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Making Monsters: The Jersey Devil

February 5, 2020 9 comments

 

Recently I have posted about my favorite RPG monster books, both those I worked on and those I didn’t. These posts sparked some great discussions both here and on various social media platforms, as people shared their favorite volumes and their must-have, nice-to-have, and wow-look-at-this features of existing game bestiaries.

I have also hinted, here and there, that I am working on a couple of #secretprojects, which I hope will come to fruition over the next year or so. As some people have guessed, the first one concerns monsters.

More details will be released as things firm up, but right now I would like to ask you, my beloved readers, for your help. One of the things I want to achieve with this project is the development of a systemless format for presenting game stats, and the description of the Jersey Devil that follows includes my first attempt at doing so. The objective is to describe a creature’s attributes and abilities in such a way that GMs of any game will find it easy to develop stats for their particular rule set.

So read this, play with it, and let me know what you think. In this version I have opted for a comparative method, likening the creature’s stats to those of an average human or a common animal. There are other, crunchier methods, but I think this is the clearest and the easiest to use. Tell me if I’m right, and tell me how you would go about improving it.

I don’t want to frame this request as a competition, and I’m not in a position to offer prizes or rewards – yet – but as the project grows and takes shape I expect that to change, and I hope to be able to acknowledge and possibly reward those contributions that I found most valuable.

If all goes as planned, this will be the start of a fun ride. Are you in?

 

The Jersey Devil

Jersey_Devil_Philadelphia_Post_1909

An image from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, based on sightings of the 1909 hoax devil. Borrowed from the Philadelphia Inquirer’s website.

 

RANGE

Real World: North America, specifically the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. After 1735. Unique.

Fantasy World: Temperate pine woodlands. Encountered singly or in groups of 2-6.

 

TYPE

Local Legend, devil, or animal.

 

ATTRIBUTES

Strength: Human range, high end

Dexterity/Agility: Human range, high end

Constitution: Human range, average

Intelligence: Animal, superior (e.g. dog)

Willpower: Animal, superior (e.g. dog)

Hit Points/Health: Animal, medium (e.g. horse)

 

ATACKS

Bite: Animal, medium (e.g. wolf)

Trample: Animal, medium (e.g. horse)

 

WEAKNESSES

No special weaknesses

 

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Fly: Large, slow (e.g. wyvern)

Cause fear: Supernatural, demonic

Growl: Enhance fear effect


 

Sometimes known as the Leeds Devil, the Jersey Devil is rumored to inhabit the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. Those who have seen it describe it as eight feet tall with a long neck, crane-like legs ending in hooves, large bat-like wings, and a head like that of a deer or a dog. It is a vicious creature with a taste for human flesh.

There are many tales of the creature’s origins. Most connect it to a local merchant named Leeds and his wife Deborah. According to the most common story, Mrs. Leeds was in labor with her thirteenth child in 1735. Some say she was a witch and the child’s father was the Devil. Others say that she was unhappy to find herself pregnant for a thirteenth time and cursed her baby with the words “may it be a devil.”

Other stories view the Jersey devil as a divine punishment upon its parents: for Mr. Leeds’ harsh treatment of the family’s servants, or for Mrs. Leeds’ refusal to renounce her Quaker faith in favor of her husband’s Puritanism. A final version tells that, despite its appearance, Deborah Leeds cared for her monstrous offspring until her death, when it flew into the swamps of the Pine Barrens and has remained there ever since.

All versions of the story agree that the baby was a monster. It killed the midwife – and everyone else in the house, in some versions – fled up the chimney, and has been haunting the Pine Barrens ever since. Attempts to track down the Leeds family or their descendants have failed, and the tales cannot be verified. The beast was seen multiple times in 1909, and ever since it has been world famous – but no one has ever captured it.

 

A Tale Grown in the Telling

regal-jersey-devil-taylors

A Quaker tract denouncing the Leeds family.

 

Daniel Leeds ran a publishing business, which included almanacs. Local Quakers objected to them because they included astrological information. A feud began, with each side publishing pamphlets that used stronger and stronger language. After Daniel Leeds died in 1720, the Quakers accused Daniel’s son Titan Leeds of being “Satan’s harbinger.” Also, the Leeds family crest featured birds, but they are easy to mistake for bat-winged devils if badly drawn.

This may be the origin of the Jersey Devil, but its tale remained obscure for almost 200 years. The creature gained its current fame in 1909, when the owner of a private museum in Philadelphia organized a publicity stunt. A kangaroo was fitted with fake wings and sightings were staged around New Jersey. The plan was to announce that the Jersey Devil had been captured and put the disguised kangaroo on display. Ever since then, pictures and descriptions of the Jersey Devil have all looked very like a kangaroo with wings.

 

Almanac

The Leeds family crest and the cover of one of Titan Leeds’s almanacs. It is just possible to interpret the badly-drawn birds as horned, winged devils.

 

Links

The Skeptical Inquirer published a piece on the Leeds family and the Jersey Devil in 2013, which is worth reading.

The Philadelphia Inquirer covered the 1909 hoax in detail on its 110th anniversary.

A New Colonial Gothic Campaign

June 18, 2013 2 comments

As you may know, for the last few years I’ve been working with Richard Iorio II of Rogue Games to help develop and promote their Colonial Gothic tabletop RPG. Historical games and horror games are two of my real passions, and Colonial Gothic combines the two beautifully.

Boiling it down to an elevator pitch, it’s the early history of America through the eyes of H. P. Lovecraft and Dan Brown. Your Heroes can encounter Salem witches, Native American spirits, scheming Freemasons, sorcerous Templars, voodoo, gris-gris, Bigfoot, the Jersey Devil, and much more. I keep teasing Richard that one day I’ll have Ben Franklin construct a lightning-powered mech and go mano a mano with Cthulhu – but perhaps that may be going a little too far. But if you liked The Crucible, Sleepy Hollow, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Last of the Mohicans, The Brotherhood of the Wolf, and the National Treasure movies, chances are you’ll like Colonial Gothic.

I’m very happy at the reception the game has received so far. Most of the supplements have garnered 4- and 5-star reviews on Roleplayers’ Chronicle, DriveThruRPG, and the other major review sites. The release of the Second Edition Rulebook last December was an important step, and we have many plans for the future. Among these is a new campaign, to be created under license by Mystical Throne Entertainment, publishers of Roleplayers’ Chronicle.

Rogue Games’ house campaign, Flames of Freedom, focuses on the shadowy side of the American Revolution. The Mystical Throne campaign (working title New World) is set a generation earlier, in the middle of the 18th century. Rogue Games has touched upon this period in its French and Indian War sourcebook, and it’s very good to see others inspired by the game and the setting to create fresh adventures. The Flames of Freedom campaign will continue, co-written by Richard and me. We have plans for at least two more instalments, possibly more, and the next one, Shadows Upon the Hudson, is scheduled for release later this year.

I’m looking forward to the New World campaign very much. Aaron Huss is a talented writer with a number of impressive credits under his belt, and I can’t wait to see what adventures he has in store for us.

Just in Time for Christmas

December 14, 2012 2 comments

December has been a busy month, but I can’t talk about any of that. Not yet.

Here’s what I can talk about, though: a lot of things are finally seeing the light of day this month, and that’s very exciting.

New Fiction

I’ve already posted about the Aesop-inspired anthology The Lion and the Aardvark, which includes stories from 70 – count ’em, 70 – of the best writers out there. I have a short-short tale in there called “The Lemmings and the Sea,” and I can’t wait to see what my 69 co-writers have come up with.

The Hobbit Social Games

I should have posted before about The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth and The Hobbit: Armies of the Third Age. I’m very proud to have worked on these two social strategy games tied into Peter Jackson’s new movie. By the bye, Apple has just named Kingdoms of Camelot: Battle for the North as the top-grossing free iOS app of 2012. That was my first project for Kabam, and it’s great to see it doing so well.

I’ve also been involved with two tabletop RPG products that are out just in time for Christmas. Although I don’t work much in that medium these days, I’m proud of both of these new releases, for different reasons.

Colonial Gothic

The Colonial Gothic 2nd Edition Rulebook was released on 12/12/12 at 12:12:12, in reference to the 12 Degrees roleplaying system that powers it. It has been a long, hard labor of love for Colonial Gothic creator Richard Iorio. I’ve offered support and feedback, but the work is all his.

You may not have heard of Colonial Gothic, or of Rogue Games. I first met Richard at GenCon more than a decade ago when we were both working the Hogshead Publishing booth, and we kind of stayed in touch. When I first heard about Colonial Gothic in 2009, I was so impressed by the idea that I offered my services. Since then the Colonial Gothic line has swelled to eight books and a number of e-books, and the game has gathered a small but passionate following.

According to Richard, the Colonial Gothic concept started out as “Cthulhu 1776,” but it has come a long way since then. It now covers the whole history of Colonial America and the War of Independence. The work of H. P. Lovecraft still inspires the growing Colonial Gothic mythology (and I wish I could talk about a new development in that direction), but there’s more: scheming Dan-Brown-style Freemasons, Bigfoot and other cryptids, local legends like the Jersey Devil, Native spirits, and much, much more. If you liked Sleepy Hollow (the story or any of its movie versions), National Treasure, The Last of the Mohicans, The Patriot, or The Brotherhood of the Wolf, you’ll enjoy Colonial Gothic.

The second edition rulebook will be vital to the line’s future growth: previous editions were plagued by typos and minor inconsistencies, and Richard has taken the time to go through and fix everything. The rules have been reorganized so that information is easier to find; typos and inconsistencies have been fixed; and Richard has done wonders with the layout. It’s also 100% backward-compatible with the entire Colonial Gothic line. Richard has worked incredibly hard on this and the hard work shows.

The third instalment of the acclaimed Flames of Freedom campaign is planned for 2013, along with a couple of other things that, frustratingly, I can’t talk about yet. Keep an eye on Rogue Dispatches for announcements.

The Enemy Within, Again

Many months ago, Fantasy Flight Games caused an enormous stir when they announced a new campaign for 3rd Edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. It was the title that got people excited: The Enemy Within. The new Enemy Within is not an adaptation or an updating of the original, but a whole new campaign that explores the same themes through new adventures. The entry I wrote about it back in March remains the most-viewed entry on this whole blog.

After the frenzy that greeted the announcement, there was a long, long silence. Based at least in part on my feedback when I saw the galleys, The Enemy Within went through a lot of editing and development. Now, at last, it has been released.

When I started writing my part of the campaign, I worried about how I would top the completely unforeseen success of the original Enemy Within. I came to the conclusion that nothing could ever top the fond memories that many people have for the original adventures, memories that are tied up with where they were in their lives when they first played them. It’s impossible to recreate that; I just took my two chapter briefs and wrote the best adventure I could.

Since the new Enemy Within was announced, a few people have asked me about running it with 1st or 2nd edition WFRP, and also about running a mash-up of the old and new campaigns. I think both are possible. Although the three editions of WFRP have different rules, the setting and the cast of monsters are the same: with a little work on the GM’s part, stats can be massaged into the preferred edition. When I was writing, I made a conscious effort to write a good WFRP adventure, rather than focusing on the 3rd edition rules.

A mash-up “Total Enemy Within” campaign is equally possible. The new campaign has a strong structure, and if I were running an Enemy Within mashup I would use that as the main plot. The original adventures, up to and including Power Behind the Throne, can be added as side-plots and complications: Death on the Reik, in particular, could flesh out some of the travel sections, which are somewhat abstract in the new campaign. I can even see ways to add Something Rotten in Kislev and Empire in Flames, but going into any detail would involve spoilers so I’ll refrain for now.

Reaction to WFRP 3rd edition has been mixed. In its own way, the WFRP community is riven by an edition war as savage as anything D&D/d20 has seen. I expect at least a few people will eviscerate me online because the new Enemy Within doesn’t live up to their long-held memories of the original, because it’s 3rd edition, because of any number of things. I hope that a lot of people will like it, or at least find something they like in it. I will say that it looks good, and I will be excited to hold it in my hands.