Sanctum: Gaslightby Dan Bayn
Sanctum: Gaslightby Dan Bayn
During the last half of the 1800's, the British Empire dominated the world. Her naval and mercantile fleets filled the seven seas. Her business interests, like the East India Trading Company, plundered entire continents. Her scholars unearthed ancient secrets that captured the imagination of the West. London was truly the axis around which the world turned.
The works of Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker exemplify this period's fascination with the occult and fear of unchecked scientific advancement. A wave of spiritualism passed through Europe and American, fueled in large part by new discoveries in Egypt and Asia. Mystery cults like the Order of the Golden Dawn sprang up like weeds. Elements of what we'd call "steampunk" do appear from time to time, but technology is cast in the role of villain far more often than savior. This is the age of Jekyll & Hyde and Jack the Ripper, the golden age of monsters.
Later, pulp authors would add swashbuckling adventure to the Victorian mix. In 2002, Alan Moore reinvented Victoriana's most vile monsters as reluctant heros in "The League of Extraordinary Gentleman," and Steven Sommers crossed Dracula's Doctor with Solomon Cane in (the ultimately disappointing) Van Helsing film. Thus, it has also become the golden age of monster-hunters.
This creates a modest challenge for Sanctum: Gaslight games, because horror and action require very different things from their protagonists. To create fear, player-characters must be relatively powerless, while high adventure calls for great and mighty heros. In order to accommodate both, you should split your antagonists into two power levels; your PCs should be much more powerful than average folks, but at least slightly less powerful than your monsters and other villains. (Action games with mook rules are well-suited to this.)
Adventures should revolve around supernatural investigations, political intrigue, or both. Locations should be as far-flung and exotic as you can manage. Castle ruins, moonlit graveyards, gothic cathedrals, high society galas, and midnight train rides are all great places to make with the fisticuffs! The task of spying on a French dignitary might take your heros from Paris to the Ivory Coast to Indochina and back again! Ridding an English town of a ghost could require visiting the Great Pyramids or an African witch doctor. Even a simple business trip could lead you into the dark heart of India or the Forbidden Kingdom. The world by gaslight is still a vast and mysterious place.
Her Majesty's SanctumIn the Victorian Age, Sanctum is a decidedly British institution. Headquartered in London, it shares many of its members with the Royal Navy and British Museum. Though its mandate is the eradication of warlocks in general, it tends to pursue that goal at times and places that serve the political and economic interests of the Empire. (In other words, operatives who want to take out a warlock who's disrupting a competitor of East India Trading might be told to hold off for a while... even if it means letting more bodies pile up!)
On the up side, it also means that Sanctum has virtually limitless resources and political clout in most corners of the world. Need passage on the fastest ship from Shanghai to Berlin? Her Majesty's got you covered. Local authorities trying to keep you out of that forbidden temple? Let Her Majesty talk to 'em alone for a minute. She's everywhere you wanna be!
The Clockwork Cyborg
Her Majesty keeps this ace scientist on retainer for his, shall we say, "utility." After a laboratory fire left him crippled, he designed and built mechanical replacements for his right arm and eye. The upper arm is a hollow casing that conceals a collection of interchangeable appendages. (I recommend letting players invent them on the fly, but a sword blade and a robotic hand are must-haves!) His eye is a miracle of applied optics that lets him magnify images, see in the dark, and even perceive certain "supernatural" spectra. He believes that science is mankind's best weapon against warlocks.
This Indian mystic came to Sanctum's attention after he helped track down a Thuggee cabal that was murdering British soldiers by the dozen. Trained by gurus, he has a mastery of the flesh that allows him to withstand extreme pain, hold his breath for extended periods, survive freezing temperatures, and perform "magical" feats from conjuring fire to lying on a bed nails. His knowledge of Hindu religion and occult practices has proven invaluable on numerous occasions, though his loyalties are cause for concern within Sanctum's more paranoid (and bigoted) circles.
The Spirit Medium
Unlike the hundreds of other spiritualists who infest London's lounges and parlours, this soft-spoken Englishwoman actually can communicate with the dead. This is usually accomplished by entering a deep trance, during which the spirits of the dead speak with her voice or write by her hand. However, particularly powerful spirits may speak to her via telepathy or assail her with waking visions. She is also a skilled hypnotist who has recovered many of her own past life memories; they have made the crucial difference in more than one Sanctum investigation.
The Gentleman Alienist
The new science of psychoanalysis has shed light on the darkest corners of the human mind. Its practitioners are employed by Her Majesty's Sanctum to track warlocks and trap them by manipulating their base urges. This student of the psyche prefers the term "alienation" to "madness." He gets inside his target's mind, deciphers their motivations, and baits them with their darkest desires. He is more than capable of defending himself with his trusty walking stick, but physical violence is not his greatest concern. When you stare too long into the abyss...
His father raised quite a ruckus in the 1830's, terrorizing London with his lascivious attacks and acrobatic escapes. Sanctum thought he was a warlock, but the source of his powers turned out to be a circus tent. Jake is Spring-Heeled Jack's son and the proud owner of a pair of specially modified boots. After years of training, he can use them to leap across rooftops and deliver bone-crushing kicks. He's also a master of the flame, able to breath and eat fire with equal ease. Thanks to his dad's connections, he is gainfully employed as a Sanctum field agent who specializes in pursuit and capture.
Victorian WarlocksVictorians, by and large, were an extremely repressed people. Powerful social mores regulated their behavior in everything from business to romance. There is no better environment for giving birth to warlocks! The temptation to sin can become overwhelming and, once a Victorian breaks one rule, their lives as proper citizens are over. Why not make it worth their while?
Like most middle-class Victorian women, Jacqueline was raised to be polite, pleasant, and utterly passive. Is it any wonder that she found recovering her past lives as a man so exciting? Is it so hard to understand her desire to take an active role in her husband's antique business? Apparently, it was far too difficult for Mr. Hyde. When he tried to beat her back in line, Jacqueline snapped. She murdered her husband and, under the influence of her demons, she cooked and ate him.
Now, Jacqueline Hyde is three people. As herself, she lives a life of quiet repose in downtown London. As her husband, she runs her own business and consorts with prostitutes down by the docks. As the hulking, demonic brute the papers call "Behemoth," she eliminates business rivals, witnesses, and anyone who looks at her cock-eyed!
It is in this last form that Sanctum operatives are most likely to encounter Jacqueline; her savage exploits are making headlines all over England. In addition, her dear departed husband dabbled in the black market for arcane relics and forbidden texts. He was well known to Sanctum as both friend and foe, but Jacqueline's act of cannibalism gave her none of those memories. She won't know her husband's Sanctum contacts from Adam!
Kali's Savage Hand
To say that Englishmen are not very popular in India would be a Herculean feat of understatement. A cult of Kali-worshipping assassins called the Thuggee are among the most active insurgents; they strangle travelers with silken cords and offer their souls to Kali. If those souls are British, all the better.
Kali's Savage Hand is the cult's primary enforcer. "Those who cross the goddess will be struck down by her savage hand!" He is little more than an attack dog: driven by his bloodlust, but leashed by the cult for its own purposes. The penultimate predator, he slips through even the tightest security and dispatches his targets with a single strike. Thuggee who turn traitor, witnesses who can't stay silent, Brits who get too close to the truth... the Savage Hand slaughters them all.
Sanctum operatives in India will likely run afoul of Kali's Hand, either because they're agents of the British Empire or because they're screwing around with local magicians. The Savage Hand might also leave India to pursue a fleeing target or recover a stolen relic related to Kali. Of course, if the operatives are assigned to help exterminate the Thuggee, Kali's Savage Hand will be their single greatest opponent!
The Victorian age also gave birth to the serial killer. For modern audiences, collecting forensic evidence and puzzling out a killer's sick motives are old hat, but they were revolutionary ideas in the 1880's! Recapturing that delicious sense of dread will require putting a new spin on this old villain... like turning him into a soulless demon seed with dark, supernatural powers!
When your players start hearing about murdered prostitutes in Whitechapel, the first thing they'll think is "Insane Member of the Royal Family!" When the police stonewall their investigation at the request of someone powerful, it'll look like they're right, but it's not the Crown that's covering for the killer... it's the Church of England!
The man known as "The Reaper" is a high-ranking Anglican minister who was driven insane by the confessions of prostitutes, pimps, and murderers. In his despair, he became a dark mirror for their self-directed guilt. He doesn't want to hurt anyone, but his inner demons compel him to give people the punishments that, deep down, they believe they deserve. Sanctum operatives who tangle with the Reaper will have to be on their guard, for he will become their own Death Wish incarnate!
The Dead Man
Dr. Byron's techniques may not be as advanced as Dr. Frankenstein's, but what he lacks in expertise he makes up for in connections. With the backing of numerous European investors, he has "harvested" entire African villages for his hideous experiments, creating patchwork automatons out of flesh and steel. Unfortunately, the creation of true sentience has eluded him. He cannot reconstruct the soul.
In return for sparing his life, a witch doctor promised to help imbue his next automaton with a soul. Instead, he brought forth only the demons bound to the souls of Byron's "raw materials"... and they wanted vengeance. The zombie warlock spent several days dissecting its creator while the shaman looked on.
Now, the Dead Man is butchering his way across two continents, hunting down Byron's other automatons and making his financial backers pay for his crimes. Anyone who stands in his way will face a seven-foot tall, jungle warrior with iron bones and unlimited endurance, who does not need to eat, sleep, or breath. Even if they're equal to the challenge, should they stop him or help him?
The man who inspired "Dracula" is no vampire. He is a mesmerist and a warlock who seduces vulnerable women to satisfy his demonic lust. With nothing more than the power of his voice, he can place his victims into a trace state where they believe any delusion he cares to place in their minds. Women, he simply disinhibits by telling them they are under his control or overcome with passion. Afterwards, he suppresses their memories and plants post-hypnotic suggestions he can exploit later on.
With men, he takes a different approach. He preys on their fears and superstitions by making them believe he has all manner of supernatural powers: shapeshifting, invisibility, flight, invulnerability, anything that inspires his flare for the dramatic. On those rare occasions when his back is against the wall, he suggests to his attackers that he can be killed by something harmless, like sunlight or holy water. Once they've delivered their delusional coup de grace, he simply walks away.
His monstrous reputation has spread from Romania to the British Isles. Numerous bounties have been placed on his head and even more numerous monster hunters have set out to capture him. Sanctum operatives should believe they are chasing the most formidable warlock ever to prowl the night. In a way, perhaps they are.
Next Stop: Imperial Rome, to rage against the dying of the light!