Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Black Stars

Here's a write-up for the Black Stars, a secret occult branch of the United States Marshal Service that's introduced in the comic series Shadow Roads.


While most of the people who live in the American West know about the United States Marshals, not so many are familiar with a special branch of that organization, known as the “Black Stars,” that specializes in the investigation of supernatural activities. It is that agency, then, that this supplement explores.

It is commonly known that the US Marshal Service was created by an executive order of President George Washington, singed on 24 September 1789; its purpose was to support the federal court system, arresting suspects, escorting them to trial, and helping maintain order in that broad western territory that lacked any other form of organization. Even so, the powers that be quickly realized that certain happenings required special attention, ones that seemed to have been influenced by supernatural power. With that in mind, the Service appointed a special branch—unknown to most of its other members, and referred to as the Black Stars—to investigate such matters. Their business has included some of the following events.
  • There are still rumors and recriminations regarding accusations of witchcraft in the Salem settlement, ones that led to numerous trials and even executions of purported witches. While some argue that this was nothing more than hysteria fueled by conflict between the settlers, others maintain that demonic forces were called into play.
  • What is more, the notable New England theologian and minister Cotton Mather maintains that the city of Port Royal in Jamaica was devastated by an earthquake in 1692—the same year in which the Salem witch trials took place—because of God's wrath against immoral lifestyles. If that's true, then it becomes important to protect America against such divine retribution.
  • The disappearance of the Roanoke Colony in 1585 is another subject of ongoing investigation, with questions lingering about whether the desperate colonists were assimilated into the local native tribes, or if something more sinister might have taken place.
  • Stories also persist regarding ghosts that haunting of various locations around the United States, especially battlefields where important engagements took place. One such is the spirit of a British spy hanged in New York, and another is that of a Hession mercenary decapitated in battle not far from there.
  • In the same vein, tales tell of ghostly ships that haunt various harbors through the land; it remains to be determined just what unfinished business they have to resolve.
  • A special agent has been assigned the task of investigating the American Indians and their religious practices, especially their beliefs regarding something known as the Ghost Dance, which could greatly upset the American settlement of the western frontier.
  • The same goes for the traditional beliefs brought over from Africa by captures slaves, and especially regarding the tradition known as Voodoo.
  • The strange mounds of Cahokia, created by native people but without any recorded history, are another subject of inquiry. Just who built them, and what might they contain?
  • Recently the Black Stars have also begun to investigate something known as the Winding Way, an otherworldly realm that connects different places on Earth—as well as, some argue, other times in history. The American Indians seem to be able to access it through their rituals, and African Americans talk about places known as Crossroads where it connects to this world, but so far little is known about it for certain.

A Black Stars District Office
Members of this special branch of the U.S. Marshals Service use a number of different facilities in which to conduct their business, and so the building depicted in the map above as well as the following area descriptions should only be used as one example. Each of these offices is located in the center of a particular district, including at least one for each state of the Union, as well as for special jurisdictions such as the District of Columbia. Note that territories not yet granted statehood must make due with small frontier offices, as detailed below. 

A typical District Office is a two-story structure with windows only on the upper story and, as shall be discovered, an underground level. Inside the stout front door is a reception desk (1). That room is flanked by others lined with bookshelves (2), where the Marshals keep their records, and directly behind it is a small study with a desk and chairs. In the rear of the building is the Deputy Marshal's private office (3) along with the staircases that connect the three floors. 

On the upper story are private rooms for the Deputy Marshal and any special investigators that the Service employs (5), each furnished with a bed, wardrobe, desk and chair. There's also a small but functional kitchen (6) and pantry (7). 

The basement is where prisoners are kept. There's a waiting area (8) where guards stand duty and prisoners can be interrogated. Four cells with barred doors (9) line the walls, and there's a privy in which prisoners can take care of their personal needs (10).

The Frontier Marshal's Office
Refer to the map above for the following location descriptions. Most Marshal's offices are relatively small structures, a single story in height. This particular one is thirty feet on a side and built from wood. The building's front room (A) is fifteen feet square, with a desk for the Marshal himself and a couple of filing cabinets. There are also comfortable chairs for those who are waiting to discuss legal matters. From there, one door leads into the deputies' office (B), with a desk and chair for each person who serves in that role. Finally, a hallway behind both those rooms provides access to three cells (C), each furnished with a small cot and a stout, barred door suitable for holding prisoners.

Presented here are stats for Black Stars of varying ranks.

US Marshal Recruit (Novice)
New recruits to the U.S. Marshal Service tend to be well-rounded individuals, jacks of all trades but masters of none—but ones who can quickly learn what they need to know in the field to do their jobs, investigating crimes and bringing wrongdoers to justice.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d6, Investigation d6, Knowledge d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d6, Riding d6, Shooting d6, Streetwise d6
Charisma: --, Pace: 6”, Parry: 5, Toughness: 5
Edges: Alertness
Hindrances: Code of Honor
Gear: Suit, pocket watch, gun belt, Stetson hat, badge, folding knife (Damage Str + d4, -2 to be noticed), Colt Peacemaker (Range 12/24/48, Damage 2d6+1, RoF 1).

Deputy US Marshal (Veteran)
Those recruits who prove their mettle tend to learn more about the various fields in which the Black Stars make their inquiries, becoming practiced both in studying ancient texts as wells as working a crowd to learn about nefarious doings.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d8, Investigation d8, Knowledge d8, Notice d8, Persuasion d6, Riding d6, Shooting d6, Streetwise d6
Charisma: --, Pace: 6”, Parry: 5, Toughness: 5
Edges: Alertness, Brave, Combat Reflexes, Combat Sense, Connections, Dodge
Hindrances: Code of Honor
Gear: Suit, pocket watch, gun belt, Stetson hat, badge, folding knife (Damage Str + d4, -2 to be noticed), Colt Peacemaker (Range 12/24/48, Damage 2d6+1, RoF 1).

Andrew Llewellyn, Chief Deputy US Marshal for Special Investigations (Legendary)
The head of the Back Stars has seen a lot of things in his time, and has proved himself in battle against forces of which most people are unaware. While he himself cannot utilize any of the magical power that he has witnessed, he is familiar with the eldritch traditions of Europe, Africa and America. What is more, he has command over the other members of his organization, and as such is a formidable foe for those who might use magical powers for evil purposes.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d10, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d8, Investigation d10, Knowledge d10, Notice d10, Persuasion d6, Riding d6, Shooting d6, Streetwise d10
Charisma: --, Pace: 6”, Parry: 5, Toughness: 6
Edges: Alertness, Brave, Combat Reflexes, Combat Sense, Connections, Dodge, Followers, Reputation, Scholar, Tough as Nails
Hindrances: Code of Honor
Gear: Suit, pocket watch, gun belt, Stetson hat, badge, folding knife (Damage Str + d4, -2 to be noticed), Colt Peacemaker (Range 12/24/48, Damage 2d6+1, RoF 1).

Special Agents
In addition to those agents who investigate supernatural goings-on with the usual range of knowledge, the Service employs agents who are studied in all of the arcane schools, including Shamanism, Sorcery and Voodoo. Some suggestions from other supplements include the following characters.
  • Manuela Gonzalez, the bruja, as detailed in the scenario “Reversal of Fortune,” is a good example of a sorcerer.
  • The same is true with Jacques Lemaire, the bokor who masterminds the daring riverboat raid in that adventure, for a Voodoo practitioner.
  • Mama Celeste, who is detailed in “Bad Medicine,” presents a less aggressive representative of a mamba (another practitioner of Voodoo).
  • The supplement “Native People of the American Frontier” presents numerous templates for Indian shamans, ranging from Novice through Legendary characters.

Plot Hooks
The Black Stars could be interested in all of the following business.
  • There have been sightings of undead in the American south, such as the restless corpses of defeated Confederate soldiers, as detailed in “Ill-Gotten Gains.”
  • Some inhabitants in the quiet little settlement known as Smith's Crossing have started to suspect that the town is a little too peaceful, perhaps because of some unwholesome influrence, a matter that is described in “Bad Medicine.”
  • Rumors persist about attacks against outlying farms and even Indian camps not far from there, as detailed in “Blood on the Snow.”
  • Rumor has it that a powerful arcane text lies buried beneath a burned-out ruin located somewhere in the American southwest; refer to “Buried but not Dead” for more details about that location and relic.
  • There's also the matter of some prized artifacts—weapons, shields and religious items—being taken from the native people and put on display by an Eastern collector, as described in “Restless Spirits.”
  • The actors and actresses of the New World Theater in Galveston, Texas are suspected of involvement with eldritch rituals of their own, which they conceal amid the action of their staged dramas, as detailed in “Diablerie.”
  • Tales tell of an onyx mirror—a Mayan artifact that can see into different places, times and possibilities—located somewhere on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico; refer to “South of the Border” for more information.
  • Should one of the PCs or their allies be arrested by the Black Stars, then those who remain free might be obligated to stage a jailbreak.
  • When a notorious prisoner is being transported by train to face trial back east, associates of that criminal try to prevent the delivery.
  • It's always possible that a special investigator, Deputy Marshal or even Chief Deputy Marshal goes rogue, collecting relics and lore from around the country but then using them for some evil purpose—in which case the PCs might need to break the law in order to do right.

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