Promethean the created is by far and away my favourite of the new World of Darkness books, which came out after White Wolf decided to reboot most of their franchises. Of the various lines that they released, I loved it the most because it was the first supernatural game that really sold the idea of “Being a monster is a genuinely terrible thing”. A Promethean is a creature created when someone animates a corpse using alchemical magic against the natural order. The simplest example is the old legend of Frankenstein’s monster Adam, who was a stitched together corpse animated by the madman Dr. Frankenstein and super science (plus copious amounts of lightning).
These reanimated corpses don’t have an easy time, because their existence is literally stolen and so nature, the people around them and terrible things called Pandora, all combine together to make their existence difficult. A Promethean is literally rejected by the natural world around them, with plants dying, animals becoming agitated or even aggressive in their presence and finally wastelanding. An effect where their very presence rots, destroys and decays the world around them when they spend too long in a specific region.
It doesn’t help that Prometheans also induce natural disgust in natural creatures like animals and people as well. Indeed, the longer a Promethean spends around humanity the more likely the humans are to become horrified at their presence: Eventually forming an irrational mob to drive them out. Just like the tale of Frankenstein’s monster. Of course the worst part is reserved for last, as sometimes when a Promethean attempts to create another they make abominations called Pandorans by accident (although some make these creatures deliberately). Pandorans exist only to hunt down and consume Promethean flesh, which has the unnatural life force within it that sustains these creatures.
As a result of these dangers, Prometheans are frequently on the move and cannot stay in one place for very long. Should they do so an angry mob of humans could rise up against them, the very environment they are around becomes a wasteland or they could awaken dormant (but hidden) Pandorans and otherwise give themselves away to the wrong groups. This need to keep moving forms the driving quest of Promethean, which is called the Pilgrimage. The Pilgrimage is the journey the character goes on in order to find out how they might obtain their ultimate goal, mortality. By far the best theme in the game and what ultimately makes Promethean truly separate from the other supernaturals of the World of Darkness, is this overwhelming desire to just be like us.
This also makes Promethean overwhelming grim as a setting, especially compared to the existentialist woes of Vampires, the spirit police of Werewolves or the quest for ever more knowledge that often consumes Mages. Unlike those other supernaturals, Prometheans are uniquely persecuted and despised by the world they inhabit and so becoming mortal – as a way out – is the sole pursuit of many of their kind. Key to this journey for mortality and what adds to the grim nature even more, is that in order to achieve their dream each Promethean during the pilgrimage must create another of their kind. They are of course under no obligation to look after or even help their progeny, which often leaves many new Promethean’s with no guidance whatsoever. Of course in the worst cases as I mentioned before, sometimes this process goes wrong and the Promethean creates a horde of terrifying pyros thirsty Pandoran’s instead!
Unfortunately despite being a huge fan of this system since 2006 when it came out, I’ve never had the opportunity to assemble a group and play Promethean. Even so, this didn’t dampen my enthusiasm any and I actually wrote an interesting one shot for this system called “Nomad”. This scenario focused the most on interpersonal drama between the player’s characters, who while they were all part of the same throng (A group of Promethean’s who have alchemically branded themselves together) had some very different ideas on how to complete the pilgrimage. Sadly it looked like I was never going to get the opportunity to actually run this scenario, until recently that is.
Nomad began with my players getting a random character out of the five I had prepared for the scenario. The five Prometheans are:
Sir Rex and The Ventriloquist – This was an Osiris lineage Promethean, who actually is two characters at once with a dual personality. To help this character come to life at the table, I actually brought along a stuffed toy dinosaur (Sir Rex) and had the two players sit next to one another. Whenever one “talked” in character at the table, the player had to be holding the dinosaur up and moving it about to mimic “speaking”. In this case, no other player at the table (and even the two controlling these characters) knew which of the “personalities” was the real one. Complicating this was that both characters had different skills and traits, while controlling only the one body.
Given that the Ventriloquist is the personality is quiet, extremely well learned and almost a ‘absent minded professor type’, most of the other members of the throng hope he’s the real one. The nigh sociopath and extremely unpredictable Sir Rex personality simply terrifies the others, but his indisputable handiness in a fight of any sort helps convince them to keep the pair with them.
Gareth Brooke – A former soul singer, musician and an extremely handsome fellow, this Tammuz was created but suffers considerable amnesia. He’s unable to remember much of his former life or why he ended up in this predicament, but he is certainly readily recognizable by many of the locals.
Claire Setter – Even for an Ulgan, she is a little bit too crazy for the others liking and has a definite obsession with Pandorans. Sometimes she almost gives away that she knows just a little bit too much about Pandoran’s at times, but her knowledge has saved the throng on many occasions from certain death.
Marie Hunter – Engaging in a secretive relationship with Gareth Brooke, this paranoid Frankenstein is deeply afraid of ever being alone and uses her relationship to this advantage. Dreaming solely of getting her mortality, she intends to go and do her own path as soon as she achieves it. A path that does not involve Gareth, despite him having a very different impression of post-mortality events…
With these character’s handed out and the two playing Sir Rex/Ventriloquist seated together (as both need ready access to the soft toy to “talk”), it was time to give each player a secret hand out demonstrating the different thoughts of the Prometheans. This is actually a little trick I picked up from reading some of the pregen characters that came with Pelgrane Press’ adventures. Each character has a bit of history and then describes how they feel (or think is their imaginary friend) in each instance. This helps the players quickly gauge the relationships between the different characters and help them think of interesting ways to roleplay them.
Initially this scenario begins with a little bit of an in joke of sorts, where the players are literally being railroaded on a train car traveling across Louisiana in the USA. First step was to get each player to talk about their character a bit and what they were doing on the train at that moment. This had two purposes, with the first being that it introduced the eccentric bunch and the second, most important part, being to let my players roleplay these characters in a way that “stamped” the character as theirs. While I was using pregenerated characters for this scenario, I didn’t want my players to feel like they shouldn’t have any say in how their character acted or thought.
The best roleplaying always comes from players who are interested in their own character after all! So I let them define all the bits of grey and hinted histories of each character for themselves as much as they wanted. Good pregenerated characters IMO are not straight jackets, demanding a player does things an absolutely specific way – but instead a good basis and series of guidelines for encouraging the players own roleplaying. A good example of this is the quirky duo of Sir Rex and the Ventriloquist, who naturally require the players to negotiate between them who can “talk” by handing the soft toy back and forth. One player, I noticed, was very eccentric with the toys movements while speaking and the other was much more reserved. A subtle, but interesting piece of roleplaying that was certainly nothing I wrote to either of them.
In any event, with characters established I got the scenario going with a bang and a thud. Literally as it turns out, as I decided to give the table a good smack to indicate that something had just hit the side of the train car they were in. Cautiously, the Promethean’s opened up the door and a very badly wounded Galateid collapsed into the carriage. Naturally the very first responses from both Claire and Sir Rex were to dump him out of the train immediately. This seemed to be the plan they were going with, until they heard the wounded man (called “The Stranger”) mumbling something about how he was so close to “finishing my journey and obtaining his mortality at last”. This was more than enough to stop them just dumping him and now there was an effort to figure out how to get him to talk.
But let’s digress and talk about character motivation for a bit.
In any roleplaying game you (as the director, DM, GM, Keeper, Storyteller etc) need to give the players an idea of how to proceed and what to do, otherwise it will become entirely aimless. Motivating your players involves two things: Soft Plot Drivers and Hard Plot Drivers. A soft driver is a personal goal for an individual character or maybe only a handful of characters in the group. Essentially the player wants something and tries to negotiate with the others to come help, either out of pragmatism, altruism or a sense of being “owed” a similar favor later. For example a player whose interested in a serial killer who murdered their family, may hear about them during a chronicle or adventure. This could lead to them asking the other players characters to come along and in doing so, drive the plot towards their personal story.
I call the above a “Soft Plot Driver” because it’s optional for the other players to participate in and they may resist or feel they have something better to do. Ideally players do go along with these things and help one another out, if for no other reason than to keep the game flowing and allow everyone spotlight time. Where I want characters to absolutely be cooperating and where I’m injecting impetus into the campaign are hard drivers. A hard driver is basically anything that is plot essential to all characters and usually advances the narrative in a meaningful way. Opposing the core antagonist of the chronicle or in this case, that ever present search for the secrets of regaining ones mortality.
Promethean is actually entirely built around an incredibly compelling Hard Plot Driver for two reasons. For one thing, it actually really sucks to be a Promethean as I was describing at the beginning of this post and so becoming mortal is just an incredibly desirable goal. Secondly, it’s also because the game is written around the journey of the pilgrimage and the emphasis on prying any secrets of the potential path to mortality that the Promethean can gather along the way. This means you can literally put “Here is something that might help you become mortal!” in front of your players and give them a compelling reason – no matter how tenuous it is – to follow along with it.
Returning back to Nomad now…
So I gave more of a description of the Stranger, which was a bit like the above fantastic image (but he was badly injured), at least to other Prometheans such as the characters. In this case it’s worth noting that he would appear as an exceptionally handsome gentleman to most humans. This is because he’s a Galateid, who naturally appear to be beautiful to other humans, which can be quite an advantage when you want to deal with people. Even so, the effect doesn’t last forever and the throng wondered if the stranger had ran afoul of an angry mob at some point. A not uncommon fate for their kind unfortunately.
After attempting some basic first aid and even using an electrical transmutation on the fallen Promethean, they discovered his wounds were too grievous for them to heal. This set off alarm bells right away, because Prometheans do have some advantages and one of them is that they are incredibly difficult to hurt except by fire. The deep, badly infected wounds upon him could only have been caused by something genuinely terrible and definitely not a mob of humans or animals. Another powerful Promethean or even worse, some kind of Pandoran, were the main possibilities and neither was something the throng wanted to run into. A small debate ensued with the characters wondering if they should take him to a small town, Forrester’s Ridge (which they determined was abandoned, but might still have some electricity*) or wait until they got into New Orleans instead.
Of course the debate was settled with the screeching sound of the trains hard brakes and the sudden jolting indicating the train had come to a halt. Checking outside of the carriage, the characters saw a strange woman approaching from the front of the train while the angry driver yelled at her initially, but then grew concerned on seeing her odd appearance. Hiding inside the carriage, several strange butterfly like Pandoran’s emerged from the Stranger’s wounds and attacked the throng, giving them an taste of the combat system. Meanwhile outside, the train driver was suddenly eviscerated by the one armed woman in the torn wedding dress, who was slowly creeping up on their carriage.
When designing this antagonist for the chronicle called “The Sorrow”, I was highly inspired in the description and appearance by this fabulous piece of art/photography that I found below:
As we will get into later, the origin of this particular character and the reasons for her large group of Pandorans will become clear. The reason for the missing limb, torn wedding dress and more all tie into the larger overall plot. Overall the characterization proved effective, because once the characters got an idea she was coming they were certainly highly paranoid about what was going on. Unfortunately for them the only one there who had any answers was currently dribbling and mumbling to himself. However, for now you should bear in mind the description I gave of Galateid’s from earlier and how it might relate to this woman.
While the butterfly like Pandorans posed no significant threat in low numbers, the characters considered the fact the woman outside seemed to have a massive horde of them following behind her in deciding to fight or not. In the end the throng decided very wisely to grab the stranger and make a break for it. Here they were helped a bit by the arrival of other humans, who were able to make the Pandoran horde suffer some disquiet – which causes the beasts to start turning into inanimate objects for a while – and Claire decided to show her knowledge. Summoning up her best transmutations, she sent the pandorans a signal that the group was elsewhere and they rapidly took the bait, heading in the opposite direction from the throng. It wasn’t going to stop the creatures forever, but it would buy the throng time at least.
Unfortunately their last choice option in heading to Forrester’s Ridge was the only one they had for now. The old town of Forrester’s Ridge was supposedly abandoned around 20 years ago after it was gassed by an enormous coal fire from deep within the mines underneath it. This meant that there wasn’t much of a hope that there might be a functional source of electricity for the throng to use there, but it could have needed supplies and possibly a vehicle to get away faster. Anything that was in the opposite direction of the mystery woman and her horde of butterfly Pandorans was the best plan anyway.
After a short trek towards the town, the throng arrived to find that while the human occupants had indeed long since abandoned it, there was definitely someone around. A large pilgrim’s mark, which is a sign left by other Promethean’s to indicate their presence or aspects of their journey was painted on the main sign in. The basic gist of the message was “Safe place here”, which seemed like a relief compared to what was behind them at least. Most importantly, the throng wandered through the town, noting that most of the buildings seemed to be uninhabited but there was one with faint light coming from inside it: The former town hall.
Exploring this place is where they met their first actual talkative NPC of the chronicle: Hanging Tim. A Frankenstein, Tim gets his name from the fact his body has a broken neck and so his head loosely swings around in an unsettling manner. Oddly enough, despite the obvious wastelanding around him and his interest in isolation given where he was, Tim seemed very happy to see the Prometheans. In fact it was far too happy and the others suspicions immediately sky rocketed, with Sir Rex immediately suggesting to kill him. Normally this is a very “Sir Rex” thing, but in this case the rest of the throng also had their doubts about him. None the less, Tim seemed happy to help and suggested if they got him some parts from around the town he could jump-start his electrical generator to give their friend a needed healing shock.
So the majority of the players went around looking for the things he needed in town, while Sir Rex/Ventriloquist kept an eye on Tim and the still unconscious Stranger. Claire had the first initial success, finding some of the parts for rigging the generator and also a semi-broken down farm truck (this will be important later). Interestingly, Claire decided to rig the parts she found to explode or backfire, making the generator a potential bomb later on. Meanwhile, Gareth and Marie found a poorly hidden basement in the general store. There they found clear signs of some kind of struggle, with claw marks, tooth marks and even bullet holes everywhere. Hidden under some blankets was an oblong shaped thing and when they pulled it out, they found an old radioshack Dictaphone.
So here is where my love of physical props – whenever I can – comes to the fore yet again. The idea behind this Dictaphone was already in the original “script” so to speak, but I actually happened to get extremely lucky to find an actual one while my wife and I were looking for something else. I made the best of my fortune, by turning the general descriptions in my original chronicle into a semi-coherent script and then recorded it. Naturally a prop like this needed to have something majorly interesting or worth-while on it to justify its use in the story (and time). So it told the tale of an unknown Promethean and his friend Jules, who had evidently run across Tim in the past.
Listening to the scratchy old tape was possibly one of my best decisions, because the players loved it and it added to a real air of authenticity (if I did make it a bit quiet by mistake). One of the great and completely unintended things about it, was that while talking about the Pandoran’s in the town scratching around in the walls the tape got a real actual distortion on it while recording. This distorted wobbliness in the tape only occurred while talking about the monsters and not the other sections of the recording. No amount of effects beats the real grungy thing making a mess by itself! Once again: Real props are amazing whenever you can implement them – but just remember not to make them a big distraction at the same time.
In any event, the tape communicated some key information and showed that Tim had murdered the unknown Promethean’s friend with his army of Pandorans. The voice on the tape swore revenge, but that was the last entry and so it appear’s they failed to take revenge on Tim, given he’s still, well, “alive”. This naturally made the throng suspicious of the motivations of Tim and what he could want, so instead of waiting to find out they took the initiative. They helped Tim rig the generator to heal their friend, but also made sure it would explode in his face and destroy his own laboratory. Expecting a fight with a Promethean, Gareth prepared some molotov cocktails – the fire damage would be quite handy.
Well things certainly exploded when the generator got turned on and there was a major fight outside of the town hall, with Tim (a Centimani, or a Promethean who has mastered the control and creation of Pandorans) covered in flames with his Pandoran minions scuttling around attacking the party. Combat in Promethean is satisfying, easy to run – mostly because you don’t have to worry about many penalties from wounds or similar to track – while concluding in brutal fashion as Tim met his terrible end at the teeth and appendages of his own Pandorans. With the Stranger healed, they were just about to ask him some questions when finally the woman they saw at the derailed train returned – an army of Pandorans at her back. The Stranger immediately recognized her and when asked who she was glibly responded “Someone I used to love”.
Here there wasn’t much time for interrogations or questions, as the throng fled towards the one thing they knew could help: The old beat down farm truck. After the Ventriloquist managed to get what could only be described as the most amazing crafts roll of all time (all 10s on every die rolled IIRC), I decided he easily jump started the engine and they quickly got the old truck moving. They wouldn’t retain much of a lead over the Sorrow for long, but the Stranger had a plan and if they helped him achieve his mortality he could deal with her. They just needed to go back to his old mansion near an abandoned plantation first.
At this point I made the most fateful of errors as a storyteller or GM, one that unfortunately really did a lot of narrative damage to this scenario and meant I couldn’t conclude it properly. This error was not checking the place we ordered pizza from carefully enough, in order to make sure it actually *was* the restaurant down the street from where we were playing. I decided to take a bit of a break from the game, mostly to give my vocal chords a rest and to take a bit of a walk, supposedly down the road. Unfortunately it was actually somewhere else entirely and when I arrived there after a ~30 minute walk or so, then got back to where we were with a similar return trip I had wasted around an hour. With only a limited time to finish the scenario as half of my players needed to leave after about a half-hour once we were back, I had to make a hard decision of cutting an entire scene.
This decision heavily compromised how the end played out, where the Stranger and Sorrow – his crazed Pandoran creation – faced off at the tree the Stranger had originally hung himself from after he accidentally killed his wife. The same “wife” that was now the blood thirsty Pandoran, where the throng unfortunately stood between it’s final revenge and the Stranger gaining mortality. This scene unfortunately failed to play out very well and was mostly confusing for the players. This was because the scene I cut contextualized how the Stranger planned to obtain mortality (by sacrificing a human at the tree where he died), the Stranger betraying the party leaving them to die at the hands of the Sorrow (as he didn’t dare share it with another Promethean fearing it would compromise his chance) and that his plan just wouldn’t work (the investigative aspect).
Additionally it also meant I couldn’t roleplay how the Sorrow was actually intelligent, had a compelling motivation for attacking the stranger in the first place and was not just a ravening pyros obsessed monster. Either way, I sort of got some of this roleplaying in through the encounter itself, as the Sorrow mentioned her origins of being brought back in this state from her murderous ex-husband. The stranger’s mad plan to sacrifice someone else for their mortality, combined with an occult roll demonstrating what he was doing wasn’t going to work convinced the throng to help the Pandoran. Although the Stranger put up a determined fight, he was no match for the Sorrow and the throng, finally falling after having a truck slammed into him then consumed by the Sorrow.
While the ending disappointed me, this was still massively satisfying and I super enjoyed running Promethean. So much so, I invited the same players back for another go at things! Thankfully my players still had a terrific time and now there will be another Promethean mini-campaign for me to run in future. Originally I was going to do a sort of re-run of this game, in order to give it the proper conclusion and storytelling I felt it deserved. Like everything though, it’s evolved into so much more and I hope you enjoy reading about it in future!
*If you’re wondering, Promethean’s are actually healed by electricity in a very distinct nod to Frankenstein.