Fantasy and horror, magic and technology, men and monsters meet and merge. Spellslingers and the ritual magic of blood cults exist parallel with smoking revolvers, cold stiffs, and dark deceptions. Adventurers have the chance to gain riches and power, provided they can survive the places where nothing is ever as it seems.
Bloodshadows, 3rd Edition
To be honest, I’d have written this post eventually, but seeing Bloodshadows in the DtRPG Halloween Sale moved “eventually” up to “right now.” I have a long, involved relationship with the Bloodshadows setting that started with the West End Games MasterBook edition when I was managing the unfortunately named game and memorabilia shop Fantasy Forum in Northern Virginia 20 years and more ago. (Why was Fantasy Forum an unfortunate name? Let’s just say that we got many calls for the types of “toys” that weren’t cheap plastic phasers that made 8-bit beeping sounds.) Noir sensibilities combined with deep and dangerous magic? Tragic and epic history about to bubble up into an increasingly fraught present? My jam right there.
The world of Marl was the focus of the age-old war between Chaos and Order centuries and centuries ago. Things with no names, some barely recognizable as things, fought alongside humans in the most recent battlefield of a conflict that moves from realm to realm, reality to reality. Eventual the war moved on to another realm, but it left Marl deeply and irrevocably changed. Remnants of the creatures of Order of Chaos roam the wastes between cities, making travel dangerous both physically and existentially. New sentient species emerged in the aftermath, as well… Four-armed Catarms, ghoulish Elkist, stone-skinned Grani… The result of crossbreeding with Demons, magical experimentation, or the stray energies of a world-breaking war, the list is long. And, well… weird.
Civilization exists only where enough people are gathered together to defend against what lies outside the walls – the unnaturals and abominations of the Wastes. In some cities magic is all-powerful, with Elementalist guilds cracking down on internal combustion and the products of science and technology. In others, the balance tilts toward technology. Your gutsy shamus might carry a gun with rune-charged bullets to deal with demons and cultists, or might have a friend with a wand and terrible powers.
Cultists? Did I say cultists? As it happens, the vanguards of the forces of Order and Chaos are returning to Marl, bringing the war with them soon, and they’re manifesting in increasingly fanatic cults that might just as easily mask themselves as a “Business Association” as a slavering band of cutthroats. Your characters can pick a side, but often the best way is to stay neutral, trying to keep your head above the ever-rising tide of conflict. At least for now.
To be honest, none of the rulesets available for Bloodshadows tickle me as much as the setting does. Precis Intermedia makes three versions available: a reprint of the original Bloodshadows MasterBook World Book, the OpenD6 Edition, and Bloodshadows 3rd Edition, which uses their genreDiversion system. I had limited success running 3rd edition recently, but much of that was my own damn fault – I let myself get too far into my head and didn’t make adjustments for the way I like to play games now.
One day, I will take this rich, weird, and sometimes silly setting and run it in a “modern” system that encourages the GM and Player behaviors I love at the table. For now, I continue to go back for inspiration and the occasional head-shake.