Oops, despite having the RPG module Nuclear Winter (artist Chandra Reyer, all rights to cover image with current holders) come out last month I didn’t get around to doing a Story Behind the Story. But better late than never, right? Or you can just go now and download the game for a small fee. Just saying.
Some years back I’d picked up a copy of the Beyond the Supernatural game and I liked it. For those who don’t know, it’s a modern-set RPG in which the players are mages or psychics of various kinds. For those who’d rather be a two-fisted physical type there’s the nega-psychic (protective psychic shields rather than active powers) and the Natural (channels psychic energy into some mundane area, making them phenomenally strong, acrobatic, etc.).
My initial thought was for a game set in the Victorian era, but it never got off the ground — at the time I didn’t have enough people to play. Gaming has always been something I’ve done within my circle of friends (or circles, as they shifted over time) and there weren’t enough friends ready to play at the time.
Later, for reasons that now escape me, I began to think about the potential for running a 1930s version instead. And even though I didn’t have anyone to play with, an idea for the first campaign formed in my head (I GMed for a decade, so maybe it’s not surprising I keep thinking of “ooh, that would be a good campaign”). “White Russians” — supporters of the Tsar during the Russian revolution — were a staple of 1930s movies, typically as hangers-on using their aristocratic connections to spunge off rich socialites. And there were in the real world no shortage of pretenders to the Russian throne, people who claimed to be the last of the Romanovs.
So my villain would be one such count. An arrogant man who tops the other pretenders by claiming he’s not only heir to the Russian throne but a descendant of the Rus, the Vikings who founded the nation. Of course, he’s telling the truth. And as it happens, the Rus included some warriors descended from the frost giants. My villain would be descended from them, an ice mage who’s come to New York with a mission. Somewhere in town lies a magical talisman that will enable him to summon his frost giant kin to Earth, unleash an apocalyptic Fimbulwinter and make him king of a frozen world.
Other than wondering occasionally if I could turn that into a premise for a story, I did nothing with it. Then one of my writing-group friends put me in touch with Curtis Baum at D3 Adventures. I wound up suggesting my ice mage idea for one of the Tangent modules. These are designed as one-evening quickies, easy to customize to an existing set of PCs and to whatever game system the GM uses. Reworking my idea, I scaled things down and simplified them. Count Belorsky is just a Russian ice mage and Tsar Nicholas’ bastard son; his goal is to freeze Russia long enough for conquest, not to bring on a new ice age. Though as a test for his powers, he’ll freeze over New York first.
I had fun fleshing out Belorsky, his hulking bodyguard Tolstoy (shamelessly inspired by Dr. Loveless’ brutal aide Voltaire in Wild, Wild West) and adding a new character, a millionaire descended from Russian peasants. He despises the aristocratic, arrogant count and vice versa. Getting down the gaming details — settings, maps, progression from one encounter to another — was a lot more work, but I’m pleased with the results. Hopefully y’all will be too.