Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pitching LXG

My mom goes in today for the post-surgery check up-- fingers crossed-- she seems really well. Now I can finally return her car to her (she wasn't supposed to be driving until the doctor gave her the ok).

Recycling Day-- I have a couple of things I'm working on so I hope to have two more posts up by Sunday. Big game weekend-- running four sessions.

Anyway, here's a pitch Derek and I did for a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen type sourcebook for Unisystem. That was, of course, before the movie bombed so dreadfully. We've seen some other games do similar genre motifs-- for example Rippers. Anyway the draft of the body and some notes at the end.

General Concept: Victorian era superheroes/adventurers.

Why:
*The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie will be coming out in early July. Based on the Alan Moore comics of the same name, they have done a brilliant job of rethinking old characters into a new setting, combining Fantastic Victoriana with more modern Steampunk concepts. Other game and media projects complement this. Hugh Jackman will be starring in Van Helsing (due May of next year) set in this period. (Note from the future-- If I'd known how bad Van Helsing was going to be, I would never have mentioned this...)

*A licensed affiliation is nice, but the concept can work well enough without it. This period is full of real people and fantastic characters which can be adapted and rethought. Moore built his story on public domain concepts renvisioned. Beyond the obvious Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells sources, there is a massive stock of interesting characters real and imagined available. The website http://www.geocities.com/jessnevins/vicintro.html
illustrates this really well, providing an online encyclopedia of fantastic Victoriana. (You might also look at http://www.geocities.com/ratmmjess/annos.html which has annotations to the LXG comics and shows get how much open material is available.)

*This concept also works because it creates a new setting for the super-hero/super-adventurer genre. Most recent supers games have gone very classical, with a few older settings in some cases. The furthest back most material of this kind reaches back is into the Pulp era of the 20’s and 30’s. As well, most Steampunk materials so far have either been generically Jules Verne-ian or else have been fairly setting specific (i.e. Victorian Era Vampire and Castle Falkenstien). This moves out of that and gives a new spin on the era for gaming.

*Great deal of period artwork available to use and/or to modify.

Setting
A parallel Victorian World, where the strange magic of ancient curses, the untapped power of strange science, and the sheer force of human will have combined to make men who are larger than life. Serving Queen and Country, but also their own ambitions these agents fight to keep down ancient evils, sinister masterminds and technology gone amok.

A group might be made up of a combination of persons with a super ability and skilled adventurers. Essentially the two would balance out in terms of points, trading off having unique abilities with having better skills.

Possible Character Archtypes:
Inventor, Cursed Explorer, Monster Hunter, Spirit Photographer, Victim of Science, Supernatural Creature, Master of Disguise, Detective, Thief, Charlatan, Magician, Gunslinger, Voodoo Priest, Spiritualist, Occultist.

Game could be written with two parallel settings, one darker than the other. If a single setting, then the darker would be more useful.

Era of Hope
The first is the bright and shiny world of Early Victoriana…running from Victoria’s ascension to the throne in 1837 through the Great Exhibition in 1851 to the wars in Europe in 1870. Great Britain began this period lacking a sense of destiny, but within a decade had begun to transform its possessions into the largest Empire the world had ever seen. This is a brighter, shinier setting, with the hope of progress, a belief in science no yet sullied, and industrialization seen as a good rather than an ill. Agent in this setting are unsullied by many moral questions. They are helping to extend the Empire throughout the world and keep things safe at home from anarchy and rebellion.

Era of Decay
This game world is set among the crumbling edifices of Empire and honor. A later setting, beginning with Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, it is much darker. The Empire has been established. Now, it has begun to decline, battered by the demands of administration and battles within itself about duties and borders. In a few short years the Empire will face the Boer War and the Boxer rebellion. With that will be lost a sense of higher purpose. The industrial age has shown the dangers and promises. Science has brought about great strides but has also begun to create monsters in the shadows which threaten the foundations of Pax Britannia.

Secretiveness
Open versus secret campaign. In an open campaign, people are aware of the strangeness around them. Victorian agents and heroes might be publicly acknowledged and accepted. Secret Campaign: In a secret campaign, the ordinary populace is unaware of the extent to which science, invention and the supernatural has controlled and impacted their lives. Part of the goal of any group is to maintain that fa├žade, to keep people from being aware of the scale of the threats affecting their world. A secret campaign adds more to the setting. In an era with less information technology, these secrets are easier to keep. Certain people, “in the know” are aware of the existence of these agents doing battle with shadowy threats.

Differences with the Real World
In either case, science and technology have grown faster than they did in the real world. Steam and clockwork based machines, including robots, vehicles and mechas might be in existence, some secret, but some openly. It is an age of grand engineering projects, from tunnels to canals to bridges to dams, all made possible by larger and more fantastical equipment. The fantastic is just pushing the edge of what is possible, but agents engaged in this shadowy war are aware of much more strangeness.

Other Strangeness
The spiritual realm remains a potent threat. Classic monsters from vampires to werewolves to zombies, of course, threaten humanity. If other things, such as fey and witches exist, part of agents job will be to block these creatures from carrying out their plots or making their existence known. In a sense, the agents, in spite of their own inhuman skills and abilities, will be troubleshooters for the forces of rationality. They will have to keep revelations to a minimum, so that no one ever learns the horrible truth of things like the Hound of the Baskervilles.

Sections and Concepts:
*Real Historical Background, annotated with changes and events that reflect the secret history of the world.

*Character Creation. Essentially players choose from one of two paths, either based around a paranormal power or device or else based around the concept of a highly trained normal.

*Victorian Era technology. Ranging from the plausible, but unbuilt items such as calculation engines and advanced cars to more wild and speculative inventions, such a perpetual motion engines and lightning guns.

*Organizations and Societies. In this era, nobles tended to form clubs and cliques. Describes possible character organizations, real world strange groups (like the Golden Dawn), and more fantastical groups (like the Illuminati and villainous organizations drawn from around the globe).

*The world: a brief look at society, social roles and customs. An outline of the Empire. A look at events and characters in the various regions of the world.
*Monster and Villains: From the robotic dopplegangers of Dr. Cross in England to the villainous servants of Vingalo Shan in the Far East. This would detail a number of villainous groups and plots, some scientific and some supernatural, and their henchmen and creations.

Obvious supplements:
Villians and Lairs
New Abilities
Location Books
Technology and Inventions

Character Ideas: Just some thoughts. Ideas that I came up with more in terms of my thinking about the period.

Dinosaur Jim: Scientist Archaeologist who has managed to infuse himself with the vital essence of a dinosaur drawn from a well-preserved sample. Unfortunately, he is not entirely is control of this. Subject to fevered hallucinations of their Lost World.

Dr. Smile: A mulatto character from New Orleans who can pass as white. New Orleans comes under American control in 1815. Still, it remains a strange and remote area. Character would be a highly sophisticated voodoo shaman. Depending on the extent of magic (if it is or isn’t) this could be real or else a sophisticated charlatan act. There are a number of notable voodoo shamans in the real world during this era.

Damien Trask, Explorer: A big game hunter who traveled deep into the heart of the jungle only to meet his nemesis. He was cursed when he shot the lord of the jungle. Now under certain conditions he transforms into an intelligent gorilla, but one who cares little for humanity. Trask and his other self battle constantly for control of his body.

Nikolai Tesla: Historical character born 1856. Mad genius who invented many of the things Edison credited for. Had weird mystical theories about energy and matter. Believed he could create a device which would transmit power without the use of wires. Web page bio: http://www.sumeria.net/tech/tesla.html . Done as a character, he could be a weird mystic inventor or perhaps have figured out how to change himself into energy.

Henry Ford: (Born 1862) In his early years before founding his company, Ford was a daredevil racecar driver. He could be done as a wild adventurer type, with a penchant for inventions. He was progressive in many ways, acceptance of more women’s rights and equality of races (at least blacks), but he was also a rabid anti-Semite. Still, played right, he could be an interesting character.

The Combustible: Based on weird Victorian era science, particularly a theory that fire and combustion are based on a particular substance present in all materials. The more the substance has, the more flammable it is. (It think this is called philogesten or something like that…I know I’ve spelled it wrong). In any case, this character has managed to infuse his blood with this. Essentially, his blood now acts like sodium, reacting with the air. He can throw little fireballs or use it to ignite materials, but it has the side effect or requiring him to bleed himself. It has to be fresh to do this, so he can’t store it. Just an odd character thought.

The American Agent: Perhaps a character like Jim West or Artemis Gordon from The Wild, Wild West TV series.

Werewolf: A werewolf would be a classic archetype.

The Alienist: The term for a psychiatrist in the late 1800’s. People believed in Phrenology, the idea that bumps on your head could be used to determine one’s behavior, personality and temperament. Based on that weird science, this character could do mental power effects, but only if he can touch the subject’s head. He could do limited mind control (more mental suggestions), erase memories, hypnotize people, or do the equivalent of an ego blast…all with no range.

Annie Oakley: In real life more civilized and sophisticated than legend gives her credit for. P.T. Barnum is another idea for strangeness.

These are just a few thoughts.

*LXG outline
Game should revolve around several variations archetypes based on three major themes: Adventurers, Misfit of Science or Servant of the Supernatural. Each of these should have a slightly different mechanic for using or purchasing abilities. At the very least, there needs to be a difference in the kinds of limitations and drawbacks that will affect them as well as access to certain types of abilities. There should be general powers, science powers and magical abilities. In any case, most heroes should be built around a single power or two. In some cases (such as a Vampire, Voodoonista or Gadgeteer) these will encompass a wide range of abilities and consequently be more expensive.

All of the descriptions should be built around two sides. On the one is the Colonial ideal. This will represent the non-questioning Defenders of Empire. However, there needs to be---integrated into the text via some device---a discussion of the more cynical and darker version of each of these ideas. This should represent the darker side, the shadow behind the Empire, the corruption and decay, etc.
Perhaps there should be the promise of a real Armageddon coming. An event which will change the way things are approached.

Consider how this might either of two ways which would be very different from what has been presented before: either a Victorian Superheroes game, although they would operate in the shadows…there are certain mechanics which help promote these ideas. The other is to head more in the direction of a Victorian Conspiracy X. I think one can complement each other, but at some point I need to make a decision about which one will carry the day. In any case that really is a decision of the company itself. Do they want an LXG game or a Zombies by Gaslight game. Either one is doable.
[Sideline thought for a particular Deadworld…fantasy setting built off of the convention of the marks upon the forehead. Adapt ideas taken from the RM game. Will eventually require them to figure out a way to protect themselves and others from the coming of the Zombies. There is a limit to how much they can protect themselves and others. Eventually the bad guys will move to cleaning the foreheads of their victims. Here’s another thought…a parody on DnD’s idea of clerics and turning undead…undead priests who can turn living beings. Imagine the horror! Undeadness as a limited commodity…Liches and whatever battling for this limited supply]

China

South Africa

Latin America: what is happening in Latin America around this time? By this point they’ve thrown off their colonial shackles so what precisely is going on there?

Villainous Organizations: Dr. Cross a robotic master of strange science. He has picked up the pieces from a previous organization. He projects his intelligence into a variety of robotic shells. This makes him relatively intelligent and able to broadcast himself from place to place. Different vessels could have different abilities. For example, one might be able to see through walls, one might be able to climb by digging his fingers into solid stone or brick. The question would be: how many of these can he have operating at any one time? How does he alert himself that one needs to be activated? What is his range?

The point of course being that Dr. Cross could be anybody. Well, not anybody…he needs to be someone whose appearance and disappearance will not be noticed. So, could be a hermit or a woman or a lunatic. The question of Dr. Cross’s larger motivation is also in question. What is he trying to do? What is his motivation? Is he a human or is he actually a machine out there somewhere? Is he in league with Aliens waiting to invade the earth?

The New Prometheans
Consider an organization led by Frankenstien’s Creature. He would also be trying to perfect the art and develop undead of a certain kind. This could be the basis for a nasty Zombie’s by Gaslight scenario. Consider the intelligence shown by the monster; his ability to develop classical language skills and pick up new knowledge rapidly. Imagine that he has enough time to learn more and then to decide that nihilism is his answer…that he is soulless and beyond the laws of man. In this case, becoming a criminal mastermind is just a small step. He doesn’t even need to be that nasty. He can remain hidden, operating behind the scenes. As Sherri has suggested, he might be a little taken aback by Mary Shelly’s depiction of him. He might also have commissioned it.

The British Empire: what is the Empire? How far does it reach? How is it governed? What does it look like on the ground? What kinds of services and communications exist between its various parts? How do the people at home view it? What are typical travel times between parts of the Empire? How far does the telegraph exchange reach…can you send a message from one end of the Empire to the other in a day?
Who are the other colonial Empires or other Empires in general? Should the geo-political situation be written as very different from our own? Might want to find that set of Moorcok books covering the Warlord of the Air and others. Certainly a portion of his novels deals with 1902. If this is to be a general Victoriana sourcebook for Zombie or other stuff then I should adhere closely to the material as presented by the world. If this is intended to be a LXG srtting then I have a little more leeway…I keep returning to the thought of China and how I can make changes to that. Certainly the concepts of the Boxer rebellion as well as ancient Chinese sorcerors…then there might be members of the Chinese rebels who serve as agents or other cells of the British group. That might make a really interesting sourcebook.

What if Japan managed to keep isolated for longer? Or what if the Menji restoration was handled differently. We also have the question of what occurred in the Indian Mutiny? Australia…I hate digeridoos…the slow and methodical killing off of the Abos there might be a kind of death magic for some group…carefully harnessed.

Here’s another thought…consider how to bring in a number of ideas drawn from Waldrop…for example the Rainmakers and the Bicycle corps. He does have a grasp of many of these concepts in a way I can’t even imagine. Consider how to look at the Victoriana and consider how to bring up and integrate theses ideas into the setting.
The shadow organization should have tendrils across the globe. One of the things is to bring together the sense of the Empire and hwo it actually managed to integrate many of these cultures in a very different way than the American Empire managed to.

In part, this should be a cultural and sociological experience. One of the things in regard to this is to consider two factors when thinking about any of these details: first how might it actually serve to create a scenario or an adventure? Second how can I present it in such a way that it actually serves as a useful basis for the gamemaster…i.e. so that they can transmit these ideas to their players.
Social drawbacks and such for heroes, madness and psychological defects for scientific men, curses and burdens for creatures of the supernatural. Try to differentiate between these three groups in several ways.