In a previous post, I began my review of Silent Legions, the Lovecraftian-horror sandbox game from Kevin Crawford of Sine Nomine Publishing. I am a big fan of this type of game and its approach to worldbuilding, so I decided to put it into practice.
Pantheon and cults
Before starting to develop my setting, I created a pantheon, an alien race and some cults. I rolled for the gods and discovered that there were four of them, divided into two pantheons. One of the pantheons came up "monotheistic," so obviously that god, who I rolled as a god of fire -- the Sleeping Flame -- is the only god in its pantheon (I suppose that's not really a pantheon, then, but you know what I mean). The other pantheon has three gods, but they don't fully exist yet: I rolled "forerunners" for them, which means that they are waiting to be born into our reality. They are the Sultan of Cold, the King of Thirst and the Devourer of Pain.
So we have one god -- obviously, your passive, dormant type -- that already exists and three younger gods striving to be born. I'm guessing the Flame wants to make sure the others don't burst into our reality and displace it.
My alien race don't have a name yet, but the dice tell me that they've only been here for one to two hundred years and that they're capable of disguising themselves as humans. During their time on earth, they've created a concealed global network of underground structures to house themselves, and obviously one of these is located in the area where I'm going to set my game. They came to earth from another part of our solar system, and they use humans to incubate their larvae. They influenced astronomy -- I'm assuming to conceal the existence of their home -- until a group of humans banded together to stop them. I'll have to find somewhere discovered in the last few centuries to have them come from; Pluto is probably too predictable.
They fear the outer gods -- I decided to have this mean that they fear the new, yet-to-be-born gods. Perhaps they fled from their home to seek refuge from them?
They live within the human community, and they have the power of mind control, which they use to suborn the local government; they produce or have access to some kind of addictive substance they use to manipulate people. They place the highest value on reproduction -- I wonder if maybe they are dying out back home. In their normal physical form (when not impersonating humans) they are like half-intangible clouds with stalked eyes projecting from them. Their behaviour is ant-like; they have a queen and they obey her unquestioningly. They speak in airy, breathy voices, eat by liquefying and absorbing their food and seem to be motionless until they suddenly move with inconceivable speed.
When they die, they erupt into a swarm of immature larvae which will seek to burrow themselves into a human host. They won't mature, but they can do some damage.
|By Luigi Castellani.|
I rolled up one cult, the Circle of the Iron Demiurge. They were founded in ancient history by an artist who received bizarre visions of something huge. They took control of a community in ancient history, recruiting their numbers from among artists; they infiltrated an existing faith and repurposed some of its temples, but they were opposed by a rival faith.
Today, they have embraced their uncontrollable artistic visions to the point that many of them are incapable of functioning in normal society. Each member has a hidden tattoo which they use to identify themselves; the cult is bounded together by a twisted form of familial love. The leader is a mad high priest, but he has possibly untrustworthy second-in-command. The cult wants revenge against someone -- maybe the descendants of the religion that fought them in antiquity? They are masters of diabolical sorcery, which is their chief weapon.
Here are the three major and three minor characters I created for the cult:
- Seductive femme fatale
- Merciless crime boss
- Monstrous entity that resembles a human -- maybe one of the alien species has switched sides to work for the unborn gods rather than the Flame?
- Foolish street thug with grandiose plans
- Sweet old lady carrying on a hideous family tradition
- Ambitious young academic seeking cult secrets
The second cult I didn't bother rolling up; the alien race description made it clear that the other cult in the mix was going to be the mind-controlled slaves of the aliens. I assume they work in tiers with actual shape-shifted aliens at the top and the addicted thralls at the bottom.
Basically all of this was generated randomly, I want to point out, and it all fits together into quite a nice little antagonist group. Certainly much more detail than I would probably have created in an hour of just thinking about it. And more importantly, not solely the kind of thing I would think of (and therefore the kind of thing my players would be able to predict).
I decided to set my campaign right here in Cambridgeshire. The book recommends picking three urban locations, three rural locations and three remote locations, some of which are to be "red herrings," ie locations with no occult tag. I only did eight instead of nine. My locations were:
- Cambridge (city)
- Cambridge (university)
- Little Stukeley (red herring)
- Westley Waterless
- Ramsey Forty Foot
- Ouse Washes
- Gallows Hill
For each of these locations, you generate two tags, each of which contains an enemy, a friend, a scheme, a secret and a place. You pick these from a list of suggestions for each one.
Cambridge City: Foul Faith. A local religion has been corrupted. Enemy: popular demagogue. Friend: concerned relative. Scheme: consecrate a place with an evil rite. Secret: the religion supports social services for the needy, despite its evil nature. Place: secret fane in important building.
Crushing Despair. The people of Cambridge have lost hope in things ever getting better. Enemy: political machine boss. Friend: Successful expat returning home. Scheme: discredit source of hope. Secret: Constant plans for renewal always disappoint. Place: street with half the houses empty.
This is an example of a location and its tags; I'm not going to type them all out because there's nine of them, so here's the summary.
Ely: Horrific Wealth, Creeping Plague. Ely's privileged residents have some corrupt secret behind their wealth -- but can even that save them from the contagion that's about to break out? Are they, in fact, linked?
Cambridge University: Drug Epidemic, Damnable Saviour. A new designer drug is doing the rounds among students -- it's even being made by students. But the drug has side effects that one of the cults is keen to harness or put a stop to. A wealthy patron tries to battle the problem, but has secrets of her own.
Little Stukeley: Clannish Silence, Old Grudges. Stukeleians (is that a word?) don't trust outsiders, and anyone who tries to tell people about what's going on gets put down by the brutal clan leaders. Two factions within the village fight, with an unscrupulous gun runner selling to both sides.
Westley Waterless: Senseless Violence, Buried Power. A local archaeological site has a hidden being beneath it -- a zealous young archaeologist struggles with the local landowner for access. Does the site have something to do with the bizarre rash of violent crimes in the area?
Ramsey Forty Foot: Depraved Clergy, Entrenched Poverty. In this poor village, a violent strain of old-timey witch-hunting religion has arisen.
Ouse Washes: Poisoned Ground, Inhuman Masters. Chemical spills are contaminating the area -- they come from a hidden lab run by a rogue scientist. Is it tied in to the aliens' attempt to create a device to communicate with their offworld allies?
Gallows Hill: Hateful Tradition, Predator Entity. Bigoted locals enact a cruel local rite believed to appease an evil spirit. There is an evil spirit -- but it isn't appeased. Bodies of the locals' victims are believed to be consumed by the monster, but in fact it eats something less substantial -- a part of the soul, or the sanity.
|It's spookier if you know it's called the Devil's Dyke.|
So there you have it -- that's probably a year's worth of sessions, although they're not all developed, and it took me about two hours while watching television. And as you can see, they're not necessarily Mythos-y; the plot concepts are sufficiently broad that they can fit anywhere. I like enough of these plots that I may well use them, and several of them are not what I would have thought of without using the generator. I particularly love the aliens, the cult, all that stuff.
There are lots of tools for me to quickly create the next steps as well -- I'd start with this level plus local knowledge, improvisation and charm, and then when the players wanted to actually go somewhere in the sandbox I'd quickly whip up the relevant spells, critters, artefacts and so on. Probably the only thing I'd do more of in advance is the cult's sorcery; given that it's important to them I would want to make sure I had some strongly-established visuals and names to act as clues.
|By Luigi Castellani.|
I have discovered my first flaw in the game, though! Well, it's not a flaw per se, more like a caveat; it's just that the tags will require a little adjustment to make them work in a wainscot UK setting (rather than a World-of-Darkness-type setting), and of course they'll need even more fiddling to make fit a specific city. The second point is true anywhere; Cambridge is filthy rich; that's its problem, and the idea of a street with empty houses, rather than people paying £200K to live in a shoebox and be beaten with rods, is risible. But I'm the one that chose it; I was shooting for a more WoD-y concept anyway. And that would be true anywhere; a tag that makes sense one way in New York needs a little work to make sense in Muscatine.
The national point is a little more an artefact of the game itself; it's set in America, and some of the tags reflect that, assuming that guns are everywhere and there's lots of murders and so on. I struggled with fitting some of the tags to really remote locations, also; if I were to do this again I think I would make it a big city and not bother with the remote country stuff; I'd make "village" the lowest level of resolution, rather than somewhere really out in the middle of nowhere. Mind you, I think that some of the crime assumptions would work OK in London or even somewhere like Birmingham or Glasgow or somewhere; you can believe that film-noir stuff in a way that's hard to believe about Cambridge. So maybe my home is just weird.
I hope this has given you an example of how the sandbox generation works and why I think this game is so great; I'm not rolling to see how many of this or what type of columns are in the lobby or what kind of guns the thugs have. I'm rolling for the narrative elements, and then I'm fitting it all together like some mad game of Iron Chef. You can see how useful this is for modern-horror setting creation. Honestly, it should be in every World of Darkness ST's tool kit; that's probably the closest thing on the market to a modern horror sandbox, and it lacks anything like this, at least as far as I know.
Seriously, you guys; if you run any kind of modern horror game, get this one. Link's at the top of the post.