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Interworld: THE MODERN AGE Game Master's Notes


Rodford Edmiston


_The Modern Age_ is a gaming module which attempts to reproduce the feel of the pulp magazines, movie serials, adventure comic strips and early super hero comics. In the world it describes, there are mystery men in strange costumes, crusading reporters, hard-boiled detectives, flamboyant swashbucklers and evil villains. Naturally, there are al

so such real-world problems as nazis, communists, anarchists, cold-hearted businessmen and self-serving politicians.

Playing this module requires the _Interworld_ basic rule set.

How it Starts

The history of this world exactly matches ours, up until 1898. (The event which occurred then is detailed in the section titled "Game Master's Background.") Little notice was paid to the event which changed this world at the time. Indeed, it wasn't until the near the end of the Roaring Twenties that people began to realize that things were bec

oming different. For the first time, scientifically documented cases of paranormal abilities were recorded. Abilities long thought to be only found in tales of heroic daring-do were being reported in newspapers and on newsreels. While the majority of mediums, mentalists and professional acrobats and strong men could still be proven to be scam arti

sts or performers who staged their feats, there were a few whose abilities were proven genuine beyond a reasonable doubt. The Age of the Adventurers had arrived.

There was some popular interest in these "paranormals" - as experts termed them - for a while, but the Great Depression brought an end to this. People were more concerned in surviving than speculating on such matters. The entertainment industry was booming, however, and made use of the capabilities of these people, resulting in many of them go

ing into the movies and such. Their special abilities were noted by the public and press, but success for the paranormals in this field normally depended on more mundane faculties, such as their acting talent. This popularization of paranormals had the effect of making them seem commonplace, something unusual but no more so than movie stars and pr

esidents. Because of this attitude, scientists and others who might have profited from paying attention to these people and their strange abilities did not do so.

A few of those with useful paranormal abilities were hired by police or military forces, and a few others cashed in on their abilities in other ways. Several evangelists claimed that they had special talents or divine powers, granted by God. Some of them actually believed it. Their explanation was accepted as being as reasonable as any other.

Most folks with strange abilities just tried to get on with their everyday lives.

As Europe began sliding towards war, the number of these paranormals increased, as did the magnitude of abilities demonstrated. Not only were the abilities of the newly-empowered greater than those paranormals of past years, but even those who had possessed their abilities for some time found them improving. A strong man who could originally l

ift a horse could now lift a tank. Still, with all the other concerns of both private citizens and government officials, there was little attention paid to these folk beyond an occasional mention in the papers or newsreels or on the radio. There were, after all, fewer than two thousand known paranormals by the middle of the thirties.

A few studies of the paranormal phenomena were arranged, some by government agencies at various levels, some by universities, others by interested individuals. One research group whose work was reported by a nationally syndicated newspaper chain coined the word "Adventurers" to refer to all types of such people. This quickly caught with both t

he press and the common people.

By 1937 the matter of the paranormals and their abilities was beginning to force itself into the public awareness. Several of these people were beginning to make a difference in the world. Some of these changes were good, some were bad, some simply changes. For the most part, these criminal and crime fighting Adventurers worked alone. A few, h

owever, gathered occasionally in small groups. In San Francisco, a mysterious character known only as the Night Master brought several major crime figures to justice, beginning in 1935. By the Fall of 1937, he had been joined by several others, in a sort of loose and informal confederation. The press dubbed them "The Shepherds," because they not o

nly brought the black sheep of humanity to justice, they also helped lost white sheep to rejoin the flock. Interestingly, at least one reporter was an early member of The Shepherds. This may explain why so many of their exploits are so well known and documented.

General Character Guidelines

There are three types of Adventurer. The first can be compared to hard-boiled detectives, crusading reporters, test pilots and explorers. Though their abilities are within human bounds, they tend to be near or at the human limits in one or more Characteristics, and to have more skills than normals. These Characters tend to succeed through dete

rmination, luck and hard- earned experience. These are people who have inherited an old Gift from one or both of their parents, something which reproduces itself for each generation. These have sat latent, offering only minor benefits, because the level of magic was so low. These Gifts generally diverted the majority of their weak magic into build

ing enough reserves to propogate themselves to children during fertilization. As Dr. Freysdottir's efforts have raised the level of magical energies, the Type I Adventurers have found themselves improving steadily.

The second type includes individuals portrayed in many fantasy and science-fiction stories, as well as some of the early comic book costumed characters. These are the mystery men, the people with a little more ability than a human should have. They are the more exotic pulp heroes and the types of characters you would find in some movie serials

. They are better than the rest of mankind in many ways, and can occasionally do things that other humans can't. The defining factor is that their feats are just beyond what is humanly possible, though normally they do not possess any overtly paranormal capabilities. Most have no true "powers," their abilities being limited to what normals can do,

but allowing them to be better at some things than normal humans can be. They tend to have several Characteristics which are well above average, perhaps one or two Characteristics which are slightly beyond what is humanly possible, and generally possess several Special Talents. These people also have an old Gift, but a stronger one, not reproduce

d but passed on from parent ot offspring. These have sat latent, offering only minor benefits, because the level of magic was so low. These Gifts do provide more benefits than the Type I because they are not diverting energy to reproduction themselves. As Dr. Freysdottir's efforts have raised the level of magical energies, the Type I Adventurers h

ave found themselves improving steadily.

The third type is obviously more-than-human. They may be able to fly, or shoot bolts of flame from their fingertips. They may, as with the first or second type, also be as good as or better than normals at normal activities. Most of them aren't, being merely human in all other respects, asside from the standard benefits all Adventurers have. G

enerally, they are normal folks who can do a few things which are impossible. They are the recipients of a new Gift, one of those manufactured by Dr. Freysdottir or a bud from one. The Gifts possesed by the Type III folk are mature enough to have budded themselves several times, and are now diverting more of their energies into empowering the huma

n containing them.

Basic Effects

Members of any of these three types of Characters are immune to disease and aging, and they heal quickly and completely from any injury which does not kill them. Most have no scars or birthmarks, although blemishes which are psychologically important may remain. Indeed, Adventurers are often marked in some distinctive way. (Think of gold-fleck

ed eyes or a prominent, hawk-like nose.) Because the accumulated damage of a lifetime that results in hearing loss and so forth for normals is constantly being repaired, Adventurers have more acute senses than most normals (add 1 point to Perception). As Adventurers age, they find themselves retaining their vigor well past the point when most peop

le would be deteriorating. Adventurers heal several times faster than normals, and more completely, even to regenerating lost body parts. (The standard healing rate rules apply only to normals. Adventurers heal at the standard rate per day instead of per week.)

Physical problems caused by genetic faults may not be affected. Indeed, only a few such handicaps are repaired. In these cases, most attempts at corrections - through magic or medicine - will be "re-corrected" by the healing that comes with an Adventurer's benefits. However, a disability that the person profoundly wishes to be rid of often wil

l be corrected, though perhaps over a period of months or even years.

Adventurers are not limited in how high they may develop their Characteristics. Even someone who is not, initially, more than human (such as an Adventurer of the first type), may become so simply by spending enough Experience Points on their Characteristics scores.

Adventurers are more tolerant of damage than normals. An Adventurer who has been injured in a fight may not even realize it until the fight is over, or may notice the wound and decide to ignore it. They automatically gain the Special Abilities of Toughness (add 1D6 to Hit Points) and Temperature Insensitive; they never suffer from shock (thoug

h they can be Stunned, if the optional rules are used), and severe blood loss is rare. They can even recover from apparent death, though at the cost of much of their gained abilities, as described below.

Creating a Type I Adventurer

After using the basic rules to determine the initial Characteristic scores, skills, any special talents, roll 10D10. The total points may be added to the Characteristics, used to buy skills, or the Player may use some or all of these to buy rolls on the Special Talent table. The cost is ten points for each roll, from the additional points roll

ed only. At the beginning of the game, no Type I Character may have Characteristics over the human limit of 30.

Creating a Type II Adventurer

After determining initial Characteristic scores, skills, any special talents and background, roll 6D10. The total points are distributed among the Characteristics. At this stage, no second type Adventurer may go over the human limit of 30. These points may also be used to buy skills. Next, roll 3D4. This gives the number of rolls to be made o

n the Special Talent table. Before the Special Talents are rolled, two of them may be traded for one roll on either the Mental or Physical Power table. If a Special Talent provides a bonus to one or more Characteristics which raises it or them to above 30, that is allowed at this stage. As mentioned above, this goes in the permanent score; it is n

atural for the Adventurer to be that strong or smart. If the Player so wishes, 30 points from the extra Characteristic points may be used instead to buy one random roll on either the Mental or Physical Power table.

Note that if a Power is obtained which increases a Characteristic, the original score should be kept and the new one recorded separately. Characteristic gains caused by a Power are not natural, and if the Power is not working for whatever reason the Characteristic will return to normal.

Next, roll percentile dice. There is a 20% chance that the Adventurer will have some sort of disadvantage. This may be chosen by the Player with the GM's permission. A distinctive appearance is common, as mentioned above. If a disadvantage is randomly rolled, the Game Master and Player should be certain that what is obtained is appropriate for

the Adventurer. For instance, someone who does not have a Power would probably not find any of the disadvantages from the Power Limitation table to actually be a disadvantage. If an inappropriate disadvantage is rolled, try again, or create one for the Character.

The Adventurer may trade one Power or two Special Talents to get rid of a Disadvantage.

Creating a Type III Adventurer

After determining initial Characteristic scores, skills, and special talents, the Player must make a choice. He may either roll 10D10 and add the points to Characteristics (going above 30 if that is desired). Or, he may make a roll on the Random Powers Table, to determine how many Powers they have of which type(s).

Deciding whether superhuman Characteristics obtained by the 10D10 die roll are natural, and therefore permanent, or a Power-type effect should be determined on a case-by-case basis. As a general rule, however, any score over 50 is unnatural.

If a Power is obtained which increases a Characteristic, the original score should be kept and the new one recorded separately. Characteristic gains caused by a Power are not natural, and if the Power is not working for whatever reason, the Characteristic will return to normal.

Next, roll percentile dice. There is a 30% chance that the Adventurer will have some sort of disadvantage. If this happens, is should be rolled randomly. The Game Master and Player should be certain that what is obtained is appropriate for the Adventurer. For instance, someone with Shapeshifting would find most physical alterations to be only

a minor nuisance. If an inappropriate or insufficient disadvantage is rolled, try again, modify the result appropriately, or create one.

GM's Notes

If the Player wants a Power to affect an area rather than a specific target, there are two ways to do this. The Power can be defined as including up to 1D6 + Skill Level targets each time it is used, with each target receiving a separate "To Hit" roll. With this option, the user may choose to attack fewer than the maximum number of targets. The

trade-off is that there is a -10 percentage point penalty for each target, cumulative, even if there is only one! (The justification is that since the Power normally affects several targets, it is difficult to focus on just one.)

Alternately, the Power may be defined as affecting a set area, the specific dimensions depending on the Power. A general guideline is a radius of Will in meters at a distance of Will X 10 in meters. The trade-off here is that everything inside that radius is affected, including the caster if he or she happens to be caught in the effect! Also,

the Endurance cost must be payed for each target affected. The "To Hit" roll must still be made to center the effect where desired. As an option, the user may be immune to the effects of the Power, if that is reasonable.

To alter a Power which normally only affects the PC so that it will work on someone else, there are several suggested methods. The first is to limit the range to touch, and pay 1.5 times the Endurance for the other person. Other suggested penalties are: Power only affects others, Power must be used on other first and maintained before PC can u

se it, Power may not be used by PC while other is using it, Power works at 1/2 effectiveness for others, Power works at 75% effectiveness for everyone, including PC.

To use such a Power at range involves similar penalties but to a greater extent. Range will generally be Will X 10 in meters, and the PC must roll to hit even a willing target.

The Secret

Just what has happened in this world, to make it so different from ours? This module is an offshoot of a long-term project of mine, known as _The Gifted Saga_. This is available as a game module from the address at the beginning of this document. In the future history of the Gifted Earth, a character known as Runner is caught in a trap by an

enemy. Runner is a Bluegrass Elf, a species genetically engineered from human stock over a period of several centuries. She has natural psionic abilities and a strong magical potential. When she found herself in this new world, she realized that the only way she could get home was to bring magic into it. It would take decades, and a lot of hard wo

rk, and there would be side effects. However, it was this, or live in a magically-blighted world for the rest of her long life. Besides, she wanted to try and alter the history of this world, to correct some of the mistakes made in hers.

The side effects were more extensive than she had anticipated, and history harder to change. Today, as Dr. Fenrisa Freysdottir, she is nearly ready to return home. In less than a decade the magic in this world will be strong enough for her to open a gate, and her preparations will be ready.

Currently, though, she is trying to mitigate the problems she has caused. Eventually, everyone on this Earth will have the benefits of an Adventurer, but for now those belong to only a few hundred. She is trying to guide these people, and both help them adjust to their abilities and prepare them to lead their world into a glorious golden a

ge, where disease and injury no longer lead to death.

All original materials contained within this document are Copyright 1999 Rodford Edmiston Smith, who can be reached at: Stickmaker@usa.net.