Let’s start the New Year off right with a little thing I like to call: RPG AXES OF DESIGN!
That’s axes as in axis (plural) by the way. So if anyone’s read Ken Hite’s awesome breakdown of alternate history and superhero game design in the second edition of the Wild Talents roleplaying game, you’ll know that he introduced 4 axes by which to customize one’s superhero world. They are Red (historical inertia), Yellow (Talent or superhuman inertia), Blue (the lovely and pointless randomness of superhero universes), and Black (moral clarity). Revving all these up to maximum mimics a 4-color silver age superhero universe. A happy accident. Or is it? Finding inspiration, I decided to make two more axes useful for an Urban Fantasy or Dark Mystery Roleplaying setting ala World of Darkness or something similar. They are Community (social bonds and common culture) and Exposure (how hidden you are from the normies). These aren’t hard guidelines so much as they are guide posts. Enjoy!
Every differently powered or species fluid person, if they are social creatures or at least somewhat based on human thought patterns, will look for others of their ilk. Given the right circumstances and enough time and numbers; beasts, creatures and monsters can form some semblance of community with each other either for protection or just to have someone (or something) to talk to during those long lonely nights.
Community 1- Your kind are so rare, you wonder if you are the only one of you on Earth. Perhaps you only appear once a generation or every hundred years. If you live in a large city you may know another with your condition or have a mentor showing you the ropes. Maybe in the wide world there only a handful of you. Or maybe there are legions of you, but you are territorial and prefer to be left alone. Regardless, there is no common culture or communal bonds to speak of. You deal primarily with your immediate surroundings and your own interests.
Community 2- There are enough of you that you gather in small groups. In a city of a million or more, two or three groups are common but there is no overarching structure to it. You are the equivalent of a support group, or at most a familial clan or a compact of like minded individuals. In a wider region, a number of groups may gather together to deal with a crisis, but it is a once in a lifetime type of gathering. Cultural norms are enforced with unspoken rules or committees of vigilance in the worst cases.
Community 3- You are numerous enough that in a large city or populous rural area, multiple groups will form a council or wide reaching organization to handle regional affairs. Laws are codified and less reliant on the honor system but only the worst offenses will bring community judgment down on the offenders. The communal and social bonds of your kind aren’t strong enough to overcome national, ethnic or religious identities, but there is a sense of responsibility for one another that is hard to ignore. Regional politics take up most of your time but in a dire crisis of a national scale, normally isolated polities will join forces to address it.
Community 4- There are enough of you that secret societies on the higher end and black markets on the lower end can be found in every major city. Hidden infrastructure is common with secret clubs, underground bars and dedicated safe houses where you can let it all hang out. Part time and volunteer law enforcement is more prevalent as internal policing becomes a necessity. Regional councils meet regularly to discuss national affairs and decide policy that affects your kind across the country. If they are aware of other polities outside their borders at all, they tend to ignore them, focusing on internal matters.
Community 5- Shadow government. Secret nation. These are fitting descriptions for your society at this stage. Perhaps your kind doesn’t deal with mundane governments at all, or if they do it is only through a dusty old Department Secretary or Minister who files a report every once in a while. Maybe you live side by side with humankind in an invisible mirror world reflecting the mundane back outwards. Or maybe, your world isn’t invisible at all. Institutions such as schools, hospitals, and police forces are possible at this level and social responsibilities are strong enough that they can constitute a second life.
The world of humans is a dangerous place even for you. Sure you have tons of muscle, or diamond tipped claws. Maybe you even know how to sling a spell or two. People are more dangerous still. They became the apex predator of the whole of Earth for a reason. No matter how deadly you think you are, they’ll find a way to kill you. See the European Lion or American Bison. So what’s a monstrous non-human to do? Hide. Walk among them like wolves among sheep. Keep your kind out of sight and maybe you’ll live to see another sunset.
Exposure 1- You are a virtual unknown. Whether this is due to your rarity (Bigfoot problem) or secrecy (the Masquerade Solution) no one in the mundane world is aware of your existence. There’s not even a name for you in the common tongue. If you appear in media at all, it is as a blurry photo or grainy YouTube video.
Exposure 2- The Masque is slipping. Your existence, spoken of in hushed whispers, is known but only to the outermost fringes of society. Rumors and urban legend are the extent of your exposure and you occupy the same space as the most niche of cryptids and legendary creatures. Skepticism is enough of a defense at this level that mundane authorities will generally ignore you. Your hunting grounds are left alone with only hunters of the “pick-up truck cavalry” variety or SWAT responding to a strange domestic disturbance being the most of your worries.
Exposure 3- Whether due to your numbers or a shift in politics that make your kind care less if the normies know, the Lie is falling away. Select populations, ethnicities and cultures are aware enough of you that they speak of you in folklore and old wives tales. In the public consciousness, you are the equivalent of Yetis, Chupacabras and Moth man. Mundane authorities have a harder time dismissing your kind outright. Swamp gas can’t make entire families or towns disappear, after all. However, only the sharpest or most paranoid officials are clued in to your existence and conspiracies within military, government or civilian agencies are not an uncommon response to your kind.
Exposure 4- You have made a mark on culture and walk alongside vampires, ghosts and werewolves in the public imagination and there are enough sightings that enthusiasts believe in your existence outright. There are official government agencies tasked with dealing with you. It could be a known entity with a secret branch like the DOJ’s Bureau of Mystical Inquiry or a black budget operation like Project Monolith. Either way, someone is typing up memos in D.C. whenever your world and theirs collide and it takes some effort not to slip into a higher exposure level.
Exposure 5- At best you’re an open secret. At worst, your world and theirs are irrevocably changed by direct knowledge of you. Maybe the mundane world doesn’t care, treating you like a coelacanth, a living fossil that’s been rediscovered. Maybe you have your own Starbucks flavor. Or you represent an existential threat to humanity and World War Weird begins in earnest. Your societies may live in parallel to one another and you each mind your side of the fence, or perhaps you all live squished together in one big fantasy kitchen sink. Either way, nothing is sure to remain the same after the “Big Reveal”!