Tuesday, June 11, 2024

First Preview of OSS Report on the Invisible College

This supplement is inspired by the scenarios that I've been running for Con of the North over the past four years. Those adventures have taken place in Poland, England and Germany, and draw upon events from history including World War II. To that end, I wanted to flesh out some of the background for this enigmatic organization.

-Nate 


History

For centuries the Invisible College has served as advisors to the kings and queens of Britain.



Henry VIII—Breaking from the Catholic Church

Although the court of King Henry VIII is not widely known for supporting academic or occult pursuits, it did bring about the break between England and the Catholic Church. That is notable for two reasons. First, until that time most of the investigation into supernatural events would have been handled by the clergy, including the Holy College of the Inquisition. Second, the dissolution of the monasteries and the confiscation of their lands, goods and other wealth by the crown, resulting in the King and his associates acquiring countless texts and relics from the Church. Given what is still known to exist in the Vatican's collection of texts and relics, it seems likely that this dissolution yielded an impressive haul.


Edward VI—A Short Reign for a Young King

Henry's son Edward became king in 1547, although the kingdom was actually run by a regency council. It was notable for removing more of the Catholic practices from the new Church of England. Edward died at age fifteen in 1553.


Lady Jane and Mary I—Disputed Claims

Following the death of Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey had a disputed reign that lasted for just nine days, and was followed by that of Mary I, who ruled for five years. Known as “Bloody Mary” among Protestants, Mary's reign saw imprisonment of Protestant leaders and efforts to bring England back to the Catholic Church.



Elizabeth I—The English Renaissance

The reign of this queen, which lasted from 1558 to 1603, saw a tremendous expansion of scholarship, art and exploration undertaken by England, one that would come to be known as the English Renaissance. In her court, the queen boasted an impressive number of luminaries: the occultist John Dee; artists like William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and Edmund Spenser; explorers like Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh, John Cabot, John Hawkins and Martin Frobisher; and others. These activities brought in information and goods from around the world, and left behind a rich legacy of art and literature. She led her people in the defeat of the Spanish Armada, too, an attempted invasion of England. This, more than any other time, seems to be the likely starting point for the secret organization known as the Invisible College.


James I and Charles I—Witch Trials and the English Civil War

This period first saw King James VI of Scotland take over the throne of England, too, where he ruled from 1603 to 1625. His reign saw a continuation of the English Renaissance. He also wrote a book called Daemonologie, which delved into the practice of necromancy, other types of divination, and the summoning and binding of demons. Notably, the book endorsed the practice of witch hunting.This monarch initiated the writing of the King James Bible, which translated that book into English for the first time. He also survived an assassination attempt known as the Gunpowder Plot.


The reign of King James in Scotland saw a number of witch trials take place, most notably those that took place in North Berwick (depicted at left). It is not known if the Invisible College approved of these activities or not, but they would continue, even spreading to Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.


James I was succeeded by his son, Charles I, in 1625. His reign is best known for the rising conflict between the royal throne and Parliament, which pitted the notion that monarchs had a divine right to rule with desire by the ministers to keep royal power in check. This eventually led to civil war in 1642, with both sides raising armies to do battle. In the end, Charles I was captured, put on trial for high treason, found guilty, and executed by beheading.


Oliver and Richard Cromwell—Interregnum

Following the execution of King Charles I, the upstart Parliament named Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector of the English Commonwealth—a republic that did not have a monarch. That raises important questions about whether the Invisible College would have continued to work with a usurper, when the purpose of the organization is believed to be advising the King or Queen of England on matters of occult or supernatural importance. It is known that Richard Cromwell succeeded his father as Lord Protector after Oliver died in 1658, but only remained in that role for about nine months, when he was deposed by military led by Royalists. Given that turn of popular opinion against the Protectors, it seems likely that the Invisible College would have remained loyal to the ousted House of Stuart.


Charles II and James II—The Restoration

In 1660, forces led by Governor of Scotland George Monck worked with Parliament to restore the monarchy, with Charles II—the son of James I—put on the throne. Unfortunately, his reign would see two unspeakable tragedies, the Great Plague of London in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666. In spite of those events, Charles II continued to develop English exploration of its burgeoning empire, by founding the East India Company and the Hudson Bay Company.


He also granted a charter to the group that would become known as the Royal Society. Known formally as the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, it was dedicated to studying the subject of natural philosophy, which would eventually come to be known as science. This is an important development for the Invisible College, because now the sovereign would be advised by those who believed in the supernatural and those who did not. Even so, it seems that some of these nascent scientists, such as Elias Ashmole, openly joined the Royal Society while also serving the Invisible College.


After the death of Charles II, his brother succeeded to the throne as James II. He was a Catholic, and the birth of his son raised the possibility of a Catholic dynasty on the throne of England. That, along with the persecution of certain Anglican Church leaders known as the Seven Bishops, led to another intervention in the monarchy, this one in favor of Protestant sovereigns that would be known as the Glorious Revolution.


Mary II, William III and Anne—The Glorious Revolution and American Colonization

Apparently the possibility of a Catholic dynasty leading England was considered to be too much of a threat; for that reason, James II was deposed, to be replaced by his Anglican daughter Mary II and her Dutch husband, William III of Orange. Although they brought troops into England, there was little open conflict, and James II went into exile. Mary and William ruled together from 1689 to 1694, when she died; his reign continued until his death in 1702. Among other developments, the English colonies in America thrived during this period.


During Queen Anne's rule, the Acts of Union, passed by the English and Scottish Parliaments, formally connected the thrones of those countries. That changed Anne's title into Queen of Great Britain—and, with that, ruler of the growing British Empire. This period also saw growing conflict with France and the indigenous people in North America, during events that would be known alternately as Queen Anne's War and the French and Indian Wars.


Four Georges and William IV—Wars in the Old World and the New

With the death of Queen Anne in 1714, succession fell to a great-grandson of King James I. This was George of Hanover, who became King George I. The Act of Succession, passed by the English Parliament in 1701, decreed that only Protestant candidates could rule, and so a German took the throne. This led to a series of attempted rebellions in favor of surviving members from the House of Stuart, known as Jacobite uprisings.


George I died in 1727 and was succeeded by his son, who became George II. George II was popular with the people, as his father had not been. His reign also saw attempted Jacobite uprisings, along with Wars of Succession on the Continent and a growing conflict with France, which is known as the Seven Years' War in Europe, and as the French and Indian War in the United States. He died in 1760.


That brought to the throne King George III, who would reign longer than his two predecessors combined. This is the King George known from the history books as having suffered the loss of his colonies as a result of the American Revolution. He also purchased the property that would become Buckingham Palace. Acts of taxation passed by his government led to discontent in the colonies, and thus to open rebellion. King George III eventually began showing signs of mental illness, and late in his reign Britain became involved in the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars.


The long reign of George III was followed by two more short ones, those of George IV and then William IV. George IV was known for living an expensive lifestyle and pursuing romantic interests that were not approved by his family. He first served as regent when his father's mental illness kept him from performing his official duties—thus putting him in charge during the two aforementioned conflicts—and then succeeded to the throne in 1820. Lifestyle choices led to physical and mental health consequences, and he died in 1830.


William IV, another son of George III, was distinguished for having served in the British Navy during the Revolution, but was also prone to pursuing relationships not approved by his family or ministers. Eventually he married Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, but once again the royal line failed to produce direct descendants. For that reason the crown would be passed to the King's niece, Victoria.


The Invisible College, the Royal Society and the American Revolution

It is relevant to note that an organization with aims parallel to those of the Invisible College, but pursuing the study of science instead of occult topics, also began to influence the English crown starting in 1660. Known officially as the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, it boasted such members as Robert Boyle, Christopher Wren, Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Hans Sloane. The Royal Society underwent a gradual change in focus, too, from including alchemy and astrology in its studies to omitting such superstitions. It is thought that this is when the Invisible College truly became separated from the Royal Society, with the prior continuing its study of supernatural events and activities.


Given that the people of the American colonies were subjects of the Crown until the Revolution, one must also wonder if any members of the Invisible College remained in this country following its gaining of independence.



Victoria—The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire

Such was the length of this queen's reign that her name became a period in history—the Victorian Era, which spanned from 1837-1901. This was a time in which the British Empire spanned from Jamaica nd Canada in the west, through territory in Africa to India and Australia in the east. There is no doubt that the Invisible College learned a great deal from the various cultures under British hegemony. Her reign saw the Great Famine in the 1840s, which led to much emigration from Ireland to America, and the birth of nine children who would become entangled in the politics of the European continent. By and large, this was a time of grown scientific inquiry and decreasing belief in the supernatural, although there were some exceptions.


Edward VII—The “Uncle of Europe”

Britain, after years of stability on the throne, saw a short reign of not quite ten years (from 1901-1910) by Edward VII—but one which saw many changes around the world, including industrialization and the rise of steam power, along with the birth of Socialism as a political movement. As an adept socialite, and through his relationships with many rules throughout Europe, Edward helped make this a generally cordial time in the history of the Continent.


George V, Edward VIII and George VI—World War I and the Great Depression

Only four years into his reign (1910-1936), King George V saw the outbreak of World War I, pitting his nation against that rules by his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. The death toll of this conflict was some twenty million people, with a like number being wounded. It was truly unprecedented in scope, being referred to (erroneously, in hindsight) as “the war to end all wars.” This also led to members of the British royal family giving up any claims to German nobility, and the reigning House of Saxe-Coburg was rechristened the House of Windsor.


After the allies defeated Germany and its allies, the ensuing peace eventually gave way to the Great Depression, which saw unimagined unemployment, poverty and hardship—and set the stage for another global conflict. When King George V died, his eldest son succeeded him as Edward VIII. He fell in love, however, with a divorced American named Wallis Simpson, and proposed marriage. This created a national scandal, and led to Edward abdicating after less than a year. His younger brother, Albert, succeeded him as King George VI at the end of 1936, and thus took the helm of the nation as it was once again being steered into a global war.


Assessment

It is believed that he, like previous sovereigns, has been advised by members of the Invisible College, in a discreet manner is consistent with that of his predecessors, and that they use whatever occult knowledge they possess to promote stability and prosperity in the British Empire. For that reason, they seem to be trustworthy allies in the coming war.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

People, Plots and Places of the Wild West: Poker Tournament

This six-page introduces a high-stakes poker tournament, with 25 competitors hoping to win it all, and others who want to claim the prize by unfair means. It is intended for use with Wild West settings using the Savage Worlds RPG. It pairs well with, but does not require, the Riverboat. 

People, Plots and Places of the Wild West: Poker Tournament



Monday, April 1, 2024

Soundtrack from an Imaginary Western

There are, of course, many great western movie soundtracks. I stumbled across this one on Youtube the other day, and quite enjoy it. The songs provide good background music without being linked to specific existing stories. 

-Nate 




Saturday, March 16, 2024

People, Plots and Places of the Wild West: Riverboat

I've been working on this supplement for a bit, and then it came together rather quickly. I am hoping that it is the first in a series. 

-Nate

"This six-page PDF includes deckplans and descriptions for a sternwheel riverboat, stats for the crew and the vessel itself, more than a dozen plot hooks, three new Hazards, and suggestions for using Dramatic Tasks and the Chase rules for races and when abandoning ship."

People, Plots and Places of the Wild West: Riverboat




Saturday, February 24, 2024

Curses!

This short PDF presents rules for using curses in the Savage Worlds RPG; a cursed relic for Treasure Hunter Adventures, the 30 Pieces of Silver; and an example of a divine curse, the city of Port Royal, Jamaica. It is intended to help celebrate Fast! Furious! Fun! February!

-Nate

Curses!

#FFFebruary


Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Highlights from Con of the North 2024

This year's convention was a lot of fun. There was one weird hiccup, about which I am still waiting to hear, but I also participated in four fun rounds. Here are the highlights, in reverse chronological order.


Sunday's Treasure Hunter Adventures Session

This was the hiccup. On Saturday night, while I was playing in a D&D Epic, I saw an email that my round for Sunday had been cancelled. That seemed odd, since I as the GM had not asked to cancel it. I went to HQ and inquired, and they created a new event for me. The players had also been emailed, however, so they did not know to look for it. Uncertain, I headed over for it on Sunday, and one of the original players—who had not checked his email—did show up for it. We chatted for a bit and then he headed off to find a game with more players.


The D&D Epic

I played in one of these last year and did not love it. That scenario was a combat meat-grinder, and not a lot of fun for me playing a new 1st-level character. This year's scenario included more options that featured roleplaying and exploration, however, which was nice. Although the DM seemed nervous, thinking that he didn't have much experience, he did a good job keeping the action moving. All in all, it was a good session!




Junk Racers

I had a chance to be the fanboy at this session. It was DMed by Matthew Hanson, who organized the Kickstarter for Graveyard of the Gods, which I backed. This was part of a scenario from that book, which can easily function as a mini-game in its own right. We played kobolds who were scavenging junk on the corpse of the dead god Annihalia in order to build our own junk racer and enter the big race. We had some solid combat encounters, and then joined the race.

That was a blast! Matthew used notecards to represent the track, and it worked well. There was plenty of maneuvering, some crashes, and a few boarding actions, and in the end the kobolds won the race!


Saturday's
Treasure Hunter Adventures Session

I am always a little nervous before I run a convention scenario for the first time. This was the case on Saturday, when I would be premiering The Dead Man's Tale, a direct sequel to last year's Infernal Devices.


I needn't have worried.


It was a pleasant surprise that all five players at the table had played in one of the two sessions from last year. All had enjoyed it enough to come back again this year, which was a good sign. Some of them even had the handouts from last year, including the one that provided a cliffhanger clue for this scenario. They deciphered the markings on the cross, realizing that X did indeed mark the spot. That led to a trek through the mountains in southeastern Germany, with the villains from last year in pursuit. Linh shot down an enemy drone, drawing a Joker and blasting it before anyone else could even react. Vaughn then modified it so that they could use it to spy on their foes, covering their backs as they ventured into a lost World War II treasure cache.


That proved fortuitous. The heroes figured out another clue, revealing the hidden vault, before recognizing that the enemy was making their move. They caught the neo-Nazi mercenaries in a wickedly bad choke point and made quick work of them. Sometimes I'll try to stretch out a combat if it seems to be going too easily, but in this case the players seemed to appreciate that their solid tactics were winning the day.



Sunday, January 14, 2024

Rock of Bral Revisited



The Astral Adventurer's Guide includes a chapter about the Rock of Bral, which consists of 7 pages detailing that asteroid city. This book, which is available in PDF format from the DM's Guild, uses 96 pages for the same purpose. Obviously, that is a lot more detail. But how has this book aged? Here are my thoughts.

  • Early on we're introduced to a Bral proverb: “Check your vendettas at the docks.” I like that this philosophy makes the asteroid city into a neutral hub for activity.

  • This book does a good job of introducing numerous factions, including more detail about the four Underbarons; information about the royal court; numerous trading companies and merchant houses; and Guilds, Societies and Orders. The DM is free to add more, but there's already a lot of detail with which to work.

  • Details about the government provide the PCs with an opportunity to become involved, if that interests the players. Those who command five or more ships are invited to join the Council of Captains, proving an in.

  • There are numbers on the map that are intentionally left without description, so that the DM can add one's own locations. In fact, there are 155 numbered locations on this map, as compared to the 30 that are mentioned in the Astral Adventurer's Guide.

All in all, this book seems like a worthy addition to a DM's resources for Spelljammer campaigns. There is game mechanics information that is out of date, but it provides a starting point from which to devise new character stats (character race, class and level, for example). The asteroid city is not affected by changes to the Spelljammer setting, meaning that most of the details in the book remain accurate.

Rock of Bral for D&D 2e