One of my favorite creative exercises is the genre mashup. Taking two genres and throwing them together was how I began development of both my Southfarthing Confidential halfling police procedural and Spear! Fang! Raygun! campaigns.
Recently, I started reading two pulp writers who I’d missed out on completely over the years: Manly Wade Wellman and Richard Sharpe Shaver. Needless to say, Wellman is the superior writer (who also received recent treatment in the RPG world with the Dungeon Crawl Classics box set The Chained Coffin by Michael Curtis), but Shaver’s schizophrenic subterranean world remains quite vivid and fascinating despite his unfortunate prose style. Both writers are clearly inspirations for various D&Disms with Shaver’s derro and Wellman’s inclusion in the 1st ed. DMG‘s Appendix N, so it seems only natural to take their works and combine them to create a novel, weird, sub-Appalachian campaign setting.
I do not necessarily have plans to run this, but I’ve laid out a basic premise and design for the setting.
First, I’d go with a heavily modified Shudder Mountains setting, from The Chained Coffin, for the above-ground environment since Michael Curtis has done all the Wellman-side work for us. No reason to not put to use such an excellent resource. The first change I want to make is to take the Shudder Mountains and transplant them to Appalachia. Which state, for right now, isn’t important, but going with Richard Sharpe Shaver it might be fun to place them somewhere vaguely in North Eastern Arkansas (which I know the Appalachian Mountains don’t technically reach, but the idea is the same).
Time period-wise, taking a queue from Manly Wade Wellman, my setting exists during the 1930s to ’50s. The medieval setting for the Shudder Mountains has always felt off, anyway, so this shouldn’t be a problem. If you’ve read Wellman, or early Cormac McCarthy, you’re already familiar with the sort of archaisms that seem to go hand-in-hand with Appalachian literature set during this period. The rural quality of the Shudder Mountains will force PCs to use technology, such as cars and telephones, sparingly, but I really, really like the idea of the occasional anachronistic contrast between backwoods primitivism and the encroachment of the wider world. (Somebody should play a census-taker, no doubt.) An equipment list for this setting would look really interesting.
Now for the weird (or, well, the weirder). Undoubtedly, as an Appalachian-inspired setting requires, the Shudder Mountains are likely riddled with incredible and extensive cave systems. Perfect for a Shaver Mystery underworld.
These caverns will be rife with bizarre technologies and lifeforms. Alien beings of the ancient world creep through the hollows to kidnap human beings for who knows what. Honestly, I haven’t read enough Shaver yet to fully explore the possibilities here, but I can imagine some of the scenarios in which PCs may become embroiled.
- The two largest clans in the Shudder Mountains, the Jizzups and McSquees, are about to start a’feudin’ because somebody’s something somethinged somebody’s somethin-or-‘nother. You know, the usual reasons… At least on the surface. But in reality, the clans’ patriarchs are being controlled by ray-machines controlled by malevolent beings who live within a ruined city deep within Mt. Hookbur. Due to clan alliances, this feud threatens to throw all the hollows into bloodshed. Do the PCs pick sides? Are they allied with one clan over the other? Or are they members of rival clans who’ve figured something ain’t right about this feud and seek to get to the bottom of it?
- Strange motley-colored lights have been witnessed rising from Dead Man’s Hollow. Every night the lights have been seen, all the hounds in the surrounding hollows vanish quietly in the dark, seen heading toward the source of the lights. The next day they return, but there’s something different in their eyes. The hounds now watch their masters carefully, as if possessing new intelligence.
- A strange object, shaped like a bullet and built of a spongy red substance, has emerged from a swamp near the Old Piney Woods. Local children appear fascinated by the object, gathering there during the day to wade quietly around it in the water, enormous idiot smiles on their faces. At home, the children have become serene, pleasant, and cherub-like, which is quite a change from the usual hellion qualities of the young ‘uns of the Shudder Mountain.
- Miss Tippy Parrup’s new bairn is blue. The infant appears otherwise normal; it’s got the right number of limbs, fingers, toes, and eyes. The mid-wife who delivered it says, as far as she’s concerned, there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Blue people aren’t unheard of in the Shudder Mountains. Now, it is a bit odd that Miss Tippy claims to be a virgin and had shown no signs of pregnancy until a week before the bairn emerged. Then there’s the fact that the bairn, at a month old, speaks an odd, complex language that is clearly too articulate to be the babbling of a fresh babe, but all is fine. All is fine.
I’m sure there are many, many more rumors/plots/hooks to be developed for this setting. It would be a really great setting to watch emerge through gameplay. Share any ideas you might have. What other mashups would make interesting settings?