Continuing Burn Notice as the basis for a campaign, I wanted to continue to follow the genres presented in the True20 Revised Edition, though not in the order presented. This time, I want to look at horror.
Now I’m not much of a horror GM. I don’t really read it, watch it, or write it. Rather than horror, I’m going to go supernatural, something like an X-Files in the past, but only dealing with supernatural threats.
The stage is set by the return of Michael Weston to London on May 31, 1859, welcomed by the chimes of Big Ben. Michael had served time with the Foreign Service in British India, but was quickly disillusioned by the high-handed and often brutal policies of the East India Company. He found a mission he believed in when faced with evidence of a resurgent Thuggee cult. He helped to ferret out and confront the last of the evil cult, and this led him to some frightening places and inhuman foes.
The final straw came with the Indian Rebellion. Michael wondered if his countrymen were that much better than the murderous Thuggee. While there would have been many opportunities for him once the government of India was transferred to Britain, Michael Weston returned to England, hoping to forget the things he had witnessed.
That was not to be.
Things had been released. Spirits and demons long held in check by ancient rites and ceremonies had been awakened. Some blamed these entities for the madness apparent on both sides of Rebellion. Whatever they were, and whatever their purpose, they appeared in London just as Michael Weston arrived. Someone in the Foreign Service believes Michael is somehow tied to these supernatural manifestations. The Foreign Service declares Michael cannot leave London until the danger has been dealt with–but not by Michael. His linkage to the supernatural makes them worry.
Accompanying Michael is Sam, a disgraced doctor who found service as a regimental surgeon with the British East India Company. Michael befriended Sam in India. Sam had become inured to the suffering around him, but Michael helped him to regain his lost humanity. Sam intends to get his medical licence back, and perhaps start a practice, but as events evolve, he decides to use his connections and his skills to help Michael..
Along with Sam, Michael returns with Fiona. That is the name under which she travels, but it is not her real name. She is an ex-Thuggee, an assassin trained in secretive unarmed combat techniques. Sent to murder Michael Weston, she realized he was not a cruel slaver as she had been told, and this led to her learning the Thuggee had become nothing more than assassins for hire. Still an adherent to Kali, the Thuggee assassin took the name Fiona and became Michael’s constant companion and bodyguard. In the movie, she’ll be played by Aishwarya Rai (are you listening, Matt Nix?).
In London, Michael returned to his family’s town home. Meeting his younger sister, Natalie, he learns that his father drank himself to death, and drank the family fortunes along with the way. Natalie herself is a recovering opium addict, and is haunted by visions of ghosts, wights, and other evil creatures. Natalie believes the Foreign Service is correct, that there is a tie between Michael and the entities. With their mother declared insane and sentenced to Bedlam, Natalie and Michael have only each other.
Were I to run this game, I would adapt some of Chuck Rice’s Modern20 rules. I think I would use both Hobby and Occupations, though not Perks. I would adjust Occupations to provide extra class skills (or a bonus to existing class skills) and added benefits to certain feats. I would need to develop some Occupations and/or alter some others to suit the time period and atmosphere of the game.
I see Michael as an Expert, with an Occupation of Spy. His work in the Foreign Service was just that, spying. For Sam, another Expert, but with the Soldier Occupation. He’s a doctor, but his time has been spent in the army of the East India Company. Fiona would be, of course, a Warrior, with an Occupation of Martial Artist. Natalie would be a Psychic, with an Occupation of Urchin (as in street urchin, the Victorian version of the homeless for children)–Natalie’s not a real street urchin, but her time as an opium addict puts her in that world.
In this campaign, the small jobs that Michael does are all linked to the central problem–the rise of the supernatural and its possible ties to Michael himself. The short adventures could be hauntings or other supernatural incidents of which Michael or one of his companions learn. Each adventure should add one piece to the puzzle.
The truth is that the supernatural manifestations are not tied to Michael. The aura that sensitives note regarding Michael comes from his confrontations with the evils of Kali in India. This aura should slowly fade, and become less and less noticeable. It might seem logical that this corresponds to the supernatural threats are being eliminated, though it is actually because of the time passing since Michael faced the evil manifestations in India.
The truth is that Fiona is not the only adherent of Kali in England. Sir Nigel Whitney Gull, a physician with ties to the royal family and Freemason, returned from India just a few months before Michael. He has been ensnared by an avatar of Kali and is attempting to bring on the Kali Yuga–the time of Kali–through evil rituals. These rituals have raised the supernatural manifestations.
Sir Gull has many more connections than Michael, and is an important part of the Freemason leadership, as well as having strong supporters in Queen Victoria’s court. He should be introduced to the characters in the second or third adventure, probably through Sam–who, as the fixer, might also be a Freemason. He should always know just a little bit more than anybody else, yet prove only slightly unhelpful. The information he gives might help the characters, but it will be dated enough that it won’t really help them too much.
His plan to usher in the Kali Yuga requires specific sacrifices and a specific rituals. At least one adventure could be a kind of pre-Jack the Ripper as Sir Gull attempts to secure his sacrifices and commit the rituals. His identity is not known to those in his small cult, so even once the characters realize what is happening and avert it, they may not catch Sir Gull.
Sir Gull may continue to be an adversary even after the supernatural threats are averted. Once the cycle of rituals is broken, the threat is gone. The Foreign Service still doesn’t trust Michael, but they have work for him in London and elsewhere, as supernatural threats continue to exist, and there may be even more mundane adventures ahead. Michael might no longer be shackled to London, but he certainly won’t be able to leave England. Once the Foreign Service feels it can trust Michael, well then they might have work for him abroad.