Guest Article: Sigil Entertainment – The Savage Sign 02 (Savage Worlds)

The Savage Sign 02
By Eugene Marshall

The following article discusses “The Depths of Madness,” an original setting in The Savage Sign 02, an anthology of settings, adventures, and options for Savage Worlds. The Savage Sign 02 is on Kickstarter now (link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sigil/the-savage-sign-02) In this article, you’ll get a peek into the design process and some of the cool new options that await you in “The Depths of Madness”!

“The Depths of Madness” grew out of my love for Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I can’t recall if I rode the Disney ride or saw the Disney movie first; whichever it was, I grew up with that world in my geek DNA.

A few years later, as a teen, I encountered the cosmic horror of Lovecraft and other Mythos authors. I loved the alien monstrosities and mind-bending horrors of those stories. I was also struck by how often those nightmarish beings came from the depths of the ocean, though I didn’t connect them to 20,000 Leagues at the time.

Last year, I reread 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and was stunned by a scene that did not appear in the film and that I had forgotten from my read of the book as a youth. In this scene, Nemo takes Professor Aronnax to a sunken city lost to time, which he named Atlantis. Immediately I saw the parallels between this sunken city and R’lyeh, the sunken city that contains the tomb of Cthulhu.

What would happen, I thought, if Nemo had discovered R’lyeh? Nemo despised the colonial powers of the continents, but he was not a pure misanthrope. He cared deeply for the marginalized victims of colonialism and strove to help them where he could. I imagined him recognizing what his discovery meant – that these ruins, the beings they contain, and those insane cultists who serve them are all a direct threat to the whole of humanity, both colonizer and colonized alike. I concluded that he would form a league of like-minded individuals to strive to undermine the cultists, learn more about the cosmic threat, and try to save humanity, despite his misgivings. And so “The Depths of Madness” was born.

I did next what I always do when creating a setting – research! I made notes on 20,000 Leagues, as well as Lovecraft tales about the deeps like “Shadow over Innsmouth,” “Dagon,” and “The Call of Cthulhu.” I read about oceanic geography and was stunned to learn just how deep the oceans really are, and how little of it humans have explored. Even military submarines can only descend 2000-3000 feet, yet the average ocean floor depth is 12,000 feet, and 99% of it has never been explored. I studied the effects of water pressure and depth on the human body, the crush depth of submarines, and the effects of ascending too quickly. I researched how bullets work under water (not well!). And since “The Depths of Madness” occurs in the 1870s, I even studied period technology to learn what divers had access to at the time. I marveled at the Rouquayrol-Denayrouze apparatus, a primitive SCUBA system developed in 1865. I loved every minute of it.

Once I had all of that info, I had to do the hard part – turning it into a game. I translated the diving data and scientific accounts of what happens when a diver exceeds the safe depth of their SCUBA suit (nitrogen narcosis) and the effects of surfacing too quickly (decompression sickness, also known as the bends). I streamlined the info and allowed myself a bit of license, pushing the depths a bit so that Nemo could in principle have made a special submarine that could reach much greater depths. And oh yes, the subs! I created large and small submarines and calculated their armor, ramming prow, and torpedo damage. I even created some custom weapons like spear guns and even an electric pellet gun based on one described by Verne himself.

Once all the mechanics were in place I turned to the story. This part was so much fun! Here’s the introduction to the narrative that sets up the characters as new recruits to Nemo’s Submariner’s League:

You sit aboard a steam ship sailing the Pacific Ocean, in a small theater with a capacity of not more than twenty. Around you in the dimness of the audience sit several others, new recruits like you. On stage stands a tall man in his 40s, of indeterminate ethnicity, though possibly South Asian, who is illuminated from above by a spotlight. He wears a uniform that resembles a naval captain’s, though it bears neither flags nor other identifying insignia. His posture is perfect, his face stern. He speaks, his English crisp and eloquent. He says,

“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. You may call me Nemo, Captain of the Nautilus. I am the patron and founder of this organization. You have already been informed of our need for privacy and I assure you we enforce that requirement with utmost stringency. For I am here today to reveal to you the single most important secret in the history of humanity.

“Within the furthest depths of our oceans lies a slumbering threat that will soon arise and eradicate all human civilization.”

The world tilts at these words, perhaps as the ship mounts a sudden swell. The air of the cramped theater fills with gasps and cries. Nemo raises a single hand with such authority that the room falls back into silence.

“For millennia unending, they would come from the depths to devour us. Once every ten thousand years, their strange lands would rise from the ocean floor, illuminated by a sickly sunlight for the first time in aeons. Out pour nightmares unspeakable, consuming whole civilizations and dragging them screaming and frothing and mad, back into the sea.

“For the first time, humanity is journeying into their domains. With the latest advances in submarine technology, I have been able to reach heretofore unimaginable depths. And what I have discovered has shaken me—has shaken us all—to our very cores.

“For the great oceans are far, far deeper than we could have imagined, cutting deep into the earth’s crust. And what dwells in those places of immeasurable pressure and impenetrable darkness cannot be conceived, even when seen. At the very sight of such alien things, the breath stops short, the heart hesitates, and the mind reels.

“It all began with my discovery of Atlantis. I know that you might not believe me when I say it, even though some of the newspapers ran the story when my associate, Professor Aronnax, tried to convince the world of my discovery. But the foolish land dwellers would not believe him, despite his testimony. Alas, the most important evidence remained at the bottom of the sea.

“For within those ancient underwater ruins, we found massive murals depicting the unknown prehistory of humanity, carved by Atlanteans untold millennia ago. In the tales these murals tell, humans would rise up, building civilizations, only to be culled by horrible monstrous beings form the depths of the sea. Again and again it occurred, once every 10,000 years, for aeons. The Atlantean people cleverly avoided one culling by founding their civilization on a moving island, but the monsters of the depths must have discovered the trick, for the Atlanteans did not escape for long.

“Now that we know our awful fate, that we are nothing but livestock for them, we know we must act. You are among those few drafted to this cause. I have been unable to rouse the rest of the world and, in truth, could never trust the empires of the land with this secret. But this threat comes not only for the evil empires of the land, but for the innocent and oppressed as well—indeed, for all humanity. It is for them that I have chosen to share this discovery with you all here today. I have therefore put together a private enterprise, forming teams of people like you. It thus falls to us to plumb the depths of the Oceans, learn more of these monstrous things, and, if possible, find a way to stop them before or when they next return. Because, by our calculations, the stars are coming into alignment. Their return is due. It is due very soon.”

This short tale begins “The Depths of Madness.” By the end, the Wild Cards brave the pressure and darkness of the deep ocean, fight evil cultists trying to bring about the end of the word, and even face Deep Ones and Shoggoths. Whether or not they can retain their lives or their sanity through these encounters remains to be seen!

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