1879: And There Were Dragons, Dragons Flying Over The Road
Let’s talk about dragons. I mean, this is a fantasy game, and it follows along in the same universe as Earthdawn, and Earthdawn has dragons, so there’s going to be dragons in 1879 eventually, right? And there’s Shadowrun to compare to, even though we’re actively trying to avoid being Shadowrun, or borrowing from it, in that way the younger sibling has to strike out on their own and forge their own identity blah di blah di blah. Uniqueness of self and all that.
We’ve already talked a good deal about one in particular, fellow by the name of Hyrdofeay, took up residence in the Queen’s Tower at Westminster because he was ticked off about the state of the Thames. Well, who can really blame him? London had been using the Thames as an open sewer for generations, it was in a terrible state. Punch had been publishing cartoons about it for quite a number of years. And when your scales are the colour of the river, and the river is a disgusting shade of brown and the foam on the wavelets is the same colour found in the pub urinals, well, you’d be right annoyed too now wouldn’t you?
So Hydrofeay, and yes, that’s a bit of a mouthful and we’ll dissect his name in a moment, went and had a word with Parliament about it. A few of them showed a bit more spine than is usually associated with politicians and told him that he hadn’t the right to address them as he wasn’t a resident of London. Well. He is now. Mind you, he only maintains the residence in Westminster to annoy Parliament, and keep the Crown’s attention, spends more time ensconced in proper style in a town home in Chelsea at the fashionable end. But you can read more about Hydrofeay in the 1879 London Sourcebook, readily available just click the link we’ve so thoughtfully provided. And his name’s pronounced Hear doh’ fee ay, accent on the second syllable, and it’s Anglic and we’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine what it means.
But there’s quite a lot more dragons in the world that just the one. We’ll be describing a couple more in the 1879 GM’s Companion, forthcoming. For now, let’s just say that we’re introducing a new friend and bringing back an old one, and the word “friend” is such an interesting one when talking about dragons now isn’t it? Y Ddraig Goch can be seen on the Welsh banner, and oh yes, he’s staunchly Welsh, and more about him can be found in the book. The other one, we’ll leave as a surprise, because who doesn’t like a surprise dragon? Well, most everyone actually, but what the heck.
In a steampunk world.
How does this even work?
Quite well, actually. It taps into the legends that are part and parcel of the cultures we’re exploring, and were part of the popular culture of the times. People in the late 1800s were every bit as much into the fantastical as you or I, and if you’re not into that sort of thing why are you reading this blog? Sir Walter Scott had made quite a nice pile for himself writing about medieval fantasies, dusted off the old Robin Hood wheeze and created the Robin we all know and love today. Oh, thought that was ancient legend, did you? Nah, bodged together by a 19th century writer in search of a best seller. Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton and his novel The Coming Race caught on like a house on fire, resulted in what could possibly be called the world’s first science fiction convention, although that comes a bit later in our world. There’s that advantage of a game world, you can scootch events around a bit, reorganise the timeline if you need to. We generally keep ourselves to a five year adjustment without feeling the need for additional explanation. Anything gets moved more than that, we try to justify it, assign the action to an earlier or later person. Heinrich Hertz, for example. We moved his birth ten years earlier so he could be part of the von Helmholtz Circle with Planck and Wundt and be exploring the fourth assertion of Maxwell at the point in time where the Rabbit Hole opened. To do that, we changed who his mother was, changed his father’s career path, made a few tiny adjustments in the time space continuum.
But when we’re talking about dragons, we’re talking about bloody great revisions. Introducing something that powerful, in terms of physicality, in terms of symbolic value, in terms of sheer raw wealth, well, it could toss the idea of world balance right out the metaphorical window now couldn’t it? So we’re taking a cue from Earthdawn, and from Shadowrun a little too, and keeping them distant, in general. Oh yes, you might meet Hyrdofeay in person, swanning about some society event or other, but he’s got business of his own on his mind, hasn’t really got time to even take notice of you, and if he does, it’s as a pawn in his latest plot, certainly not anything on the level of a business partner. Dragons don’t do business partners. They don’t have a word for friend, really, just the idea of a potential rival who’s still alive because it’s convenient.
So by playing to the folkloric nature of dragons, their aloofness, their supremacy over lesser beings, their long term machinations, we keep them a step back from the action. They become more of a force of nature, an economic influence, something to be taken into account but not necessarily dealt with directly. I mean, one doesn’t go straight up against the Bank of England, but accommodating the Bank’s economic influence is something every trader and broker does on a daily basis. The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street sails through England’s financial waters as a bloody great juggernaut, or perhaps an iceberg, something a smaller ship could be utterly destroyed by without the berg itself even taking notice of what it brushed aside and sank. And dragons are like that. If you’re lucky, they won’t even notice you.
But if they do.
Oh, if they do.
Your life gets bent in strange directions. Things seem to happen for a reason, even if that reason is just to frustrate your own plans for yourself. The loan you wanted can’t be got, the paperwork has vanished, the clark you spoke with doesn’t work at this branch and never has, but there’s a letter from another bank awaiting you at home letting you know that you’re approved and all you need to do is come in and sign the papers. Your usual Mr. Fagin has left for a tour of the Continent, or gone to take the waters for his health, or shipped off to the Americas, or just fallen down a hole and nobody wants to talk about it, but there’s this new Miss Fagin at his usual table, and she’s got the confidence and the connections and the coin and you’d be daft to not do business with her. What choice have you got anyway? And there’s something looking over your shoulder, something the size of a bus, the feeling that there’s eyes bigger than your head staring at your back all the time, and maybe the feel of being moved like a chess piece.
Yes, that’s dragons.
But which ones?
Straight up, we’re not going to tell you until they make their appearance. You’ll have to wait for the 1879 GM’s Companion to find out who it is. But think about the areas of the world we’re working in. Give it some thought as to what nations we’ve detailed, or at least roughly described. Who might have laired there? What about the lands beyond those in the Earthdawn books, that we’re delving into. You know that New York has to have a dragon in residence, there’s no way the Big Apple doesn’t have a Wyrm in it. And the feathered serpents, down in Mexihco and points further south? Are they awake yet? What about those further east? What lands in the late 19th century map to Barsaive, and where might the lairs of the known Great Dragons of the Fourth World be? Has magic risen enough to awaken them?
Good questions all. And no dragon ever gave anyone a straight answer.