was some wrap-up after that. The Marshal of Death dropped by to say the issue was settled. The paladin discovered she didn’t have to die to keep the universe balanced. Everyone agreed to invest in the mechanic’s soon-to-be-established tech company.
So, for now, game over.
I mean THAT game. I’m still getting together with these folks, who I have been playing with for 35+ years, and bouncing dice. Just not, for the moment, the Really Wild West.
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more of my home game notes (or more rules for various game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!
#SettingPitch: “Underground States of America”
Absolutely nothing I release today is going to get any attention whatsoever, given the new playtest for the World‘s Most Popular ttRPG went live this afternoon. So, I am taking this as an opportunity to do whatever I want!
“Underground States of America“ was an idea I had in late 2019, while living in Evansville, Indiana. It sparked with the concept of having subterranean “Brain Eaters“ in a Post–Apocalyptic setting that everyone was scared of, but turned out to just be Hoosiers who still enjoyed pig–brain sandwiches. From there, I began to think about what the underground in every state would look like and, for no good reason whatsoever, started in Kansas.
I was never sure what I was going to do with this. Third–party campaign setting for the space–based “Finder“ rog I had helped create? Game world for the system I have been working on ever since I thought of the Adventures of the League of Women Spelunkers, in 2016? Actually write a novel like I have meant to for 30 years?
Then I took on other projects, and stopped having time to do anything with this nugget, at least so far. I hope you enjoy this file from my archives.
Nothing here is Open Game Content, this post is not covered by the Open Game License.
U.S.A –Underground States of America
No one older than the age of 3 survived whatever sent all of Lebanon, Kansas (including a shockingly large number of politicians, scientists, and military), to flee to Shelter 48, and none of those ever knew what had happened to cause the evacuation. They were raised by clearly-repurposed automated systems, which often tried to pluck eggs from under the children, or check them for Swine Fever. Shelter 48 had canned and powdered food aplenty, power, clothes, tools, medical supplies, movies, novels, manuals… but nothing with a year on it. Very little with name brands. No firearms. No *explanation* of firearms, or gunpowder, or nitro, or fireworks. Lots of bodies, though. Burned, skeletonized, mummified, rotted, and some twisted like they’d been turned to putty, placed in taffy-pulling machines, then dried out into the consistency of old leather.
Still with watches, glasses, nametags, and even money But only pennies, quarters, and golden Sacagawea dollars, all shiny and new when found, and all with XXXX where a date should be.
That first Orphan Generation was big, though no one is sure of the exact number. The best guess is around 5,000 children were in the 100 nurseries when Shelter 48 came online, each with their own Sigil, a small distinct black-line shape on their wrist.
The Big Clock says it’s been 54 years since Shelter 48 came online. And it keeps counting up in years, months, days, hours, minutes, down to thousands of a second which spin by so fast no one can tell if there are actually numbers on those dials. And from 7 pm to 7 am, by the Big Clock, the Main Lights get dimmer and dimmer, though never completely going out, and then brighter and brighter
Very few of the Orphan Generation are still around, but their children and grandchildren, and even a few great-grandchildren are. Every child is born with all the sigils of their parents and grandparents on their wrist. Some great-grandchildren have their great-grandparent’s sigils, some don’t, and some have a few and not others. But you don’t need to check someone’s wrist to know if they share a sigil with you. If you smell a sigilkin, or touch their skin with yours, you have a flood of affection, protection, trust and familiarity fill you. But not sexual attraction. Indeed, the idea of being sexually attracted to your sigilkin is… well, it’s just gross. Nauseating, in fact.
Shelter 48 had numerous huge metal doors. It took a long time to find them all, given the almost-23,000 acres of tunnels, dorms, nurseries, warehouses, sick bays, factories, hydroponics, classrooms, databases, labs, libraries, theaters, parks, air scrubbers, power transformers, jail cells, observation posts, pools, gyms, sports fields, archery ranges, go-cart courses, mushroom farms, indoor skydiving shafts, meat printers, knife dispensaries, pill vendors, obstacle courses, computerized therapy and career guidance offices, pillow pits, quiet rooms, loud rooms, cryogenics repositories, cybersurgery autodocs, insect zoos, suicide booths, 21+ robot-monitored red-light halls and toy rentals, thumbprint-coded safety deposit boxes, courtrooms, trial-by-combat rooms, companion animal adoption centers, snorkeling courses, self-serve horrorhelm and deprivation stations, psionic activation chambers, and the periodic weirdly lit dodecahedral-shaped RONKUs (Rooms Of No Known Use).
None of them opened easily. But over 5 decades, with books and screens and machine shops, most of them have been forced open or torn apart. None lead up. Indeed, nothing found ever even suggests there *is* an “up.” But there are more tunnels, and chambers, and shelters, including those that claim to be located under Caldwell, Ellsworth, Kansas City, Lincoln, Leavenworth, Douglass, Fort Scott, and Wichita. Sadly, none of those have done as well as Shelter 48. Shelter 16 under Caldwell is the source of endless corpses (human and otherwise) infected and animated by weird fungi. Shelter 67 under Leavenworth has turned to cannibalistic warfare between 7 factions. Shelter 104 under Witchita, the largest encountered to date, is a dangerous ruin of run-amok robotics, carnivorous roaches, mole-boars, psionic ant colonies, and apparently one madman called Rawhand wearing a Richard Nixon mask and attacking people with an atomic-battery-equipped power drill he carries in massive, gnarled, skinless hands.
Several smaller Shelters simply had their populations fail to thrive as well as Shelter 48, and survive by trade and hiring out as mercenaries, workers, and anything else they are willing to be paid for. Some non-shelter Chambers have been turned into homesteads by groups fleeing on failed Shelter or another, or decided to carve their own way rather than bow to whatever ruling party controlled their point of origin.
Outside the Shelters and Homesteads, are thousands of rooms, tunnels, caves, and waterways both natural and man-made crossing an area of at least 90,000 square miles, all underground. Not only has it not all been mapped, but cave-ins often block old paths, and sometimes open new ones. Ancient, apparently indestructible and self-motived digger machines called Zom-bore-nies bore out new tunnels, or clear obstructions… apparently at random. Sometimes, a floor gives way, to reveal part of another level lower down.
There are the Long Ducts, which stretch so far from the edge of the known Underground that no one has gotten to the end of them and returned. Long ducts are often collections of related and interconnected tunnels and shafts, all running parallel. They are also often overrun by caustic slime-molds, scavenger gangs, raider camps, and the hallucinogenic electrified twisted vine-cables that someone dubbed Black Lotus, and which no Shelter book gives any information about.
There are the Dropshafts, that lead down. Some Dropshafts obviously lead to warehouses, and have Homesteads set up to control them, or outposts of more violent Shelters. Others go so far down, no rope anyone has found or crafted can bear the weight of a person to go far enough to reach the bottom. Most softly blow fresh, cold air. Some belch gray stinging fog. At least one smells of brimstone, and is guarded by batwinged cyborg mandrake roots. New Dropshafts have been showing up more frequently of late, sometimes with a floorplate just disappearing one day, and a new shaft replacing it.
There are rumors of new groups being spotted, claiming to be from Her Royal Majesty’s Subterranean Expeditionary Force, or Empire State Bunker AA-5. Some objects with markings like that show up in the hands of roving junk dealers, but most folks assume they’re fakes.
Though the Empire State thing that might have been a pistol, once, sure got everyone’s attention.
No one much cares how any of this came about. The few who do haven’t found any good explanations, just more questions. But it is what it is. These are the Underground States of America. This is your world.
The past is the past. What are you going to do to ensure your future?
Want to Help Me Create?
I have a Patreon. Please consider joining it so I can keep writing stuff.
“Imaginary Friend,” a Quirky Feat for ShadowFinder (a Starfinder Play Mode)
This feat is specifically designed for ShadowFinder, a play mode for Starfinder, but should work in any Starfinder game where it is thematically appropriate. It’s in a category called “Quirky Feats,” that a GM may exclude from a ShadowFinder game… or might give every character one as a bonus when the campaign starts, or after a major event. In this case, the feat represents a character with an apparently at least semi-real “imaginary friend.”
Imaginary Friend (Quirky)
There’s a…. thing, that talks to you sometimes. It may look like an animated mouse in a trenchcoat with pistols. Or a stuffed animal from your childhood. Or a translucent ghost costume made out of a sheet. You’re not sure it’s real. But it seems to want to help, and it’s not like you haven’t seen weirder things…
Benefit: With very rare exceptions, only see your imaginary friend.
Most of the time, your imaginary friend comes and goes without doing a lot to help (often making snide remarks in the process). Your GM can use this as an opportunity to have an NPC around to crack jokes, though they should be sure they aren’t so annoying with this that you (the player) regret spending a precious feat slot to get an imaginary friend. It’s fine for your character to wish they didn’t have an imaginary friend, but overall you should be enjoying the experience.
You can choose to have your character’s imaginary friend take one of the following actions. This is not dependent on the character being free to act—the action occurs on the character’s initiative count, but can be taken even if the character is unconscious, paralyzed, nauseated, or unable to take any action. Once you have used this ability you cannot do so again until after you next recuperate*, and doing so requires you to expend a number of Resolve Points equal to the number of times you’ve already used the ability in the same day.
Demoralize: The imaginary friend briefly reveals itself to a creature, and makes a check to demoralize that creature, as the demoralize task of Intimidate. The check has a special bonus bonus equal to your level plus your Charisma modifier or key ability modifier, whichever is higher.
Gather Information: The imaginary friend zooms around and spies on conversations… but somewhat at random. Imaginary friend comes back with the information at the beginning of your next turn, and this functions as the gather information task of Diplomacy. The check has a special bonus bonus equal to your level plus your Charisma modifier or key ability modifier, whichever is higher.
Look Out!: Your imaginary friend warns you about an ethereal or incorporeal creature, which it can see even if you don’t. As a move action each round you can listen to it try to describe what and where the threat is. This allows you to make an appropriate recall knowledge check to identify the creature, prevents you from being flat-footed or off-target against it, and tells you what square it is in. This lasts for one round per character level, after which your imaginary friend falls unconscious in dizzy frustration.
Snap Out of It: The imaginary friend tries to snap you out of a mind-affecting effect. It may do this gentle… or it may blow an airhorn in your ear, set fire to your toes, or treat your nose as a punching bag, depending on its personality and attitude. You gain an immediate saving throw against one mind-affecting effect you are under, at the same DC as its original save. This is a boosted** roll. If the save succeeds, the effect ends.
*Recuperate is my proposed term for when a character takes 10 minutes and expends a Resolve Point to regain all their Stamina Points.
**Boosted is a term that refers to a d20 roll with a special benefit. If the d20 result is a 1-10 (the die shows a 1-10), you add +10 to the result (so, effectively, a boosted roll always results in a value from 11-20, though only an actual 20 on the die counts as a “natural” 20).
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more Starfinder or ShadowFinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!
#MoviePitch: The Vampire (A Universal Monster Shared Universe Concept)
How do you get a Universal Pictures Monsters shared universe off the ground? By focusing on making one awesome story that stands on its own, but does so in a way that picks up threats from the most popular such movies in recent memory, is inclusive and modernized, and hints at a larger world without taking time away from the things important to your first film. Here’s my pitch:
It is 1950. In communist Romania, Alex O’Connell (early30s white, British, he/him), son of Lord Rick O’Connell and Lady Evelyn O’Connell, manages to gain permission for an archaeological team to catalog and record items being removed from an ancient abbey in the Carpathian Mountains prior to its demolition as part of a plan to build a massive road to access the Transylvanian Plain. The Romanian official warns Alex he is only doing this as a favor to Alex’s parents, who were allies during the War and in the troubled years afterward.
Alex brings the good news to Jonsey Johnson (early 30s, black, French/American dual citizen with links to Paris and Harlem), the head of expedition security, and Doctor Mary Jessica Van Helsing (early 30s, white, Dutch, she/her), the expedition’s leader. The three talk about the archaeological value of such a mission, as well as the political and regional dangers, and all three hint their parents raised them to be… cautious. Alex has a cat. Jonsey has a German shepherd. Mary has a fancy white rat. The three animals get along surprisingly well.
Meanwhile at the Abbey, looters are holding local workers at gunpoint, forcing them to use their digging tools to break through the back of the abbey’s basement wall. The looters have an old map that claims the “Eyes of the Dragon” have been locked away in a secret chamber. The looters think these are gems.
But the Eyes of the Dragon actually refers to Dracula, who leaks out of a tomb under the Abby in a mist form when the wall is cracked, and one by one turns the looters and workers into his ghoul minions. Only one manages to flee out of the abbey, into the sunlight.
Alex, Jonsey, and Mary (and their expedition) reach the base camp at one end of the Carpathian pass, but find the nearby Abbey abandoned. All three become very suspicious, and eventually find the survivor from the Abbey dig, who explains what he saw. Alex asks if there were hieroglyphics, or Chinese or Aztec symbols. Confused, the worker says no. Jonsey asks if there were vials, chemical agents, or signs of drug making. More confused, the worker says no. Mary asks if there were symbols of dragons and inverted crosses. The survivor says there were… maybe. He wasn’t paying much attention.
The expedition decides to send the laborer back to the big city with half the expedition’s Romanian guards, to report the attack to the government. Alex, Joney, and Mary all three slip him letters to send to their respective parents, each without the others knowing. They establish a base camp.
That night, the base camp is attacked by ghouls. The main character’s pets all send up warnings, allowing Alex, Jonsey, and Mary to gear up with their respective monster hunting equipment. (Alex’s are in the false bottom of a steamer trunk. Jonsey’s are stashed in musical instrument cases. Mary’s are secreted away in a hidden drawer of her traveling work desk.) During the fight, they run into each other, and realize they all have anti-monster experience.
Mary: “You’ve fought vampires before?”
Alex: “Vampires? Those are real?! No, mummies. Mostly. And one dragon.”
Jonsey: “Mummies are real? I’ve fought vampires and a dragons, yeah. Never a mummy.”
Mary: “Dragons? Like, fire-breathing flying lizards? Those are real?!”
Curious as to how his ghoul’s attack was repulsed, Dracula visits the camp the next day. He asks one of their team-members if he can enter the camp, and is told yes, causing Dracula to give a big smile. He goes up to Alex, Jonsey, and Mary, and asks if they were the ones to treat his pets so harshly the night before. Alex begins to draw down on Dracula, but Jonsey stops him, asking the vampire if he was invited into the camp. He affirms he was, and Jonsey rolls her eyes. Mary then tells Alex a vampire can’t attack them while he is their guest, and if he is attacked they’ll be cursed.
Alex notes he thought vampires couldn’t move about in daylight. Dracula asks where he got that idea, and Mary confirms it’s true for some vampires, but not Carpathians. Jonseynotes it doesn’t apply to a lot of Non-western bloodsuckers.
Dracula says he is unsurprised they were able to send his servants fleeing, because Alex reminds him of his most beloved servant and general. Almost as if the spirit of Dracula’s dear friend was reincarnated in Alex.
Mary asks Alex if he could be a reincarnation of Dracula’s beloved friend. Alex shrugs, and says it runs in the family. Jonsey, meanwhile, tells Mary that Jonsey quits, and walks away. Alex is flustered Jonsey would quit NOW, but Jonsey points out her name is on the papers the Romanian government signed too, so she can set up her own camp if she wants to. Mary tells him not to worry, she trusts Jonsey.
Dracula suggests Alex leave the expedition and join him. Jonsey is seen getting people to take down her tent, and draws a line in the dirt, loudly telling Alex and Mary that anything on her side of the line is now HER camp, and screw them. Dracula seems amused, and begins to talk about how hard help is to get these days, when Mary distracts him by noting Dracula still has some scars from where he was injured last century, and wonders how long it took him to heal from that near-death. He is angered and suspicious, and asks her how she knows about his last conflict. She tells him her family name, and he looses some of his cool and nearly attacks her.
In the background, Jonsey has gotten all the expedition members to set her tent BACK up. Alex asks if she is leaving, or not, and she tells him if he has a question for her, he can come over where she is and ask her. Alex has his father’s confused-and-annoyed expression, but Mary grabs his arm and hauls him across the line Jonsey drew in the dirt. All the remaining expedition workers are around Jonsey’s tent. Dracula goes to follow, but stops up short at the line, as if hitting a barrier.
Jonsey says she didn’t invite him into HER camp. Alex grins, and he and Jonsey and Mary unload at Dracula, who is taken by surprise and flees.
The plot can proceed from there along pretty typical adventure/horror lines — Alex, Jonsey, and Mary decide Dracula is growing stronger by the day, and they can’t wait to stop him, so they go after him in the tomb complex. The three have different and complimentary skills, and make a good team. They hunt down Dracula and seem to destroy him, but when he “dies,” a gem that looks like a snake eye falls to the ground. Mary realizes this is one of the two legendary Eyes of the Dragon, relic of the Order of Dracul, and it’s how Dracula survived her grandfather’s assault in the late 1800s. Alex smashes it, and asks how many such gems there are. Mary says two, and three agree they need to find and destroy the other one.
Searching through in notes found in the camp of the Looters who released Dracula, they find that there were two places the Looters thought the Eyes of the Dragon might be. One was here. The other was Castle Frankenstein, and there is a map to a Lost Lab of Frankenstein’s, which might hold the secret location of his original Castle.
Castle Frankenstein then becomes the next movie. In that story, Alex, Jonsey, and Mary seek to find Castle Frankenstein, but find they are competing with a man who can become invisible, who apparently is part of an evil occult organization…. and a little mad. During the source of that movie, it’s revealed some of Doctor Frankenstein’s reagents for creating life came from a lost Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein had sent Igor on an expedition there to gather more materials just days before the villagers stormed his castle, which is why Igor wasn’t around when that happened. There’s no note saying if Igor ever came back…
As the Shared Universe expands, I can get Wolfman, the Phantom of the Opera, and even the Hunchback into this if the first few are successful. The original characters from The Mummy (1999) as occasional support characters. Like, if the Invisible Man’s formula turns out to need blood of an ifrit of the djinn, who are naturally invisible, one of the movies can include a backup appearance by Oded Fehr as Ardeth Bay. And, of course, we can bring in elements from Mary and (rightholders willing) Jonsey’s families as well.
Both heroes and villains expand their plans, form allies, and build toward the end of the first story arc, a final showdown with Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Woflman. But even that is only the FIRST story arc…
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more Movie Pitches, or Pathfidner 1st edition, Starfinder, or ShadowFinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!
If you prefer, you can drop a cup of support in my Ko-Fi. It’s like buying me a cup of coffee, but more convenient!
The Diary of Ardra Maias
“Of course, Doctor Frankenstein did not begin his work with human corpses. Not for ethical reasons, you understand, but simply because they were difficult to acquire, and until his work progressed to a stage where human trials were needed, there was no point.
“His earliest experiments on revivification were on marmots, easily bought from trappers near his family’s Swiss home. There were far more failures than successes, of course, and were it my preview I would condemn the man to perdition on the basis of what he did to those alone.
“Even so, in time he brought a marmot to life, indeed my current companion Vivo is that first, fully-revived marmot, though in Vivo’s case no surgery had been needed. The Doctor had killed him under exacting conditions, and revivified him moments later.
“I have often marveled at Vivo, for while he has all the robustness and vitality of all we mortiborn, unlike the majority of us he is a peaceful, caring creature. Well capable of defeating a predator ten times his mass, Vivo would prefer affection to affrontation. Bless him.
“But from there, the hubristic doctor did decide he must move to primates, if not yet humans, to perfect his procedure. No large primates being common in Italy or Switzerland, he had to order them bespoke. But hunting expeditions to Borneo were common enough, and he was rich.
“Indeed, I am unsure how many evils would never have been visited upon this world had the Frankenstein family not been one of vast resource and reputation. In the century-and-on of my existence, I have found more evils traced to rich, well-respected men than any other beast.
“So, vile Frankenstein had no difficulty having Indonesian and Malaysian orangutans captured and brought to him. It was thought perhaps he wanted a menagerie, such as at London’s Exeter Exchange. Many were sick and died after arrival, but that too suited his needs.
“I am uncertain how many of my distant cousins, living or dead, he constructed me from. Close examination of my form and logic dictates no less than seven, but without taking my internal organs apart — an act I have always objected to — an exact accounting is impossible.
“I have been told, repeatedly, by anatomists that my brain, at least, must be human, rather than native to my orangutan skull. This is argued that because I can talk, and reason, I cannot be a mere ape. Of my speech, I will grant, the doctor most likely used some human parts.
“But my reason? No, I am not convinced my reason is any less orangutan than my limbs. For, did his homo sapiens subjects not show vast, cold intellect beyond that of their flesh-donors? Is it so hard to believe that the gap from apes’ reason to mans’ is at best a short distance?
“I would propose the question cannot be truly settled until men show the ability to see themselves as something other than the divinely-appointed lords of all matter in the world, animal, mineral, gas, fluid, and plant alike, to use and despoil as they see fit.
“I remember nothing of my time before mortibirth, though instincts still exist from my firstflesh lives, and some smells and sounds strike me as familiar in the extreme. But having gone to Borneo once, I can safely say I am no native of it. I am no native of any land.
“I remember my first weeks. I thought the doctor wise and kind, something between a father and a god. He taught me to walk, talk, eat–ensured that I was fine in form and function. Then he drowned me in an arsenic solution of his own devising, and took notes as I screamed.
“I do presume he believed my consciousness fully destroyed. I think this not out of some trust in his character, but from the fact when I stopped moving, he stopped taking notes and never consulted my glass sarcophagus again. I sat, silent and unmoving, and thought. For years.
“Should I not have been found in the investigation that ensued after the publication of an account of Doctor Frankenstein’s insensate experiments, I believe I would be trapped, paralyzed, and thinking still, looking through the arsenic water and glass at some stone wall.
“But found I was and, in time, released. As I could speak, and was witness to the foul knowledge and process the doctor had created, I was not destroyed. In time, decades, truly, I earned my freedom by turning the lie of a human origin for my brain back on the government.
“So, here exists I. Corpses pretending to be one flesh. Abyssal chemical reactions pretending to be life. An ape’s mind pretending to be human.
“But I am also cunning, robust, and potent in the way of all my kind, and though I carry no love for Monsieur Dupin, he taught me well.
“By the aegis of his brusque acceptance of me, I am established. I have legal papers that sometimes grant me rights, and monies that do so more often.
“How did I come to know Dupin? What is my vocation now? Those shall be future articles, for which I’ll receive a nickel a word.”
–From the Diary of Ardra Maias, the Empire Coast Journal, Jan 17th, 1934.
(Want to support more short fiction and Diary of Ardra Maias entries?! Back my Patreon or leave a drop of support in my Ko-Fi!”)
ShadowFinder Gazetteer: Elseward
ShadowFinder continues to work towards release. Some of the material I am drawing on for parts of the worldbuilding in this play mode are heavily inspired by things that helped me through some dark times in my life. Elseward is one of those.
Some of the areas in the demiplane known as the Shadowblast that are very close to the Material Plane. These regions, called Shallows, appear to be tightly bound to some mortal concepts or emotions and follow special rules compared to the rest of the Shadowblast. There exist natives of the Material Plane who are survivors of severe trauma and depression that can access a Shallows section of the Shadowblast known as Elseward – a violent, vicious realm that mixes dense noir city and surreal untamed jungle with no apparent rhyme or reason – usually without even knowing it. Projecting themselves partially into the Shallows, these Elsewarders exist in both their native Material Planes and the Elseward Shallow. They see and experience things other folk around them in the Material world do not, often mistaking Elseward events for daydreams. Some Elsewarders even develop special powers with the Shallows, creating a ethereal ShadowSelf that exists within Elseward even when the Elsewarders are not connected to it. Elsewarders then experience their ShadowSelf lives through dreams and reveries.
In a few cases, Elsewarders manage to heal and slowly disconnect from the Shallow, perhaps leaving their ShadowSelf behind, perhaps integrating it into themselves and departing from Elseward entirely. But more often, they eventually begin to draw bits of that Shallow region out into the Material Plane, beginning with minor Shadowblastoi creatures crossing over and growing in number, complexity, and power as time goes on. Such a traveller from Elseward into the Material Plane is known as a Drawesle, and its behavior is often dictated by the fears and nightmares of the Elsewarder that drew it through the Shallow.
It’s common for Drawesles to destroy their related Elsewarder, ending their link to the Material world and sending them back to the Shadowblast. Elsewarders with extreme will or some eldritch power source sometimes instead begin to spread their vision of the Elseward into their own world, and in rare cases even forge links between the Elseward and Material world denizens to whom they have strong (not necessarily positive) emotional connections. These advanced situations can result in small groups or even tightly-linked communities existing in both their own realities and the Elseward at once, appearing to experience ongoing shared dreams and hallucinations.
Some Elsewarders continue to hop back-and-forth for decades, with more and more links to the Shadowblast connecting to them as time passes. When the Elsewarder is secure, supported, and dealing with their trauma well, incidents are mostly just deep dreams and odd noises in dark corners, and easily dismissed by them and others as a wandering mind’s intrusive thoughts. When exposed to new trauma or under high stress, these well-worn links can actually anchor parts of Elseward to the Material world, generally in abandoned, remote, or chaotic, badly monitored locations. This leads to Drawesles building a Material Plane power base, seeking to torment the Elsewarder and those close to them to further strengthen the link.
In these cases, outside intervention is often needed to save the Elsewarder and those near them from their literal personal demons. This may be done by seeking out and ending the Drawesles’ base of operations on the Material world, or it may require a trip into Elseward to cut off the intrusion from the source. Of course, destroying a trauma-induced monstrosity preying on an Elsewarder doesn’t end the Elsewarder’s underlying issues. But it can help give them space to do the work needed to heal themselves, and give reassurance that their trials are very, very real.
DEEP ELSEWARDER [QUIRKY]
At one time, you were tightly linked to the Elseward, or some other section of the Shallows in the Shadowblast, and you have developed special powers that only function there.
Benefit: For each character level, you can select one tier of enigma power, one bonus feat for which you meet the prerequisites, or one level of spellcasting from a specific spellcaster class list (gaining spells known, spells per day, and a caster level equal to your levels of spellcasting selected with this feat). These are separate from your normal feats and (if you have them) enigma powers and spells. Abilities gained through this feat only function in Beachheads and Shallows of the Shadowblast.
Want to get news about ShadowFinder as it develops? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to sign up, so we can send you notifications for this project and its tie-ins!
If you enjoy any of my various thoughts, ideas, and posts, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).
ShadowFinder Adventure Sketch
The ShadowFinder Core Book won’t include a full-length adventure–there’s neither time nor room to get one crammed into that first book–but it WILL include some GM/Adventure support. There will be a section that talks about how to take typical Starfinder Adventure Paths and “reskin” them for the ShadowFinder Play Mode. And there will be some Adventure Sketches.
These are short outlines of what an adventure might include, with sections outlining “What It Looks Like,” “What’s Actually Going On,” “How Do PCs Get Involved,” “How Does It End,” and “Then What.” They are designed for GMs to use as inspirations and jumping-off points, with just enough details to explain what the adventure is about and how it may go, but without so many it’ll be difficult to mold into an existing campaign’s events. For example, while this adventure sketch mentions “the city,” it doesn’t tell you if it happens in New York City, Tokyo, or Absalom. That’s up to the GM.
I kinda hate to preview an Adventure Sketch–they take a lot of effort to write compared to their size and I see them as being a big part of what makes the ShadowFinder book work, despite their relatively small wordcount–but for exactly the reason I want them in the Core Book, I think they do a great job of showcasing what kinds of stories I think ShadowFinder is going to be great for playing through.
So, I picked one of my favorites — Save the City Beneath — and am showcasing it here.
Save The City Beneath
What It Looks Like: Water is mysteriously disappearing. From the drinking water system, reservoirs, even entire rivers and lakes are showing water levels way, way below what they out to be. The systems are all connected to the city’s drinking system, and if the loss isn’t stopped, the entire city is going to have a water shortage.
What’s Actually Going On: The city sits atop “The City Beneath,” a subterranean mix of old, unmapped sewers, storm drains, bootlegger tunnels, heating shafts, closed-off basements, cisterns, bomb shelters, previous cities, and secret underground complexes, natural caves, mined-out salt mines, where a civilization exists with only sporadic contact with the normal city above them. The City Beneath has actual physical portals to the Shadowblast, but also to demiplanes with less malignant residents and much ancient lore and preserved mystic libraries.
The City Beneath is not an inherently evil place. It’s a city, with good people, bad people, homeless people, gangs, unions, charities, arks, and everything else you’d expect to find in a big city—just all underground. But a powerful and judgmental person or group in the upper class of the “normal” surface city (we’ll call them F.L.O.O.D. – Friends of Law, Order, and Organized Democracy) has decided the City Beneath is an unacceptable danger. This group wants to find the City beneath, scour it of everything of value and power, and destroy it.
So, FLOOD are flooding the lower sections of their own city—uncaring that they are drowning the homeless, flooding out the dispossessed, and terrifying the vulnerable members of the lower class in the process—to follow the water drainage into passageways to the City Beneath.
Of course, in the process they are also waking up and releasing things the City Beneath locked away as too dangerous centuries ago.
How Do PCs Get Involved: If the mystery of a regionwide water shortage centered on a major city isn’t enough to get the PCs poking around, when some monsters start popping up in basements, abandoned bank vaults, old tunnel systems, and trendy secret clubs, the PCs can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, someone working for FLOOD might even try to hire the PCs to protect their water-trackers, hoping monster-hunters will blindly accept that the City Beneath must be “dealt with.”
How Does It End: The PCs figure out what FLOOD is up to, and either expose them to the public (which won’t result in anyone important going to jail, but will bring enough pressure for FLOOD to give up… for now), or hunt down and take out the FLOOD manager in charge of the deadly operation. FLOOD won’t be destroyed either way, but will decide such high-profile, headline-grabbing operations are a bad idea.
Then What: Assuming the FLOOD threat to the City Beneath is ended, the PCs now have access to an entire hidden society. In future adventures they can explore, train, use Coin of the Realm to buy magic items, set up bases, make allies, and go adventuring to deal with the City Beneath’s unsavory elements and gangs.
For inspiration on the City Beneath, look up the real-world locations of the Aldwych tube ghost statipn in London, England; Avinguda de la Llum in Barcelona, Spain; the Burlington Bunker in Corsham, England; the Cincinnati Subway in Ohio; Derinkuyu, Turkey; Dixia Cheng in China; the Estación de Chamberí abandoned subway station in Madrid, Spain; K’n-yan; Metro 417 in Los Angeles, California; Naours, France; New York City’s City Hall station; The Paris Catacombs, France; Poland’s Wieliczka Salt Mine; Portland Underground, in Portland, Oregon; Three Kings Catacombs in Tizimín, Mexico; and the Seattle Underground, in Seattle, Washington.
Want to ask questions about ShadowFinder? Would you enjoy access to a huge backlog of game stuff and articles? Simply want to support me creating more of these things? Check out my Patreon!
How to Use the ShadowFinder Book
I’ve made a big deal out of the upcoming Starfinder Infinite project called ShadowFinder being a Play Mode for Starfinder, rather than a separate campaign or ruleset. So, if it’s designed to create a different play experience, but is 100% Starfinder compatible, what do I expect people to actually do with this book?
Well, no shock, I write about that a bit in the book itself.
Okay, What Do We DO With This?
ShadowFinder is designed to be use a few different ways, depending on your interests.
First, it’s everything you need to start running adventures in a new Play Mode, with a focus on the aesthetics and tropes of modern urban fantasy, rather that the more scifi-fantasy of Starfinder. We present enough information to get you started, including a quick description of the planar scar known as the Shadowblast, and the two worlds it links – Lost Golarion, and Rasputin’s Legacy Earth. If you are the type of group who just wants some rules and a setting, or maybe also some adventure seeds, and then you craft adventures and storylines yourselves, you can get started right away.
Second, it’s a big set of additional options for any Starfinder game. The new classes, class options, feats, and spells are all designed for use in ShadowFinder, but since the rules are 100% compatible with Starfinder, if you want to add enigmas, warlocks, and even sword saints and technicians to a non-ShadowFinder game, they’ll fit right in. There are some options rules in ShadowFinder that aren’t designed for other uses, such as Heroic Defense, but I’ve carefully kept those separate from other player-facing material. That means if you want to play a ShadowFinder game with Heroic Defense, it applies to any PC (even those uses classes from other sources), and if you want to play a warlock in a game without Heroic Defense, the class remains balanced.
Third, and most excitingly for me, it’s a toolkit of ideas you can take and use to create your own Play Mode, unique campaign, or even related Starfinder Infinite products! This book is very much the product of exactly what I wanted to make, but I see that as a beginning, not an end. Now that these rules and ideas are out in the world, I hope you will take the opportunity to shape, mold, and build off of them to create whole-new things I could never dream of.
Want to ask questions about ShadowFinder? Would you enjoy access to a huge backlog of game stuff and articles? Simply want to support me creating more of these things? Check out my Patreon!