Category Archives: Anachronistic Adventurers
After the first Really Wild West: Doomstone game session After-Action Report, and its Part Two follow-up, numerous people indicated they were excited to keep learning about the campaign as I run it. So, it’s two weeks later, I’ve run another session, and adapted notes taken by my wife Lj (who is playing the fenrin operative bounty hunter named “Sawyer”) as a quick report.
If you don’t recognize a reference, it may (or may not) be in a previous session, or at the updated campaign notes page.
(Sketch of the Chimera Kid by Jacob Blackmon. The Kid is a figure in RWW: Doomstone the PCs have heard about, but not yet me. Jacob is awesome at capturing character designs in sketches like this, and you can hire him to do it for your characters!)
The player running the human mechanic roboticist can’t make it to the game session, but wants us to proceed. That character is determined to have to stay behind in Cheyenne to repair her drone, and will be escorted to the ranch the PCs are heading to in a few days, when the Fonts & Bismark patrol comes back into town so they have spare people to do it. Since everyone wants to play, no one picks at the logic of this too much.
Most PCs stay at Mr. Satin’s Satin’s House of Refined Delights. Discover there is a bastet Norwegian Forest Cat named Caesar who is a professional cuddler. Fantastic purrer and snuggler. From a line of French pillow warmers (on his mother’s side) and a Bostonian chimney-sweet (literally crawls into a chimney and cleans it by moving through it, using token Spell to clean himself off when he’s done).
PCs gather at the Fonts & Bismark station-house in Cheyenne to pick up the gear they are being given. Station Chief Adler introduces them to a new potential companion — Brone Mallory, a half-orc cartographer technomancer with a Doctorate in Theosophy from Oxbridge University, who is a mail-order theosopher who was hired to help survey the border between the Circle Axe and Vicious Hippogriff ranches. But the survey company went bankrupt while Mallory was in transit, so now he is between jobs. PCs agree to bring him along.
PC skill checks suggest he may have connections to the “Brone,” Normandy orc warcasters from the 900s AD, and possible the Mallory family of humanblooded spells-for-hire that operate around the Appalachians.
PCs decide to head to Circle Axe first. On their way north out of town, they are accosted by a human man with 4 mechanical arms run by a steam abckpack (in addition to his own 2 arms) grooming utensils. He declares he is “Beardcutter Ben, the Shaver’s Friend,” and makes his sales-pitch
- He claims to be able to solve any problem we have.
- Centaur Paladin buys a ring of oral hygene
- Human Fighter/Mystic buys ten water pills (each pill turns into 1 gallon of water)
- PCs get Beardcutter Ben’s calling card – a small gear-clockwork that when plugged into the Babbage-Bell grid tells you his last known location (he’s a wandering peddler)
- He offers us a free sample of “Walking Meat” (gum). Says he can;t get anyone to buy it, but it makes long foot travel more pleasant. The human fighter/mystic accepts a piece. It tastes like unseasoned pot roast.
The PCs head north. It’s two day’s travel to the Circle Axe.
Brone writes down the lyrics to a song Sawyer sings on the trail, and does a couple of sketch portraits of her.
At camp the first night, shortly after sundown, the PCs see a figure approach them, with points of light for its eyes, and his mount’s eyes.
- Skeletal male, humanoid, casually walking toward us. Rifle on shoulder. Pauses at 100ft.
- He comes from the North, and is headed into town.
- Wears a deputy’s badge with a skull on it — not a symbol anyone recognizes
- Smells of turned earth, ashes, and heather
- PCs can’t identify what he IS, but conclude he’s not an undead
- He says he is “Deputy B. Hill,” works for “The Marshall.” Someone has “grave jumped,” and he thought it might be one of them — but now that he is here, he sees they are all on “the right side of the dirt.” His prey keeps covering its tracks, “Like a snake shedding its skin fer feathers.”
- PCs suggest he (might*be hunting the same foe they are looking for. Offer to maybe help. Deputy Hill says he’ll mention the PCs to The Marshall. If Deputy Hill can’t track down the grave-jumper himself, the Marshal may send a less discerning senior deputy, Or a full posse, which can cause “collateral damage.”
- Deputy Hill rides off, calmly. Later, his horse’s footprints disappear with soft, eerie sounds.
A green meteor crosses the sky in the morning. East to West. In the Northern sky. No one is sure what it is, though it could be sky metal.
- The human fighter/mystic seems to be permeated with a carrion smell, though only the fenrin operative bounty hunter can smell it (has scent).Fighter/mystic’s mouth is dry and foul.
- Token Spell doesn’t help.
- The cavalier’s ring of oral hygiene doesn’t help either.
- Players determine this is an affect-effect of the Walking Meat gum, Determine to Have Words with Beardcutter Ben when they get back to town.
About half a day from the ranches, monstrous Jerusalem Bug (size Small) burst from the ground and attack, focusing on the fighter/mystic at first. PCs ID that these bugs burrow and eat carrion.
- PCs look at real-world pictures of Jerusalem Bugs, and declare them “A Big ol Bucket of Nope”
- The PCs identify these eight creatures are Rowdies (first time I have used those rules in a game).
- They bite and spit entangling resin. Also, rub their legs together making static electric jolts and dust clouds.
- Fighter/mystic moves to not be surrounded, suffers a knockdown crit. Draws a long knife to fight rather than pistol (has Cleave and there are many AoO possible with so many melee foes)
- PCs roll BADLY, and the Jerusalem Bugs get multiple knockdown crits.
- Brone Mallory, the half-orc technomancer, mostly just maintains microbot assault through the whole fight, but the margin makes a difference several times.
- Tough fight. The fenrin operative bounty hunter loses all Stamina Points, though the player identified she kept taking unnecessary risks.
- PCs win. Fighter-Mystic heals fenrin operative bounty hunter’s Wound damage, and then most characters take 10 minutes and expend Resolve to regain Stamina Points.
End Part One!
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Apparently there REALLY IS a big demand to hear more about my first session of “Really Wild West: Doomstone.” You can read Part One (which covers the first fight on a train) here, and may find some useful context from the campaign notes I developed from this session.
After the fight, the PCs introduce themselves, and compare notes.
- According to the Transit and Portage Guild’s bylaws, since the PCs were instrumental in defending Old Number Seven, they have the right to a payment from the train. The acting conductor (the halfling porter) offers them a cut of the valuables from the robbers, or passes for free rides any associated vehicle in perpetuity (the end date on the passes is officially “Kingdom Come.” Every PC decides to take lifetime free travel.
- The soldier/mystic says he’s gonna talk to Vardalos, the dead Kasatha. PCs all follow, The soldier/mystic casts “grave words,” and the corpse says the following:
- Stormfront rolling
- The grass is all blue
- The venom king has returned – the signet ring
- My manticore gang – on the revolvers
- All is lost
- The teacup is in the meadow
- One of the Fonts & Bismark agents confirms a theory of the centaur paladin that the robbers wanted to send the train over the cliff and recover the item from the bottom of the gorge.
- The soldier/mystic goes to see Vardalos’ *very* strict and loyal pony, which he can talk to. Discover’s the pny’s training means it accepts help from and takes orders from only who its owner approves. It’s owner is now dead, but the owner had allowed the porter to feed it, so it takes orders from the porter. No PC or the porter wanting the pony, it’s decided to give it to the nice Moyer family (1 father and 5 kids, headed to a farm owned by the father’s sister, in Kansas for a fresh start. The mother died during the War, and the father need help raising the kids).
- The mechanic roboticist helps with the bridge – cuts the repair time in half
PCs arrive in beautiful Cheyenne – which was sacked by Martians.\Is the state capital… but the state and its capital are a mess. Notes about the city:
- Opera house biggest building left in town, serves as city hall for now.
- The Tivoli building is almost finished as new construction. It is a Pabst beer distribution center, and has “Mr. Satin’s Satin’s House of Refined Delights (an all-race, all-gender brothel) on the second floor.
- There is a cheap, reliable Cheyenne Citizen Hostel
- Also some homes that will let a room
The Fenrin Bounty Hunter checks on new Bounties:
- Chimera Kid is now worth 650c as of yesterday
- Bounty for “That Goddamn Manticore” 1000c posted by Ranch Master Dwargus Hardfist (a dwarf), go to the Circle Axe Ranch for more information
- This place is crawling with bounty hunters, assassins, guns fire hire, bodyguards, ugh-me-toughs
- Why? No clue.
- Old Blue (a fenrin bloodhound on the sheriff’s porch) says a “Year and a day” ends in a couple of weeks
- Records house burned to the ground, lots of people died, so there is a lot of land no one knows who owns it. It was decided you can lay claim to land it and if no one has a better claim within a year and a day, it’s yours. Those first year-and-a-day claims come up in a few weeks, and everyone is expecting there to be some trouble over it.
The PCs are invited to a meeting with Fonts & Bismark Station Master Ralston Adler (who turns out to be in a wheelchain) at 5pm, to discuss the mysterious package the bandits tried to steal.
- The Item is being held for a client who’s coming to get it (no details on who or when available). The item is a Martian crystal (tripod’s power core)
- Nineteen duplicates were shipped at the same time for security. Eight were attacked
- About the scrap of paper
- The handwriting appears to be that of one Felspark Klein – elf woman Regional Director for East Hudson Fur Trading Co. She is new to the position (her predecessor died choking on a chicken bone).
- She is staying at Vicious Hippogryph Ranch, adjacent to Circle Axe
- Significant disagreement about who owns what plots of land
- Biggest area of dispute has all the water
- Adler agrees to get the PCs a copy of an excellent map of that area (+4 to know where we are)
- Adler also knows that Dwargus hardfist of the Circle Axe has been claiming for months that a Manticore is loose in Wyomingn and feeding on ONLY his cattle
PCs decide to go check it out. They will wait until the map is ready before they take off to see about this manticore, and checkout Felspark Klein.
Fonts & Bismark agrees to equip the PCs with horses and supplies. Also note that a couple of other people are asking about these events, and if Adler is convinced they are assets, he’ll diect them to the PCs in the morning to see if the PCs want to join up with them.
End of game. XPs: 650 per PC.
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A number of people have asked for more details about the train fight in the first Really Wild West game session (with the campaign entitled “Really Wild West: Doomstone”), so I have adapted notes taken by my wife Lj who is playing a fenrin operative bounty hunter named “Sawyer.” Some context may also be available from the campaign notes I developed from this session.
(“Sawyer,” by Jacob Blackmon)
I specifically set up this fight to bring the player characters together with a common interest. Here’s the set-up.
Female Fenrin Operative Bounty Hunter (Seeking a bounty)
Female Centaur Paladin Mercenary (Seeking an ancient evil, the Venom King)
Female Human Mechanic Roboticist (Seeking to access Martian tech found in the field, rather than the picked-over scraps she can get hold of back East) – has stealth drone mechanical dog, “Pinion”
Male Human Soldier/Mystic Criminal (Seeking to tip the balance for past bad deeds)
1891 – Spring
- The Fenrin bounty hunter is looking for the Chimera Kid, who he shot a federal judg. The Kid is a Ksatha missing one of his four arms. Fights with poison pistol, flame pistol, ram-headed hammer.
- Currently tracking Gavra Vardalos, a previous associate of the Kid, who is headed West on the Old Number Seven train out of St. Louis. Vardalos wears a black bandito mask with a green scorpion tail. Vardalos seems to be waiting for something.
Evening of day two – around 36 hours into the trip – as the sun sets
- Alarm bell goes off as the train comes to an emergency stop
- Bridge is out ahead. Fresh damage.
- This might be what Vardalos was waiting for
- He gets up and says he’s gonna check on his pony
- Fenrin bounty hunter gets on top of the train and follows
- The porters arm themselves
- Vardalos says his pony needs medicine and wants to get into the baggage car
- A halfling porter takes him around the outside to the caboose
- Gunshots ring out from within the back of the train
- Just after the porter knocks on the caboose door, Vardalos attempts to kill him. Vardalos has two sabers enhanced with jury-rigged Martian heat-ray crystals. The distinctive sound of them powering up can be heard throughout the train, and including by the mechanic roboticist. Fenrin bounty hunter jumps down to stop vardalos.
- The halfling caboose porter rolls under the train and pulls down a shield with a gun port from the bottom of the caboose, then locks his gun into it
- The centaur paladin, suspicious of Vardalos’s possible involvement because of the scorpion-tail mask, also comes to stop him.
- A stamer trunk turns out to be a mimic, and attacks a Fonts & Bismark agent guarding a package in the boxcar.
- Outside the train, thin lizardfolk step out of the air – serpentfolk (5) from a hidden reality. Everyone not already engaged helps fight them off.
- They shoot old revolvers. Poisoned bullets.
- The mechanic roboticist and Pinon run to the back of the train to investigate the Martian tech sounds, and run into the Fonts & Bismark agent fighting against the steam trunk mimic. Stop to help.
- The caboose door rotates out, revealing an old, beat up robot breakman, with a 2ft spanner
- Moves to attack the serpentfolk who is attacking the porter
- When Vardalos dies, his body writhes and breathes out a green vapor
- As serpentmen overpower the conductor guarding the engine, soldier criminal comes running up the center of the train, shooting it from 2 cars away and preventing it from powering up the train and running it over the broken bridge into a gorge below.
ON VARDALOS: 2 manticore stamped revolvers; 2 jury-rigged Martian metal sabres; 350 credit chips issued from the East Hudson Fur Trading Co.; under a glove a signet ring with a scorpion tail with a green teardrop signet stone; scrap of paper with Fonts & Bismark Service# written on it – these go on whatever F&B is shipping that the mimic went for. The scrap has a watermark from the EHFTco. The fenrin bounty hunter can confirm it’s not written in Vardalos’ handwriting.
At the end of this introductory fight, the fenrin bounty hunter wants to follow up on the clues around Vardalos to see if they lead to the Chimera Kid. The centaur paladin wants to follow up because the green vapor and scorpion-tail clues are her best lead to find the cult of the Venom King. The mechanic roboticist wants to follow up because somehow Vardalos got access to fresh Martian heat-ray technology. The soldier/mystic wants to follow up because this seems like a good opportunity to earn some karmic balance.
The session didn’t end there of course.
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(Logo by Perram, pistol art by Jacob Blackmon)
I ran my first actual session of my first full Really Wild West campaign, called “Really Wild West: Doomstone”
Here are some notes from that sessions.
The “New Wild”: Due to the Ravages of the brief War of the Worlds in early 1890, the lawless West is much more expansive in 1891 than it was just a few years earlier. While major towns exist, and are mostly as controlled and regimented as one would expect, the entire central area of the United States — from the Mississippi River to the Cascade Mountains — is simply not yet back under government control beyond sight of a major settlement. Wherever an army unit or even US Martial circuit patrol happen to be, it’s fairly lawful. Some towns, sheriffs, mutual aid societies and land-owners can also enforce rules within their own demesne (which some do fair-mindedly and others… don’t).
But the fabric of society has not yet recovered from either the direct effect of being overrun by alien war machines that destroyed entire cities and killed millions, or the psychological effect of learning aliens exist, want us dead, have better technology than Earth, and that often women and children and immigrants were crucial to slowing their advance and evacuating those in their path despite being often discouraged from such roles by society.
From the Mississippi to the Cascades is the New Wild. Stay alert. Be cautious. Strap iron.
East Hudson Fur Trading Company: Multinational trade and mercantile… and banking, private security, espionage, manufacturing, and land exploitation. They actually call one of the services they offer “land exploitation.” Had war declared on them by the Lakota for “Crimes Against Man and Nature.” Merciless. Efficient. Profitable.
Fonts & Bismark: A powerful “service company,” that handles deliveries, finances, and vault storage. Grew out of an adventuring company in the 1840s. Mercenary, but have tight ethics controls on who they work for… but a contract, once signed, is fulfilled.
Sometimes do government work. Sometimes hired to protect against the government.
Lost Walkers: When the Martians realized they were dying off, many hid their machines (mostly tripods, but also some flying machines and digging machines) and mothballed them. The Central Power Core of these machines, once cold, can only be brought back to life with an active Central Core.
Only walkers that were captured during the war without being destroyed, or the first few grabbed when the earliest Martians succumbed to viruses, had their Central Core taken intact and active. Thus these are among the most valued of artifacts. Most are in the hands of national or state governments, with a much smaller number controlled by the rich and powerful (Edison is smugly vocal about having two. Tesla dodges the question when asked. A young Polish scientist studying in Paris, Marie Skłodowska, is warning anyone who will listen not to stand too close to the things.)
When a Lost Walker is found, there is a “Tripod Rush” as people tear it apart for rare elements, crystals, and circuits, and scour the surrounding territory for any other Martian relics. But if anyone ever managed to repair and restart a tripod with a Central Core, it would immediately become a notable regional power.
Newgauge: Even before the War of the Worlds caused technological advancement to explode, most industrially advanced nations were moving to Newgauge trains — massive mass-transit vehicles twenty feet wide, nearly thirty feet tall, with locomotives and cars each up to 150 feet long. Since the war, Newgauge trains have become rolling battleships, each normally equipped with heat-dispensing armor on critical cars, and with at least one Rail Monitor car with artillery and units of troops.
But you absolutely cannot run Newgauge trains without building entirely-new tracks. While in the densely-populated Northeast and West Coast, that has been done extensively enough to least linked the biggest cities, the Martians did enough damage to the central parts of the country that even old rails are no longer properly transcontinental, and no Newgauge rails to speak of have yet been laid down… or even surveyed to accommodate the additional massive easement needs. Thus smaller “Old Rail” trains must be used, and occasionally have to fend for themselves between cities.
Old No. 7: An ‘Old Rail’ train with variable-gauge axles, Old No. 7 is a more-than 50-year-old 4-4-0 locomotive and its associated cars that was pressed into service as a military transport during the War of the Worlds (and armored, and equipped with an automaton-operated Combat Caboose with Rail Repair devices), survived numerous hits from Heat Rays and, despite showing buckled plates and grime-caked engine, remains a mobile defensive platform. Its normal run its along an exiting Old Gauge Line from St. Louis to Colby, Kansas and then to Cheyenne, Wy, and then return.
Trustee: The Really Wild West is a world where heroes, monsters, oracles, madmen, and adventurers have existed for thousands of years. Nations, towns, organizations, and businesses have evolved to deal with the fact that sometimes if a wandering hero or expert doesn’t save you, no one else can.
Thus it is common for individuals and small bands to be on a path to be considered “trustees” of groups and governments. These are outsiders who have earned the trust of a government or organization of note. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are trustees of Scotland Yard. The Spectral Rider is a trustee of the town of Eagle Net, New Mexico. The Kestrel is a trustee of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and so on.
Bigger organizations have numerous steps of trust that occur before you are a trustee, but a trustee is generally considered to be competent, potent, trusted, and an ally of the group that names them trustee. A trustee does not necessarily agree with all actions of the bestowing group, and individual members of the group might mistrust the trustee (think of Batman as a trustee of Gotham PD), but the organization as a whole formally cuts the trustee considerable slack.
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Before we begin, a scheduling note. I am moving from Indiana, back to Oklahoma this week. As a result rather than do four small posts Tue-Fri, you are getting one big one now. And some bonus content. A week’s worth of blog material in one day. As a result it covers a few related topics, rather than being tightly focused. My expectation is that by next week I’ll have at least set up a laptop on a box and have an ice cooler for a chair, and can post as normal again.
Some Design Goals
One of the things I have realized about the Really Wild West is that I want it to feel like some of my favorite weird west, Victoriana, steampunk, and genre-blending stories (many of which are listed in the inspirations page, here). Stories that surprised and delighted me when Dracula and Sherlock Holmes fought, or the Nautilus rams Martian Tripods, or cowboys deal with dinosaurs, sorcerers, and aliens.
Things that… just aren’t that unusual anymore. Between the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Cowboys vs Aliens, and Penny Dreadful, late 1800s fiction and genre blending is not only fairly normal, a lot of things have become nearly passe. Having Doctor Jekyll run a monster-hunting secret society that conflicts with an ancient mummy just doesn’t do it for me anymore. All those elements are too common, explored, and available.
But I do want to do things LIKE that. Not have archaeologists race to find the Holy Grail in Hatay, or seek the treasure of the Knights Templar hidden by the Founding Fathers, but for the Club of Nobody’s Friends (the oldest dining club in England) to have to hide the the three parts of the Scepter of Dagobert (the oldest of the French Crown Jewels, which had been left with the religious pension fund known as Queen Anne’s Bounty) from the Serpentin Vert (“Green Serpent,” in French, a secret society of poison-themed mystics who wish to use it to take control of the Dragons of France), and thus have hidden the sections in old wine cellars in abandoned 1700s New France mansions overtaken by the swamps of Louisiana.
That gives me the blend of stuff I want.
While hopefully avoiding treating colonialism as a good thing, treating any culture or peoples as orcs to be slaughtered, or making caricatures of real-world groups.
So, I want to create NEW legends and myths, drawn from the era and feel of the things I have loved, without just retreading Dracula, the Grail, Frankenstein’s Monster, Martian Tripods, and Billy the Kid. Instead of focusing on werewolves, talk about coyotes who can take on human form for one lunar cycle if they eat a human’s heart, and are vulnerable to any weapon that has never taken a human life. Undead are gulchers and whistlers, rather than just ghouls and zombies.
Not for every encounter. It’s the Wild West, sometimes you just get jumped by outlaws.
But for setting pieces and major plots? Then we build on the new mythology to make the Really Wild West earn the “Really Wild” title. Then the outlaws are Junk Golems spontaneously created from steam train Iron Horse 4771, which blew up when its experimental Fire Elemental Engine was sabotaged to ensure the Arcane and Arkansas Railroad would lose out on a contract to Zeus Skyboats–resulting in the boom sky town of Oklahoma City (established recently in 1889) becoming wealthy–a fact the Junk Golems plan to fix by destroying it.
You know… Really Wild.
And this brings us to “The Hollow Worlds.”
In the world of the Really Wild West, it is accepted there is a Surface World — everything common and seen and (mostly) understood. There is the Esoteric World, or perhaps multiple Esoteric worlds, wherein the spirits move, ether flows, Astral Projection is possible, and Theosophy is mapping out the powers of spiritualism.
But with the discovery of Agartha, the concept of Hollow Worlds has become commonplace. These are definite, concrete places you can walk to under the right circumstances… that may or may not be part of the Surface World. Agartha is actually part of a Hollow Earth. But there are also places that seem to exist in some kind of “Hollow Space.” Buyan is only accessible by the Surface World some of the time. Frozen Lomar is from the dim and ancient past… but somehow seems to be a place people still encounter from time to time. The fact dinosaurs exist in Agartha, and the Americas, and nowhere else convince most scholars that there are Hollow Mountains that lead from those continents to Agartha, and that perhaps vast caverns also exist in which lost civilizations and alien societies may dwell.
Atlantis rose, and fell, and is gone. All the lands of the Surface World are inhabited by *someone*, save Antarctica (as far as anyone knows). It is to the various Hollow Worlds the great explorers and conquerors now loom to find a fresh frontier.
And Mars, of course. If anyone can figure out out to get there.
These are some of the most commonly accepted Hollow Worlds.
(art by Oscar)
Agartha is the Hollow Earth, and entire world within the center of the world. Long rumored to exist, it was considered by most to be little more real than Mu or Lemuria… until Professor Lidenbrock made an expedition to there and back through a volcano in Iceland, and returned with proof of his discoveries. The professor is largely retired now, but his daughter Gräuben Lidenbrock runs “Lindenbrock Excursions,” and has established three major routes to the Hollow Earth, all through Northern Europe. She is expending considerable resources to attempt to be the first to find the theorized link from the Americas to Agartha.
Agartha is filled with Asuras, Dinosaurs, Giants, Megafauna, Impossible Golden Palaces which can be seen in the distance, but never reached), and a few small enclaves of sapient species known on the surface world (descended from, at least, vikings and Chinese soldiers who found their way there in antiquity). It’s interior is also filled with particulate gravity-blocking cavorite, which can be sifted from the air at great expense to form lighter-than-air metal.
Buyan is an island or continent (reports are unclear) inhabited by angels, demons, fey, or the spirits of the departed (unclear), that can appear in any lake or ocean. It is the source of weather (which is guarded by two dragons known as the Talon and the Serpent–Gagana and Garafena), home of the legendary city of Ledenets (from where the warrior-priestesses the Zoryas endlessly forge the chain that keeps the Doomsday Hound Simargl bound to the star Polaris so it cannot devout all the stars and destroy the world), and the place one must go to begin a quest for the Alatyr, the “burning white stone” which may or may not be the rock Jesus stood on when he preached to his Disciples.
Most information about Buyan comes from the Dove Book (Golubinaya Kniga), a book of mixed pagan and Christian lore banned by the Russian Orthodox Church. There are 20 core versions of the book, ranging from 20 to 300 pages long, and hundreds of local variants of those core 20 versions.
However, the advent of Theosophical methods of divination have determined Buyan, or something like it, is real, and it’s location and route to and from it are mutable. Many theosophicers believe Buran is Etheric, existing in an Ether through which spiritual energy and thought travel.
The land referred to as Frozen Lomar is a pre-humanoid civilization that may date back to the Pliocene Epoch, and nearly all sign of it was lost due to later glaciers. Frozen Lomar is noted as being located “within the ice cap,” but there is no hint if that is to the north or south. It is know the Lomarah, the denizens of Frozen Lomar, accessed and studied the original Pnakotic Manuscripts, scrolls which described elder gods and horrific eldritch truths. The Lomarah added to the Manuscripts, perhaps creating several different versions. However no copy of the Pnakotic Manuscripts remain. They, and frozen Lomar, and known only because of quotes from an also-lost Greek translation (the Pnakotica) are referenced in a few other works of antiquity. While there are rumors of a Pnakotic Brotherhood that seeks and is ruled by the Manuscripts, sometimes linked to the Faustus Society, there is no verified proof they exist.
Frozen Lomar is believed to have created various outposts, also in the Pliocene, which are also lost to time. A few such have been reported by explorers to Agartha, vast caverns in Argentina and Missouri, and one mist-shrouded island in the Pacific. These all describe huge cyclopean structures, black runes that can only be read by indirect moonlight, strange aberrations, hex-shaped stone constructions, lore crystals, blind cultists, and hairless ratlike semihumanoid cannibals. However, such encounters invariable end with the Lomarah Outpost sinking or being destroyed by lava, so reports are always second-hand.
A few expeditions claim to have stumbled from such outposts into a still-vibrant Frozen Lomar itself… though thsoe who claim so often seem too crazed to be taken as reliable.
Many esoteric book on magic and the supernatural written in the ancient period reference a city of great wisdom called Hsan. These reference suggest the city is so ubiquitously well-known that no description of its location or nature is necessary. By the Fall of Rome, no one seems to know anything about it. It is suggested to lie East of Persia and West of Qi.
The symbol of Hsan is noted to be a winged and horned lion with two tails of differing lengths. This symbol has been spotted by telescope on at least one Impossible Golden Palace in Agartha, leading some to think Hsan is in a Hollow World adjacent to Agartha, but somehow separate from it.
During the reign of Roman Emperor Philip, who ruled from AD 244 to 249, armoes and emissaries from the “Northern Roman Empire, Silbannacia” arrived in Rome and offered an alliance. They had coin, apparently magic weapons and armor, and claimed to serve “IMP MAR SILBANNACVS AVG,” under the grace of the God Mercury.
They also carried banners of the lost Roman Ninth Legion, which had dissappeared centuries earlier.
Then Emperor Philip was deposed, and the emissaries vanished.
Silbannacia shows up a few more times through history. Apparently late-Roman soldiers, in chain but with strange weapons that “fire plumbes of vapour green,” and swords and spears that produce the same green gas, they arrive in strange corners of the world. Sometimes they are peaceful allies to small groups of the lost. Other times they sack, kill, raid, and make off with some object or person. There are numerous accounts of them in the records of natives in North and South America, dating back thousands of years.
And recently, a few sightings have been reported near wildernesses in the Far West.
Very little is known of Ungol. It is mentioned almost exclusive in its absence–the banned text Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten notes the “Dust of the Letterless City is Death,” and then lists five sections of the German alphabet. Each section is in common order, but the sections themselves are shuffled and one letter is missing from each section. If you note down each missing letter in order, you get u, n, g, o, and l. Some archived copies of the Maladicta, an unholy book used by hags, dare to mention “Ungl/Ngol.” The Code of Hammurabi proscribes the same punishment for “naming or marking the Name of the Forbidden City that is not Gol” as it does casting a spell upon a man unjustly (trial by holy river).
Some undead cry out “Ungol! Ungol!” just prior to destruction.
Okay, that’s a rundown of some Hollow Worlds.
Let’s move on a bit to something we touched on in the article on fenrin… the the Paderborn Edicts, which evolved from the First Council of Paderborn.
The Paderborn Edicts
In the hsitory of the world of the Really Wild West, the Paderborn Edicts were an important set of laws established by the Council of Padernborn in 785 under Charlemagne, and were designed to codify interactions between different “Uberklug,” a term used to indicate all creatures capable of emotion, thought, speech, and self-awareness (often translated as “sapient”). In addition to dwarves, elves, humans, kasatha and ysoki (all common in the Holy Roman Empire), it included noted representatives and scholars of centaur, gnomish, nuar, and shirren groups. Leaders of 4 major religions were present, as were representatives of 12 more. At least one dragon, one inevitable, and one sphinx were present as advisors.
The Paderborn Edicts established that communication with or gaining power from “achaierai, azatas, daemons, demodands, demons, devils, efreeti, lengites, sahkil, slaad, tindalosi, yeth, and the spirits of the dead” is always wrong and can (and should) be banned, while other forms of divination and magics are not inherently evil. Further it makes a distinction between magi and wonder-workers, and “hexen,” or those who spread, use, or wish to command evil powers.
While the original Edicts were far from complete, new councils were held every 101 years to update them. Rules on being a Hex Hunter were established (for hunting down only evil and murderous spellcasters, as opposed to the much more mercenary and often wicked “witch hunters” who often scourged areas), various religions “vetted” as no better or worse than any other, more creatures added to those not to be trusted (from qlippoth in 886 to, most recently, manasaputra and oni in 1795), and so on.
Most European nations have built their laws on magic on the Paderborn Edicts. While for centuries magic has been seen as uncontrollable and unpredictable by sapients (“Magic and monsters are real — as are lighting and typhoons — but there’s no point in mortals studying or trying to control it”), where laws were seen as needful (while a man was unlikely to be able to cast a spell, a deal could be cut with a faerie, after all) they were built off the Edicts.
While many of the laws and rules were seen as metaphors in Europe and the Americas (“of course giants and dragons exist, and I suppose angels must, but none of that is common or normal, and wizards are mostly fakers or fey playing tricks”) in the past century much more of it has been taken to be literal. With the rise of Theosophy defining some natural laws behind magic (and laying out ways it can be taught like any other skill), it is expected the 1896 council will potentially rewrite the Edicts from scratch.
See You Next Week!
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CARRY A TORCH SONG
(A Sorcerers & Speakeasies short story)
Felspethe moved silently from her office to the interior balcony overlooking the main room, her form concealed in the dark shadows the balcony’s drapes cast from the stage lights hanging just under it. It was a good crowd, tonight. Mostly human, as you’d expect on a Saturday night at an upscale place like the Annwyn Avalon, but with a smattering of feybloods, dworrowfolk, sidhe, and one small block of uroks. She saw with approval that Tam-Tam, the night’s floor manager, was lounging in apparent boredom between the uroks and the nearest humans. It was unlikely anyone would dare bare iron in her club, but it was better if Tam-Tam could calm tensions before they got anywhere near that far if someone had too much to drink.
Or smoke. Or snort.
Her Court was similarly alert, if lazily so. Their dull yellow beaks and dark feathers were nearly invisible in the rafters, up at her balcony’s level, though from time to time a rook or jackdaw would flutter from one beam to another, and sometimes a patron would look up. The larger crows and ravens were much quieter, content to sit in spots picked out before she opened her doors. If they took wing tonight, it would be at her command alone.
One of the largest ravens, nearly three feet from tip of razor-sharp beak to end of it’s tailfeathers, was sitting on the railing of her balcony. It had ignored her when she walked out, but turned it’s head now to regard her with one shiny black eye.
Felspethe smiles. “What catches your attention tonight, Valgrn?”
The corvid’s voice was quiet and deep, very much at odds with its appearance.
“Captain Auburn is back.”
Felspethe raised a long, delicate eyebrow, and scanned the room more carefully. To her annoyance, she couldn’t spot the brazen-headed police agent who should have stood out like a pumpkin in a potato patch.
“Where?” She kept her voice calm — no reason to ruffle the Court.
Valgrn tilted his head and leaned, jutting his beak forward. “There. Standing by the maquette.”
Felspethe’s eyes jumped back to a point they had just slid over, a small roped-off alcove which featured a terracotta statue of a lithe elven figure in clothes a century out of fashion, its face a near match for Felspethe’s own. And sure enough, there was Captain Urielle Auburn, in the smart pinstripe suit that functioned as her uniform nowadays. And, as always, her enruned rifle Killfire was neatly slung over her back, in a well-maintained but obviously military shoulder sheath. The captain’s eyes were boring a whole across the club, though Felspethe didn’t bother to see what she was looking at yet.
Flespethe’s heart fluttered a little, which was almost as annoying as not being able to spot Auburn on her own. She wanted to be annoyed about the rifle, but couldn’t generate any heat behind the feeling. The Annwyn Avalon forbade weapons, but she knew perfectly well a quarter of her patrons concealed some derringer or stiletto. And Auburn could likely flash a badge, or a note from the mayor, and insist on bringing Killfire in anyway.
But most police would have brought something more subtle. It was just so like Urielle to insist on being obvious about it. A smile crept onto the corner of Felspethe’s lips, and it took conscious effort to suppress it.
“Do we know why she’s here?”
Again, Valgrn pointed with his beak, the line of his gesture crossing the steely gaze of Captain Auburn at the location of one of her VIP tables, where a circle of patrons in suits that each cost more than her monthly payroll sat and laughed loudly. The largest of the group was Beula “Breakbone” Jotkin, an ogreblooded uruk famous for being able to punch through brick. No one in the club would want to trade blows with the big enforcer… except Auburn, of course.
But the greater threat was a small man sitting next to Breakbone, and almost certainly paying for her meal. Pleasantly plump, balding and gray-haired, Fodrick Freeburner was the unquestioned head of the Weefolk Beneficent Society… known on the streets as the Halfling Mob. He was an almost cherublike figure, with sparkling eyes and rosy cheeks, who played “Little Father Christmas” in the city’s Yule parade every year.
He was also, Felspethe knew, a merciless criminal mastermind, and a potent necromancer.
She found her mouth suddenly quite dry. If Auburn was here for Freeburner…
“What can you see in the farther branches, my knight?”
As she stroked Valgrn’s feathers, his eyes went from glossy to flat black, as he looked beyond where she could see.
His voice was barely a whisper. “Captain Auburn hunts a killer. She believes it to be Aussker Crackkettle, a minor numbers-runner for Freeburner. Freeburner has kept Crackkettle hidden. She is here to remind him she has gone to war. True war. And that if she does so again, it will not go well for him.”
“And here, tonight?” Felspethe held her breath.
“Captain Auburn will begin no war in your lands. But if Freeburner senses advantage, he may unleash Breakbone upon the captain.”
Valgrn’s eyes regained their normal gleam.
“It is unlikely Freeburner would risk it. But not impossible.”
Felspethe knew the future was too shadowy to ever be sure of anything, and Valgrn had certainly earned her trust with his predictions. But she needed to push the chance of a street war breaking out here, tonight, well into the “impossible” category. And to do that, she needed to make Freeburner wonder if she and her Court would side with him, or Urielle, should blood be spilled. But at the same time, she had to do so in such a way he didn’t perceive it as a threat. She couldn’t operate without his tacit approval.
But she also could not allow Auburn to fight alone. Not again.
“The Captain’s unit in the War, the Stormguard. What was their color song?”
Vagrn’s beak could not smile. Yet, the humor was clear on his face.
“March of Cambreadth. Shall I signal the stage chief to ready for you to perform?”
Felspethe allowed the smile this time. “Indeed. One song, to honor the war hero among us. No one could blame me for that, could they?”
She glanced down again, and was startled to see Urielle looking up at her. She should be invisible here in her balcony, but their eyes locked. Urielle nodded once. And… was that a hint of a smile of her own ?”
Felspethe’s heart pounded but she kept enough composure to simply nod in return, and let her smile bloom to its full glory. Urielle’s eyes widened briefly, and then she looked away quickly.
Felspethe felt the emotions that fueled her mortal form more than food, air, or lifeblood boiling within her. Rather than fight them down, she began to let them coil, where she could access them as needed. This song, this one rare song from the owner of the Annwyn Avalon, would be enough to make anyone considering crossing her pause.
And if it didn’t? Well, Felspethe was sure Urilee Auburn and Killfire would not let her and her court fight alone.
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So, I happened to mention a “ShadowFinders” campaign on social media a few times in the past few weeks, leading a number of people to ask “What the heck is ShadowFinders, and when does it come out?”
And now I’ll have a place to point them to, at least for the moment. And the answers are… “A theoretical modern Pathfinder campaign I have been noodling and, as far as I know, never.”
I know, not very satisfying.
The thing it, I already have TWO campaign settings mulling about that I work on when I get what I laughingly refer to as “Space Time.” I’ve been working on-and-off on the Really Wild West (a campaign hack for Starfinder), and more recently Sorcerers & Speakeasies (a campaign setting for 5e). Those are both mix-modern-and-fantasy settings, with Really Wild West having a great deal more material done for it (having begun working on it more than 2 years ago), and Sorcerers & Speakeasies currently having an actual for-sale product currently being designed by a freelancer.
So, clearly, I already have my hands full with modern fantasy pastiche ideas for two game systems that I don;t have time to move forward at full speed as it is. So why would I add another?
To some extend, I can’t help it.
I didn’t become an RPG game designer because that was my life goal. I slid into it sideways, by loving games (especially RPGs), and making up stuff for my own home games (mostly RPGs), and wanting to turn my hobby into a revenue-neutral pastime that paid for itself. (You can read more detailed accounts of my nearly-accidental entry into my 20+ year RPG design career at “From the Freelancing Frontline,” in a series of articles at EN World.)
And, it’s still one of my primary hobbies. Which means, I am still having ideas about things I’d like to run as games, or add to games, or even play in games. Now, a lot of that content ends up in products I write or develop–I find it easiest to work on a game system if I am playing that system. (I know some rpg designers prefer not to be frequently playing the game they are working on, and given how great many of those designers are I have to say that works for them. I don’t think it would work well for me.)
But a lot of it DOESN’T end up in my professional writing. Now, some of that is for legal reasons (yes I have thoughts on Jedi in Starfinder, but unless I create a totally different Owen-as-fan-only space, I’m never going to share them). Some of it is because it’s material I’d only want to use in a context where I knew the people involved and could tailor it to match their preferences and playstyles. But some of it is just because there hasn’t been a good match yet, and/or because I haven’t had the time.
And that last category is the weird limbo where ShadowFinders exists.
I have several solid ideas for ShadowFinders, as a modern supplement for Pathfinder 2nd Edition. Essentially a smaller stand-alone hardback book that is a complete RPG and 100% compatible with the Core Rulebook, but focuses on a modern, urban fantasy game. I have ideas on how I’d save space (many fewer ancestries and classes, likely only occult and primal magic), how to link it to existing cosmology (some primal magic comes from Egypt, which once had strange portals to another Egypt-like land in another world, but most magic is occult material that entered the world in through strange events involving Rasputin), and how it would work with the existing rules (as a modern supplement, with material you could use in a 100% fantasy setting, or could add to a fantasy setting that happened to already have alien spaceships and guns in it in limited locations).
But that approach works best if it’s a book Paizo publishes… and that is both unlikely (I have some idea how hard it is for Paizo to manage to both maintain its currently offers AND produce a new core rulebook with a new setting), and if it did happen would most likely not involve me in any major capacity. I have thoughts on that too, of course (involving Paizo deciding to outsource creation of a SahdowFinders rpg to keep costs and down and experiment with freelance production and development), but that’s not particularly likely either. (Never say never, but be realistic with your planning.)
So, that leaves me with a name and idea I like but that would work best in production circumstances that aren’t going to happen soon if ever, no spare time, two more similar projects already further along… and tons of ideas for a thing I can’t take time to move forward on right now.
So is ShadowFinders dead? No, definitely not. But it is in a holding pattern, neither being given up on nor getting any resources to speak of at the moment. One of the few things I know is that I never know what I’ll be working on in 3 years, and often have no idea what I’ll be working on in 1 year.
It PROBABLY won’t be any version of ShadowFinders…
Unless, of course, it gets a huge positive response from a Patreon crowd that grows large enough to support even more of my time going to working on such things. 🙂
We’ve talked about doing the 1920s Magic and Mobsters campaign, “Sorcerers and Speakeasies” in general terms, and talked a bit about Backgrounds, and even talked a bit about our plans on the BAMF podcast.
A common question that has come up during these discussions is: What do you plan to do about religion?
It’s a common question anytime you add fantastic elements to a setting rooted in real-world history. There are numerous potential issues when you look to grant traditional D&D-like divine powers to real-world religions. These problems are magnified if you don’t do tons and tons of research. Should you treat Christians differently than Hindus? Is Zues still worshipped? Are their fantasy gods, like Karracker? If monotheist religions can talk to God, does that prove polytheists are wrong?
So, Sorcerers and Speakeasies is leaning toward avoiding a lot of those questions, and focusing instead on religios themes. Players and GMs can do whatever they and their group are comfortable with those themes.
First and foremost, gods (and God) don’t talk to people in Sorcerers and Speakeasies.
Outsiders do… but all admit they can’t discuss (or don’t know) the reality of gods. Angelic and fiendish creatures themselves follow various religions, or at least seem to, but in general state they support those mortals that support their own areas of concern, often as indicated through Aspects (see below).
Cleric: Three Callings
Gods aren’t as directly communicative in 1920 as they seemed to be in Ancient times. Rather than the focused power of a divine domain, S&S clerics are generally following a calling that motivates them to live spiritual lives in very specific ways.
Calling of Ordination – Member of a specific holy order, though that may be a Buddhist nun, Catholic priest, Presbyterian pastor, semicha lerabanim, or any other organized group that have common rules, training, and requirements to join.
Calling of Preachers – You have been called to preach. Perhaps in a church, perhaps under a tent, or perhaps on a street corner.
Calling of Witness – You don’t just have faith, you demonstrate it by doing something dangerous as proof your faith protects you. Among the most famous of these are scorpion-dancers, who handle deadly scorpions as proof they have divine protection.
Certainly there’s nothing wrong with the domains in the Player’s handbook–if you want to play a cleric of the Knowledge domain, feel free. But most Sorcerers and Speakeasies clerics, and divine characters and NPCs in general, are built around one of sixteen Aspects, each of which has a domain.
These are build off concepts often seen as “sins” and “virtues,” and eight of each have angels and fiends empowered by them, but the aspects are not alignment-locked. While there are demons of Pride, it is possible to have a good-aligned cleric of Pride who embodied taking pride in your work and avoiding false modesty. Similarly someone who believes in killing those who are not generous enough would be an evil figure of Generosity).
Angelic Aspects: Courage, Diligence, Generosity, Gratitude, Humility, Justice, Patience, Prudence
Fiendish Aspects: Cowardice, Envy, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Pride, Sloth, Wrath
Today’s post only happened because I was able to turn down some small freelance projects, giving me spare time to consider these questions, and replace the income those would have brought in with money from my Patreon. Even just the price of a cup of coffee each month makes a big difference in how much content I can put out on my blog!