Brief Overview

February 25, 1865, R.M.S. Caliban, under the command of Captain Gerald Macduff, three days from reaching Brazilian port of Belém

Our heroes had taken passage on the Caliban in search of the temple near the Amazon river that Confederate explorers had found – one that seemed to have a mystical altar missing a single gemstone – one our heroes had retrieved.

However, some three days away from Belém in some foggy weather, our heroes heard a loud bump. Something had struck the ship. Looking down they saw it was the emaciated body of an African, recently dead. Several more could be seen in the water. Fairly close was a transport ship. Mbizi immediately realized immediately what was transpiring – a slave ship. He shouted for the captain to immediately overtake her. Luthor, with his Royal Navy background backed up the order. MacDuff was hesitant but there was some profit in apprehending slavers and he agreed.

Realizing they were about to be overtaken, the slavers began dumping Africans overboard, healthy or not. Mbizi summoned his ancestor spirits to man the Caliban’s boats to rescue the slaves while Larry went to fetch the recuperating John Henry below decks. Grappling the slave ship our heroes boarded her. After a tough battle – no quarter was asked or given, our heroes were victorious, though John Henry had a nasty headshot wound which had nearly finished him. The slaver captain had been trying to complete some sort of ritual and had been dumping a nasty mix of human entrails overboard. What that portended was unknown.

Session Notes

There was really only one main encounter this evening – still a little goofy I guess. That said prior to the combat encounter, there was some decent roleplaying and giving out of willpower points like candy with some debate over whether or not to get involved in chasing the slavers.

That said, with real life intruding we’ll be making some changes to the structure of the game, trying to go for more self-contained adventures as opposed to the current run of one adventure leading directly to the next – that sort of structure makes it difficult to absorb player absences and we’re all married folks with careers and many of us with kids, making getting a full house very difficult. I won’t be dropping all continuity, rather I’ll be attempting to make the adventures self-contained though also fitting together, much like early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the linkages found in recent seasons of Doctor Who.

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Brief Overview

Ben Bell was not quite dead. He had been burned to a crisp a few minutes earlier but before out heroes’ eyes his skin regenerated – much as they had seen Luthor’s when he nearly had an arm torn off by one of those strange demon beasts. And they learned that Bell had concealed a spherical gem in a convenient… body cavity.

A little bit of intimidating interrogation on Dr. Greenfield in a rented tavern room revealed that he had expected to find a crypt here. His research had indicated that centuries ago a Viking, Hjort Dragon’s Bane, had been marooned to the south of “Vinland”. He eventully returned to Scandinavia. He told tales of encountering dragons in what Greenfield believed to be modern day Brazil. Hjort had also returned with a strange gem he had looted from a temple near a mammoth river.

Greenfield had come across a manuscript telling how in the 14th century Sir Hugh Neville had acquired the gem in question. He had been attempting to get funds fr the digging of a gasline in that area to look for a cache Greenfield had found evidence of beneath what was now Leadenhall Market. It was then agents of Alexander Stephens of the Confederacy contacted him. He was interested in occult artifacts and had found a temple in Brazil – one missing a gem… It was then that Stephens provided the funding for this digging. However as a loyal, though perhaps unscrupulous, servant of her majesty, Greenfield was hesitant to turn over such an item to Stephens.

Our heroes kept Greenfield and Bell at the Kerberos Club for the evening. The next morning they took a train to Exeter College at Oxford to gather Greenfield’s precise notes. However on the trip their train was attacked by Byakyee – giant bat-like creatures, apparently attracted to – or perhaps summoned to find – the gem. The creatures landed on the roof of the train and cut their way in. There was quite a scuffle but our heroes managed to overcome them.


We were a little silly during this game – even by our standards. This was our first game in a while with Christmas holidays. Of course scheduling problems hit us after this game session as well with scheduling issues followed by a medical scare with my daughter (she’s fine now, though while it was going on gaming obviously took a back seat).

We continued finding or Wild Talents feat – still a bit heavy on action, though it was neat seeing some characters I’d anticipated being more foes deciding to work with our heroes (Bell and Greenfield). I had some spreadsheets prepped in advance that allowed action to flow much smoother and I’ve further tuned them for the next session.

While I’ve done a decent amount of research on Victorian London, the next few sessions will probably take place away from London – a journey to Brazil, dealing what is found there, etc. The beastie Hound of Tindalos that was mentioned in the previous session is still at large, something that will be resolved in the coming sessions.

I’m clearly allowing some influence from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos to appear in this game. Back when I had a regular Star Trek game it was something I used often as well. Some day I’m going to have to get a Call of Cthulhu game going – one of those games I’ve owned for ages, played a few sessions here and there, but never had an outright campaign.

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Brief Summary

The session opened in December of 1864 at the Kerberos Club. Fellow member of the club, Bryan Quinn, Member of Parliament, asked the characters to accompany him to a reception for the visiting vice-president of the Confederate States of America, Alexander Stephens. MP Quinn explained that the Club had reason to believe Stephens was up to something in London – he’d been funding research that Professor Ian Greenfield of Exeter College at Oxford University had been performing.

The reception had Vice-President Stephens, Confederate ambassador James Murray Mason, and Professor Greenfield. As Quinn suspected, hosting two members of the Kerberos Club of African descent was somewhat disconcerting for many of the guests, serving to loosen tongues. Our heroes learned a variety of facts:

  • Professor Greenfield had been purchasing controlling shares in various organizations that were performing much of the excavation for gas lines, underground railways, etc. in the interests of making archeological discoveries as a side-effect of all the digging.
  • Professor Greenfield was not independently wealthy but was, as the Club suspected, getting financial support from Stephens.
  • Professor Greenfield was the son of American Loyalists who relocated to England after the American Revolution.
  • There was some sort of commotion during an audience Stephens had with Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. She expressed her disapproval of the Confederacy’s peculiar institution.

As the evening went on, a pair of waifs, one large and one small, entered the hall. They needed to speak with the Professor. Luthor chatted with them and discovered they were brother and sister, known as Big Hand and Little Hand. He took them to the professor where Little Hand explained how Ben Bell was not happy with the digging and needed to stop. Greenfield took a cab to deal with the matter with our heroes graciously accompanying him (though he did not seem to appreciative).

As they approached the dig sight at Leadenhall there was a big explosion – the sound of a gasline exploding. They saw the site of some digging, either for a railway or sewer, partially collapsed. The bottom was still on fire with the smell of cooking flesh and a moaning sound. John Henry stayed at the edge while Luthor jumped down. He dragged the severely burned man at the bottom to John Henry who pulled him up. They saw the burned man had been covering up a shaft. Out of the shaft emerged a trio of horrific figures, clad in clothing centuries out of date and appearing vaguely human but… transformed somehow… into beings with no curves, but all angles. They raked at Luthor with horrific claws dripping of a greenish ichor, nearly severing both his arms. The rest of the team ran to assist him (some faster than others), with much teleporting, summoned ancestors, and swinging of big hammers before they finally destroyed the creatures.

A prostitute, Polly, who had been holding up a wall at the time of the explosion explained how some… dog thing… had emerged first and fought with the burned man – a man who they could see was rapidly healing. The hound appeared much like angular beings, also dripping a nasty ichor.


This session was largely an exercise in getting used to Wild Talents again after a long hiatus. It went pretty well, we definitely seemed to have a better grasp of the rules this time around. Some of the players will be making tweaks to their characters as a result of the first session. John Henry was initially generated as a strong, but normal, human. He’ll likely be changing to have at least one wild die in his Body stat, meaning when rolling his dice pool he will be guaranteed of at least one success in Body-related tests. Mbizi wants to make certain his character gets a chance to be  inspirational in pursuit of his causes so he’ll be adding to his social skills.

The creatures in the first session are inspired by the Cthulhu-Mythos tale The Hounds of Tindalos by Frank Belknap. The humanoid variants weren’t too tough an opponent. The hound itself will likely be appearing in the future, probably the very short-term…

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So as you can see from earlier posts my group spent a fair amount of time going back and forth between modern, 1950s, 1930s, and Victorian-era gaming. In the end we decided on a game set in the Victorian Age with lower end superheroes – for those who are familiar with Wild Talents, a point value of 175. You’re basically talking characters who have one or two superpowers or who have focused on super-attributes. I like this level as it keeps the characters and their other abilities at the core.

Initially we had decided on a game set towards the end of the age to set up a possible encounter with Jack the Ripper. However, I fell into my infamous research fetish – a desire to know ever single possible detail about Victorian London of 1887, something that is just not going to happen. That is when I decided it would be best to use the Kerberos Club, which is an alternate reality in which, over the course of the 19th century, the world gets odder and odder and history diverges more and more. In this setting, Prince Albert and Queen Victoria separate as he becomes more and more concerned about how Strange his wife has become. As a result he lives far longer but is also not around to negotiate the Trent Affair, causing the UK to declare war on the United States in 1861, resulting in Confederate Independence. Ironically, the United States and United United Kingdom draw closer together after this and the Confederacy turns into a rogue nation, getting more and more tradition-bound and backwards, delving into dark magics and ancient religions (major inspirations from Call of Cthulhu and other Lovecraftian horrors).

The Kerberos Club itself is made up of people “touched by the Strange” and is dedicated to protecting society as best it can from being unduly influenced by the Strange. It is not quite a superhero team, but more a loose confederation of superbeings who have a common purpose and are able to take advantage of the club’s considerable resources, especially useful for non-white males.

I decide to begin the game at the end of the year 1864. The Confederacy has established itself as an independent nation and Abraham Lincoln has just been reelected for ending the dual front war with the UK and CSA without further loss of territory and some semblance of honor, with the addition of a post-war economic boom.

We have four characters in our group. In no particular order they are:

  • Mbizi – Escaped slave from the United States (pre-Civil War) – killed his master with his powers. Mbizi is able to summon beings he refers to as his ancestors. If you’ve ever read the New Universe comic DP7 and remember Randy O’Brien, you’ll have a good idea of what his powers are like. Mbizi descends from a South African Xhosa who was traveling abroad to West Africa for currently unknown reasons. Mbizi’s powers are centered on his ancestors and he has no other powers, though he is a skilled fighter and orator. Mbizi is dedicated to ending the illegal African slave trade, delegitimizing the Confederacy, and securing the independence of the Xhosa and other South African groups.
  • Larry (surname unknown at present) – Two-bit thief from the East End, Larry unhesitatingly accepted membership into the Kerberos Club as opposed to scraping by and staying ahead of the police. Larry has a very limited teleportation, or blinking ability. He has minimal conscious control over it and it seems to function only to allow him to better position himself to attach someone (i.e. blink behind them) or to unconsciously avoid harm (blink out of the path of a bullet). He’d very much like to be able to control the teleport as, while no longer a full-time thief, he certainly still likes valuables and being able to teleport through a door would be handy. In combat he tends to favor an iron pipe.
  • John Henry – “The name is Brown, John Henry Brown, sah.  I’m a free man on accountin’ I beat a steam drill with these hea hands my hammer and with the blessin’ of tha Lord, AMEN Brother!” Yes, that John Henry is also a member of the club. He is loyal to the club but even more dedicated to punishing those who supported slavery and proving his superiority over machines. He is incredibly strong and very deadly with his hammer – and very difficult to hurt. Not incredibly bright, but very driven.
  • Sir Luthor Smithson, KCMG, Esquire, Captain (ret), Colonel (ret) – Luthor was a born London gutter rat, and was press-ganged into the Royal Navy more than 250 years earlier. It was there that his unique abilities were first noted – particularly when he sided with the Royalists and was executed – repeatedly and unsuccessfully. With the re-establishment of the monarchy, Luthor came to the attention of Charles II. Fighting as a naval officer in the Second Anglo-Dutch war, then again in the Third Anglo-Dutch war, saw him rewarded for bravery under fire again and again. Strange rumors about him (specifically the ones about him being unkillable and therefore possessed), led him to be reassigned to the army, where he fought in the Nine Years War against the French, and then later the War of the Spanish Succession against France and Spain. Afterwards, Luthor spent a lot of time traveling the world, advising and participating in numerous small wars and studying all over the world. Recalled to service by a disbelieving crown for the French and Indian war, he was then shunted to the Royal Expeditionary Force fighting in the Cape Frontier wars, followed by recall to fight in the Franco-British war, and then later in the Anglo-Russian war. At which point Luthor took service with the government’s diplomatic branch, and began traveling the world.

I’ve noticed some interesting things about the characters. First, for the age it is unusual that a pair of the characters are of African descent. That does fit in quite well with one of my plans of using the Confederacy as one of the main baddies – indeed the first adventure features a visit from Vice-President Alexander Stephens of the Confederacy.

There is also a potential conflict between Mbizi and Luthor, given Luthor’s involvement in the Cape Frontier Wars against the Xhosa. Not sure why it is, but those two players always seem to make characters who have some amount of conflict between each other – and this one was totally unintentional…

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Allan Quartermain

Allan Quartermain

In my previous post I had mentioned the possibilities of superheroes in the 1930s. I shared the posting with my group – immediately illiciting horror from my brother (who is in the group) with the message STOP CHANGING GAMES!!! Perhaps you know other GMs with short-attention spans… Be that as it may, rest assured guys I’m still pumped for our D&D 4e/Eberron game – I even splurged for shipping on the new Eberron book due out tomorrow. This is one of my outlets to explore such ideas without inflicting each of them on my group.

Some of the comments from my group were quite interesting. A player who had a modern age Wild Talents character with time control focus indicated he was rather fond of his current character – which really opened intriguing possibilities. Indeed other characters could be revisited as antecedents of their more modern characters. And more than one player noted the possibilities of being on the edge of World War II – especially interesting for a time traveler commited to preserving the timeline. Another player mentioned the possibility of making an Alan Quartermain-like character, albeit a while too late. That got me thinking of Quartermain. I’d never read the novels featuring him, but I knew the basics and knew he was a character in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I’d seen enough of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film to know it was not my ideal kind of film – but I’d never read the graphic novels. I snagged the first volume and was immersed into the world of the League. A motley assortment of fictional characters of the Victorian Age came for a visit – the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll, the Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, Mina Murray, Allan Quartermain, Professor Moriarty, etc. It had never occurred to me just how many “superheroes” existed in the Victorian Age until I read this work.

So what sort of a campaign would we be looking at, hypothetically? Well, to begin with I think we are looking at “superheroes” who are not extremely super. In modern comics, think of someone like Daredevil, Golden Age Sandman, Batman, etc. People who are above and beyond the common man, but not going to destroy continents or fly through space. Some characters have no real superpowers at all but are incredibly intelligent, masters of martial arts, gadget masters, etc. Alan Moore presented Captain Nemo in this manner, using Nautilus as the team’s mobile base and Nemo having a massive harpoon  gun to repel borders.

So these characters have advantages over “normal” men, but not much of one. I picture superpowers being available but they are limited superpowers. A character can be a successful adventurer without them – just like Batman is in modern comics. Here’s some sample ideas that come to mind, some pulled straight from period tales:

  • Super-strength, obtained from a potion bringing out the dark side of the persona.
  • Precognitive powers, but difficult to translate from the myriad of possible futures. However does make it easy to avoid getting hurt in a fight.
  • Flight from a special lighter than air metal – not incredibly fast flight mind you…
  • A ritualist magician member of the Golden Dawn.
  • A native studying forbidden lore of his people to fight the Imperialists.
  • An extremely competent adventurer with a big gun.
  • A cocaine-using consulting detective.
  • A monster hunter. No special powers per se, but a ton of handy knowledge and variety of tools for use against monsters.

I rather like the idea of using the Wild Talents engine. Though I’m planning on dialing back the “super” part of powers – I view these characters as having access to something that makes them special, whether it be training, research, dark secrets, etc. This seems less an era where a radioactive spider will bite a hero as one where a “mad” scientist researches into the nature of spiders to gain those powers – only to have it not quite work out.

Why adventure in this period? What about the idea of the 1930s? Well either will work to be honest. A lot of it has to do with feel. But especially appealing about dialing back even further is the even greater limits placed on technology. While the telephone existed, it was even more primitive than it was in the 1930s. Radio is still in the extreme experimental stages. There is a cheerful Imperialism in this era, something I certainly do not approve of (Leopold’s Congo just leaps to mind as a brutal example of this) but someing that makes for excellent adventuring opportunity. Depending on how scientifically accurate one wants to be there can be ships in the ether or invasion of Martian tripods. Characters can go exploring in unknown lands, seek out Shangri La, go under the sea, visit the deserts of Mars and jungles of Venus (which will have, of course, dinosaurs). One advantage of the late Victorian/early Edwardian period is much of the well known European fiction has occurred, giving a wide menagerie of foes and adventures to mine. Also it makes the oncoming Great War something to keep in mind.

If we do go into this era, there are a variety of gaming sources to mine. The obvious ones are:

  • Castle Falkenstein,  published by R. Talsorian games. A physically gorgeous game, it takes place in an alternate Victorian Age where fictional characters interact with their creators. Dwarves, dragons, and faerie (not the Disney kind) are part of society. Great steam devices have been created. Adventure is dialed up to 11. The rules system is quite different from most other games, being card based and descriptive. It foreshadowed game engines such as FATE and PDQ. To be honest, if I were to go for a non-Wild Talents game this would be it. And for some reason there is an inland sea over much of Belgium. I guess this is good news for the Congo…
  • Space: 1889, originally published by the late Game Designers Workshop. The license reverted to its creator Frank Chadwick. Heliograph is reprinting the original game and Pinnacle Entertainment Group will be producing a Savage Worlds adaptation. Space: 1889 is less wahoo than Castle Falkenstein, positing the existence of ether that allows interplanetary space travel to the jungles of Venus and deserts of Mars.  The Great Game of Empires takes place across the solar system as well as on the continents of the Earth. I can definitely see interplanetary journeys in my game, though I’m not sure I’d keep the ether.
  • GURPS: Steampunk. While my group isn’t too fond of GURPS, this is a first rate sourcebook just begging to be exploited.
  • Savage Worlds: Rippers. This is a Savage Worlds game which cheerfully makes use of ideas from the movie Van Helsing. Even if I were not to use the Savage Worlds game engine (which I think would work well should I choose to dial back the superpowers a bit) there is a lot from this game to borrow.
  • Victoriana. I’m still working my way through a pdf of this game. It takes place far earlier than I plan on running a game, but it is all nice and moody and atmospheric. If I had more time for gaming – and it paid an awesome salary…

As far as literary and other inspirations, the possibilities are quite wide.

  • The works of Jules Verne. Verne had an amazing imagination. Captain Nemo is the perfect anti-hero – reminds me in many ways of Marvel’s Sub-Mariner. My more “serious” blog just discussed him in the post Jules Verne: Good Parts Version, with an emphasis towards the better translations.
  • War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells. At some point a team has to stop an alien invasion.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alan Moore. Of course this work must be referenced as a prime inspiration.
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson. A classic story of science gone wrong, useful for both insipiration of a hero (the Hulk?) of a villain. The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells would work in a similar manner.
  • Dracula, Bram Stoker. One of my favorite novels, the opening scenes are incredibly moody and atmospheric and the brides of Dracula creep me out.
  • The Proud Tower, Barbara Tuchman. A work of non-fiction, gives an excellent view of European society in the period between the Franco-Prussian Wars and World War I.
  • The Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914, Philipp Blom. Another non-fiction work from the period.