Sanctum: The Red Scareby Nicholas Dowbiggin
Sanctum: The Red Scareby Nicholas Dowbiggin
Sanctum: The Red Scare
by Nicholas Dowbiggin
Nicholas has covered a time period I've wanted to see since this column was just a twinkle in my eye: 1950's America. Paranoia, communism, and the FBI... it's got all the earmarks of a great modern occult setting. Let's get to it.
In the 1950's, the Red Scare and the Cold War combined to create an impending sense of doom and pervasive paranoia in an American society that was pretending to be the idyllic pinnacle of the modern age. Going into space was now a rational possibility and the nuclear arms race was in full swing, making science-fiction seem not so strange in comparison. To many, the aliens and robots predicted in novels and comic books were distinct possibilities, driven equally by awe of the atomic age and fear of communist invasion. Invaders from beyond the stars and robotic slaves rebelling against their masters were representative of the communist threat, playing off of the xenophobia and fear of change that gnawed on the hearts and minds of many Americans.
In addition to the new genre of sci-fi horror with aliens and atomic monsters, classic tales of horror were revisited. Thanks to the fear that superhero comics caused violence and deviant behavior in children, other genres were reborn in the serials. Some of the most popular comics of the 1950's were spine-tingling tales of terror, continuing the Americanization of supernatural folklore that began with the classic horror films of the 20's and 30's.
In the world of Sanctum, the titular protagonists are often-times all that separate the "golden age" of America from breaking down into a desperate panic, whether they’re preventing an atomic holocaust or keeping a plague of supernatural forces hidden from an unsuspecting public. With the pinnacle of modern day society just steps from falling apart at the seams, every day for the unknown heroes of Sanctum is another desperate battle just to keep their imperfect society intact.
Financed and backed by a shadow committee within the US government and military-industrial complex, Sanctioned is an organization that doesn't officially exist, which its leaders believe is for the best. Their essential function is to keep the existence of paranormal influence in America a secret. If the public knew that an unknown number of extremely dangerous and only partly human psychics walked among them, it would cause mass hysteria and rioting in the streets. A botched cover-up could generate a panic equal to an impending nuclear attack. This is why a secret group of politicians, military officers, and captains of industry form crack teams of specialists to quiet these "delicate situations" down and then disappear.
Sanctioned is aware that other agencies within the country and the Soviet Union have been delving into the psychic menace. In fact, Sanctioned has adopted the term that the FBI and HUAC (House Unamerican Activities Committee) use to describe individuals known to possess such abilities: Dangerous Deviants. Sanctioned's research into their enemy began as a medical examination, but when that became a dead-end, the focus was shifted to the psychological. The enigmatic higher-ups refuse to call these threats "warlocks" or their abilities "demonic.” Other agencies, not nearly as informed as Sanctioned, do not always take as sane an approach.
Sanctioned recruits highly skilled individuals from other agencies and organizations, usually the military. Soldiers, scientists, and doctors that are deemed risks by their Pentagon superiors, or become investigated by HUAC for suspected communist activities, are likely candidates… if they fit a certain loose psychological profile. However, there has been a growing number of witnesses to Sanctioned missions and even surviving victims of Deviant attacks. When the Pentagon, FBI, or HUAC become too interested in these individuals, they simply disappear. Sanctioned tries to disappear them first, using their nebulous governmental authority to debrief witnesses and then give them new identities. Some are even recruited into the agency, providing a useful source of diversity among the otherwise over-specialized agents.
Guts and Experience - Went up against the odds time and time again in WWII and never faltered. Over time, has developed a knack for anticipating danger, a combination of intuition and reflexes.
Ace - If it can be flown, driven, sailed, or ridden, he's the man for the job.
Social Limitations - In the 1950's, African-Americans, even war veterans, are still a long way from being treated fairly in American society.
Conventional Warfare - As a soldier, he's well-versed in any task that requires shooting, fighting, or blowing things up.
Bravado - Reckless courage allows him to go places and do things that would reduce others to blind panic.
Social Limitations - Was unofficially transferred to Sanctioned from guard duty at the Pentagon when his old communist ties were brought to light.
Sleuth - As a federal investigator, he has a knack for finding minute details, tracking down leads, and spying without being noticed.
Authority - Once laughed at with derision, these days the badge of the FBI gets a man a lot of respect and influence with local authorities.
Double Life - Ever since he became aware of the FBI's occult deviant section, he's been working for Sanctioned in secret.
Medical Expert - The doc can patch you up when a monster that used to be a man tries to tear you apart. She can also use her knowledge in a forensic capacity, to verify whether a murder was the work of a supernatural deviant or not.
Head Shrinker - Doubly a psychologist, her skills are quite useful in analyzing the nature of deviant abilities. Understanding human thought processes also helps in the fine arts of persuasion and interrogation.
Social Limitations - Even in the 20th century, women, especially as scientists and doctors, are not treated with equality.
Creative Problemsolver - When there is no classic supernatural weakness or conventional weapon capable of taking a Deviant down, the scientist can often pull a solution out of his hat. This can range from a superscience weapon to figuring that a household item will have a devastating reaction when injected into their carotid.
Analyzer - Geniuses often perceive the world in different ways and the Scientist uses this approach in Dangerous Deviant investigations. The smallest detail or oddity in the crime scene can break a case.
Mental Problems: Unstable - The same hyperactive brain that makes the scientist brilliant also makes him skittish and paranoid, and enduring the rigorous interrogations of his Manhattan Project handlers has taken its toll.
Interred Psychic Deviant
Psychic Power - Coming from a civilian’s life, the interred psychic’s mind is flexible and any one of a number of psychic abilities can manifest. Common paranormal powers are telekinesis, flame conjuring, the psychic enhancement of physical abilities, or even the manipulation of matter and space. (A single, flexible ability is ideal.)
Versatility - Without undergoing the specialization of government work, the interred Deviant’s civilian background results in skill sets as varied as their psychic powers, often providing an underestimated level of backup in the field.
Mental Problems: Schizophrenia or Multiple Personalities - In the case of the interred psychic, the mental separation from his warlock persona allows him to access paranormal abilities while still clinging to his mortal soul. The soulless, full warlock side of the psychic is often compressed into a gnawing madness that manifests as voices and delusions in times of stress, or even as a completely separate personality that responds to physical or emotional trauma.
Between the Red Scare and the Cold War, the 1950's were among the most troubled times in American history. In an age of progress, attitudes were in many ways more backwards than they had been 10 or even 20 years before. Ordinary people were programmed by government- and media-induced paranoia to be xenophobic and afraid of change, even as great technological and social advances were being made. Accusations by an unconstitutional senatorial committee ruined the lives of countless entertainers and other private citizens, while the FBI had gone from being considered a second-rate federal detective service to an all-seeing, all-knowing Big Brother. All the while, threat of an impending atomic holocaust between the United States and Soviet Union hung heavily on humanity's collective conscience. In short, the times were a veritable hotbed of fear and tension, with society beset by a plague of paranoia. What better an age to be a warlock?
One of Sanctioned's worst enemies in their unending fight against the forces of fear and calamity are the agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Ironically, an agency so intent on rooting out sexual, political, and psychological deviants was manned by many genuine freaks who used their no-questions asked authority in a self-righteous power trip. FBI Director Hoover's own experiences with warlocks left a lasting mark on his soul and drove him to channel resources into a clandestine section of the Bureau.
Unlike Sanctioned, which believes Dangerous Deviants are human anomalies with psychic abilities that cause or are caused by psychosis, the FBI focuses on the occult side of the phenomenon. These G-men are hell-bent on fighting black magic and the occult in places and situations that are usually trumped up superstition and ignorance. Instead of pursuing, with a rational mind, murderers that can kill with a thought or subversive elements within the government who can control the thoughts of others, the occult-investigators of the FBI are more concerned with delusions of satanic conspiracies. These FBI Deviant Hunters, blacklist agents of Hoover's occult investigation section, often possess psychic abilities themselves. In their own terms, they're warlocks (though whether or not they're aware of these supernatural/psychic abilities is uncertain). Because of their obsession with the paranormal, their psychic powers often take the form of supernatural abilities mimicking monsters of folklore and film.
FBI Deviant Hunter
Supernatural Aura - Whatever form the particular Deviant Hunter takes, be it some variation of werewolf or vampire or some other folkloric creature, they all seem to possess an unnatural aura. The weak-minded obey them without question, animals fear them, and their powers of intimidation are downright spooky.
Monstrous Transformation - The secret occult agents of the FBI are capable of turning into the very creatures they believe they’re hunting. In their monstrous forms, they have all the powers ascribed to them by myth. This usually ranges from the beast-man form with enhanced physical abilities and senses to the shapeshifting powers and blood sucking parasitism of the vampire.
Monstrous Weakness - For all their powers, the FBI Deviant Hunters are some of the few psychics that actually have accessible weaknesses. Even when they are not in their monstrous forms, they have the same Achilles heels of the creatures of folklore they are impersonating.
There are worse psychic threats to humanity and the American way of life out there than a rogue FBI. Dangerous Deviants take all forms and exhibit a wide range of abilities, motivations, and weaknesses...
Dangerous Deviant, Cult Leader
Mass Hypnosis - Using a combination of hallucinogenic drugs and a hypnotic chant, this sinister cult leader can make large crowds of weak-minded individuals veritable zombies, slaves to the will of their master. Once these commands are implanted, they will follow even outside their master’s influence, until the effect wears off or they are forcibly deprogrammed.
Prince of Lies - Using the same post-hypnotic ability, this master cultist can implant illusions into even the strongest Sanctioned agents’ minds. What once were harmless objects will appear to be leering specters, like a handgun that seems to turn into a snake in the investigator’s hand. These are merely illusions, and the stronger your will, the less actual effect on your body they can take.
Supernatural Weakness - This psychic’s supposed “inner-demon” is based on the greatest demon of them all: Lucifer himself. As such, this Dangerous Deviant and his thrall consider holy symbols and objects of faith their bane. Displaying a crucifix prominently or splashing the psychic will holy water can have catastrophic effects on both the powers and their user.
Dangerous Deviant, Opportunist
Escape Artist - This Deviant is out for material gain and human influence, and his powers reflect that. Sanctioned has faced Deviants who could freeze time, make themselves invisible to the naked eye, or even walk through concrete walls as through empty air.
Devil’s Bargain - This Deviant is so far gone in his quest for human wealth and power that he’ll even sell the last shreds of his soul and sanity for greater psychic power. When this happens, the full might of his inner demons is unleashed in a whirlwind of destruction.
Consumed by Greed - The one thing that drives this psychic is the capitalist ideal- wealth, influence, and power. When backed into a corner, he’ll do anything from theft to mass murder in order to get it.
Dangerous Deviant, Vengeant
Rage - By giving himself over to his rage, this victim of human injustice has gained powers that can only be described as demonic. Sanctioned has covered up more than one mass murder perpetrated by a vengeful Deviant. With their minds alone, they can crush automobiles, ignite the air, or even kill with a stare into their victim’s eyes.
Berserker - This Deviant’s inner fury turns not only his mind, but even his body into a weapon. While in a frenzy, he is capable of incredible feats of athleticism and can kill with his bare hands.
Hair Trigger - The psychic is prone to fits of rage, even while in lucid periods. An injury, a threat, or the barest chance to avenge the injustices done to him will set him off.
Not all Cold War paranoia is irrational. It is inevitable that the Soviets would have their hands in the psychic phenomenon as well...
Empathy - The sole power of this self-ascribed warlock is his ability to detect and influence the emotional and mental states of the people and creatures around him. Subtle changes work best, gradually building up fear and paranoia until people turn on each other, or using it on a one-on-one basis to make people trusting and malleable.
Killer - This so-called “warlock” does not rely on his psychic abilities as his sole weapon. Like all agents of the KGB, he considers violence and murder simple tools to be used when appropriate. His clandestine contacts keep him well-stocked with concealed blades and silenced pistols.
Secret Identity - As a secret agent of the Soviet government performing espionage in the United States, this psychic possesses at least one alternate identity with American citizenship and all the paperwork to match. Should this identity be jeopardized by governmental investigations or a public confrontation with the secret operatives of Sanctioned, his life would become considerably more difficult. He will take any steps necessary to avoid such an event.
No government is above trying to exploit evil for its own ends and, in the name of preventing nuclear war, even the most bizarre experiments can seem justified. The Pentagon, while unaware of Sanctioned, has its own program to develop "psychic soldiers,” not understanding that the same paranormal abilities they seek to master swallow the souls of those who wield them...
AWOL Psychic Soldier
Superhuman - The paranormal powers forcibly accessed through the supersoldier program make their subjects virtually unstoppable. Telekinetically-boosted strength and near-invulnerability are the hallmarks of the program’s “volunteers.”
Super-intelligent - In what Pentagon scientists describe as the unlocking of the brain’s hidden potential, many of the successful subjects have mental capacities 300% times normal.
Hallucinations - The same subconscious entity or demon (metaphorical or literal) that grants the supersoldier increased intelligence also taints their mind with madness. Even the psychic soldier’s senses betray him and there’s no telling what delusions he’ll have, blurring the line between reality and hallucination until the two become indistinguishable.
Finally, is it surprising that a Deviant would take advantage of the unconstitutional witch hunt for communist sympathizers? Among those members of HUAC who are seeking the “communist conspiracy” is a doppelganger psychic who has infiltrated the ranks of the Committee’s inner circle...
HUAC Deviant Witchfinder
Doppleganger - The greatest tool of this Dangerous Deviant sleeper is his or her ability to assume the appearances of other human beings, in what those that hold to superstition would describe as the swallowing of a piece of the victim’s soul. A favorite tactic is to murder individuals and then take their entire identities over for a time, like a hermit crab going from shell to shell.
Telepath - What has those in the know truly terrified is the Witchfinder’s power to read and control minds. (Sanctioned suspects that a laundry list of senators and other officials have been turned into his puppets.) However, his abilities are not so grandiose. With a specific purpose, he or she can read the surface thoughts of others or implant minor suggestions. Though he cannot make anyone do anything they truly don’t want to do, the sad fact is that most of his victims are willing to do many terrible things.
Power Hungry - Fatal flaw to many humans and Deviants alike, the Witchfinder’s plot is a dangerous power game played with false truths and paranoia. By influencing HUAC from within and fueling the secret investigations into the psychic phenomenon, the Witchfinder jeopardizes his own existence in hopes of becoming a McCarthy level figure with authority granted willingly by fearful men.
Next Stop: The mean streets of the 1970's, to disco with the bad muthas of Sanctum Funk!