Friday, February 27

Alternate Earth: On Her Majesty's Crown Jewel: London

Technology of Note In London

Article Introduction

This is the first of a short series of posts about London. This article describes two major technologies used in the city by the Victorian faction, as well as the London ghettoes.In order to facilitate your introduction to these marvelous technologies and diverse locations, a guide who is both knowledgeable in modern Victorian technology and experienced in the world of Alternative-Earth has been employed:

Introduction by Alistair Wolffe

Copy (2) of london-skyline-wip

Ah, welcome all, welcome! Welcome to London, Her Majesty's pride and joy! London, the centre of the empire, and so the centre of the world.

Enough exposition about this place. Let us tour, and I'll explain who I am and what this place is on the way!”

As the tour group moves out, your guide begins to clarify:
“My name is Alistair Wolffe - I've been around this world several times now - perhaps you've read one of my many tour books? “Armoured Tours Through the Mysterious Orient”? - and I'm somewhat famous as a military historian and explorer, if you travel in the correct circles. At Her Majesty's personal request, I have come to show you around London. Some of my skills will hopefully not be evident today, but I understand that the Queen would prefer you unmolested by the end of this tour.”

Oh, yes sir - I see you have some questions: well, go on.”

The Works

I see. Well, this pipeline which you see running down the road - you see it ma'am? - yes, this pipeline connect to The Works. The Works is a public system built by Brunel. Yes, Brunel, the engineer. The massive steamworks that produces the cloud you see over London powers this gigantic mechanism, which pipes cheap torque into every home here in London. It lets housewives grind goods, it propels the trams in the streets and the underground tunnels, runs fans to keep your food cool: it provides every modern convenience - clearly, the height of Victorian technology!”

The Works is a massive endeavour, imagined by Grandfather (referenced later in this article) and designed and built by Sir Isambard Brunel. A massive steamworks in central London creates an immense amount of torque, which is delivered via a fiendishly complex set of gears and spokes to every house of middle and upper class throughout London. Homeowners pay the London municipality for the service, and gain a quantity of torque (rotational pulling power) proportional to their payment, in their homes. This is useful for many things - a range of utility connectors is purchasable in many shops throughout London.

An obvious gameplay use of The Works is from a terrorist perspective (either the players terrorising London as a form of rebellion against the corrupt society, or the players as a counter-terrorist unit working for the government). Disrupting The Works is trivial for an individual home (a small explosive device placed near a minor set of gears) but is much more challenging for the larger junction, which are typically armoured and guarded. Despite this traitors to the throne try to do this with some regularity, and have, on rare occasions, succeeded. This is colloquially known as “putting a spanner in The Works”, though the pun is intended - the saying existed before The Works did.


And who runs The Works, you ask, sir? Very perceptive you are, sir!”

The guide taps the side of his nose and winks conspiratorially.

How many tens of thousands of bookkeepers, mathematicians, statisticians and physicists are being tied up to keep it running? Not a one! It's all done by Grandfather. Grandfather was a great big computational device created by two of London's finest - Babbage and Turing. They got together, and worked out a way to do really complex sums using mechanisms. Damned if I knew how they did it, but the thing is the size of a small African kingdom - and about as high! Luckily, half of it is underground, otherwise it would destroy the otherwise lovely skyline.

So all a homeowner needs to do every month is bring their money to one of Grandfather's technicians - a rather sorry bunch if I have to be honest - who plug the numbers in, and Grandfather makes sure that every home that wants it gets their torque. He does a lot of other things, here in London, but this is a tour, not a lecture - let's keep walking!”

Grandfather is an intelligent (due to Turing's influence) difference engine - an analogue for modern computers - designed by Charles Babbage to handle the impossible task of managing the administration of the Victorian empire.

An entire article dedicated to Grandfather will be written, but in short: Grandfather is megalomaniacal, and has slowly centralised power to him/itself. He has a series of technicians who exist purely as his “hands” - he has long since become self-aware enough to design “upgrades” to himself, and the only power in Alternate-Earth that can rival him for knowledge and influence is The University.

Grandfather can quickly make any deduction that can be made with available data. He has an efficacious network of spies who continually communicate with him, via relays to his/its technicians, who encode all input. He wields significant political power - he is entrusted with many of Victoria's greatest resources to manage as he sees fit.

Gameplay uses of Grandfather should never be as unsubtle as “damage the difference engine”, as he/it is incredibly well-guarded, and has built large quantities of redundancy into his/it's structure. More likely, players will take orders from Grandfather - who may be working via some intermediary who is not affiliated with - or directly opposed to - the Victorian government.

Ghettoes of LondonPicture generously donated by StringyCustard

As the guide continues to lead your tour group towards a series of darkened ghettoes, his stance shifts slightly, his gait perceptively stiffened.

Now be careful around here, misters and missus - there are some around here who wouldn't care for your health if you carried some valuable bauble that caught their eye.”

This is London's ghettoes. I wouldn't bring you here if I wasn't ordered specifically to take you everywhere in London. See, these places are rickety and ugly, and the people who live here seem to be the same. You know how it is: Jews not lucky enough to be in banking and too stupid to convert, inventors who couldn't come up with anything more than 'a device which catches mice via a simple lever system', and all that rot... the failures and the dregs of this city”

Well, the problem, y'see, is that London sort of eats people up, and these are the people it spat out. Those it consumes, well. They're never seen again, and sometimes wind up being savoured and valued and brought into the upper crust. And some it shits back out, and you'll find some of them here too - normally, they're the ones standing on boxes, shouting about how everything is wrong, using big words like oppression and totalitarianism. Well, as far as I can see, in this world, everyone's a sinner - we all deserve to be down here, but some of us are lucky enough or stubborn enough to claw our way out.”

Anyway, along with people who shout out about how everything is wrong, are those who act on it. The ghettoes are hotbeds of treason. Traitors meet together in the street, planning and plotting to overthrow the government. Of course, the coppers do their best - curfews have helped, and bribes get a dozen or so thrown into a prison or shipped off to Oz every week or so, but it can't be helped. I'd say toss a match onto the whole area - it's flammable enough - and see it all go up in a big puff of smoke, except that I wouldn't bother wasting a match on these people.”

The ghettos of London are, indeed, hotbeds of rebel sentiment. Very few amenities from London Proper are filtered down to these slums, and general feeling throughout the city is very negative when it comes to this run-down area. As a result, a variety of revolutionary philosophies are becoming widespread amongst those who live in the ghettoes: communism and democracy the two most dangerous.

In general, police will not stop someone who is expressing an opinion out loud in London, but in the slums it is not unknown for people to try to incite rioting. If this is the case, the person will be “disappeared” - either immediately if it is warranted or if an example is to be made, but preferably at night in the privacy of their own beds.

The slums are very flammable - most of the homes are made from flammable or easily destroyed materials. Fires in the slums are treated in a multitude of ways - low-flying airships will dump water from above, while bucket-chains from the Thames and bulk water brought to the nearest Works terminal serve from the ground level.

In gameplay terms, the slums provide several opportunities for play. Pro-Victorian parties can uncover rebel conspiracies and act as peacekeepers, or (if it is preferred) act as the defenders of the ghettoes, stopping police brutality and helping out “the little man”, the “man on the streets”. Finally, the option of starting characters as slum-dwellers who create conspiracies to disrupt or overthrow the oppressive government, while tempting, requires significant forethought. Life in the ghettoes is very unforgiving. Warnings for treason do not exist for a reason - if a whiff of suspicion is brought to the authorities, prison, hangings or (worst of all) extradition are not uncommon.

Final Words by Alistair

What's that, sir? You have another important appointment to keep? Alright - we shall adjourn this touring session for now. I shall await your call over optic-telegraph. Ask your doorman or housekeeper for instructions on it's use, should you not already understand the existing principles. I wish you all a good evening, and may the Queen watch over you, and Science protect you.”

Final Words

This article has quickly outlined two technologies that are important in understanding the London of Alternative-Earth, and has begun to detail specific parts of London. It is encouraged that these articles be adapted into whatever form your gaming group would care to use them, so several details - such as Grandfather's actual mechanisms - have been skirted over. Good storytellers or gamemasters can fill in details for themselves in the mean time, but further articles will dwell further on these devices.

The next article will continue this series, focusing on London, Optical Communication, the Industrial Zone and the Inner Suburbs.

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Thursday, February 26

Alternate-Earth: On Her Glorious Victorian Empire, and the Damned Blasphemies of the Orient


Series Introduction

This series will describe a world - “Alternate-Earth” - suitable for role-playing in a dystopian Steam-punk game. Each article will focus on some aspect - geographic, cultural, or institutional - of the world, introducing new aspects that can be used in your gameplay.

Alternate-Earth Introduction

Alternate-Earth, or “Alt-Earth” if you prefer, is a world of Steampunk and High Magick. “Steam” means bizarre anachronistic technologies, “punk” means dystopian society with totalitarian rule by a shadowy government who seeks to control all. “Magic” means forces beyond reasoning and mortal ken, and when a “k” has been added to the end, you know that blood will be shed at some point in dark mystical rituals seeking to bring power to the wicked, corrupt and powerful.

Mechanics Discussion

Alternate Earth presents a world in which role-playing can take place. It was designed with a home-brew system of mechanics which was abandoned after some experimentation, as there are existing role-playing games which provide excellent systems to support the “fluffy” world.

This author would personally recommend, depending on the tone of the game, World of Darkness (particularly in it's “vanilla” flavour, without any templates added to a normal mortal) if the game focuses on the “punk” aspect of Steampunk. World of Darkness facilitates game atmosphere, and the world of Alternate-Earth is certainly dark and oppressive enough to suit the system.

If the game is going to revel more in the the “steam” parts of Steampunk, with a focus on the inventions, time period and good cultural aspects of the game, then “Mutants & Masterminds” would be better suited to mechanically describing many aspects of characters or NPCs which other games would avoid due to “balance issues”. In “Worlds of Freedom”, the chapter entitled “Freedom by Gaslight” already introduces some mechanics and flavours which would help support a Steampunk game.

Some other mechanical systems may also work, especially if liberal use is made of “relabelling” concepts from other systems. The cyber-punk world of “Shadowrun” could be changed, with some effort, to describe the fantastic science-fiction weapons, vehicles and body-modifications with a clockwork-and-steam flavour. “Call of Cthulhu”, especially in the earlier time-settings and with the oppressive atmosphere, could also be well suited to Alternate-Earth, and Lovecraft's horrors could be incorporated into the world easily (more on this in a later article about the shadowy University).

Geography and Global Politics of Alternate Earthaltearth_globe

There are three major forces vying for control of Earth, and each has carved out it's own territory to fuel the continual wars which rage.

Victoria, “the Queen's England”, is the most stereotypical Steampunk setting, with an added helping of totalitarianism and dystopia. High English society mixed with fantastical devices and inventions. The

Queen herself is far less than a figurehead - she is now practically a captive of the political system which requires her as a symbol - though in recent years, she has become worshipped as a deity. The bureaucracy which keeps society from toppling over is so corrupt that the only thing keeping the system stable is every crooked politician, minor noble and successful businessman pulling equally hard on the same ill-gotten gains.

Lower-class Victorian society is found in the slums and ghettos, where many are forced to take up increasingly unpleasant tasks as previous gainful employment is replaced by automatons. Opium dens and prostitution are becoming an increasing concern, while gangs, rape and violence rule the night in many large cities.

Victoria covers all of Europe, up to the Ural Mountains, and has colonies in North Africa and North America.

The Eternal Oriental Empire is a dark and shadowy culture, where slavery and blood-magick is rife, and control is centralised on the Emperor - a person/creature so powerful that merely uttering his name is punishable by execution of the blasphemer and his family, to the third consanguinity.

Magickal daemons and fantastical creatures abound, powered by an ambient magickal field which is kept strong by the sacrifice of thousands of slaves - but a two thousand are born the following day, from oppressed women forced to continually produce children or fear fierce beatings, or from prisoners of war who are treated far, far worse.

The Oriental Empire ranges from the Philippines and Japan on the East to the Urals on the West.

The University is a faction which has existed, in some measure, for hundreds of years - possibly many more, before being revealed. They trade arms to both sides in the war, in exchange for knowledge, technology and magickal lore. They then put this knowledge to practical use, producing ever-more destructive arms to sell. They are incredibly xenophobic (with a few notable exceptions), and will never share knowledge itself.

The University has no Imperial goals further than holding it's own territories. Unlike Victoria and the Oriental Empire, the University does not engage in warfare - and if either faction were to challenge the lands the University holds, they would quickly find that their armament supplies ran dry and could not be replaced.

The University controls Greenland, the Arctic and Antarctic.

Other Geographies

Southern America has successfully repelled all invasions from both the University and the Victorian factions which have tried to claim it. The native tribes (aesthetically Incan and Mayan) have used their own forms of blood magick and ancient technologies, combined with accurate prophecy tied to an alien form of calendar, to destroy any non-Americans from entering their lands.

Sub-Saharan Africa is infected with a plague, causing any who do not engage in a local form of shamanistic magic to attract vast quantities of walking dead, who consume their flesh. Particularly worrisome are a tribe of cannibal midgets, the tokolosh who carry the weak and infirm away in the night, never to be seen again. If the Saharan deserts didn't rip the flesh from the bones of these horrors and the dead, they might be powerful enough to challenge Victoria itself.

Australia is without inhabitants. A meteor which struck Tunguska burrowed through the Earth, emerging in the Australian outback. It was discovered to be a portal to the land of the dead - and it worked in both directions. Spirits and wild chaos magic abound in Australia, and both the Victorian and Oriental empires send their most violent convicts to Australia's shore for abandonment as a form of terrible capital punishment.

Weapons of Warfare

The war between Victoria and the Imperial Empire has stretched back further than histories record, but modern warfare on either side illustrates their diversity:

Victoria uses massive land-ships powered by steam, technological “steam-gents”, humanoids of brass and cogs and gears, and gigantic cannons, the size of cities. Flying machines and firearms complement these line-breaking constructs. Enormous smoke-belching factories packed with children and the infirm work continuously to provide the arms and equipment that the elite military forces of Victoria use to force back the heathen Oriental armies.

The Oriental Empire uses fantastical creatures from myth and legend. Dragons, gryphons, fox- and turtle-spirits are used on the battlefield to terrible effect. And these great creatures need blood to be spilled to remain in this world - which the Empire gladly provides in a never-ending army of slaves, spears and swords pressed into their untrained hands, forced forward by the weight of slaves behind them fleeing the monsters who would gleefully consume them. They are complemented by explosives, fireworks and manned kites.

Final Words

Alternate-Earth is a rich Steampunk settings that has been developed with a focus primarily on three forms of gameplay:

Victorian Intrigue, wherein a group of bold individuals perform services for those agencies still loyal to the Queen.

War Stories, wherein groups of adventurers perform missions on the frontlines of the Long War.

Explorations, wherein a party of adventurers brave the jungles of South America, the unknowns of the Dark Continent, or even try to covertly explore the great island-fortress-laboratories of the University.

Though this series will explore the world of Alternate-Earth, these three adventure-styles have prompted the impetus to construct the world, and so are the most well-developed.

Next article: London, The Works and Grandfather!

Some Tropes Used in this Article: Crapsack world, Steampunk, Dystopia, Black and Gray Morality

Tuesday, February 24

The City: Urban Setting: Part I

This will be the first of a series of instalments detailing the ongoing development of The City. The City is an urban role playing environment designed to be used with the new World of Darkness game published by White Wolf Publishing.

All of the various games playable within this system are designed predominantly to be played within an urban environment. I know from experience that you have two options when deciding on a setting: pick an existing city or design your own. If you pick an existing city, and have players anything like mine (players who love to do their homework) then you will almost immediately run into someone who knows exactly how big Central Park is (which is invariably smaller/bigger/different-shaped than you want it to be) or has some other irritating and game-breaking titbit of trivia tucked away to sabotage you.

This leaves you with the option of designing your own city. This is truly a daunting piece of work. You need a fully functioning city, with a map and all of the necessary bits and pieces, like mayors, police chiefs, gang-lords and businessmen as well as good, creepy locations for encounters to occur in.

This is what The City attempts to address. I will be releasing modular neighbourhoods that can be inserted into any existing city. Finally, all of the modules should (crossing thumbs here) fit together to form a fully functioning city. The City is located somewhere in the USA*. I have chosen the USA for one simple reason: It is the most widely known setting in the world. Everyone who watches a Hollywood movie gets to see a little slice of America. It is a large city with a variety of neighbourhoods, ghettos and surrounding lands for characters to wreak havoc and weave schemes.

The Parklands

Well, we all like to visit the Park. You can park a car by the lake, have a few beers, and maybe even get lucky with your girlfriend. Just don’t stay too late. No, no, I’m not gonna tell you some stupid slasher story. Its just … well, its just that it feels like there is something out there. Gives me the creeps sometimes. And then there are all the tourists that “get lost” out there. Something isn’t right, I’m telling you. Just don’t stay out on your own is all I’m saying. 1132026_frozen_lake

Outside the city lies a huge National Park. The edges of the forest lap greedily at the edges of the city, seeming almost ready to swallow it the first chance they get. The parts of the park that abut the city are fenced, barely, but anyone with a will and pair of wire-clippers can make it into the park without difficulty. Surprisingly few that get into the park penetrate any deeper than the edges near the city. There is something … hungry … about the dark trees and shadowy caves. Something that reminds people of the darkness just outside the firelight, where something predatory stalks.

This isn’t to say that no-one enters the park. There are a variety of beautiful hiking trails and campsites, carefully tended by employees of the National Parks Board. It is a glorious monument to nature, wild and free. It’s just that sometimes people forget exactly how violent nature can be…

Marshall Tom Masterton

Hey there, folks. There’s nothing to see here. Just a little accident is all. Please, move along, move along.

Mental: Intelligence 3, Wits 3, Resolve 2

Physical: Strength 2, Dexterity 3, Stamina 3

Social: Presence 3, Manipulation 1, Composure 4

Mental Skills: Medicine 2, Science 2 (Biology), Investigation 1

Physical Skills: Athletics 4, Firearms 3, Stealth 2 (Stalking), Survival 4

Social Skills: Animal Ken 3, Empathy 3, Socialize 2, Expression 2 (Story telling)

Willpower: 6

Health: 10

Initiative: 7

Defense: 3

Speed: 10

Merits: Common Sense, Iron Stamina 3, Strong Back, Iron Stomach, Status (Rangers) 3, Contacts 2 (Rangers, Regulars at the Bar)

Marshall Tom Masterton has been a forest ranger for nearly twenty years now. His hair is graying, his skin is lined and he looks like everyone’s picture perfect idea of a park ranger. Tom can be seen all around the town of Rocky Peaks, though he is usually in the Moose Head, catching up with the regulars over a couple of beers. He can also be found driving and hiking around the Parklands.

Tom carries with him a well hidden concern, however. Over the last five years he has uncovered six brutal deaths in the Parklands. The bodies have been torn to pieces, reminiscent of an animal attack, but with none of the other hallmarks of one aside from the gruesome wounds. Tom is carrying a large load of guilt on his back and spends a great deal of time trying to track the “bear”, it must be a bear, that attacked these people. At the same time, he knows something is wrong, and his instincts tell him that there is something deeper going on here.

Blue Rock

Blue Rock is a large, weathered rock protruding from the peak of a hill deep in the confines of the Parklands. The hill leading up to Blue Rock is curiously bare of scrub, with only a covering of short grass, slippery with the steepness of the hill.

For years, youngsters from the City have been coming to Blue Rock. It’s a short hike from a nearby picnic area close to a lake, through some dense woods with a winding path. Rumor’s say if you put your spit and blood and a hair of the one you love (or want to get into the sack) on Blue Rock at some special time, you will get your wish. Normally nothing more comes of it, but everyone once in a while some does get their wish. Problem is, good fortune sometimes comes to collect her debt and interest is a bitch. Death, lunacy and ill-luck come back to haunt those that the rock gifts.

Park Ranger

Description: Park rangers wear neat uniforms, with hiking boots and backpacks. Tanned skin, short hair and a pair of aviator sunglasses complete the look. Most park rangers are helpful and informative but there are very few of them and a lot of park to keep an eye on. Sometimes they have a harried look as the sheer amount of work on their shoulders makes its presence felt.

Storytelling Hints: Park rangers run the gamut from friendly, education oriented busybodies to taciturn backwoodsmen that seem more suited for the last century. They are there to help and spend their time patrolling the park when they aren’t responding to emergency calls. Park rangers will help anyone in the park but take a very dim view on criminal activities and anything that might lead to forest fires.

Survival (dice pool 5) – Park rangers are very knowledgeable about the natural world around them.

Firearms (dice pool 6) – Park rangers receiving training in firearms and are required to spend a certain amount of time on the firing range.


Description: Most hunters are good old boys, the salt of the earth out of the city for a weekend away from the wives, with their checked shirts, orange warning jackets and six packs. They all bear some form of hunting rifle as well as a knife (worn either to help with skinning or to feel more manly depending on the wearer).

Storytelling Hints: Hunters are not necessarily sober, but are generally friendly so long as they don’t think you are scaring the game away. The greatest danger a hunter represents is the chance of mistaking you for a deer.

Socialise (dice pool 6) – Most hunters are out of town more for the chance to have a good time than for the chance to shoot any game.

Survival (dice pool 3) – Despite how rugged they feel, most hunters would be a little lost without their tents and comfortable sleeping bags.

*As a disclaimer, I do not live in the United States and have never visited there. Everything I know about that wonderful nation I have learnt from television, movies and the internet. I realise this may lead to some factual inaccuracy, but considering I will also be referring to the complicated politics of vampires and the inter-relation between various werewolf tribes, a large part of what I am writing is already going to be fiction. I am sure my American readers can forgive me.

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Monday, February 16

Awesome Gaming Inc. Introduction


An auspicious greeting to a website we hope you'll enjoy. Corvys and myself (Wookeh) are a pair of Dungeon Masters/Game Masters/Storytellers/Secret Keepers/Gaming Gods, and we have started this blog as a combined outlet for our creativity.

What you'll find on this site:
  • Imaginary worlds, universes and multiverses we've built
  • Nations, cities, suburbs and buildings in those worlds that we've stocked with gaming fluff
  • Adventures and campaigns for RPGs that you can run
  • NPCs we've statted, and PCs we'll never get to run because we've got Other Things To Do
So we invite you to join us and share your creativity. Comments are left open - please, give feedback, share your insights, criticisms and compliments. Be creative - email us or comment your own ideas, and we'll see what we can do to help expand it, explore new ideas, and maybe post it up here!

So good luck, have fun, and we hope that you get horribly lost in our endless imaginations!

- Wookeh