Even if you’re not using the 13th Age rules, these ten icons demarcate and imply the Otherworld setting. (And you can plug Icons into, say, GUMSHOE or the game system of your choice with ease – Ken did it for Night’s Black Agents here). Player characters in Otherworld are assumed to start off in ignorance of the setting, and explore it in play, so they don’t usually begin with any Icon relationships. Let the players pick up Icon relationships as they go along until they have their usual complement of three.

Heroic Icons: Shell-Dwarf Chieftain, Lady Between, Benedash Society

Ambiguous Icons: Burning Prince, Great Huntress, Smiling Merchant, Project SHADE

Villainous Icons: Alchemist, Keeper of the -Shade, Face in the Creepers, Syndicate

 

The Shell-Dwarf Chieftain

“You travel on my waters with my leave!” roared the little man. “Let us see if you are still as insolent when we put you under them!”

– A Journey to the Otherworld

The turtle-like Shell Dwarfs were the first folk encountered by Professor Bravo on his journey into the Otherworld, and they are still the most widespread people across the perilous jungles. The Shell Dwarfs know how to navigate the treacherous serpentine rivers that slither through the jungle. Their sturdy rafts and house-boats can cross the rapids and rushing streams, and their tough hide protects them from the schools of hagfish and the swarms of bloat-flies that make it difficult for others to travel by water.

The Shell-Dwarf Chieftain rules his people from his floating palace, carved from the shell of a gigantic nautilus. He is distrustful of most of the other folk who live in clearings in the jungle, fearing that they plot to enslave his followers and use them to conquer other lands in the Night Jungle. However, he has a soft spot for travellers from Earth thanks to his friendship with Professor Bravo.

 

The Alchemist

“I have drunk a tincture of the Purple Lotus, and now through my veins flows a poison more potent than you can imagine.” The Alchemist holstered his gun. He no longer needed it to threaten us. “Wound me, and you shall all perish in agony from the vapours.”

– Vat-Slaves of the Alchemist 

The fast-growing creepers of the Night Jungle bloom with a thousand strange flowers. Only the Alchemist knows all their virtues – and their dangers.

Alchemy was the highest art in vanished Hellan and tree-drowned Cynberis, where it is said that its practitioners could turn glass as hard as steel, or grow food in vats, or prolong their own lives indefinitely. Most of that knowledge was lost to the jungle, and warrior-alchemists like Kelemane have retained only fragments.

The Alchemist alone has gone beyond the knowledge of the ancients. He combines their lore with the wealth of new ingredients and strange juices that can be harvested from the Night Jungle. From his fortress issue forth hosts of vat-bred monsters and noxious fumes; his assassins creep out in secret, poisoning his enemies and blackmailing them with the promise of an antidote.

He comes, it is said, from the same world as Professor Bravo, and plans to return there one day once he has completed his mysterious work.

 

The Keeper of the Dead

A presence moved through the tombs – a deeper shadow, a presentiment of death, a cold wind that rattled the bones. One skull, more intact than the rest, quivered. A lambent light bloomed in its empty sockets.”

– Kelemane in the Dead City

In ages past, all graves were under the protection of the Keeper. Now that the Night Jungle has swallowed a hundred cities and turned them into nameless tombs, the Keeper’s reach has grown very far indeed. The Keeper is a spirit bound to protect the houses of the dead from thieves and tomb robbers. Those who make the proper offerings and perform the correct rites may be able to bargain with the Keeper or its ghostly servants, perhaps to gain permission to travel through the realms of the dead. Those who trespass in the tomb cities without this blessing are more likely to remain there… forever.

 

The Lady Between

“The shewing-stone is a relic of a distant land,” hissed the Crone, and she pushed a tiny square mirror into Kelemane’s hands. He gazed into the glass, and saw within a pale figure.”

– Beyond The Moons of Azkar

To the folk of the Night Jungle, the Lady Between is a myth. It is said that mystics and madmen see her in their dreams and that she whispers prophecies to them. Others believe that she is nothing more than a hallucination brought on by over-indulgence in certain lotus-flowers.

To those able to travel between the two worlds, however, the Lady Between is undeniably real and present. She exists in the borderland between the two, in the interstices of reality. Broken and forgotten places are her only foothold in either reality. She sometimes blesses travellers with flashes of insight or sage counsel as they move from one world to another – unable to interfere directly in the affairs of either world, she must rely on proxies and agents.

Some travellers suggest the Lady Between bears a strong resemblance to photographs of late author Miriam Benedash.

 

 

The Burning Prince

“A line of fire on the horizon, like the ember light of the setting sun, marked the edge of his domain…”

– The Children of the River

The Night Jungle grows with surpassing speed. What was a clear path yesterday is weed-choked today, and will be completely swallowed by the willows and creepers tomorrow. Other than a few scattered clearings protected by magic or some quirk of environment, the Night Jungle consumes all the land within its ever-growing borders.

The Burning Prince aims to change all that. He has gathered an army of followers, all fired with his determination to drive back the jungle and reclaim the lands of old. With axe and saw, with alchemical defoliant and fire, they fight an unending war against nature. They are a tide of fire sweeping across the land. When they free some ruined city from the jungle, they loot it for treasure and magic and move on. When they come across an inhabited village or clearing, they offer those who dwell there the chance to join the Prince’s armies, then do exactly the same.

 

The Great Huntress

“The beast roared again, smashing the trees to kindling as it charged. She stood perfectly still, more like an ebon statue than a woman, until the moment came. Then the spear was suddenly in her hand, and just as suddenly, it was plunged into the beast’s eye.”

The Valley of Spiders

Gigantic monsters – some bred by the Alchemist, others mutated or spawned by the wild magic of the jungle – stalk through the endless forests of the Otherworld. Heroes like Kelemane battle these creatures when they have no other choice.

Only the Huntress willingly seeks out the monsters.

Driven by some secret hatred, she wanders the Night Jungle, searching for new foes to kill. She leaves behind her a trail of devastation and bloodshed; titanic carcasses lie where they fell as testament to her fighting skills. As a warrior, she has no peers.

Some have sought her out, desiring to become her followers, or to learn from her, or to win her aid in some other quest. Their bodies, too, are milestones along her bloody road.

 

The Smiling Merchant

“He spread a handful of coins across the table. Gold pieces from Jezar, the little wooden tokens of the Shell-Dwarfs, square silvers from the tombs of Cynberis, even a handful of Canadian coins bearing the head of King George.”

A Journey on the Azkar 

The Smiling Merchant’s smile never fades, because it’s carved from wood. The Merchant wears a brightly painted yellow mask when dealing with customers. Sometimes, it is a man who wears the mask; sometimes a woman, or a child, or a strange creature, but it is always the Smiling Merchant who speaks.

The Merchant travels in a huge caravan crammed with relics and curios, guarded by a retinue of Shell-Dwarfs and Thorn Trolls. How this caravan can pass through the thickest jungle is a mystery, but the Merchant always arrives where there is profit to be made.

 

The Face in the Creepers

“Your death will feed me,” said the jungle, “and so nothing is diminished in your passing.”

The Temple of the Emerald Eye

This malicious nature-spirit claims to be the Night Jungle. Few believe such claims – it is far more likely that the Face is just an elemental trickster that takes the form of a tangle of creeper vines. It is undeniably powerful though, able to animate huge swathes of jungle when it needs to take physical form. It sometimes becomes interested in individual people, tormenting or aiding them as the mood takes it.

 

These last three Icons have more of a presence in our world than in the Otherworld.

 

The Syndicate

The Syndicate is a mysterious private company that collects both the works of J. Pierton, and individuals or items who have travelled to the Otherworld. Most of the Syndicate’s agents or pawns are unaware that their work has a supernatural component – they believe they’re working for a secretive corporation, or for the government, or for organized crime. Even the few who’ve made the connection between the Pierton stories and the weirder cases don’t know what the Syndicate really wants. All that’s certain is that they have money, influence, guns, and the willingness to use all three to get what they want.

 

Benedash Society

Even within Pierton fandom (which is, for example, to Robert Howard’s Conan fandom as a terminally ill geriatric is to the Cimmerian), devotees of author Miriam Benedash are a small minority. She only wrote a handful of Night Jungle books before suffering a nervous breakdown, and her brief career is remembered only by a few fans and critics. The Benedash Society is tiny and closely knit. They share everything on their private, invitation-only message boards – and in recent months, they’ve uncovered evidence of weird events that are somehow connected to their literary heroine and her works.

 

Project SHADE

Project SHADE was an offshoot of the MKULTRA experiments of the 1970s, based out of Fort Holdstock. The aim of the experiments was to determine if certain chemically altered states of consciousness could enhance tactical awareness and decision-making ability. The project was officially shut down in 1974, as was Fort Holdstock.

If you spend too much time on conspiracy theory websites, you’ll learn that several subjects vanished into thin air, or that Fort Holdstock is haunted or overrun by mutant plants, or that SHADE was recently reactivated and transferred to the control of the Department of Homeland Security.

All nonsense, of course – just like the idea that reading too much about topics related to obscure fantasy writers could somehow draw inexorably you into their reality, until finally you cross some invisible threshold into their Otherworld.

13th Age KasarakIgnoring the vagaries of its publishing history, Pierton’s Night Jungle makes a great setting for gaming. If you just want to tell stories in the mode of the Kalamane Cycle, where heroic fantasy heroes battle monsters and weird sorcery, then you can just grab a copy of 13th Age and wait until next month when we’ll summarize the key gameable elements of the Otherworld. However, if you want to recreate the original stories of “Professor Bravo” (or, less ambitiously, the original ill-fated 80s game), the best approach is a GUMSHOE hack.

In this game, the players play people from our world, Earth, who find themselves transported into the Night Jungle. Like Professor Bravo, they discover they are ‘oscillating’ back and forth between the two worlds, jumping from Earth to the Night Jungle again in times of stress.

# of players    Investigative Build Points

2                      28

3                      22

4                      20

5+                   18

Player have 60 General Ability points. You can trade Investigative Build Points for General, or vice versa, at a 1-for-3 rate.

Academic Abilities

Astronomy

Anthropology

Archaeology*

Architecture*

Biology

History

Law*

Languages*

Medicine

Occult Studies

Research

Physics

Pierton Trivia

 

Interpersonal Abilities

Bargain*

Bureaucracy*

Charm*

Command*

Courtesy*

Deceive*

Insight*

Intimidate*

Reassurance*

Streetwise

 

Technical Abilities

Chemistry

Forgery*

Forensic Medicine

Orienteering*

Outdoor Survival*

Notice*

Pharmacy

Photography

 

General Abilities

Athletics

Contacts

Craft

Driving

Filch

First Aid

Health

Infiltration

Preparedness

Riding

Scuffling

Shooting

Shrink

Stability

Travelling

Weapons

Most of the abilities are self-explanatory if you’ve played another GUMSHOE game. The new or obscure ones – Courtesy and Command are used when dealing with higher- or lower-status people, especially in the Otherworld. Deceive covers bluffing, impersonation and con games as well as seeing through them. Insight gives, well, insight into other people’s motivations and beliefs – the classic GUMSHOE ability of Bullshit Detector exists at the intersection of those two.

Orienteering is a combination of navigation, cartography, and working out spatial relations – it’s doubly important when trying to make your way through the perilous labyrinth of the Night Jungle, or when you’re trying to work out which place on Earth corresponds to a location in the Otherworld.

Pierton Trivia measures knowledge of the Otherworld novels and spin-offs and those involved in publishing them, as well as the fandom around them.

Craft covers improvised repair and operating machinery.

Contacts works like Network in Night’s Black Agents or Correspondence in Trail of Cthulhu.

Travelling is for avoiding Health loss or other penalties when trekking through the jungle.

 

Otherworld Abilities

Player characters from Earth can’t take these Investigative Abilities at the start of the game, but can buy them with experience points. If you’re allowing players to roll up Otherworld characters, then they can take these abilities as well as any other investigative ability marked with a * in the list above.

 

Alchemy: Brewing up potions and poisons from the strange fruits of the Night Jungle, as well as identifying them by their effects.

Beast-Lore: Knowledge of the monsters that haunt the Night Jungle – and how to kill them.

Land-Lore: Knowledge of the various lands swallowed by the Jungle, and what remains of them.

Other-Seeming: How to blend in when you’re outside your home reality. Putting points into this ability lets a character hide the fact that they’re from Earth. The idea that creatures from the Otherworld can cross into our reality, just like Professor Bravo crosses into theirs, is hinted at several times in Pierton’s stories; this ability works the other way for them, letting them blend into modern society.

Sorcery: The perilous use of magic. In Pierton’s novels, sorcery carried terrible costs and was solely the province of malicious or insane wizards.

River-Trade: Navigating the network of rivers that are the main trade routes through the jungle, and dealing with the Shell-Dwarfs who control the waters.

 

Oscillation

A character’s Oscillation rating measures their ability to jump between realities. Most people – on both Earth and the Night Jungle have a rating of 0. Player characters start with a rating of 2.

Oscillation is capped at 10.

Oscillation Spends

Spending a point of Oscillation lets a character start the process of travelling from one world to another with an effort of will. This usually takes several hours – the character feels more and more disconnected from their current reality, and glimpses elements of their destination, until finally they jump completely. Spending extra points of Oscillation can:

  • Make the transition faster
  • Bring large or heavy objects across
  • Temporarily manifest conditions from the other side (need to get a cellphone signal in the Night Jungle? Need an alchemical potion to work to full effect on Earth?)
  • Manifest in a chosen location in the other world (you need to have visited or at least be familiar with the location)
  • Follow someone else across (you end up near wherever they’re going)
  • Resist involuntary transitions

 

Refreshing and Improving Oscillation

Oscillation pools refresh after each adventure. The GM may also declare that the characters have unconsciously jumped, and give them a few Oscillation points in compensation. (This is a great way to deal with missing players – if Bob doesn’t make it to this week’s session, then Bob’s PC involuntarily travels to the opposite reality to the rest of the group. Next week, he shows up again with a refreshed Oscillation pool).

Oscillation cannot be increased by experience points; the only way to improve it is by visiting sites of power and possessing potent relics, especially items that came from one world but spent long periods in the other. Finding something as potent as Professor Bravo’s Diary might improve Oscillation by 3 points.

Avoiding Fate

If a character with Oscillation is reduced to -12 Health, they’re not killed. Instead, they Avoid Fate by instantly and uncontrollably jumping to the other world. A character can Avoid Fate in this fashion a limited number of times.

Oscillation Rating      Fates Avoided

1-2      1

3-5      2

6-9      3

10       4

NPCs who Avoid Fate may find themselves stuck, unable to travel again until they increase their Oscillation rating. Player characters aren’t usually subject to this limitation.

Some of the fantasists of the early 20th century are arguable more popular and well-known than they were when they were alive. HP Lovecraft or Robert Howard, for example, with their Cthulhu and Conan tales cast titanic shadows over the fantasy genre. Other writers have slipped into comparative obscurity, like the wonderful James Branch Cabell. And then there are those who have a small but devoted following, like the Canadian academic L. S. Pierton.

Comparable perhaps to Burroughs in tone, if not in talent, Pierton is best known for his Kalamane Cycle, a series of adventures involving the brooding alchemist-swordsman Kalamane and his travels through the Night Jungle, the impenetrably thick and perilous forest that has swallowed much of the world. His first published work, though, was A Journey to the Otherworld, where a traveller from 1925 is magically transported to the Night Jungle by means of a mysterious scroll. The misadventures of Pierton’s transparent alter-ego “Professor Bravo” found little purchase among readers, but sales were just sufficient to convince the publisher, S.C. Griggs, to ask for a sequel focusing on the supporting cast. Professor Bravo shows up in a handful of other stories written by Pierton, but never again takes centre stage.

By 1932, Pierton’s ill health and inability to meet deadlines forced his editor to bring in a series of ghost writers. The first of these, Kalamane & the Witch of Enzar, is infamous as the ‘book that it killed the author’. Shortly after it was published, Griggs’ received a large parcel of papers and background notes from Pierton detailing his ‘observations’ of the world of the Night Jungle. Apparently, the ghost writer’s deviations from Pierton’s ideal so appalled the writer than he completely withdrew from public life and was never seen again. As reviews of Witch of Enzar were considerably better than those of the previous books in the series, Pierton’s reaction elicited little response from Griggs. Ghost writers on the series sometimes drew from Pierton’s notes for inspiration to some degree – as Witch of Enzar is the only book that was definitely written without any input from Pierton, some fans still argue it should be excluded from the canon.

The last Otherworld book from Griggs came out in 1938. For many years, fans debated whether this was due to dwindling sales or the unexpected suicide of regular ghost writer Cyril Browne. It wasn’t until much later than diligent research in the pages of 80’s fanzine Boat on the Azkar revealed a court case between S.C. Griggs and “J. Pierton”, a woman who claimed to be Pierton’s daughter and heir, who demanded the return of the notes. The case was thrown out of court after she threatened Griggs’ lawyer with a ‘replica dagger’, but the gap in the publishing schedule sank the series for many years. Like her alleged father, “J. Pierton” was never seen again.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the series returned to life. By now, the firm of S.C. Griggs was long gone, and the rights to Pierton’s work were now owned by Arrow Books. While Miriam Benedash (writing under the pseudonym James Canton) could have found another publisher for her tales of the Night Jungle, only Arrow Books had Pierton’s notes in their archives. Benedash drew on these notes, using them to lend substance and structure to her almost dream-like depictions of the Otherworld. Her writing was considerably more vivid and compelling than Pierton’s, and introduced a new generation to the world of Kalamane. A selection of earlier novels in the series was reprinted with suitably lurid covers to cash in on Benedash’s success.

This success was regrettably short-lived. Benedash suffered a mental breakdown in 1974, and was committed to a hospital by her family. The manuscript for her last book was sold to a private collector instead of Arrow Books.

The 1980s brought a smaller resurgence of interest. There was a short-lived cartoon adaptation of the Kalamane cycle that largely ignored Benedash’s books, together with a more extensive comic-book series that covered most of A Journey to the Otherworld through to The Temple of the Emerald Eye. There was even a table-top roleplaying game set in the Night Jungle; a battered copy of it showed up in the GenCon charity auction in 2012, but was stolen before it could be sold.

The strangest latter-day incarnation of the Otherworld, though, is undoubtedly the Night Jungle theme park, built in Florida in the early 1990s by an eccentric millionaire. According to urban legend, this theme park covers some fifty acres of swampland, and contains dozens of attractions and rides based on locations from the Otherworld books. The park never opened to the public; a chemical spill polluted the land around the park, making it dangerously toxic. Photographs of an expedition to the theme park show that the abandoned buildings have been taken over by all sorts of dangerous wildlife, and there is some evidence of human habitation despite the environmental danger.

The Night Jungle theme park is one of the legends associated with Pierton’s legacy. Another is referred to online as “the Syndicate”. This myth claims that there is an organised conspiracy or corporation dedicated to acquiring material related to the Otherworld for some nefarious purpose. Devotees of this theory point to Benedash’s last manuscript or the disappearance of comic book artist Jeffrey Smythe as ‘proof’ of this sinister conspiracy.

Despite its obscurity, the Otherworld series has filtered a little into popular culture. For example, in 2009, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service nicknamed a mysterious invasive weed in discovered in southern Georgia as ‘Nightflowers’, after the similar plant in the Night Jungle stories.

Next month: Otherworld Characters