Dark Eras: Part Two

The first time I wrote about historical settings in the Chronicles of Darkness I covered things in the busy 20th century. It makes sense that this century has the highest concentration of settings since it just passed but there’s more fun to be had out there. This time, I’m delving into another crowded century: the 19th!

The Ruins of Empire

Time Period and Setting: Western Europe and North Africa at the turn of the century (1893-1924)
Gameline: Mummy: The Curse
Source: Dark Eras

Chronicles of Darkness - Mummy the Curse
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: There is so much to recommend this setting. Even if you aren’t a fan of the modern-day Mummy setting, having your game set around the turn of the century offers a lot of awesome options. Aside from being the period where “Egyptmania” was sweeping through Europe and when movies like The Mummy and stores like The Jewel of Seven Stars are set, this is the time period when many Egyptian tombs were disturbed in a very short amount of time. For a chronicle in the World of Darkness, this means a period where many of the Arisen are prematurely disturbed from their rest by insufferable British and French archaeologists in need of a good thrashing.

In addition to this being an awesome setting for Mummy, there is tons of information in this chapter. Excellent guides and timelines to Britain, France, British and French territories in North Africa, and the Ottoman Empire give you lots to work with and there is very detailed information on each of the Guilds. There are also lots of Merits  and Affinities as well as two new Utterances so even if you are running a Mummy chronicle set in 2017 you might want to check out this chapter for options.

As if all that isn’t enough, there are several pages of advice for Storytellers making chronicles in this period, three occult organizations, ten different NPCs (some with stats) both famous and original, some NPC templates, and tables for generating quick stories. This last option I think makes it a great way to quickly generate flashbacks to old Descents and I intend to use it in all eras.

The Bad: Not much comes to mind… I think the main problem for this setting is the same as for A Handful of Dust (which, incidentally, follows right after this setting as the next chapter in Dark Eras). Once you play a Mummy: The Curse game in The Ruins of Empire you may not be satisfied with a regular Mummy game again.

Lifting the Veil

Time Period and Setting: The United States and United Kingdom, 1885-1890
Gameline: Second Sight
Source: Dark Eras Companion

Chronicles of Darkness - World of Darkness
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: The Spiritualist Movement is surprisingly overlooked as a prime setting for supernatural stories and there’s a lot to recommend it to a Chronicles of Darkness game. The various big personalities, the competing societies, and the freaky consequences of nosy mortals poking around in mystical matters are all ripe for plots. On top of this, players in the World of Darkness know that there are definitely mysteries out there to be seen and that their characters are probably better off leaving those things alone… Then they have those characters dive in head first!

One thing that’s really awesome about this chapter, aside from all the background and the ready-to-go NPCs to interact with, is the collection of Initiate Merits. Several different groups in the era have membership for mediums and interested mortals and you can use these Merits to gain new skills and to have (potentially) competing interests with other PCs. I can just imagine investigating something and being able to say “Oh those guys? Yeah I play bridge with them. Here, let me show you the inner sanctum!” There’s also a great condition called Unintended Mediums which you can use to make semi-mediums out of any creature of any type in the World of Darkness, letting you make mixed parties a little more easily.

The Bad: I think one thing that’s limiting is that the Second Sight sourcebook is both short on setting info and several years old at this point. It doesn’t have any of the more recent developments with the World of Darkness line (let alone the Chronicle of Darkness stuff) and it’s age shows a bit. This is also just a snapshot of the Spiritualist movement, five years out of a century of séances and just two countries. You can extrapolate other decades and places but you won’t find info here. Not insurmountable issues, but there you are.

Victorian Lost

Time Period and Setting: London, 1890-1900
Game Line: Changeling: The Lost
Source: Victorian Lost sourcebook (WW70006)

Chronicles of Darkness - Changeling the Lost
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: Being a bigger book, there’s lots of information in here. There’s even a sample adventure and pregenerated motley! Discussions of the Courts and Seemings in Victorian England, a history of Queen Victoria’s rein, and guidelines for bringing in class issues in interesting ways all mean that the Storyteller won’t have to do a lot of extra research to bring this era to life.

This is also an awesome setting generally for Changeling: The Lost and like The Ruins of Empire for Mummy: The Curse, you should consider this even if you or your group normally isn’t interested in Changeling. Just looking at the list of inspiration sources should convince you why: Perdido Street StationThe League of Extraordinary GentlemenThe Werewolves of LondonAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Great Train Robbery, to pick a few of my favorites from the list. On top of that, there are two new Victorian kiths (Darkling Lurkers and Inventor Wizened) and new contracts so there’s stuff here for Changeling games in all eras.

The Bad: The scope of this setting is small (ostensibly Britain but really just London) and actual geography is fairly light. These are easy to remedy, particularly with some of the other settings in this series, but even if you want to set your game in London you should be prepared to do some research on your own or just not worry about the real world at all.

Blood Flows West

Time Period and Setting: Western North America, 1839-1869
Game Line: Vampire: The Requiem
Source: Ancient Mysteries ( WW 25311) and Ancient Bloodlines (WW 25312)

Chronicles of Darkness - Vampire the Requiem
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: Cowboy vampires? Like cowboys in space, this might seem like a weird mix but it’s worth taking the time. It’s challenging for vampires to set off into the wilderness and away from the protective herds and buildings of the city, but there is freedom out west and the wagon trains are promising to young Kindred with nothing to lose. The Montrose Party held fifteen vampires looking to make a difference and your players get to play those vampires, fending off animals, bandints, and the horrific native bloodline called the Sta-Au. There’s plenty of info here on running stories during the United States’ period of expansion westward so you can use this for other game lines as well.

The Bad: This is the definition of niche setting. There are fifteen vampires in the Montrose Party and their story is left vague so that you can create it with your players. If they don’t want to be in this particular setting, if you have character concepts that don’t fit the Montrose Party (or new players joining mid-story), of you want to try a second story in this same period then you’re in for some additional research. Still, the info is good and it’s an excellent framework for a one-shot or convention game.

A Fearful Lesson

Time Period and Setting: American South during Reconstruction (1863-1865)
Game Line: Beast: The Primordial
Source: Dark Eras Companion

Chronicles of Darkness - Beast the Primordial
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: The opening sentence of this chapter evokes a strong reason to try this setting out: “Reconstruction South is a postapocalyptic society.” It goes on to explain that it doesn’t resemble Mad Max or The Walking Dead but military defeat and political upheaval have shredded the foundations of society. People are desperate and scared and those are two qualities that Beasts like to take advantage of.

New Nightmares, some ready-made apexes throughout the South, and good locations all make this an interesting setting that’s ready to go. Also, since cross-setting games are the bread and butter of Beast, there are strong discussions of mages, vampires, Sin-Eaters, changelings, and werewolves in this setting as well. The chapter ends with two great chronicle seeds and story hooks from Alaska to Louisiana.

The Bad: This chapter does a great job of discussing this time in American history, including problematizing the modern conceptions of the Civil War and slavery. It doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable topics, which I like, but it is a bit of a history read. I’m guessing that, since you’re reading this list, you don’t mind learning a little more about historical topics but if your players don’t want homework you’ll have to figure out the best way to provide all this context. You also want to establish some trigger warnings in your game (perhaps using the X Card) before you start doing things like applying modifiers for race.

The Age of Treachery

Time Period and Setting: British India around 1857
Game Line: Vampire: The Requiem
Source: Ancient Mysteries ( WW 25311) and Ancient Bloodlines (WW 25312)

Chronicles of Darkness - Vampire the Requiem
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: Finally (!) after going through more than a century and a half of history we reach a setting that’s not in the U.S., Europe, or the area immediately around Europe. There’s more coming but this is an exotic jaunt if you’ve been reading through this list in reverse-chronological order (like I’ve been writing it). In 1857, the people of the Indian subcontinent rose up against their British overlords in the Great Rebellion (also, reductionistly, known as the Sepoy Mutiny) that was a huge blow to British colonialism. While it was ultimately unsuccessful it was a major clash between European expansionism and Indian independence. Likewise, the period was a clash between European and Indian vampiric bloodlines with lots of violence and territoriality to go with it.

The two bloodlines (both of them native Indian bloodlines) are great and I’m particularly fond of a small little sidebar that maps out the Vedic caste system of varnas as they apply to vampiric bloodlines, dividing bloodlines from all over the game line into brahmin and kshatriya lists (vaishya and shudra are left to individual Storytellers) so there is lots of setting information as well as mechanical involvement.

The Bad: The major problem I have with this is that I want so much more! There is lots of information here but summing up the history of an entire subcontinent (even focusing on colonialism) leaves serious holes that you’ll have to fill in on your own. It also suffers from a lack of geography (much like The Master’s Tools in the last post) so you’ll ahve to look that up too. I’m also very intrigued by the varnas mentioned above but only about half (being generous) are actually detailed so there are holes there too. All of these can be filled in by an interested Storyteller and you should probably get into the guts of this region if you want to do it justice but it does feel like the start to a setting instead of the full thing.

A Grimm Dark Era

Time Period and Setting: Germany, 1812-1820
Game Line: Changeling: The Lost
Source: Dark Eras

Chronicles of Darkness - Changeling the Lost
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: This chapter is very skewed towards mechanics over setting which is pretty awesome. New Contracts, entitlements, story hooks, freeholds, Courts, trifles, and tokens mean lots of great options for changeling characters. Setting elements of shifting cultural values, political tides, and divisive loyalties provide plenty of hooks for players to make their characters.

The Bad: When this setting was proposed in the original Dark Eras list of settings, it seemed a little flat to me. I didn’t think I needed much help coming up with information on writing changeling stories in the time of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Thinking it through, though, there is a lot of interesting politics in this era so maybe there would be fun options with those? Well, sort of. The chapter seems focused on creating fairy-tale-like stories in the setting of archetypal fairy tales, although there are some political and social discussions as well. This isn’t bad and the chapter is a lot better than I ever thought about but if you want to involve other game lines you’ll need to do some extra research.

The Year Without Summer

Time Period and Setting: Western Europe in 1816
Game Line: Promethean: The Created
Source: Dark Eras Companion

Chronicles of Darkness - Promethean the Created
Image from White Wolf Wiki, based on images © White Wolf Publishing.

The Good: Like A Grimm Dark Era above, setting a Promethean chronicle during the height of Gothic literature and artistic expression seems like a no-brainer. In the chapter description, it even mentions Mary Shelley (still named Mary Godwin during this year) as one of the iconic characters in the story of this strange year.

However, there are a lot of surprises baked into this chapter. First of all, the specific year chosen (1816) corresponds to a massive eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies (later Indonesia) which caused cooling trends across the globe and led to an entire year of low, grey skies. In this moody setting Prometheans can travel their pilgrimages in perfectly emo style while villagers with pitchforks and torches chase them along. Amid this emotionally fraught landscape there is continued search for Reason and Science which forms a second powerful theme in this chapter.

It’s also, of course, the time when the Frankenstein Lineage was born but an interesting twist to all of this is that they are replacing an earlier Lineage called the Amirani (born from a Trojan alchemist in far antiquity) which you won’t find described in this chapter. Instead, they are described earlier in the Black-Plague-era The Soulless and the Dead for vampires and Prometheans both (also in Dark Eras Companion and the subject of a future post). So rather than making Frankensteins the central figures in this setting the authors have written them as part of a struggle with a brand new type of Promethean, the old replacing the new which also underscores the themes of the setting. Genius.

The Bad: Your take on this chapter really depends on what you think about Promethean: The Created, probably the most divisive game line in the Chronicles of Darkness. If you like Prometheans (like me) this is an amazing setting that provides some awesome options for making new stories. However, if you don’t like Prometheans (I can understand why if you dislike moody, slow-paced games) then this is even worse than the original setting since things are even moodier and even slower-paced with wilderness in between. If you have players who are lukewarm about Promethean, just know that they might be even harder to sell on The Year Without Summer.

4 thoughts on “Dark Eras: Part Two

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