Game Pitch Outline: Night Train
High Concept: Ravenloft modern with undertones of Kult’s Metropolis meets Mission Impossible
What if Ravenloft’s Masque of the Red Death setting was modernized and mixed with Kult’s concept of Metropolis? Dark Lords dwell in a shadowy world connected to ours via places of ancient power, extreme emotion distress, and centuries of manipulation. From these domains of dread, they send their tendrils into our world to corrupt the innocent, murder the hearty, and grow their powerbase.
Into these shadows walk the heroes (or anti-heroes) of the game.
Our world intertwines with that of the Dark Lords. Whether this is due to a membrane between Earth and the Outer Dark or the Mists of Ravenloft, terrible places of extreme horror exist, fueled by the power of their Dark Lords. These places also interconnect to each other, along a membrane of sorts that is outside the space/time of Earth. Perhaps it is the Twilight of Nochnoy Dozor or the Umbra of Mage.
The Dark Lords control concepts and ideals related to their character. They can exist in the real world, but are far safer, more powerful, and much more comfortable in their shadow world. The Dark Lords fight for power in the real world, sometimes sending their armies to fight each other.
Crossing from Earth to the Dark Universe is not a task most can accomplish. Certain books and websites discuss spells and rituals which transfer one’s body from this realm to the other. However, those readings are hard to find and the components needed to complete the tasks are even harder to locate. Along the same line as using a magical ritual to transfer from here to there, gates exist which open directly to and from the other world. There are train stations where if one is there at the right time on the right day, a train will arrive from the Dark Universe, drop off riders, and pick up new riders. Lastly, the domains creep into the Earth and a person can slip between the two worlds without realizing it until it is too late.
The characters begin without foreknowledge of the Dark Universe. However, this changes in the first adventure as they gain at least a knowing glance into the shadow world. Low power-level characters are not ideal for this game. The characters should be experts in their field and preferably all part of the same organization. Members of a counter-intelligence unit or mercenaries for hire are good choices.
Depending on the scope of the game, the story will involve one Dark Lord or several.
While on the first mission of the game, the characters come face to face with low-level minions of a Dark Lord. There is no indication the minions answer to a “dark lord,” but clues exist hinting at a larger organization.
There are two directions from this point. The characters can return to their “day job” world, unsure of what just happened and continue with their lives. Alternatively, they can be burned, left out in the cold for an unknown reason. All of their contacts in their organization refuse to have anything to do with them. If they try to contact family, the family tries to avoid the characters, as if warned off. If the characters still have a “day job” after the first adventure, the second adventure results in being burned. From here, the characters have no choice but to chase shadows. If they do not, the shadows come for them.
As the characters work through mooks and minions, they climb the ladder of the conspiracy, learning more as they climb higher and higher. Eventually, they learn about the Dark Lord/s and their domain/s. As they work to gain access to the Dark Lord, or as they run in fear, they experience more of the Dark Universe. The closer to the Dark Lord they travel, the more reality seems to change. Not only are monsters real, so are magic and demonic entities. Reality takes on a different appearance the further into the shadows they travel. The only way to stop the Dark Lord/s is to take the battle to them in their realm/s.
The game becomes a series of conspyramids, interconnecting at different intervals, wrapping around the characters. The characters leap from one conspyramid to another and then back again to go up levels of the conspyramid. This is Night’s Black Agents at its fullest, most expansive level, combined with every other GUMSHOE line.
Is the Dark Lord defeated or did they escape to fight another day? What about the Dread Power which binds them to their realm?
What costs have the players paid in order to set back the Dark Lord? Have they sacrificed family or close friends? Have they become one of the monsters of the Dark Universe? Are their souls lost to the Abyss? Did any of them die? If so, is there someone effected who could take up the fight in their behalf?
§ Bare bones, the enemies are dark reflections of the heroes
§ Things man was not mean to know is a major element; actions of a person attempting to learn things that, we are told, no one should understand, such as Dr. Frankenstein or Jekyll/Hyde; potentially an ally working towards a worthy goal that ends in a tragedy
o Trying to open a “Stargate” and it unexpectedly lets in Outer Dark beings
o Drug that accelerates hearing, but creates super soldiers who go on to do bad things
o Dr. Morbius, the living vampire, was attempting to create a healing drug, took the drug to see if it would work and turned himself into a “living” vampire
o Assistant steals notes and samples to supply technology to the Dark Lord’s minions, because they have something the assistant desperately needs/wants
§ Common technology has its uses for the enemy; cellphones, means and speed of travel, knowledge available via the Internet
o Evil can use the same technology against the heroes
o If the heroes lose access to the technology, are they still strong or will they falter in battle as the enemy now has the upper hand?
o False, planted, or incorrect information/knowledge due to a wide availability of knowledge source (re: Wikipedia)
§ Traditions of Terror
o Spellcasting has consequences for the caster and may change the users, physically or mentally, a price must be paid
o Fear, horror, and madness checks and trackers
o Wandering gypsies and fortune telling
The rising in power levels, the world-spanning campaign, and the amount of combat needed to stop the Dark Lord/s in this game are not meant to make it a light-hearted campaign. In fact, the opposite is more true. Sacrifices are made to gain power levels (sanity, perhaps?). World-spanning adds a level of excitement to the game, adding flavors from James Bond, Impossible Mission Force or Man from U.N.C.L.E. In a world without the Dark Lords, these characters could be stopping drug lords and corrupt politicians. Instead, they are fighting an unseen force in shadows and alley ways.
The Dark Universe
Some places on Earth are one-and-the same with the membrane or twilight of the Dark Universe. In these places, the Dark Lords make their lairs. These places connect to each other along the membrane, via a train system. The borders between the Dark Lords’ realms function similar to the Mists of Ravenloft. Those who wander into them are unlikely to make it out alive and unchanged. Only the engineers of the trains know the way and the way is to follow the tracks. The tracks have been there for as long as anyone can remember.
The train/s takes on an appropriate appearance for the realm in which it currently resides. Passengers will not notice a change take place while onboard the train, when it passes from one realm to another. However, they will notice the change the moment they step foot on the ground of the next realm.
The types of trains include steam locomotives, subways, Els, steampunk, dieselpunk, bullet, and more.
Dark Lord Realm Examples
She is served by the Mexican Cartels. Her domains include Mexico City, barren wastelands inhabited by cartel soldiers, and the US-Mexico border. The walls surrounding this realm are fence lines and military/police who kill those who cross the border. Her power comes from human trafficking, drug running, murder, and extortion.
An overly structured city filled with concrete buildings and run by fascists. The inhabitants of the castle on the highest hill in the capital control the land. Outsiders are discouraged from visiting and often targeted for attacks by the brown coats serving the fascist leaders. The Dark Lord of the realm gains power from fear, terror, and executing outsiders. The domain consists of a perfectly functioning city, the highway around it, and the castle on the hill. Even though there are vehicles moving on the highway, it is impossible to find an entry or exit ramp onto the highway.
Dracula resides in an Eastern European Socialist State. A corrupt government that operates via a system of bribes controls the lands. The common people struggle to survive and will not help the characters, unless the characters have something to offer them (bribe?) in return. Bribes include clean water not laced with uranium, food of high quality, money in the local denomination to pay bribes for a better life, or help getting out of the country.
No matter what, the citizens cannot leave the country. The land will do what it must to stop them from leaving. Whether a military death squad arrives to kill them and take their children for trafficking, train engineers reject their paperwork, or the Dark Lord’s gypsies kill them in the night.
Somewhere, Dracula sits in his castle, brooding over his situation. His alliance with the socialists keeps the Turks at bay, but the socialists treat his people nearly as bad as the Turks would. He rarely ventures outside his castle and when he does, he often travels with his gypsies. Dracula uses the military when he does not use the gypsies.
Further Possible Dread Lords and Realms
Columbian Drug Lords
Voodoo, zombie lords, zombies, and Haiti, New Orleans, or Beaver City
European university develops super soldier serum
Middle East wars mixed with Mad Max fury
Biker Werewolves who travel the highways between realms freely (their domain is wherever they are, they are not tied to one place)
Dark technology (university or private company; Dark Conspiracy)
Misused or abused magics [Arkham, Salem, North Berwick (Scotland), Warboys (England)]
Wicked City demons
Sin City crime lords and politicians
The Purge and NFFA in L.A.
Detroit’s Devil’s Night
North American forests and the Native American monsters lurking in them