Sanctum: The Burning Timesby Vasco Brown
Sanctum: The Burning Timesby Vasco Brown
Sanctum: The Burning Times
by Vasco Brown
I've been collaborating with Vasco on Black Powder: A Wushu game of Faith and Reason in the Age of Alchemy. It's a weird West setting inspired by the likes of Trigun and Full Metal Alchemist. He brings that same knack for blending eclectic genres to this Halloween installment of Sanctum. It's witches, pirates, and zombies in colonial America...
The 17th century is a time of faith, conflict, and intellectualism. The Americas burgeon with wealth, danger, and savage adventure. European empires have staked their chances for expansion and prosperity on the abundant resources of these rich, new lands. To that end, plantations and haciendas dot the colonies of the Caribbean, as slaves and indentured servants toil to reap all wealth of minerals and natural resources that can be found.
The realm of academia is experiencing an explosion of rationalism in the form of the Scientific Revolution — roughly beginning with the cosmological works of Kepler and Galieo, and ending with the publication of the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton in 1687. All over Europe, individuals are relying more and more on reason and evidence to explain the phenomena of the natural world.
However, danger is everywhere. Bloodthirsty pirates roam the high seas in search of fortune, disrupting trade and plundering the wealth of the Caribbean. Meanwhile, the civil and religious conflict of the Thirty-Years war rages all across Europe. Resources like The Count of Monte Cristo, Cutthroat Island, Pirates of the Caribbean and the many Musketeer films capture the mood of these turbulent yet optimistic times.
Yet, the age is also shrouded in darkness. Mass hysteria fuels waves of witch hunts that claim the lives thousands of men and women accused of black magic, werewolfery, and satanism. Alien monsters and blood-thirsty savages haunt the hearts and minds of colonists cut off from the civilized world. See films like Ginger Snaps Back, The Village, and Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow for particularly atmospheric examples.
Against this backdrop, Sanctum struggles to protect civilization from the secret threat of Warlocks and their demons.
With the Renaissance's afterglow of unbridled optimism sparking renewed faith in human nature and faculty, Sanctum enjoys one of the most unhindered periods in it’s long history. Almost without exception, Sanctum operates with the auspices of the European monarchies and churches. Sanctum’s agents rub elbows with courtly nobility, lead exploratory voyages, and act as expert royal researchers and consultants. In exchange, they gain the heedful ears of various royal thrones. All the while, these dedicated souls forge ahead in their self-appointed duty to root out Warlocks, in worlds both Old and New.
The Scientific Revolution radically changed the way men look at the world around them. Unwilling to be limited to ‘traditional’ sciences — such as philosophy, chemistry, and physics — Sagarash takes his research a step further by combining these fields with ancient mysticism and arcane symbology. He leaves no stone unturned in his pursuit of the true and secret nature of the universe. Still a man of reason, the he approaches all his work with methodical dedication.
Whether buccaneer, freebooter, corsair, or privateer, the pirate is a man of the sea and a seeker of ill-gotten fortune — usually the well-earned fortune of others. Dominican Pete has done it all, sailed on every pirate vessel this side of the Atlantic. He has yet to secure a ship of his own, but often helps smuggle Sanctum operatives (and prisoners!) on those he crews. His uncanny knowledge of sailing, trade routes, and secret ports makes him a force to be reckoned with on high seas.
Father Michael Mendoza
The Catholic Church is second only to Sanctum itself in its steadfast opposition to the demonic menace. By the colonial period, its efforts have been codified into several witch-hunting organizations, most notably the Grand Inquisition. Its operatives are the product of one thousand years of hard-won experience.
This run-away slave used to be a powerful mambo, a Vodun priestess. Then, she discovered the true nature of demonkind. She still practices the sympathetic magic some call "hoodoo," but she no longer prays to the Loa. Instead, she hunts monsters who would usurp their names and prey upon those who still have faith.
Thou Shalt Not Suffer...
Even with the tremendous growth of rationalism and scientific theory, fear of witchcraft and the supernatural is only beginning to ebb from an all time high. Publications like the Malleus Maleficarum — detailing the existence, practices, and detection of witches — still circulate among the common folk, buoyed by popular interest in remedies against black magic.
Accusations of witchcraft are not uncommon, as are the witch-hunts, trials, and burnings associated with them. Most often, these poor souls are guilty of no more than espousing unorthodox religious beliefs — such as the Cathars or Templars — or the practice of simple folk rituals. Unfortunately, for every several dozen false accusations, a true Warlock walks free.
In the Caribbean, Warlocks thrive among the sincere practitioners of Vodun: the synthesis of African animist tradition and Roman Catholicism. While some Warlocks are sincere in their belief that they are truly serving the Loa, or great spirit-deities, others are fully aware of the infernal nature of their powers.
By any measure, the destruction of one's soul is a life-shattering experience. Some handle it better than others. This houngan (a Vodun priest) suffered a severe psychotic break; his human personality was completely devoured by his demons, but they were in turn consumed by his religious beliefs. He has become the personification of Baron Samedi, the Vodun loa of death and fertility. His face is gaunt and pale, skull-like, and he wears the Baron's signature top hat and walking stick. He has the power to raise zombies, commune with the dead, and kill with a touch.
When her husband died - he was a French aristocrat of one sort or another - Madame Blackwood moved to New Orleans to start her life anew. Unfortunately, her newfound sense of liberation won her few friends and she eventually retired to a small cottage far beyond the city limits. Tales of her bizarre practices and pagan beliefs spread through the surrounding farmland like a contagion and now the locals curse her name for every wilted crop or barren sow. It's only a matter of time until some crusading pastor tries to put her to the stake, but is she really a Warlock?
Haunter of the Gale
Dark clouds and howling winds always precede him. If you see his ghostly vessel on the horizon, one thing is for certain: you will never see another sunrise. No one knows exactly what he and his skeletal crew are searching for, but they always ask their victims, right before they kill them, "Where is it hidden?" The only man to have survived an encounter with these demons gave with the following answer: "Six feet under."
The Green Man of the Woods
Isolated covens of red-haired witches all across the New England colonies worship a mysterious figure who the ignorant mistake for the devil himself. Numerous attempts have been made to exterminate him. All have ended in rivers of innocent blood. The trees and beasts of the untamed forest murder at his command, sparing only red-haired women, whose affections he seems to crave. One day soon, hysteria will grip the locals once again and they will descend upon the woods en masse. On that day, either the Green Man will meet his end or an entire colony will be devoured by the wild.
Next Stop: The not-so-distant future for a Twilight Apocalypse!