Sunday, 6 September 2015

Campaign Workshop: Eberron by Gaslight

I mentioned this last week as the "mash up" I was currently crushing on. To be fair, since then I've realized that a lot of this idea can probably be traced directly back to Benjamin Baugh's superlative THE KERBEROS CLUB, but what the hey. And if you haven't read that one, you should - if you have any love at all for Victoriana, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, WILD TALENTS, or just stunningly good RPG sourcebooks, it's the bee's knees. 

A couple of years ago I wrapped up my long-running Victorian vampire hunter game, SUNSET EMPIRE (and as some of you know, I often still mourn its loss in these pages - alas!). The concept for that game could be described, in broad strokes, as Victorian adventure in a world where the fantastic existed secretly below the surface. Like THE KERBEROS CLUB, as my game went on, the world got weirder and weirder until the vampires had conquered London with a magical weapon and German werewolves in silver-bullet-proof armor raced to the rescue. OK, it wasn't a subtle game.

I was recently leafing through my copy of EBERRON, Keith Baker's delightful steampunk inspired pulp adventure setting for D&D 3.5. I always liked EBERRON, and never quite played enough of it over the years. It's full of the kind of reckless imagination with no interest in subtlety and realism that fueled SUNSET EMPIRE, for example. It was (and is) a font of delights that perhaps D&D wasn't particularly ideal for, even though it was intended to include practically every trope and monster that Wizards of the Coast own the rights to. Nothing about D&D is particularly suited to over-the-top pulp adventure in steaming jungles or noir-esque detective action in towering cities. But never mind, there is a lot of value in there to steal.

I got to thinking about moving some of the tastier pieces of EBERRON into a world that looks a lot more like our own, in the Victorian era, probably because I'd also recently been dipping my toes into the excellent new edition of CTHULHU BY GASLIGHT. Ditching a bunch of the D&Disms in the original game would let me use the things I like as a starting point for a new(ish) Victorian setting. Something that is almost the reverse of SUNSET EMPIRE - rather than being a normal Victorian setting with hidden magic elements, it's a magical Victorian setting that still keeps the fashion and atmosphere of Sherlock Holmes and co.

The final act of SE had Queen Victoria magically combining with Titania, queen of the faerie realms, to heal and reunite both worlds. In this re-imagined Eberron, I'm supposing that the same sort of thing happens much earlier, with Elizabeth I joining together with Titania to form an immortal new ruler of the linked realms: Gloriana, or "Good Queen Glory" (to steal an idea from Alan Moore). As the campaign begins in the late Victorian era, Gloriana has been reigning over England (and a good chunk of the world) for nearly 300 years. The world has developed, like Eberron, using magic as its industry. The streets of London are full of elves and goblins and various creatures of magic in addition to Cockney bootblacks and top-hatted toffs. (Yes, there have been other settings that use these things. Now I'm using them. Get off my back.)

I'm imagining the Warforged of this setting (those oh-so-stylish and unbalanced magic robots from Eberron) looking a lot closer to the automechanical servants of KERBEROS CLUB, with the difference that they are still considered to be property in this world. Secret meetings of Warforged activists and anarchists fighting the establishment is just too tasty, I think.

Shifters, the half-lycanthrope bestial warriors of Eberron, are easy enough to slot into this world as yet another kind of magical hybrid. And, like the Warforged, they probably don't fit into it very well. I can see them excluded from much society and living in the teeming slums of the East End very well. Changelings would seem to work well as what their name implies - a half-faerie creature that cloaks itself with glamours.

The Kalashtar, Eberron's psychic pretty boys and girls, seem a little too similar to straight-up faerie folk to me. I'm thinking of them as being humans who choose to join themselves with ghosts, kind of a mediumistic spin on the same idea. This fits in well with the Spiritualist movement that's so popular in the Victorian era, and keeps the Kalashtar (in spirit) to serve as a mirror to the setting's bad guys, the Quori-hosting Inspired.

I'll come back to this in a couple of days and continue my sketching.

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