Work on the playtest package for The King is Dead proceeds apace. Here's the revised and expanded new introduction to the setting. Feedback, as ever, is welcome.
THE KING IS DEAD
Revolution in a Gothic 18th Century That Never Was...
The king is dead!
These are words that cannot be denied. What is a vampire but an animate corpse? What are the undead but dead that walk? What is our king but a vampire?
A rotting corpse sits on the throne of Malleus – a rotting corpse to whom we bow and scrape! We have allowed the dictates of King Wilhelm and his vampire children to dominate the lives of living men and women for centuries. We have allowed him to make not mere slaves of us, but cattle. We have allowed our so-called nobility to feed on the lifeblood of our sons and daughters for far too long.
In signing this declaration, we commit ourselves to the fight against injustice and tyranny. We commit ourselves to the overthrow of the vampire King Wilhelm and all his brood. We commit ourselves to raising a new government by the living, for the living.
from The Declaration of the Illuminated,
May 1st, 1776
A LAND IN NEED OF REVOLUTION
The island nation of Greater Malleus is in the throes of revolution. An artistic revolution flowers as the people embrace periwigs and hoop skirts, symphonies and comic operas. An economic revolution looms as the steam engine changes industry and the wealth from the colonies invigorates the middle class. An intellectual revolution boils as scholars study science and philosophy, galvanism and the social contract. And a political revolution threatens as the people of Malleus conspire to take their nation back from the bloodsucking ruling class that treats them like cattle.
Throughout Greater Malleus, revolutionaries are at work. In the dark forests that line the king’s roads, highwaymen in masks and greatcoats ambush nobles’ coaches and plunder their wealth. In the streets of the capital city Hammerstadt, radicals risk their lives to spread the call to rebellion amongst the people. In secret rooms, conspirators gather to destroy the old government and forge a new one. And in the palaces of the vampires, libertines in lace and silk become assassins and strike the first blows for freedom.
But that is not all. On mountain heights, scientists harness the lightning to create weapons capable of incinerating the dead. Amongst standing stones and cromlechs, fae-touched freedom fighters learn the uses of their second sight. In towns and villages across Malleus, a generation born with strange powers hides their gifts. Amid the libraries and hidden work rooms of lawyers and merchants, would-be sorcerers seek the secrets of alchemy. In the bedrooms of the vampires’ mansions, disenfranchised wives and daughters pray to foreign goddesses for strength and wisdom. And by native campfires and in the fencing halls of Hammerstadt, martial artists hone their bodies and souls into weapons.
The King is Dead is a setting of revolution in a Gothic 18th century that never was.
A GOTHIC 18TH CENTURY
The 18th century was a time of adventure and a time of change. It encompassed the Golden Age of Piracy and the French and Indian Wars. Science and rationality flourished through the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution began. America and France threw off the shackles of their monarchies. Casanova wooed his ladies, Benjamin Franklin flew his kite, Mozart wrote his operas, and Horace Walpole rejected the didactic realism of contemporary literature and invented the Gothic novel.
The Castle of Otranto, Walpole’s revolutionary Gothic novel, combined the fanciful supernatural elements of the medieval romance (such as the tales of King Arthur or Charlemagne’s Peers) with the psychological verisimilitude of the novel (exemplified by Cervantes’ anti-romantic Don Quixote and contemporaries of Walpole like Daniel Defoe). The Gothic novel embraced the fantastical and horrific even as the Enlightenment discredited them and paved the way for modern horror and fantasy fiction. The King is Dead embraces the Gothic tradition begun in the 18th century and marries it to the sophistication and style of the 18th century itself.
In the world of The King is Dead, humankind has been subjugated for over 1700 years by an incestuous, cruel, bloodsucking nobility. The common folk are expected to give their blood on demand to satisfy their masters’ thirsts, and their bodies to breed the half-vampire dhampyres that do the nobles’ dirty work. The only hopes the vampires hold out – the temptation that sways so many to their cause – is the inhuman vitality gained by drinking a vampire’s blood and the rare, rare gift of becoming a vampire too.
The world of The King is Dead is a Gothic world. A common trope of Gothic fiction is a debauched and weak-willed clergy, and so the predominant religion of Greater Malleus is the Holy Panoptic Church of Sathaniel, dedicated to the dark deity who gave the gift of undeath to the first vampire. Gothic fiction is set in sublime and terrifying landscapes, and so Greater Malleus is covered with dark forests and craggy mountains. Lightless castles and manor houses dominate every town and village. Most people simply spend their lives praying their masters take no notice of them, but some have begun to fight for a better world.
With the law of the land against them, those who would defend humanity become outlaws. Like the American Sons of Liberty or the Bavarian Illuminati, revolutionaries gather in secret societies to plot the overthrow of the ruling order. Secrecy and subtlety are the best weapons against a corrupt state inimical to equality and freedom; toppling the government and literally burning it to the ground is the only answer to a world run by monstrous predators.
Greater Malleus is caught up in the revolutions of its own 18th century. Even ageless undead cannot resist the march of history, and so the world of The King is Dead is also one of scientific and philosophic progress. It is an unfettered blending of the best and worst that man might dream of.
A WORLD THAT NEVER WAS
The 21st century has seen a flurry of stories that mix the elegance and freedom of the 18th century with horror and magic. Brotherhood of the Wolf combines a period piece monster movie with high-flying martial arts action. The Pirates of the Caribbean series combines swashbuckling with the undead and the Lovecraftian. The anime Le Chavlier D’Eon combines the courtly intrigues of Versailles with magic and mysticism. Choosing to use the Savage Worlds role-playing game system offered an intriguing possibility. Contained within the slim and inexpensive core rulebook are rules for not only cinematic action-adventure and horror, but also magic, psionics, and super powers. Why not create a setting that takes advantage of that?
And so The King is Dead is a mad mash-up setting where you can put a tricorne hat on almost whatever character concept you want to play and it will fit. Miracle workers, psionicists, superhuman, weird scientists, and wizards conspire together to bring down an unholy, undead monarchy and free humankind from centuries of oppression.