Category Archives: Anachronistic Adventurers

Hollow Worlds of the Really Wild West

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.

RWW Agartha

(art by Oscar)

Agartha

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
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.

Frozen Lomar
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.

Hsan
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.

Silbannacia
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.

Ungol
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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New Operative Specialization in Really Wild West: Pistoleer (For Starfinder)

We wrap up out look at operative class options in the Really Wild West (and therefore Starfinder in general) with the pistoleer specialization, and one extra exploit that synergies with it despite not being part of it. While the gunslinger and soldier are both classes that may well use pistols (one reason gunslinger abilities have multiple ways of being accessed by soldiers), the existence or trick attack means operatives are the class most likely to focus on small arms, and deserve a unique way to specialize with such weapons.

Rww Shootist

(art by warpaintcobra)

New Operative Specialiation: Pistoleer
While all gunfighters may have a preference for one firearm over another, a pistoleer specifically focuses on pistol-combat, trading versatility for greater expertise in small arms.
Associated Skills: Bluff and Sleight of Hand. When you use Bluff to make a trick attack, you gain a +4 bonus to the skill check.
Specialization Exploit: Fast on the Draw
Sweep the Room (Ex): At 11th level as a full action you can make one small arm attack against every target in a cone out to your weapon’s second range increment. If you are holding multiple small arms, you can decide which small arm is used to attack which target. Each attack takes the weapon’s normal ammunition usage and you cannot reload during this attack, even if you have a way to reload without taking an action. When you run out of ammunition, your attacks stop.

Operative Exploits:

[2nd Level]

Shootist (Ex)
You gain a gunslinger ability. You must select one that could normally be used with small arms or longarms (though it can also be usable with other weapons as well). You must meet its other prerequisites. You can only use it with small arms.
At 4th level, you gain a second gunslinger ability using the same rules and limitations.

[10th Level]

Fast on the Draw (Ex)
You gain the Quick Draw feat – if you gain the Quick Draw feat through other means, you gain the ability to draw a small arm as a reaction whenever someone within your line of sight makes an attack against anyone. You can still take a full action on a round you Quick Draw as a swift action.

Additionally, you gain a +1 bonus to the attack roll of trick attacks made with a small arm in the first round of a combat.

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Armor and the Really Wild West

The original blog entry for the Really Wild West  has super-simplified armor rules, which were enough to cover the campaign when it was just a couple of blog posts for running weird west in Starfinder. Now that the setting hack has grown to more than 20,000 words of content, it’s appropriate to expand on those–slightly–to cover iconic exceptions to the general trend of Old West heroes not wearing much in the way of armor.

These rules can also easily apply to GammaFinder and (with a change of tone and material from leather to kevlar) FreedomFinder.

Armor and AC

No one much wears armor in the Really Wild West. Instead every PC gains a bonus to EAC equal to your level, and a bonus to KAC equal to your level +2. If you are proficient with heavy armor, you get an additional +1 bonus to EAC and KAC, and if you are proficient with powered armor, you get an *additional* +1 bonus to EAC and KAC.

You can wear armor, it’s just uncommon. Ned Kelly famously covered himself in meal sheathing, a few gunslingers are known to have put a metal plate or two under their longcoats, and some cultures have adapted older armor techniques to the world of 1891 with varying degrees of success. From a game mechanics point of view, all armor of any use falls into one of four categories – light, high light, heavy, and spot heavy.

Item     Item Level       Cost     EAC      KAC     Max Dex          Armor Check   Movement       Bulk
Light Armor      1          100 credits       +0         +1         +5         -1         -0 ft.    L
High Light Armor          2          1,000 credits   +1         +1         +6         -0         -0 ft.    L
Heavy Armor    1          150 credits       +2         +2         +4         -3         -5 ft.    4
Heavy Spot Armor        1          100 credits       +0         +1         +5         -1         -0 ft.    2

Light Armor
Light armor is normally cloth or leather-based, with heavy leather dusters combined with chaps and gloves, double-layer canvas coveralls, and blacksmith aprons and gloves as good examples. Alternatively light armor can be made of bone, wood, laminated strips of cloth or hide or similar materials. Light armor is generally obvious, requiring bulky clothing to be concealed at all and it cannot be concealed from a dedicated search. It’s possible to instead have something like a very small area of high light armor (such as a vest with a fine chainmail front), which can be easily concealed as high light armor is, but the cost doubles.

High Light Armor
High armor is much rarer than light or heavy armor, and is most common among rich duelists, veteran mercenaries, and high-society explorers. It is more likely to be made of coats of spider-silk, inner linings of fine chain, enchanted natural materials, or cunningly designed plates of gravity-defying cavorite. Unlike light armor, high light armor can be concealed (impossible to notice casually, and requiring a DC 10 = 1.5x item level to notice with a careful examination).

Heavy Armor
This is the Ned Kelly option (though it may be more professionally designed), heavy metal plates protecting a good chunk of the body. It cannot be concealed.

RWW Ned Kelly

Heavy Spot Armor
Heavy spot armor is generally a thick plate placed over vitals (such as a boilerplate chestpiece), or areas that are easily used to block and defense (such as vambraces and greaves). Though it’s not as protective as full heavy armor, it allows someone with heavy armor proficiency add just a bit of extra protection. It can be concealed from casual observation (DC 10 = 1.5x item level to notice) but not careful examination.

Powered Armor
Powered armor essentially does not exist in the Really Wild West, at least not as a commercial option. Any powered armor is going to be the exclusive domain of characters who access it through class features or similar avenues. Standard Starfinder powered armor can be accessed in this way, but regardless of what the powered armor normally grants, it’s AC bonuses and Max Dexterity bonus to AC are calculated as light armor, high light armor, heavy armor, or spot heavy armor.

RWW Steam Powered Armor

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Short Fiction: “Carry a Torch Song ” (Sorcerers & Speakeasies)

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.

OwenPulpFantasy-ElfSinger-01

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What The Heck is “ShadowFinders?”

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?”

Cyberpunk katana

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.

Cyberpunk Gun

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…

Cyberpunk Butterfly

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. 🙂

Sorcerers & Speakeasies Part 3 (Religions)

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.

Sixteen Domains
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

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Sorcerers & Speakeasies (Part 2: Backgrounds)

Okay… so maybe I now AM working on a Sorcerers and Speakeasies 5e supplement. Mostly, I’m having someone else work on it right now, while I just offer outlines and notes. But since it’s on my mind, and I need content for my blog anyway, here are some more thoughts.

Given that 5e is a robust, flexible, well-supported game system we need to ask ourselves: what do characters really need to fit in to our 1920s setting? Equipment, obviously. Since we are sticking with the normal species there’s no need for change there. We’ll make adjustments to the classes, but only as needed. Maybe a few spells to augment the feel of the setting (Tannison’s Terrible Tommygun, anyone?) But there’s actually not a ton of hard rules changes needed.

That brings us to backgrounds.

Many of the backgrounds in 5e conceptually work fine for our 1920s “Djinn and Tonic” campaign. We’d need to update available equipment, including for each background, but we can do that easily (once we have an equipment list… so this is something I have an excellent freelancer working on right now). Similarly we’d want a conversation about languages (do we have all the 5e languages and all the real-world languages? Do we decide German is elven, so Netherlandic is drow, West Scandinavian is old fae, and so on?), but once that’s settled languages are easy. The personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws generally work fine (I think we can trust players to update any anachronistic terms to 1920s-appropriate equivalents).

Beyond that, looking at the PHB, Acolyte, Charlatan, Criminal, Entertainer, Sage, Sailor, and Urchin all work pretty well as-is. Some context might be worth adding, but each of those backgrounds can easily be adapted to Sorcerers & Speakeasies with a small entry that gives an update to equipment and maybe proficiencies, and a short description of any conceptual tweaks that need to be mentioned.

We might want to do just a bit more work for Folk Hero, Guild Artisan, Hermit, Noble, and Outlander. The core of those work fine, but the details might need a tad more adjustment. Luckily, the concept of Variant backgrounds can handle that just fine. Local Favorite is an easy variant for Folk Hero, Union Member for Guild Artisan, Dedicated Academic for Hermit, Upper Class Scion for Noble, and possibly WWI Veteran for Outlander.

It could be worth doing a few more variant for the backgrounds that already work well too, just for specific flavor. Gambler is an easy variant for Charlatan, Gangster for Criminal, Scientist for Sage, and so on.

Now that doesn’t mean we may not want to add some new backgrounds as well. Journalist comes to mind as a common 1920s trope worth supporting on its own, and maybe Masked Vigilante if we want specific support for it. Copper, Detective, Driver, Engineer, Pilot, Smuggler, Rum-Runner… there’s tons of fun stuff we can do if we want to. In each case we should ask if it needs it’s own background (if we do Smuggler, Rum-Runner is a pretty obvious variant–same with Copper and Detective or Diver and Pilot). Dilettante could be a variant of Noble, but maybe Dandy/Flapper deserves its own? We can touch on things like Made a Deal at the Crossroads (if we don’t borrow the idea for the Warlock), or Blasted By Lovecraftian Horror if we want to support more mystic backgrounds in keeping with our magic-and-machines.

We don’t want to get TOO specific. I suspect we want Archaeologists as a form of Sage or Hermit, and Banker/Grocer/Typewriter Repair Man are likely just suggestions for some kind of Crafter or the Guild Artisan. We should think hard about whether Spy, Photographer, Athlete/Sports Star, Student, and the dozen more than come to mind are really worth having their own entries at all, but certainly some will.

A LOT of character flavor can come from backgrounds, so we’d want to think about if we want to make any variants just for that reason.

For example, look at the Entertainer background. It has 10 Entertainer Routines listed. There’s nothing wrong with being an actor, dancer, or juggler, but “jester” doesn’t speak to the 1920s. Let’s look at what a revised table might look like.

Entertainer Routines

Pick 1-3 routines, or roll a d10 to pick them randomly.

  1. Stage actor
  2. Dancer
  3. Carnival barker
  4. Clown
  5. Juggler
  6. Jazz instrumentalist
  7. Big Band instrumentalist
  8. Singer
  9. Radio actor
  10. Ventriloquist

That doesn’t change the game rules at all, but it does feel very much more grounded in the culture of the Roaring 20s.

This also means a Backgrounds chapter of a Sorcerers and Speakeasies game could contain a lot of flavor without loading down players or the GM with a lot of specialized rules. If we want to sneak in references to Adventurer’s Inc., Hexers, Grendels, and Taxi Heroes, we can put all that into Backgrounds just to help flesh out the world.

Speaking of helping:

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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!

5e Campaign Settings the Easy Way (Sorcerers & Speakeasies)

As is so often the case for me, as I specifically set myself up for a massive workload (I am currently sitting at 223 different project deadlines due sometime in 2020), my muse is hammering me hard with ideas for a project that ISN’T on that list.

That, combined with the fact I’m still in Seattle having been flown out for some meetings at OrcaCon, means I am going to punt the next d20 Class Design Diary post (which has had Part 2 and Part 3 in recent weeks) by another week.

But we are going to tackle a related topic! I take a look at some campaign building/class expansion ideas to match new campaign options for 5e, based on the ideas that have been Muse-shoved into my brain recently. So, what project does my muse have me thinking about, that so far is NOT on my list of things to get to anytime soon?

Sorcerers & Speakeasies

“It’s the Raging 20s. Magic elixirs and booze are illegal. Monsters are rampant. Adventure is everywhere!”

There are lots of ways I could proceed about making a magic-and-machine-guns setting based on Prohibition era America, ranging from making a brand new RPG ruleset, to a full game system hack (such as I have been working on for Really Wild West). But its also possible to design it as just a set of bolted-on extras for an existing game system that does most of what we need. The current edition of 5e is flexible and open-ended enough that it could cover a lot of what a Sorcerers & Speakeasies game would need. Some worldbuilding would be necessary of course, and 1920s equipment would have to be designed and added, but that’s easy compared to reskinning a whole game or creating one from scratch.

Since the main way players interact with a game world is through character classes, that’s a great place to start when looking at creating a campaign setting for a new ruleset. When discussing using 5e classes in a Paladins-And-Prohibition game, there are two routes we could take. We could create new 5e classes whole cloth to fill all the roles we need, or we could just add new specializations to each class to give them a 1920s moonshiners and monsters feel. That’s a good deal less work, and in some ways more flexible since it means any other material designed for those classes can be easily added to our Sorcerers & Speakeasies (S&S) game.

Of course some people might not consider all the 5e classes to be good matches for a 1920s-era setting, even one that adds dwarves, gnomes, and spellcasting. For example, players with visions of barbarians exclusively as nordic vikings, Conan-like Hyperboreans, and savage jungle princesses may have trouble seeing how the class works in a game that runs from Uptown Citadels and Theater Street all the way down to the Undertown and Gearling Park.

But that’s why our new specializations need to be flavorful and thematically appropriate both to the core of the class, and to some 1920s hero/villain trope. For example, if I was going to do S&S as a simple 5e bolt-on, I’d start with something like this.

Barbarian: Three new Primal Paths
Boondock – You grew up in a remote rural location, commonly mountain country or midwestern farmland, in an area with extensive and extreme poverty. You may have learned to survive just on woodcraft and farming, or you might have gotten a hard manual labor job such as miner, oil field worker, or logger. You might fit the stereotype of being an uneducated overall-wearing moonshiner and pistol-popper… or you might have depths city-slickers neither expect nor appreciate. You may or may not not be quick to anger, but your hillfolk roots give you access to a pool of simple, potent wrath you can tap when you have had enough.
Grinder – When there is dirty, hard, unpleasant work to be done, people look at you. Your best prospects are often acting as a second-tier knee-breaker, not trusted to plan anything complicated but an expert at mayhem when the the plan falls part. Some grinders make an honest living, as boxers, wrestlers, pig-chuckers, or circus strongmen, but your strength and durability often draw the attention of people who think they have more violent uses for your talents.
Jitney – People are shocked at how big you are, and how much hardship you can shrug off. They may call you “built like a cement truck,” a “brickhouse,” or a “palooka,” but the sentiment is the same regardless of the term — you are made of shoeleather and axehandles, and your durability seems unearthly. It’s fairly common for those who don’t know you to assume your mass and density mean you are dim-witted as well, though being underestimated in that way can play in your favor.

Yes, I’d need game mechanics to make those paths complete, but my starting point for adding specialties to 5e to give a 1920s magic adventure feel is very much conceptual. Taking this exploration of ideas a bit further, here are some other potential directions to take 5e classes that might otherwise feel very disconnected from the modern world of a 1920s campaign. These are just sketches of ideas, starting points I’d build out from if I was spending more time on this.

OwenPulpFantasy-ElfSinger-01

Bard: Three Circuits
There’s a good chance your S&S bard has a bit more experience singing for his dinner, and a little less formal training, than a bard with a “college.” In place of colleges, an S&S bard can select a Circuit, reflecting the types of places where they are most likely to have gotten paying gigs.
Busker’s Circuit – You might not still mostly be performing on the streets hoping for spare change to make a living, but you’ve done it enough to know the ins and outs, and how life on the street works.
Club Circuit – There are a lot of houses of entertainment these days, and you’ve learned to get booked, make a living on the gigs, and work contacts bot for your career, and to arrange for anything else you might need.
Vaudeville Circuit – You’ve done a little of a lot of different things to fit in to the vaudevillian life, and may be able to sing a bit, dance a bit, do a few card tricks, throw your voice, tell some jokes, throw your voice, or a dozen other little performances.

Druid: Three Habitats
There isn’t any one universal druid circle in the 1920s. There are numerous groups and religions that work with or include druids along with many other characters, but what most distinguishes one druid from another in Sorcery & Speakeasies is the habitat of creatures they focus on and feel a connection with.
Alley Habitat – You are closely connected to the creatures that share urban living spaces, from pigeons and rats, to feral cats and dogs, and sometimes even roaches.
Domestic Habitat – Civilization has been working with animals, as guards, allies, mounts, producers, and just food, for thousands of years. You are most strongly connected to animals that share citizens lives, be those cattle, horses, guard dogs, housecats, hunting birds, or circus elephants.
Wilds Habitat – There’s still a lot of wilderness out there, from back roads to mountain hollows and unspoiled woodlands. You prefer to connect with the creatures of these

Step 0 – A Feel for the World

This project didn’t begin as a thought experiment into how to adapt 5e classes. It began with a wild notion for what kind of slang might exist in a Fantasy Roaring 20s campaign, and how such slang might help define a world and inspire adventures within it. I’ve posted all this to my Facebook page at random times over the past couple of months, but it seems worthwhile to offer it all in one compiled for here.

Sorcerers & Speakeasies Slang

Adventure, Inc.: Adventure, Inc. is a semi-formal network of taxi drivers, trash collectors, diners, phone operators, street workers, milkmen, bus drivers, mechanics ,and similar folk who work to get information about “grendles” to people who might do something about them.
Babylon Phonebook: Spellbook, especially one focusing on summoning things.
Button Troll: Any monster paid to act as a guard, thug, or legbreaker, normally by organized crime figures.
Calico: A woman who has rural hedge-wizard, witchcraft or shamanistic powers, but also acts as an urban employee, guide, or even boss.
Cement Cloak: A magic item designed to get the user killed. Sometimes used to refer to any method of assassination.
Cleaver Squad: Group willing and able to engage in violence using primarily melee weapons, especially those adapted from tools. “The merchants of Unstreet, from the Gutters to Old Fane, can call up a pretty big Cleaver Squad.”
Copper Shield: A system protecting police and other government enforcers *and* their agents and informers from the consequences of their own actions as long as they remain useful to the government higher-ups. “He’s crooked, but he’s behind the copper shield.”
Corpse Doctor: A necromancer. Or necrothurge. Or flesh automaton maker. Basically anyone who mucks with bodies for mystic purposes.
Dama: A woman with the skills and confidence of a knight. May be literal for a warrior-woman, or may be a term of respect for the woman’s expertise and dominance within her field, be that accounting, politics, or just being family matriarch.
Drowned Man: Functioning drunk. Often barely-functioning, like a disgraced doctor who now works out of a back ally, or a corrupt police detective who does private investigations now.
Eveic: The secret language of Eve, used in the Garden of Eden, which neither Adam nor God understood. Therefor, any secret known and used by a group of women.
Hexer: Anyone with magic that is of an evil source, or they use to specifically evil ends.
Hexhunter: An expert at tracking down, understanding, and undoing the evil caused by hexers.
Glint: Someone who has one, and likely only one, truly noteworthy magic item (often a weapon or one-use spell-tosser).
Go Dwarven: Get simple, heavy, primitive, and generally violent. “If you don’t pay your loan back, we’ll have to go dwarven on you.” But also a mechanical philosophy. “The radiator doesn’t work unless you go a bit dwarven on the pipes.”
Grendle: Any monstrous or supernatural problem that, for whatever reason, the local authorities won’t do anything about.
Guillotine Cure: Fixing social problems by getting rid of politicians in charge. Not always by killing them, but that’s often the implication.
GumSword: A hired monster-killer or adventurer. Often a low-rent one, who can’t afford high-end steel weapons, but may depend on a baseball bat or crowbar.
Lotus Fiend: Drug addict, especially addicted to drugs that grant magic visions and maybe real eldritch powers, at least briefly.
LuckLubber: Someone who is cursed, or has such bad luck they seem to be cursed.
Medusa: A woman who is believed to have power, generally magical or political, and the will to use it.
Morlock: Any intelligence, roughly humanoid thing that most lives below ground and doesn’t abide by the rules of civilization and society, not even Undertown society. May include trogs, derro, mongrelmen, skulks, tommyknockers, and, you know, morlocks.
Noirmancer: A secret spellcaster, who only does their wok in the dark or at night, or in the metaphysical shadows.
Paper Troll: Someone who talks big and makes trouble, but only in newspaper editorials or letters to the paper, or in town meetings and such.
Pargeter: An artificer skilled in the creation of automatons and homonculi.
Parthian: An enchanted firearm. “No one wants to cross Gurhtu One-Tusk. His violin case supposedly is where he carries a Parthian.”
Precious: Any important item, often referred to by the obsessive owner; such as “Jimmy the Glint’s ‘Precious’.”
Psara Cat: An unusually large, fluffy, calm breed of feline who supposedly pick people to adopt and turn into spellcasters. Also, anyone who appears to be the power behind the scenes. “Little Ezri may just look like the bartender, but he’s the real Psara Cat south of 114th street.”
Raven: An informer who knows things about the world of magic and monsters. Sometimes, may be an actual corvid.
Spelleasy: A neighborhood bar when you drink coffee or tea and discuss magic. You might discuss elixirs, but don’t actually make them. Like alcohol elixirs are, after all, illegal now.
Spider-Friendly: Willing to deal with creatures from the Undertown, like drow and driders and ropers. “The ground floor of the Drake Drink Club is upscale, but the basement levels are spider-friendly.” Also a suggestion of a person who might be sexually attracted to subterranean races.
Stormer: A powerful, primal spellcaster. often one who has to be angry to create magic effects, or who creates uncontrolled magi effects when angry.
Talk to a Mirror: Any form of divination. “Okay, I’m stumped on this case. but I know a guy who’ll talk to a mirror for us.”
Taxi Hero: An adventurer who deals with things on a case-by-case, for-pay basis. “They may not deal with the whole cult, but the neighborhood gathered some money to hire a taxi hero to clear out that Set temple on in the abandoned Monarch Hotel.” Taxi heroes often literally work for a local branch of the Delver’s Union, which sells tickets to people they can give a Taxi Hero to deal with a problem. An “A Ticket” is a minor nuisance, such a a giant rat in your basement, or soot-sprites. The letter-codes go all the way up to the E Ticket, which is your trolls under an overpass, chimera nest in the church’s bell tower, hauntings, and so on.
The Taxi Hero takes the ticket back to the local Delver’s Union, and gets paid for the work. Of course, it seems like the A and B tickets pay out less and less every season…
“Three C’s”: Chokers, Cloakers, and Crypt Things — stand in for anything you may run into in an urban alley or sewer that’s common enough to recognize and know how to deal with, but dangerous enough to kill in an unheroic manner you anyway. “Lots of people gone missing in the Battery recently. Probably just the Three C’s.”
Threadman: An undead created intentionally as a servant. Comes from the fact they often have lips, eyes, or both sewn shut.
Wand Wiggler: A spellcaster-for hire, often a pretty weak one.
WarWolf (or Loup de Guerre): A civilian vehicle converted for paramilitary or military purposes. “The Starshiners have an old WarWolf they use to make deliveries.”

Step 0+1: Microfiction

Even after I saw how easily gamified the concepts for Sorcerers & Speakeasies could be, I didn’t leap to game rules. Instead, I began wondering if there was a way to present a setting that had magic melee weapons and firearms both be fairly common, but magic firearms be rare. I especially liked the idea of enchanted clubs and sling rocks being even more common than enchanted swords.

That lead to this super-short story.

Runes and Remmingtons
“Sarge, why do the Torchers carry breakbats?”

“Are you asking, cadet, why an officer in the Undertown street patrol might be equipped by the city with an Type IV Enruned Peacekeeping Cudgel?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Because cadet–Macklin, is it?–there are things in Undertown that need kinetic encouragement to be good citizens.”

“Well sure, Sarge. We all get that. But why not use a .38?”

“While our Police Standard Issue is a fine choice for many duties, son, there are things in Undertown that don’t pay attention until you tap their should with something that has runes on it.”

“Okay, Sarge, but why not just put runes on a .38? I mean I’ve seen an Ogre Squad carrying more boarspears than shotguns! Shouldn’t we just put some runes on modern weapons?”

“First, Cadet Macklin, a shotgun lacks the lugs needed to keep a wounded globster from crawling up onto and over you while you and your squad hit it with the wrath of Good St. Alaina the dozen or more times it takes to bring it down.
“Second, runecasters have been putting the roxie on pigstickers and crossbows for centuries. They’ve gotten right good at it. But a nice Remmie pump 17? Been out less time than you’ve been alive. Turns out, until the Longbeards and Calicos in armaments have been perfecting the runes for a kind of weapon for a good dozen decades, the cost of enruing one is… prohibitive.”

“But Captain Auburn has that cherry Springfield with a bunch of runes on it!”

“She does indeed. Brought it back from the war. And she earned it. Got that for killing a dragon, Macklin.”

“A draaaagon, Sarge? Really?”

“Feel free to ask her your own self, cadet. If you want to lose your eyebrows for insolence. But until then, let’s train with the Peacekeeping Cudgels, shall we?”

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’49, Wüstendrachen

As the German Wüstendrachen had little impact on the war anywhere but in Africa, Allied planners tended to dismiss them as either a stunt designed to show the impressive reach of the Reich, or a poorly-conceived plan to create a new form of wonder-soldier to compete (in general, poorly) with powered-armor equipped heavy infantry.

In fact, neither of those was the strategic purpose of the Wüstendrachen, which was in general never realized.

20190623_202113

By the time the Reich had determined victory had to mean conquering North and South America, the reality of logistics just invading the Soviet Union and Czarist Crimea had become clear. While invasions of the Americas wouldn’t have to deal with Russian Winter, the need to import the needed war materiel across one or more oceans was seen as a major problem. Even if jet bombers and saucers could destroy most of the continent’s opposing forces from the air, truly controlling such territory would require troops on the ground.

This is where the drachen were seen as part of the solution. The beasts were capable of outrunning and outlasting horses, camels, and even jeeps, could allow expert troops to carry significant materiel and even anti-tank weapons, and while they could not compete with walkers or heavy infantry, they were more than capable of handling light infantry or militias.

And they could breed.

The idea was that a well-blooded, well-trained Wüstendrachen could expand exponentially once established on a foreign continent. A single female could lay 4-5 eggs a week, and hatchlings were born nearly self-sufficient. They would imprint upon birth with a pack handler, could be used as guard animals within a week, and could become mounts within 3 months.

Rather than have to build factories, import or process fuel, maintain supply lines of tires and spare parts, the plan was for elite Wüstendrachen to establish bases of operations, feed their mounts on fallen foes and wild game, and recruit, train, and educate local whites to become volkwüstendrachen, creating a self-sustaining, replicating, self-sufficient scouting and patrol force that could spread across any continent with little support from Germany.

Though the project only took root in any strength under Rommel in Africa, its success there for years suggests it would have at least had some impact on an invasion of the Americas, if the Reich had ever managed great enough success to attempt such a thing.

#DieselPulp

Short Order Heroes. 1. On The Clock.

Deputy Jensen Jackson was not particularly important. He knew that.

He was simply too young to be important. Or, at least, too young for someone from his social circles and economic circumstance to be important. That was fine. That was how the world worked.

But he did WORK for people who were important. Old Sheriff McCarter, of course, but “Mac” McCarter had stopped trying to elevate his own status, or those who worked for him, long before Deputy Jackson came along. Assuming, of course, he had ever made such efforts.

Deputy Jackson did assume that.

But Old Mac simply spent too much time hanging out with unimportant people to be a ticket to betterment. Oh, sure, being trusted by people on both side of the tracks — as well as townies, ranchers, drillers, hunters, natives, and even truckers — was useful when it came to policing. Deputy Jackson assumed that was why Mayor Gauge put up with Old Mac — he kept things quiet. And, it meant Mayor Gauge never had to worry about the sheriff looking to move into his job. Old Mac just ran in the wrong circles for that.

Mayor Bill Gauge very much ran in the right circles. When it came to being important in the town of Virtue, Oklahoma, Mayor Gauge defined the right circles.

So if the mayor called up and said “Jensen, my fellow… ” and it pleased Deputy Jackson that the mayor always called him ‘Jensen,’ “… I am having some folks over at the Boomer Barn, and I’d sure like if you were there to keep an eye on things.” Well then, Deputy Jackson would be there, keeping an eye on things.

He was not, in any formal sense, “on duty” when he stood near the mayor and his associates at the Boomer Barn. He was in uniform and thus, under Old Mac’s rules, couldn’t get a drink even though the Barn’s owner,  Amos Lauren, would happily have given the deputy a free glass like he did for Mayor Gauge and whoever was sitting with the mayor. At least, Deputy Jackson was sure Amos would slide him a liquor-by-the-wink (as Apache County was dry) if he was out of uniform while keeping an eye on things for the mayor.

It had never come up.

Mostly, he just stood a bit away from the bar, in his tan and brown uniform, with his belt and holster and badge, between most of the Boomer Bar’s main room, and the leathertop table in the back corner where Mayor Gauge talked to folks and got things done. It was unofficial, of course, but efficient. No rules of order, no minutes of each meeting, no snoops, no party officers, at least unless the mayor invited them.

The government, people in Virtue said, was in town hall. Solutions came from the leathertop.

The mayor normally told Deputy Jackson who to expect so he could wave them to the leathertop, as Jackson knew everyone in town and most everyone important in the county. If anyone not on the list wandered up, the deputy stared at them until they got skittish and wondered away. If they seemed important enough that the mayor might want to talk to them even if they weren’t on the list, Jackson cleared his throat to get the mayor’s attention.

That was keeping an eye on things.

As a result, Deputy Jackson was surprised when Peg Shaw walked into the Boomer Barn, wearing her waitressing uniform and apron, kicking red dust off her boots, and then marched straight toward him. He was even more surprised she had a big, white cloth sheath hanging from her apron, with a knife stuck in it. His surprise grew only slightly more when he realized she was carrying a shotgun.

Shotguns were more common in Virtue than 12-inch-long knives.

She wasn’t pointing the gun at anyone, and she seemed calm enough. And Peg had been a law-abiding citizen her entire life, 32 years in town. There were stories that her mother had been a bit nuts, had maybe used grandpa Shaw’s tractor to run over a whole heard of razorbacks in ’31, but whenever the question had come up Old Mac always said that was, after all, not illegal

And while Peg was mostly a waitress at the “Ranch 66” diner by the highway, she had been known to step up and cook if the regular staff got sick, or had to go help family who lost a home in a tornado. Her family were ranchers and butchers going way back, so it was no shock she could cook. And, he recalled, when he had seen her running the Ranch 66’s grill once, she had been sporting that same cloth sheath and knife.

So Deputy Jackson could envision some odd scenarios where she needed to run an errand over to the Boomer Barn, and just happened to have a foot-long knife and a shotgun when she did them. And, honestly, those scenarios seemed more likely than Peg Shaw meaning to harm anyone at the local dance and social hall, so he didn’t feel the need to grab his gun or yell orders.

When it was clear that she was headed toward the leathertop, he decided his plan was simply to stare at her until she went away. Whatever she thought she needed from the mayor or his guests, Peg Shaw clearly was not important enough to skip the list.

That plan worked fine, right up to the moment Peg walked up to him, and matched his gaze.

“Peg,” he said casually, to remind her that even though she was a few years his senior and they weren’t friends, he had the position to use her given name.

“Jensen,” she replied even more coolly. Deputy Jackson had no idea what that was supposed to remind him of, but he suddenly felt like he had in elementary school, when Mrs. Floyd has asked him what 11 times 13 was, and he hadn’t known, even though he was supposed to know by then.

Her gaze became uncomfortable. If she found his stare in any way disconcerting, she wasn’t showing any sign of it. His sureness in her unimportance wavered. She also, he realized, had a book under one arm. It was a ragged, uneven thing with what seemed to be magazine pages and newspaper clippings and loose typed pages, all stuck hodge-podge between it’s covers. There were tabbed pages as well, and he could just read three of them, with tabs marked “breakfast,” and “desserts” and “therianthropes.”

It was, of course, rude to stare at a woman for this long. And it would be rude to suggest she go back out, or that she shouldn’t be wandering around with a big knife and shotgun. That was the only reason Deputy Jackson turned away from her gaze and pointedly cleared his throat at Mayor Gauge.

The mayor looked up, annoyed. His eyes flickered at Jackson, and then over to Peg Shaw. And then, to the deputy’s shock, the mayor looked concerned.

“Peg Shaw. You on the clock?”

Jackson’s eyes bounced back and forth between the mayor and Peg, and he felt his jaw relax a bit.

Peg’s voice was still cool. “I am, mayor. I need a minute.”

“It’s not a great time, Peg.” The mayor waved at the five men sitting at the leathertop with him. The most important of those was Bruce Shane, one of the wealthiest ranchers in the tri-county area. While most of the other men present seems as perplexed as the deputy (though none of them had either the annoyance or disdain Jackson would have expected from such a circumstance), Shane’s expression was as grim and serious as the mayor’s.

“Sorry, mayor. It can’t wait. Not unless Mr. Shane thinks he has cattle to spare. There’s already a truck rig missing, and it’s got to be belly coolers…”

The mayor held up a hand, which forestalled Peg finishing the description of whatever couldn’t wait.

“Gentlemen,” the mayor’s voice was calm, “forgive me, but a civil servant’s first duty must be to his constituency. We can finish this discussion another time. Bruce, can you stay?”

Peg walked past Jackson without any further invitation, and all the men not named Bruce stood from their chairs around the leathertop, and walked away without any grumbling.

“Jensen?”

Deputy Jackson was, as always, thrilled the mayor called him by his last name, and even more thrilled to be included in anything important enough to interrupt the major’s normal plans. He almost started to walk toward the table.

“Go get Old Mac, will you? Let him know there’s a Shaw Problem, and that Peg is here.”

The deputy swung his leg, which had been about to carry him toward the leathertop, in an arc he was sure looked natural and intended as he began walking toward the door. He heard a thump behind him, and the rustling of pages.

Peg’s voice followed. “There are signs, which ‘Nan Micah made note of back in ’04 here on her rules for boiling poke salad…”

Jensen hurried a bit, to go get Old Mac.

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