Adventure! by Serf
Post 1Original SA post Adventure!
Published in 2001 by White Wolf, this is the third game in their Aeon Trinity line, which encompasses Trinity, Aberrant and Adventure!, and these three games are set in a shared world. Although it was the last game to be released, Adventure! details the origins of the setting and some of it’s major players. Set against the backdrop of high-flying pulp action in the 1920s, Adventure! actually explains several mysteries of the Aeon Trinity setting.
The book opens with a piece of fiction by well-known comic book writer Warren Ellis, who you may know from Transmetropolitan, Planetary or the Extremis storyline from Iron Man. The story, “Under the Moon” is told from the perspective of Whitley Styles, who narrates all of the stories in the book. Like any good pulp story, it gets straight into the action.
I will say that I do love the way this is presented: in the style of the pulps in their heyday
Max Mercer, gentleman adventurer, is at the bottom of a pit, looking on as aptly-named Lord Darkstock monologues. Below him, the pit is opening up to reveal a cage containing… well it’s not really that clear
“We raised them in the dark heart of Africa, Mr. Mercer,” came the mad royal’s rasp from 30 feet above. “In the shadow of Forbidden Mountain, where the meteor fell in 1888. There were worms in the meteor, Mr. Mercer. Worms from beyond space. Imagine that!” Darkstock laughed again as Max scrabbled to stay upright. Annabelle and I struggled futilely against our bonds. “We force-bred them with the royal beasts, our hunting animals. What you see below you is the result. The Bound Horrors of Darkstock Manor!”
Light fell in chilling stages on the things behind bars. Raw, bloody skin. Necks 25 feet long, strong and mobile. Long teeth set in infected mouths, their hard edges slick with pus. Human eyes. From his grim expression, I saw that Max was in no doubt that he could not survive an attack by these beasts. The noise of the bones continuing to clatter onto their bars maddened them. They thrashed and shrieked. And the bars shook in their stone beds.
I guess they’re space-worms that were force-bred to… dogs? Unless British nobility are really fucked up and have hunting worms? I dunno, this part confuses me.
Mercer does what any good pulp hero would do and jumps down onto the cage and tricks one of the Bound Horrors into smashing through the cage, propelling him up to Darkstock’s level, where he split’s the man’s head open with his knife.
We then cut to Mercer at his New York office in the still-unfinished Chrysler Building, where he is lamenting the fact that he had to kill Darkstock while Whitley just shrugs and tells him the jerk had it coming. Whitley tells us how Mercer “...made a sheik’s fortune 11 or 12 times over in his young life from radical new mechanical patents and stock market wizardry and, each time, had given it away - wholly or in increments - to charities, trusts and reform societies. His concern was always with making life better for as many people as was humanly possible. That, and his violent aversions to both boredom and thought of his own personal safety, was what tended to make his life most difficult.” Mercer is essentially the amalgam of every billionaire playboy philanthropist do-gooder there ever was. Imagine Batman without the silly costume, basically.
Their conversation is interrupted when they notice another unfinished skyscraper being lifted into the sky a few blocks away. It eventually disappears into the sky and Mercer tells Whitley to “...summon the Aeon Society.” We then meet Dr. Benjamin Franklin Dixon, whose intro contains this little nugget of, uh
He lit another of his thick black cigars, unique to him and rolled by his own personal staff of insane shamen and priestesses somewhere in the depths of Cuba, and considered the scene.
Basically Whitley is a crude white man in the 1920s. This is usually license to spout a lot of gross racist and sexist crap, but I’m willing to give Ellis a pass here because it is in the style of the day and it fits the character. However, the book doesn’t do a very good job of proving Whitley’s assumptions about women and people of color wrong, but we’ll get to that later.
Dixon fires up his “Detectoids” which are basically spider-bots, and finds the culprit behind this dastardly feat: Z-Rays! We’re then treated to a summary of Z-Rays, which are essentially “science-magic that does what the plot demands.” Cool, it’s pulp, I’ll go with it. Dixon decides that the perpetrator must have been using a Z-Ray device mounted on an artificial satellite, and that they had missed their intended target: the Chrysler Building where Mercer was. Mercer and Whitley go to visit Sarah Gettel, who Mercer intimidates into telling him he can find the Machinatrix, who he believes to be the only person who could build a device capable of building an artificial moon.
The heroes head to Paraguay, assisted by Jake Stefonowski, the Danger Ace, in an advanced superplane built by Howard Hughes and Max Mercer. In the Machinatrix’s workshop they find her shot in the middle of the room. But on further inspection she’s got machines embedded in her body that help her heal. So Max gives her a jolt of bioelectricity to get her back on her feet. We find out that the Machinatrix used to be married to Dr. Dixon, who is present through teleradio. Max convinces the mad scientist to give up the location of the person who requisitioned the satellite and shot her. She reveals that she built the satellite, and the Z-Ray emitter, which has to beam the power to the satellite from the ground because it’s too big to send into orbit. But she knows nothing about the antigravity machine that ripped the building out of Manhattan.
We then find Mercer and Whitley parachuting down to Rex Mundi, an island in the South Pacific where the Z-Ray machine was installed. Inside, the place is deserted and the anti-grav cannon is aimed right at Rex Mundi! With no time to escape, Mercer calls for backup, which comes in the form of Annabelle Lee Newfield, the team’s sniper. Dangling from beneath Danger Ace’s plane, Annabelle nails the Z-Ray machine with her rifle, and Rex Mundi sinks back into place.
Mercer is no closer to finding this new enemy than before, as the Machinatrix couldn’t give him a name. But the madman still possesses the anti-grav cannon, and Mercer vows to pursue them.
After this opening fiction we’re treated to an in-character introduction to the Aeon Society for Gentlemen by Max Mercer himself, who is speaking to a potential recruit. I’m not even going to try and summarize Mercer’s bombastic speech. Read for yourself:
Really not digging "Darkest Africa" vibe than runs through this book and even bleeds into the art. There's a line between aping a style and just propagating ignorance because you don't care enough to do the work.
One thing I should note about this book: like all the Aeon Trinity books, it is divided into 2 sections. They frontload you with the fiction, fluff and setting information, then get into the mechanics only afterwards. I love and hate this decision. I love it because I am a huge nerd and the setting of Adventure! is my favorite part of it. I hate it because you spend half the book reading about the setting, and then you get hit with the immensely dry mechanics sections. That’s a bit unfair, I remember there being more setting-appropriate examples in Adventure!’s mechanics than in Aberrant, but it is kind of a slog to get through.
Next time on Serf’s Adventure! F&F: a thrilling tale of murder, intrigue and astounding science penned by everyone’s favorite tabletop writer Greg Stolze!
Post 2Original SA post Adventure! Part Two: Stolze goes full genre and we find out what the hell is going on
We open up with another piece of short fiction written by everybody’s favorite tabletop writer Greg Stolze!
This story opens with our intrepid narrator Whitley Styles standing in a laboratory full of dead men along with Professor Dixon and newly-introduced Primoris. The men all appear to have been smothered, and Styles is prevented from closing their eyes by Primoris. Styles determines that the men asphyxiated, but there are no strangulation marks on any of them, and even though a skilled assassin could leave no mark, the men all died too slowly for that. The laboratory is undisturbed aside from a lot of yellow dust on the floor. No one is coming up with any ideas on how they were killed, but Primoris and Dixon know what they were up to:
Whitley Styles would go on to found the D.A.R.E program
Just as the Aeon boys are on the verge of a discovery concerning the yellow dust, six “swarthy” men enter the room, carrying strange knives. The knives emit yellow smoke, and as they approach, Whitley takes a shot at one, but his pistol fails to fire as he suddenly becomes dizzy and passes out
Whitley is a huge fucking goon, basically
Whitley awakens in a hospital owned by Max Mercer with a splitting headache and a stitched-up wound on his forehead from where one of the attackers sliced him. Annabelle Lee Newfield informs him that Dixon took down their attackers with some sort of glue-gun. She also shows him the long strands of coagulated blood extracted from his forehead veins, somehow hardened by the strange knives of his attackers. Primoris was stabbed more seriously and is still in surgery. One of the attackers lived and is being questioned by Max Mercer at the local police precinct.
With his pants back on, Whitley takes a ride with Dixon in a flawless Bentley that smells of “leather and cigars.” Dixon informs him that the reason he passed out and that the knife thickened his blood is because they are made of a strange metal that sucks the oxygen out of the nearby air by undergoing a rapid process of oxidation.
At the police station, Whitley and Mercer find that the assassin has been roughed up, and Mercer decides that the man hasn’t had enough yet.
Max quickly deduces that the man is a Bahraini pearl diver, suited to holding his breath for long periods of time, which explains why he was chosen to wield an oxygen-destroying knife. When pressed for information, the man responds that they “...have my daughter.”
And that concludes the story, we get a nice little cliffhanger that never goes anywhere but does illustrate a good way to end a session. This comes up later in the GM section.
Next we get a partially-burned invitation from a Doctor Sir Calvin Hammersmith, who extolls the wisdom of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Hammersmith believes that there is a sort of free energy “bound up in the physical dimensions of space-time itself” which he calls telluric energy. The invitation is to come and see his engine, which apparently can convert this telluric energy into usable electricity.
At the bottom of the invitation, written by hand, is a note reading: “Why me? What brought me there to witness that magnificent, tragic spectacle of fire and lightning from room-filling machinery run amok, the devastation to the estate, Dr. Hammersmith’s heroic self-sacrifice to save the rest of us, those dazed moments on the greens as each of us felt fresh stirrings of power?” Below that is a single word, “Destiny.”
After the death of Hammersmith and the destruction of his telluric engine, Max Mercer is nowhere to be found. We get journal entries written by Whitley as he searches for Mercer, starting in December 1922. He goes to England to chase leads, but comes up empty handed before returning to the US. In June 1923, Mercer turns up, under the care of Dr. Primoris, apparently with a case of amnesia. Whitley recalls meeting Primoris after Mercer rescued him from the Thuggee(sure), and to celebrate, they all go out for steaks that night and to talk about Max’s new venture.
This is the literary equivalent of a title drop
During their conversation over dinner, we get this little gem:
Goddamn Whitley is irritating
And so the Aeon Society for Gentlemen (and ladies too, apparently) is formed. The Aeon Society is kinda presented as the default faction to which the PCs will belong in Adventure! There are other factions that I’ll get to, but they are presented more as rivals, enemies, and allies to the Aeon Society, who provide the means for the PCs to go out on adventures, and plenty of hooks into the world. You can run Adventure! without being part of the Aeon Society, but the whole book is geared towards the assumption that you totally want to be a part of this group.
Inspiring words, Max
From left to right: Danger Ace, Doctor Primoris, “Safari” Jack Tallon, Maxwell Mercer, Professor Dixon, Annabelle Lee Newfield, and Whitley Styles.
Next time on Serf’s Adventure! F&F: the early days of the Aeon Society and crackpot psuedoscience!
First Days of the Aeon Society and pseudoscience!Original SA post
I know it's been a while since my last post, but here goes:
Adventure! Part Three: First Days of the Aeon Society and pseudoscience!
The next couple of pages of the book cover the remainder of 1923, vaguely recounting the adventures of the Aeon Society from the perspective of Whitley Styles, using his journal to do so. The Society faces off with sexism in the ranks as Annabelle Newfield stands up to Danger Ace and Jack Tallon. Max and intrepid journalist Sarah Gettel come back from battling zombies in Haiti and Max sets up a new office for the Society in London.
Max Mercer seems to always be one step ahead of everyone else and knows exactly what to do, which Whitley is always eating up. It’s not exactly clear if the writers are in love with Max or if Whitley is, but we’re clearly supposed to be very impressed by the character.
Were newspapers back then in the habit of printing nicknames?
We then get a few hints at allies and adversaries. Danger Ace brings someone called “the Furry Man” back after crashing in the Yukon. Jack Tallon escapes an expedition-gone-wrong in the Congo by “intimidating the locals” and Whitley barely gets away from the Ubiquitous Dragon and his Dragon’s Coil Tong (ugh). Mercer reminds the crew that “we’re not pursuing personal vendettas or out to force people to change. After all, the Aeon Society is not a secret government and has no intention of becoming one. We fight against secrets.” I think the writers were going for irony here, since if you’ve read Aberrant and Trinity you know that the Aeon Society does go on to become a shadow government, controlling the world from behind the scenes. They’re also collecting files on people with weird powers and secret organizations from across the world. The Society isn’t keeping this information secret, but aside from Sarah Gettel, no journalists seem to be interested. More significantly, Max comes up with the idea of building a prison for the exceptional people they encounter, to keep them from endangering the public. The Society decides to build a “psychiatric facility” somewhere in Africa to house these people. That closes out the last of 1923 for the Society.
The next section covers “telluric energy” which is basically the juice that gives our pulp heroes their power. This is written from the perspective of Doctor Primoris, who is much more clinical than Whitley. He starts off describing masked heroes, which are… a thing, I guess? It doesn’t really come up as much as it probably should.
Sure, whatever you say.
If you’re familiar with the World of Darkness line and White Wolf products in general, you’ll know that most of their game lines split PC options up into distinct groups. Adventure! is no different, and Primoris introduces us to the three options players have.
First up are the Daredevils . These folks don’t have any real superheroic powers to speak of, but they do have a combination of incredible personal skill and uncanny luck. These are your Indiana Jones and Batman type characters. Since this is the fluff section, their powers aren’t gone into, but it is also noted that they have the ability to use “pseudoaetheric devices” which we’ll get into later.
Next we have the Mesmerists . Contrary to their name, they’re not just mind-readers, they also have the ability to affect the world with their minds. Telekinesis, psychometry, but also telepathy and mind control are all among their powers. Think of guys like the Shadow. Primoris notes that Harry Houdini ran afoul of a couple Mesmerists while he was exposing frauds among the spiritual community, but apparently decided to… not say anything and go looking for a person who could speak to the dead.
(One issue I have with Adventure! is that it doesn’t do much in the way of attempting to make its alt-history matter. Chronologically the next game in the line is Aberrant , which took place in the then-future of 2008, and until that game’s inciting event, apparently not much differs from regular Earth. Which seems like kind of a waste, given that Adventure! includes a great many characters who should be changing the world.)
Lastly there are the Stalwarts . They have a wide range of physical abilities, such as super-strength, enhanced healing, incredible durability, and even the ability to hurl lightning. Primoris seems most impressed with the Stalwarts, as their abilities are, to him, the ones that most seem to defy science. Stalwarts are mostly inspired by Doc Savage and comic book superheroes.
If you know about the Aeon Trinity line, you know that Mesmerists are the Psions that feature in the sci-fi game Trinity and the Stalwarts become the Novas of Aberrant . One of the appealing things about Adventure! is that it ties together the origins of two distinct genre archetypes: the transhumanist sci-fi psychics and the Dark Age superhero comics of the 90s and early 00s. The Daredevils are a left out in the cold, forced to share their book (this one) with scaled-back versions of the other two. This was a bad move, in my opinion, as Daredevils are the most interesting character type.
Primoris has his own categorization method for these new, weird kinds of people. He thinks of the Daredevils as the heroes of ancient myth, the Mesmerists as sorcerers and soothsayers, and the Stalwarts as the gods of legend and the future of humanity (quick, guess which one Primoris is).
Okay, I actually like this. It reads like it could've come out of a newspaper at the time
Most of the rest of this section is Primoris coming up with various terms to describe the method by which the, as Mercer calls them, “Inspired” derive their power. He settles on “telluric energy” though the book uses this interchangeably with “pseudeoaetheric waves.” In July of 1924 an “Inspired madman” attempts to blow up New York with psychic lightning, but the Aeon Society manages to turn it back and blow him up. Primoris notes that the Inspired are rare, and they all seem to step from people getting exposed to this telluric energy.
Primoris notes that these powers don’t seem to have existed before 1922, and that the telluric rays of Hammersmith’s machine may have irradiated people across the globe. He examines his own cells under a microscope and notes that his mitochondria are far more active than a normal human’s. He wonders how much of him is still human, or if he is human at all anymore. He goes on to question the theory of evolution and laments that he cannot obtain samples of the other Society members’ tissue without arousing suspicion.
What does the picture have to do with the news story??
He’s keeping a lot of this information to himself. Well, that’ll probably never come up!
In his final entry, Primoris speculates that the so-called “super-science” employed by other members of the Society and their enemies is not what it seems. He believes that inventors are building machines that only work because of the user’s connection to telluric energy, and will not function in the hands of a non-Inspired (conveniently explaining away why no one invents supertech and gets rich). He reflects on Marie Curie’s experiments with radioactivity and wonders if her work could be combined with his research into telluric energy.
Finally he discusses one last category of devices, which are capable of converting electricity into telluric energy or vice versa, produce strange and incomprehensible effects, and can be used by anyone regardless of whether they are Inspired or not. These devices appear to always be one-offs and cannot be mass-produced, but are dangerous regardless of who has them (in the rules section these are devices created and used primarily by science-minded Daredevils).
Top Guns, James Bonds, and SherlocksOriginal SA post Top Guns, James Bonds, and Sherlocks
So it’s been a while! Nevertheless I am back and still slowly chugging along with more information on a low-key favorite of mine: Adventure!
If you want to catch up, Inklesspen has archived my last 3 posts about the game here Adventure!
The next few pages deal with the other major players in the world of Adventure!, though not nation-states, these organizations are either subservient to states or exist apart from them. We'll cover the nations of the world and the state of the various geographical regions in a later post. These organizations are comparable to the Aeon Society, and run the gamut of foes, friends and rivals. We’re back to Whitley Styles running the writing show, so strap in for more of his, uh, interesting perspectives.
Remember this part, where Styles says that all the information herein is available to the public because of the Aeon Society’s commitment to FREEDOM and IDEALS
The Air Circus
First up is the organization that Danger Ace is associated with. The Air Circus was formed by Ace after World War 1, when he became an aerial entertainer. He had an entourage who followed him around, but he started to notice that he just couldn’t stop running into all sorts of weird trouble out there in the skies, so he started hitting up his high-flying colleagues to ask if they were seeing a lot of weirdness too. “Surprisingly” as the book puts it, they were! So they agreed to meet in Kansas City to talk about how they could protect the fans at their shows and work together to combat the… well the book doesn’t really say what sort of trouble Ace and the others were seeing before, but I’m gonna guess air pirates or something?
The Kansas City meeting goes sideways when Doctor Zorbo reveals his Death Balloons, which menace the city from above with… again, it’s not really mentioned. I’d say it was bombs, but that doesn’t really make sense given our next image.
This seems kinda like a cop-out here. What were the balloons carrying that could hurt people if not bombs? Although I like the detail about the pilots using pistols, because in real life that’s pretty much how early aerial combat went. Pilots started off throwing bricks and grenades at each other, the graduated to pistols before they figured out how to mount machine guns on planes. Of course that was back in at least 1914, but civilian planes like the ones the Air Circus would be flying wouldn’t have guns, so it makes sense that they’d go back to the basics.
Zorbo is sorta a joke villain, always coming up with grand schemes to extort money or steal things from the skies… but always using lighter-than-air craft to do so. I think Zorbo would make for an excellent Better Angels character.
So the Air Circus kinda becomes a thing after Kansas City, traveling in troupes, bringing along entourages and getting into trouble across the globe. The United States isn’t a fan of them, since at this point they are trying to get their own Air Corps off the ground, and don’t like a buncha weirdo civvies saving the day for them. Other countries are cool with it, most ominously Germany, since the Treaty of Versailles limited their air force and people like Zorbo are always trying to start shit with them. The Circus is also on good terms with the International Detective Agency and the Ponatowski Foundation (fictional organizations we’ll get to soon), as they can deliver people and packages faster than anyone else in the world.
I dunno if you could run a whole game based around the Air Circus, but there is something to it. Either you’re all playing various flavors of pilot or you’re mixed between pilots and ground personnel/hangers-on. And I think that when the flying action starts the latter players would be left twiddling their thumbs, or doing some kinda grunt work while the real action is happening elsewhere.
So like in the VERY NEXT entry Whitley is saying "remember how we don't keep secrets and we're making all of our files public and information wants to be free"? Well fuck that noise apparently. The files are still open, you can still come read them, just don't tell anybody, okay? I mean we don't want to compromise top-level state secrets even though our stated goal is to not have secrets. If they really wanted it to make sense, they could just save the "pretty please" stuff and have this come from the redacted section or something, I dunno. This is a dumb section.
Branch 9 are the elite secret agents who report only to the President. Formed by Teddy Roosevelt to combat international and interstate crime, Branch 9 consists of Operators, who are sent out on solo missions to handle crimes that the rest of the world isn't ready to deal with. Shades of X-Files here for sure, and it makes them natural allies and competitors for the Aeon Society. The number of Operators is small, they work alone, and can pretty much do whatever they need to do to get the job done. Operators have designations, not names, and the one Annabelle met was named B1. The book states that there was an Operator en route to Kansas City to stop Zorbo's attack before the Air Circus beat them to the punch. Operators often have war backgrounds, but some are civilians, and they are trained in "Asian fighting styles" plus a smattering of other spy skills like guns, science and languages. They also have a "license to kill" juuuuust in case you didn't think these guys were the American version of James Bond.
Standard gear consists of a bulletproof blue suit, belt radio, and omni-lockpick, plus other gizmos and gadgets as needed.
Also it turns out Teddy didn't seem this idea to himself! He spread it to other friends of the US, including Mexico, Britain, China, France and others. So you have the possibility of running across Branch 9 Operators from other countries. This is plainly a catch-all for superspies and such, but I'm okay with it. It does give us this gem:
Gimme a break Shitley
If you were to ignore the loner style of operations, you could probably easily run a Branch 9 game. An international game with Operators from various countries working together could be cool. But Operators also work well as allies, or maybe even friendly rivals? They are described as competent and capable in many fields, so if you needed an NPC to be one step ahead of the players, Branch 9 can give you that.
The International Detective Agency
Started as an alternative to the Pinkertons, the IDA is run out of London by the mysterious Old Man. But he is not the only Old Man, as each IDA branch office is run by an Old Man, who always comes from a police or detective background. The Old Man in each office oversees a staff of Irregulars, who are detectives for hire. Picked for their skills at investigation as much as for their moral compass, the Irregulars are incorruptible. They consist of both men and women, and they work for the IDA's standard rate. Anyone who can afford them can hire them, but only if the Old Man approves. The IDA are intended to be good guys who work for good people.
Potential Irregulars are sought out by existing members, who find them through the police or private detective work, surveil them and present a dossier to the Old Man, who will approach them if he likes the cut of their jib. They then get trained in special investigation tactics, how to do things the IDA's way, and how and when to ask for help and work with other Irregulars without stepping on toes. Irregulars work as bodyguards, private investigators, and as insurance fraud adjustors. They also do divorce work, missing persons cases and track down kidnapping victims. Basically if there's been a crime and you can afford the standard rate of $5 a day plus expenses, the IDA will work for you.
IDA Irregulars work solo, or in teams of up to three, as assigned by the Old Man depending on what the case needs. They tend to dress in clean suits, though there is no formal dress code. Since they are not beholden to a nation, they are free to pursue international crime in a way that most countries can't yet, and their multicultural make-up gives them access to perspectives and techniques that wouldn't be found in just one nation. They've also pioneered forensic investigation, using stuff like fingerprinting, ballistics, and stranger things like telluric tech.
You didn't think Whitley would let us get away without saying something else that would disappoint Max, right?
I think you could easily run an IDA game if you, again, fudged the numbers on the amount of Irregulars. They mention having offices in Paris, Istanbul, Macao, New Delhi, Rio de Janeiro and others, so you could set a game just about anywhere and have Irregulars from all over the world. I think there's enough variety of detective archetypes out there that each member could be doing their own thing without too much crossover in terms of skills and areas of interest. You could just as easily do this with the Aeon Society, but if you want to focus on pulp crime out of dime novels, I think the IDA could offer a lot of fun.
I kinda like this as an adventure hook. King of the World is a really cool name, and you could have a lot of fun tracking down a super-criminal who steals diamonds and offs detectives.
Next time: Nerds, Criminals, and Nerd Criminals