Some games are about winning and others are about telling a story; Enter the Shadowside is very much about telling a story -a story about the dark days before the End of the World, and about the seven mysterious organizations which compete for occult power, travelling back and forth between our realm and the realm of the dead while everything unravels.
Through "Hierogamy" characters are matched and joined with spirit partners -ghosts who ride inside their heads and grant them paranormal power in return for the luxury of riding flesh-and-bones once again, and escaping the Shadowside.
So which are these seven organizations?
After a full day of sailing the cries of agony had finally subsided. Still the corpses hanged, staked by their hands and feet to the hulls of the invading ships… four thousand five hundred of them –the world would not see a fleet this large again until D-Day, for such was the blood-lust of Kublai Khan. The year was 1281, and Japan was doomed.
In a temple’s garden near Kyuushuu, cherry blossoms gently fell on the red-stained water of the pond. The old man laid face down with a sword through his chest. His most beloved disciples knelt around him; with tears in their eyes they had seen him push the blade in with his own hands. But he had died smiling –Fujin was with him, it was said, and his sacrifice would call upon the Divine Winds once again.
And it did. The winds started to blow -for two whole days the typhoon raged and not a single of Khan’s ships ever saw shore again. Japan had guardians perpetual now; and they'd stand watch from the spirit realm, forever, in honor.
Or so they thought: the old Cult of Fujin burned at Hiroshima. The Bomb was too sudden, too cruel –too definitive. For years no mortal Chimamire could survive the maddening cries of the Kogeta, the Burned, as they rose eternal in radioactive fire. The elders had been driven mad or silent, and Fujin himself was gone. It was the end of a 600-year legacy, but the start of something much more dangerous, something new. Out of the glowing ashes emerged Fujin’s Blood, started by the inner circle of surviving lieutenants who swore revenge against the West even if the entire world had to burn too, like Japan had.
They bide their time. Fujin’s Blood today is the ultimate modern mafia; a taut web of crime-lords and blindly loyal henchmen which stretches throughout the entire Asian underworld. They sell arms, drugs, and people. They wear business suits over full-torso tattoos, and drive luxury cars. They harvest Belief from Pain -usually through torture- and their magic is all about Blood and Wind. They are still driven by tradition. They still have a strict code of honor, and they haven't forgotten their guardianship duty to Japan, despite the recent tentative alliances with Eastern-European and Mediterranean crime organizations. But now they destroy, too, and relish a revenge that burns brighter than hope.
If you ever find yourself in Tokyo or Shanghai, and hear whispers in the breeze: beware. When it starts blowing red it's already too late.
The Kingdom of Jerusalem had fallen; the Crusades had been for naught. But the first words out of Pope Gregory VIII’s mouth were not of concern for its people nor its king: “The head of John the Baptist?” “Fear not, your Holiness.” replied the messenger “The Poor Knights of Saint John defended King Solomon’s Temple to the last man. Through their sacrifice a group of Hospitaliers managed to save all of the Relics, and see to their safe passage to Antioch”. “Did they tell Angelus?” “No, your Holiness. They felt it wouldn't have been… prudent”. “As wise as they are brave. Bring these men to me, and the Relics”. The year was 1187, and The Holy Order Of The Thirteen Devil’s Hammers was consecrated in secret as the ultimate elite force serving the Lord through the Adversary's own tools; a Hidden Hand carrying His Holy Will wherever His Word alone wouldn't suffice.
Over the centuries they learned the magic of their vanquished foes: the necromancy of the Egyptians, the divination of the Gypsies, the body-and-soul balance of the Hindus. Everything impure through fire they purified, everything profane through blood they consecrated. They were at their finest for the Inquisition.
Their quest to find, deconstruct and ultimately flip the tools of Darkness into the service of Light earned the Malleus Diaboli a vast and nuanced understanding of the Shadowside -which they refer to as Limbo -and the know-how to leverage it’s only rule of “Belief Creates Reality” –which they refer to as Faith.
It takes more than faith, however, to still believe in their core tenet these days: that one may use the tools of evil -the Devil’s Hammers- and still remain immaculate, that one may cross through the swamp and remain clean. Evil is what evil does. After WWII, when their association with Nazi Germany’s Thule Society nearly cost them their very survival -some say their soul-, a small splinter of morally-troubled individuals left the Order, were branded Apostates, and have been ruthlessly hunted since.
At the same time, tragically few know that Malleus Diaboli single-handedly saved the world as we know it from the fires of Belial not once, but twice -in 1650 and 1862; and Malleus today prepares for the third and final battle.
Relatively well financed, with potential bases of operations in every Catholic church, and powered by the blinding belief in the righteousness of their cause as well as their proud history and legacy, Malleus today does God’s Work.
Short for “Somos Santos” (We’re Holy) aka “La Somosa” is a loose network of third-world gangs lead by houngans, witch-doctors, shamans and other animistic magicians from a variety of African-influenced religions, such as Haitian Voudou, Brazilian Candomblé, Cuban Santería, etc. They are united by two common causes: one is to help the oppressed rise above their oppressors (this mostly involves helping the poor), and the other is plain old rage against the system.
They believe their organization started in 1862 simultaneously in West Africa, Louisiana, South America and the Caribbean, organized directly from the Shadowside by barbarously-slain ancestor spirits. The Somosa is the spirit world's response to the brutal rape of Africa, the institutionalization of slavery in America and the still- present pain of the poorest third-world countries.
The Somosa believes the End Justifies the Means, and so it has little remorse about financing its operations through criminal activities such as drug trafficking, arms dealing, kidnapping, assassination and all sorts of shady deals with the devil. Whenever a pang of guilt surfaces (usually in the more junior members) it is quickly sublimated through the mantra: “They did worse to us”. They donate a large portion of their profits to their host communities: building hospitals, schools and churches, and occasionally raining 100-dollar bills upon street urchins. Only one other group, “Big Sis”, forms bonds as close as Somosa's; all brothers and sisters are there for each other, and as long as slums exist in the city one is never far from a warm bed and a hot meal in a local Cuartel. Somosa means Family.
Alas, few other organizations are so utterly dominated by the Shadowside. Los Abuelos -the angry and powerful ancestor spirits who died themselves as slaves- will frequently “ride” their mortal descendants to make their wishes known, to remind them of the historical horrors they endured, and occasionally, to simply force the hand of the hesitant in enacting heinous acts of butchery. The rank-and-file live in a mix of awe and fear, and some secretly worry that no amount of revenge -no matter how brutal- will ever be enough to sate the hunger of the Abuelos.
As a group the Somosa is extremely well attuned to the Shadowside (called Fén Nwa Bó) and it has built a reputation for powerful magical curses, savagery, and a penchant for necromancy and possession. In reality, they are a source of both hope and vengeance for many of the forgotten and humiliated peoples of the world, and in this dichotomy they hold the key to either their own division and destruction, or synthesis and evolution.
Some say it started as a response to the Inquisition, few know it's even older: a haven for the hunted, for the freaks and the forsaken… but you wouldn't know it looking from the outside in. To outward appearances the Sisterhood of Salem is simply a super-group of like-minded pagans, a loosely-Wicca organization made out almost exclusively of outcasts of one kind or another; gypsies, hippies, goth kids, freaks. Anyone rejected by society, anyone prone to run away with the circus, anyone sick of the Us-Vs-Them game humans like to play so much is bound to run into “Big Sis” in some forest sooner or later, in some county fair, in some 10-dollar-psychic-reading shop and like Dorothy, leave Kansas. And then be in for a surprise when Oz is composed of vast underground caverns hidden under remote ranches and farms, labyrinthine towns in the sewers of most major cities, ancient manors in the forest and medieval strongholds where large inhuman figures are sometimes glimpsed coming in and out of, always near midnight.
Big Sis embraces everybody and judges no one; its only rule is “Do unto others” (which granted, goes both ways). Some tormented souls have lived for hundreds of years in Hierogamy with blood-thirsty spirits they cannot understand, and are sometimes prisoners to their primal animalistic rage, regardless of the state of the moon. Not all of the medieval legends about vampires and werewolves ought to be disregarded: many did devolve into feral beasts -but those who found the Sisterhood in time finally understood.
The Sisterhood arranges for them what is necessary to sate the short-term hunger of their inner demons, and then teaches the host to gradually regain some measure of control. These "monsters", “vampires” and “werewolves” are among the most loyal forces any organization could ever have: for when they fight they fight for the only home and family they've ever known.
Not all members suffer from animalistic-Hierogamy of course; Big Sis has plenty of regular mages and witches, and it’s agnostic as to the various doctrines and beliefs of their practitioners –in fact it benefits from their diversity.
Most Big Sis' real estate comes from a time when Malleus was still quite overt about hunting them down, and as much as they'd like to forget it, a time when that hunting was somewhat justifiable; the Unnaturals weren't always about Peace and Love -some still aren't. These days each major Coven has a Leader, and the Council of Leaders, lead by a rotating head, or Sophia, meets once per year, usually in Necrotopia (their capital city beneath Manhattan with a population in the tens of thousands), to discuss the progress of The Quest: their mission to literally heal the world. Some say, however, that such idealism will be the downfall of the Peace and Crossbones (or the Siete-Trece as it is known in Latin America). Time will tell.
Ordo Templi Orientis applied for tax exemption in 1982. The Freemasons publicly donate to charity, and host conferences. The Rosicrucians have disowned all of their more interesting rites, and even the Templars have become, at least in popular culture, a faint mockery of what they used to be. Enter The Greater Thelema Society, recruiting the best (and usually the most disenchanted) from every other occult organization and promising a vision as bold as any Crowley himself could have dreamed of: unlimited knowledge, unlimited power, and the good sense and discretion to keep occult matters occult.
Tracing the genealogy of what eventually became the GTS would be a complex exercise in cult fragmentation, but suffice to say they trace their initial spark to Sir Francis Dashwood’s Hellfire Club itself, and believe themselves to be the true heirs of Aleister Crowley’s legacy. They recruit and groom within the old pillars of power in our civilization: politicians, deans, captains of industry, old money. They are in every sense a secret society: united by their shared sense of superiority and thirst for forbidden knowledge, unafraid of morals yet respectful of tradition, they live and die by the golden motto of Thelema: “Do as you will”.
You can’t just join GTS unless you are already at the top of your game in the ‘unlit’ world (to use their terminology). Their very exclusive membership allows them to wield disproportionate economic, political and cultural power: picture a dozen black Cadillacs all arriving at midnight at some venerable hilltop mansion in the historical heart of Boston. Usually that is all anyone can picture, for what happens behind closed doors is a closely guarded secret. There are rumors of devil worshiping, of bacchanalia and orgies, of human sacrifices and pentagrams drawn in blood over expensive hardwood flooring, chants in Latin and hooded men wielding ceremonial knives, etc. Their relic collection is second only to the Vatican’s.
But modern society, being what it is, is changing too fast. GTS has been accused of being too slow to adapt, too stuck in their neo-victorian mindset of class warfare and conspiracy. GTS wants a New World Order where the Deserving have total control over the Undeserving -in the meanwhile knowledge, thrills, and the personal satisfaction of conquering domains beyond the mortal coil makes do. There are wheels within wheels and meanings within meanings. They have a reputation for manipulating world events behind the scenes; it is rumored that during the last Endgame in WWII it was a young GTS which lead Malleus astray towards its ill-fated alliance with the Thule Society, and that they had a hand in situating the original Fujin deity in the path of the A-bomb as a means of destroying the ancient Cult of Fujin utterly. It is said they manipulated Thule into exterminating the Brotherhood of Pharos after pillaging their vast knowledge, and then scavenged both corpses. Many things are said, but one is known: the Society wants to rule the world, and has a real shot at it too.
It started as a simple matter of efficiency. Scientific tests performed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology conclusively demonstrated the existence of a “psychic layer”, theorizing it as the true source of human sentience. Nobel-worthy findings indeed, if only they hadn’t been so quickly hushed up by a shady conclave of international corporate interests.
Indeed, the Psychic Tempore (what the scientists called the Shadowside) was seen by their payroll masters as too good an opportunity to pass up, a Columbus-sized discovery that would go to waste if disclosed to the public too soon, or too openly. And so it was quickly decided that this new frontier should not be exploited through traditional governmental channels: there were too many wildly diverging budgets, political ideologies and national interests to be accountable to, and truly, Men-In-Black are almost as expensive as congressional hearings are painful. Discretion was the order of the day.
And so the stage was set for the rise of Accelletrix; headquartered in Moscow but truly international, able to aggressively recruit the best operatives of every three-letter agency, and discreetly centralizing all research and development under a single umbrella. Revenue comes via third-party channels which commercialize proprietary R&D (mostly pharmaceuticals and military technology) and "security services" -an euphemism for their small private army.
Whether providing armament and field expertise in the Middle East, or developing bold new cures using human trials out of sight from regulators in the heart of China, Accelletrix delivers. They maneuver outside of the public eye; the last thing they need is to be slowed down by politics, laws, or ethics.
Getting hired by Accelletrix is a one-way-street. Once “in” you will be provided with the best hardware, military-grade training, and the most competitive pay in either the private or public sectors. You will be garrisoned in modern, self-sufficient complexes at strategic locations around the world, and every day the Blue Ascent logo will remind you of Mankind's glorious future as we merge Science and Spirit. You will be a Gear in the proverbial Machine.
Which also means you will grind until obsolescence at which point you’ll retire and be replaced. Everything has a price tag -all great human achievements are built upon thousands of small sacrifices like this.
Nevertheless, despite their reviled focus on short-term gains Accelletrix still keeps the long view. They realize that while paranormal organizations have always existed, content with merely prodding around in the dark in pointless internecine wars, Accelletrix is the only group dissecting the Shadowside with the shining scalpel of capital-S Science, turning the paranormal into normal, and taking the human species as a whole into the brave, brave future.
The word “#!SCaV3NG3R” was the "tripcode" originally used by the movement’s founding figure in some backwater internet image board known only as "/x/". People who followed him in retracing the steps of “creepypastas” eventually took to calling themselves “scavengers” (or “scavs” for short) and started contributing their own findings online. The “legit” ones would be endlessly re-posted, resulting in that many more thrill-seekers joining the fad and, in turn, creating many new “creepypastas”. While /x/ itself would eventually fall into grave disrepair, other specialized forums and blogs started popping up everywhere, manuals were written, comics were drawn, infographics were charted and just like that in the space of a few years a whole new subculture had been born.
It was all fun and games at first. For many it still is. But many “oldfriends” have been trying to organize into something more coherent. Scavengers are in the unique position to know exactly what each and every other organization represents for the Shadowside; they don’t gel with the medieval dogma of Malleus, the gang zealotry of Fujin’s Blood, or the brutality of Somosa. They don’t buy into Thelema’s claims of a New World Order, and see right through the fascist P.R. bullshit of Accelletrix. As for Big Sis, they consider their ideals noble at best, but so naïve. They know the Shadowside (a term they coined) holds the key to more than just freedom in this life or salvation in the next.
But no one listens.
It would be a mistake to underestimate SCaV3NG3R simply because they lack the money of Thelema, the hardware of Accelletrix, the numbers of Big Sis, the relics of Malleus or a vendetta to run them ragged like Somosa or Fujin’s. SCaV3NG3R is an internet consciousness lead by all but ruled by none, powered from a million connected points of light and impervious to corruption. They are the bane of Accelletrix -and of any other group who gets too big for its britches. They are the smartasses, the irreverent, unpredictable hivemind, the infinite-headed hydra of the Information Age, living Chaos Theory and humanity's youth bravely facing its final days in a much harsher, darker world.
They are also a bunch of nerds.
Expect “newfriends”. Expect no better headquarters than cybercafés or comic book shops and basements. Expect people “doing it for the lulz”. Expect offers to flood the enemies with pizzas, or “dox” them. Expect brotherhood. Expect loyalty and lifelong friendships, and a cause greater than any you could find in a cubicle. They are the ultimate Joker card; the last representatives of an honest humanity in all of its raw beauty, ugliness, confidence and uncertainty.
It's all good yarn to spin stories, but sometimes having to roll too many dice or having to remember too many rules can get in the way of even the best of stories: this is why Enter the Shadowside uses DESTINY.
DESTINY is a completely math-less system which uses regular poker cards instead of dice. As a player you hold in your hand certain cards which will result in success and certain cards which will result in failure. While you can't choose to simply succeed forever, you can choose when to fail -and as far as DESTINY is concerned both successes and failures are equally useful to build really good stories.
Here's an example; imagine this is your character: Byron Bacchus, a sensitive soul with a rebel heart who is haunted by the ghost of his own father.
Character creation is dead simple: there are only four Traits: Combat, Magic, Influence and Everything Else. Strong Traits draw three cards, Weak ones draw one card, and the rest (Average) draw two. Byron is kinda' into the occult, so you pick Magic for his Strength, but he's also an introvert so you pick Influence for his Weakness. After you draw your cards from each suit, Byron’s starting hand looks like this:
The other three players draw their cards for their characters too, and like you they keep them secret. A single standard 52-card deck can serve up to 4 players, but the StoryHost had two decks ready just for extra variety, and already broken up into the four suits.
The story begins and after some minor introductions you find yourself inside this dream-like reality -the Shadowside- with a creepy little ghost girl in a ballet tutu acting as your guide.
She wants to teach you how to fly! It's one of the Skills in the game, called "Wind's Hand" -a sort of air-themed telekinesis which is versatile enough to let you move yourself around as if you were flying.
Let's do it: this will be your first opportunity to use your cards. The StoryHost tells you that flying to a nearby rooftop will be Easy in this dream-like dimension, and that it will be considered a Magic task. Then he breaks out the big bad chart of CARD MEANINGS, but you don’t really need to reference it at all since somebody already took the time to write each meanings right on the cards themselves, with a sharpie.
When he asks you at the end of his description "Can you do it?" you're supposed to answer with a card. You quickly check to see if any of the three Magic cards you've got is any flavor of "Yes" for Easy.
Bingo -one of your three Magic cards is a 7 of Hearts, which means “Yes, And” for Easy. Good thing you chose that Trait for your Strength!
You lay the card on the table -it is “spent”, but it was worth it as the StoryHost elaborates the “And” portion to mean that not only do you take off in the air, but you actually go faster than the ghost girl for a while! Turns out you're a natural!
Awesome as the present moment is, you notice some of your cards read “No”, and you ask the StoryHost for more info on this mechanic. He tells you that basically it’s always like you just played it: depending on the task at hand the StoryHost calls out a Difficulty (Easy, Not-So-Easy or Hard) for any Action (Combat, Magic, Influence or Everything Else) and then the player responds with a card (Hard cards can answer for any Difficulty, and Not-So-Easy cards can answer for Easy too). Whatever the card says (“Yes, And”, or “No, But”, etc) gets translated into narrative -no numbers, no math.
"Flying to the nearest rooftop is Easy. Can you do it?" "Yes, And". That's it.
Since you don’t get any new cards until you spend all the ones you already have for any given Trait (no partial Refills), that means you have to turn in your “No”s sooner or later and fail, but at least you can choose when to fail. Its almost like being able to see one minute into the future, instead of just rolling blind.
There are some variations of course: having a relevant Skill or Item (or both) lowers the Difficulty (something that is Not-So-Easy for you and me is probably just Easy for a skilled professional, or for someone who has the right tool for the job), and by using Aces (a kind of award token the StoryHost gives you) players can replace any of their cards without actually spending it -thus altering their Destiny before it comes to pass.
Damage is tracked by card refills -for instance you start out with 3 Combat cards, then get in a fight, lose and end up with a broken leg -now you have to carry on with only 2 cards being Refilled until you heal that leg. Amusingly enough, you can Damage Influence too, for example by getting badly humiliated at a party -say the girl pours her drink on your head. It won’t kill you of course, but you have one less Influence card because, well, you're all wet and reek of cheap wine. You don't heal this with a first-aid kit either: you need to find a way to save face, or gain some respect again; it's all very narrative. Damage on any Trait doesn't always mean you're hurt, it just means you're less capable than you normally would be.
Since Trait levels are so close to one another, characters become different and unique basically through which Organization they belong to (there are seven, from Asian mafia to super-religious knights to what is basically a paranormal version of Anonymous), which spirit they are in Hierogamy with ("Hierogamy" means a ghost partner is riding inside your head -Byron ended up hitched to the creepy little girl, if you're wondering), and by learning tons of different Skills (there are 42 paranormal ones, and you can make up your own normal ones).
Basically, DESTINY is like making all your rolls ahead of time and then wisely spending them as the story moves along.
Here it is. A labor of love which summarizes many years of running sessions and caring -truly caring- about that certain magic that only happens when you step back in your role as Creator, and simply allow the stories and characters to just happen, hands off. I believe that's as close to real magic as we can get in this world.
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Pictures and Pages of the Print-Proof Core Book PREMIUM Edition and DESTINY deck:
- REACHED: At $2,000: A free novel in PDF format: The Red Wolf, by Shawn L. Koch. This novel is based on the actual campaign we ran together while testing Enter the Shadowside, and the Setting Module of the same name already included in the core book.
- REACHED: At $3,000: A new Setting Module in PDF: The Chaos Engine, which takes place during World War II. Before Scavenger and Accelletrix: see the birth of the Greater Thelema Society, the death of the Brotherhood of Pharos, and the transformation of the Cult of Fujin.
- At $4,000: A new Setting Module in PDF: The Light at the End of the World, which takes place during the dark ages. See the Brotherhood of Pharos carry its noble mission, and see Malleus Diaboli hunt the precursors of the Sisterhood, and perhaps delay Judgement Day for the first time.
- At $5,000: A new Setting Module in PDF: A Machine Against the Dark, which takes place in the year 2,222. See a possible future where technology and magic mix to terrible and wondrous ends.
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Risks and challenges
Designing a book for print is very different than designing a book for only electronic consumption because there are many new variables that you cannot really verify until the product has already shipped.
For example, consider the issue of Ink Coverage: the digital printers cannot handle more than 240% of ink in a page, or else the paper literally gets soggy. To deal with that we prepare the PDF file in CYMK format, where each color is separate and together they don't add up past 240%. The conversion from regular RGB color to CYMK color sometimes makes the colors a bit duller. I promise to do my best to deliver to you the most vibrant, crispest colors I can, but there are limitations.
That said, there are not many other risks: the book is written, the art is done, the cards are done, print-proofs have been shipped, and are in my hands! DTRPG has been reliably printing and shipping books for a very long time. This thing is real, folks! I will strive to improve it still, but the products are already here, in this material plane, with us.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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