What The Hell?by Dan Bayn
What The Hell?by Dan Bayn
"We all have our demons, it's true, but not in the metaphorical way most people think. Demonic forces lurk within each and every human being. They are shackled to our souls, imprisoned there by ancient magi to keep them from infesting the rest of the material sphere. Now, they are just voices in the dark, tempting us to sin.
"When most people give in to these temptations, the result is merely corruption, crime, violence, deception, and the other evils we know so well. However, a tiny fraction give in completely; they allow their demons to consume their souls and reduce them to beasts. They lose the ability to choose Good over Evil and become slaves to their basest desires: rage, lust, and greed. These few are known as Warlocks.
"When demons devour a soul, they gain a limited degree of power over the material sphere. Every warlock's powers are different, as much a product of their own character as that of the demons who have claimed them. Combined with their maniacal lack of restraint, this magic makes warlocks extraordinarily dangerous. They are the demons' foot-soldiers in the war against mankind.
"Sanctum is the guardian of civilization. Its operatives hunt down warlocks and keep demons shackled to their ephemeral prisons. The organization has existed throughout history, its presence felt on every continent. According to legend, its founders were the magi who first banished demonkind from this world..."
What The Hell?This article starts a new project: Sanctum. It's goal is to produce a complete, genre-spanning setting for monster-hunter games in the style of Witch Hunter Robin or The X-Files. This is not a developer's journal; Sanctum's only publication will be right here at RPGnet. There will be no dead tree edition.
Sanctum's basic premise is all that stuff about demons and warlocks spelled out above. Each month, a guest author will take that basic structure and adapt it to a new time, place, or genre. They'll deconstruct the essential tropes, serve up some archetypal PCs, and spark your imagination with new warlocks and plot hooks. Each article will be a one-shot in a can, ready to run at a moment's notice.
In addition to sating your hunger for meaty game ideas, Sanctum will give indie writers a chance to showcase their favorite genres. Everything from blaxploitation to science-fantasy is fair game, so send me an email if you're interested in writing an article. (Be warned: I may ask for a writing sample. Ideas are cheap; I need people who can beat a sentence into submission!)
Hopefully, we'll be able to open your eyes to setting possibilities you would never have considered.
Where's the Crunch?We're doin' this just the way I likes it: systemless. Guest authors may recommend systems they think are particularly suited to running games in their milieu, but you won't find any stat blocks or game mechanics here. That's primarily to keep things logistically simple, but it will also allow the writers to stay focused on their characters, plot ideas, and genre analysis. Trust me, it's what's best for us all.
Characters may appear with a set of broad traits, as benchmarks for stating them out in your preferred system. If you're running something lite (like Fudge, Over the Edge, or Wushu), just slap on some values and you're good to go. Warlock powers will receive only in-character descriptions; making them work mechanically will be left to you. (I expect the column's discussion forum will be a hotbed of such activity.)
Now that the boilerplate is out of the way, let's get down to the nuts and bolts...
WarlocksHere's the deal with Warlocks: they're the Bad Guys. Big "B," big "G," black hat wearing, irredeemable Bad Guys. They are simply incapable of choosing Good, so don't feel bad about killin' 'em. They may be ruled by their basest impulses, but they're not stupid. Most of them know they're being hunted, or at least that taking on the National Guard is a bad idea, so they try to stay off the nightly news. Though formal organization is antithetical to demoniacs, charismatic warlocks do manage to corral themselves a few minions from time to time. Such super-powered gangs always top Sanctum's Most Wanted list.
When it comes to kewl powerz, less is more. The old stable of Psi powers is a good place to start, especially the various flavors of telepathy and telekinesis. Shapeshifting, teleportation, and rapid healing (you know, the X-men arsenal) make excellent choices because they're simple, yet versatile. Optionally, genre flavor can be added by cramming these powers into the mold of magical traditions like voodoo, kabbalah, or geomancy.
You can generate a nice Witch Hunter vibe by giving a warlock an affinity for some creature, substance, or phenomenon. When it comes to the object of their obsession, warlocks can pull off the full range of magical effects, from remote sensing to telekinetic control. For example, a warlock with an affinity for water could kill by dehydration or teleport from one lake to another. They could use reflecting pools for divination or transform themselves into clouds of vapor. Where you draw the line is a matter of dramatic license.
Some demoniacs are bound by arcane and idiosyncratic rules, determined by some combination of cultural myths and personal baggage. Many are averse to the holy symbols of their homeland. Our water wizard could be limited to fresh water, making living creatures and oceans immune to his influence. Or he could be scared of his own reflection, sensitive to sunlight, unable to speak the truth, or anything else a sick and demonically possessed mind might inflict upon itself. Demon-hunters shouldn't depend too much on these Achilles' Heels, though. Be warned: No one said warlocks can't use guns!
SanctumHere's the thing about Sanctum: it's a total plot device. It exists to bring disparate PCs together, hand them missions, and deliver necessary exposition. Beyond that, the specifics will vary by time and place. In some genres, Sanctum may need to be a sprawling, quasi-governmental organization with nearly limitless resources. In others, it may be little more than a loose confederation of paranoid vigilantes who lurk around society's fringes. It may or may not be affiliated with particular religions; on occasion, it may even be at odds with them. ("The Vatican has its own exorcists, thank you very much!")
The organization's stance on magic is also open to debate. During the European witch hunts, the practice of magic may have been held in such contempt that its use, even against warlocks, was unthinkable. In more tolerant cultures, it seems almost inevitable that shamans, priests, demonologists, and other occultists would find themselves working with Sanctum from time to time. Hell, the group might even employ warlocks if their motives coincided or their was some way to force their cooperation (ie. magic, brainwashing, mind control chips, etc).
Finally, the group should probably remain covert in all its incarnations. Secrecy is a staple of monster-hunting games. Sanctum could use anything from powerful spells to expensive cover-ups to keep the truth about demons under wraps. If all else fails, maybe everyone just thinks they're a bunch of psycho nutjobs. That's always fun.
Next Stop: Victorian Europe for gaslight adventure in the style of Van Helsing & the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen!