Sunday, 22 January 2012

Adventuring in the Great War

Inspired in part by the admirable Weird Adventures/The City material being set down over at From the Sorcerer's Skull, this is the result of some idle, half-thought-through contemplation on how to run a campaign set in or around a version of WWI that could also accomodate anything out of the Fiend Folio, say, and still work. So after this stream of consciousness setting creation, we have this version of history where Queen Victoria lives on through the aid of technology and countless alchemical elixirs and unguents; a world that accommodates D&D by being very flexible in its approach to historical accuracy and no aversion to anachronism, but maintains a pulpy, weird feel rather than any kind of odious ‘steam-punk with elves and dwarfs’ thing. In this Great War, technology is much as it historically was, and magic is rare and mostly the purview of fairies or late-century style Spiritualists (magic-users via Blavatsky & Crowley). (This is a bit fragmented, with a lot of brief paragraphs containing just one or two thoughts)

Adventurers would perhaps belong to a club, which grants certain benefits for maybe a small cut of looted spoils. Having the Great War raging, either in the foreground or background, upsets the normal order of society and affords them carte blanche to gallivant across Europa doing as they will.

To quickly summarise the history: very far back doesn’t really matter, save to say that the dark ages or so were populated by slightly more mythic heroes and dragons and what-all. Arthurian goings-on probably happened to a greater or lesser degree, and Merlin’s works are still extant in the world (there are also the remnants of mythic islands, such as Lemuria, Hy Brasil, Atlantis, or Lyonesse around; the level to which they are part of everyday goings-on is undecided). During the Tudor period, the throne of England was taken by the elf-queen Gloriana, or Good Queen Gloriana, who governed the nation in its first steps toward Empire (places named in honour of Elizabeth, such as Virginia, are called after Gloriana in this world)
. Her court magician, John Dee, fashioned two of the most infamous magic artefacts of all time, the Hand and Eye of Dee.
  • The German Empire leads its alliance of Central Powers with an iron will, its goals furthered with the application of countless technological innovations of tremendous potency. The German inventions  have hastened developments in other nations, as well as spurred the rise of the New Luddite Party in Britain through fear of this rampantly accelerating technological development. Gas-masked, pointy-helmeted stormtroopers swarming out of a choking, deadly fog and landships and the aerofleet.
  • France is France. There are monsters to fight there, and undead in the Paris Catacombs and things. It’s France. Everyone is fighting here, so there’s that going on. (can you tell I couldn't think of much of anything to put in France, or many interesting adventure hooks or action?)
  • Ruritania because why not? Burroughs’ version, as well, and Borduria & Syldavia? There’s a Lyonesian Ambassador, there can be a Ruritanian one. Cagliostro, with its poplation of 3500?
  • The Russian Empire lies in a tenuous position, with revolution dimly on the horizon. The Tsar’s son is taken ill, which allows the ‘Mad Monk’, a sorcerer of sinister potency, to inveigle his way into the counsel of the Romanovs. The threat of Russia’s new magical power now looms over Europa like a great malignant cloud.
  • Austria-Hungary has ever been second fiddle to Germany, and the War has not changed this. Austro-Hungary has made some attempts at homegrown innovation in the vein of the Germans, but little has come of it. The country is also, of course, overrun with social and cultural strife as the various constituent regions chafe at the rule of the Dual Monarchy.
  • The Balkans are, as ever, fragmented and problematic to the surrounding empires. In this reality, however, the addition of vampire counts and suchlike make the area both a great deal more of a problem.
  • America’s colonisation followed our history for the most part, although it also fostered a number of magicians, persecuted at the time, as well as an even stronger influx of religious minorities. The West is still fairly young, and far from where I would want the campaign to go, but East you have New York (which could have a different name in this. I wouldn’t mind) and New England and Gloriana state and all that. Not to mention the Dominion of Albionoria (Borealia, Vesperia?), the still-British part of the continent.
  • Britain has, under the steady and near-century-long rule of Victoria, prospered and grown like no empire since that of the Romans. Through the developments in industry and certain arcane practices of the past century, the tangled mess of the Capital has grown to stretch halfway to Cambridge in the north, Oxford west, Brighton to the south, and all the way to the Estuary eastwards. To commemorate Her Majesty’s glorious rule, construction on a trans-channel bridge was begun until war halted building. The country faces greater social strife, however, with the rise of magicians and Spiritualists, New Luddism, and, of course, the War.

Basically, the world is in essence the 1916 (or whenever) that we know, but a touch more old fashioned in certain ways (for instance, the tendency to compare Her Majesty to prior queens is more pronounced, as are ‘New Roman Empire’ associations, and certain names and terminology, i.e. Europa, are more antiquated than OTL), and bent and molded so as to allow D&D and its various idiosyncrasies to fit comfortably. A pulp feel is strong, and classic or mythological monsters are discouraged; unique or re-skinned foes are preferred, as are the weirder and pulpier canon beasts.

Organisations where PCs might get work (in Britain):

  • Their private club, for gentlemen of an adventurous or exploratory nature, and ladies of uncommon brassiness. Good source for hirelings.
  • Royal Geographic Society. It was practically an adventurer’s guild historically, but with monsters and magic treasure it’d be hard to stop them. Rather more formal, but they give out grants and help outfit expeditions.
  • Secret Service. For home-front threats and espionage abroad, both mundane and more esoteric. A priceless artefact in the hands of the Hun? Call the adventurers!
  • Scotland Yard, for London-based adventuring. Morlock hunts, daring forays into smog-dense Limehouse to bring supplies, clearing out a dangerous cult from a Tube station.
  • The Army, for adventures on the front. Fighting witches behind enemy lines or putting an end to a German Juggernaut or protecting an alchemist in No-Man’s-Land. General Kitchener wants YOU to adventure for Queen and Country.
It is also entirely likely that, were I to run this, I'd steal the idea of multiple clones of Victoria from Sorcerer's Skull. The original version would stay mostly either in Osborne House or, more likely, in Balmoral, as far from the war as possible. With multiple Vickies running around, the possibility of royal-issued quests is increased, and adventuring at the behest of Victoria cannot be a bad addition to a campaign.


  1. Sounds like a great idea. I'm flattered to hear your thinking of using the multiple queens. Of course, Gran Lludd of the City's world is a bit more post-apocalyptic than the real UK during the Great War, so they'll probably require a little modification.

    Have you heard of Scott Westerfield's Leviathan series? It's more alternate history science fiction than fantasy, but it might be mineable from some ideas.

    1. Your multiple queens is such a great idea it'd be hard not to use it, honestly. I did give some thought on how to modify them for WWI, I think it was simply that in the advent of war various organisations and agents of the crown jumped the gun a bit and opened up the clone-pods prematurely, and some others were damaged and broke open during air raids.

      I actually read the first Leviathan book a while ago (largely for pretty illustrations). It's got some fun ideas, and a kind of-similiar dynamic between the Central Powers and the Triple Entente. His Darwinist/Technologist split is similar to the Entente's slightly greater focus on magic and the Central Powers' technological prowess.