by Bill White

[Ed. This is the introduction to Bill White”s RPG The New World. Join the playtest here.]

A Roleplaying Game of Historical Fantasy

The Voyage Out

A ship is sailing across the ocean, far from home. When it makes landfall, those aboard will leave the ship to seek their fortunes and make their fates in a strange country. For those already there, the arrival of these newcomers marks the end of the world they have known. It marks the beginning of a time of struggle, as different visions of what will be and how to bring it about come into conflict with each other and those who hold them. It marks the beginning of a time of change, as peoples and ideas and ways of living face up to the confrontations and tribulations of the age. It marks the beginning, in other words, of a New World.

The New World is a game of historical fantasy. As a genre, historical fantasy exists at the intersection of historical fiction and secondary‐world fantasy (e.g., in the vein of J.R.R. Tolkien), “combining actual history with dreamlike depths,” in the words of one observer of the form. It has a long albeit somewhat rhizomatic history—that is, it pops up here and there rather than moving in a rigorous line of practice or occupying a specific section of the bookstore’s shelves—encompassing Gothic fantasies such as Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of the Red Death as well as Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude as well as the feminist ruminations of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. “The themes of historical fantasy continue to be very traditional,” says English professor James Whitlark: “(1) the preternaturally old, (2) time slips (i.e., time travel by magic), (3) reincarnation, (4) old magical objects, and (5) secret histories.”

In this game, the motifs of historical fantasy are a license to set free the historical imagination—that capability of the mind to envision intriguing combinations and consequences of historical fact, as my friend Ben Lehman does in this excerpt from an on‐line discussion:

There were problems in the early days of the gold rush with gold ships being attacked by pirates as they travelled the long route around South America to bring California gold back to Boston and New York. As all the white sailors were struck with gold fever and became propectors, the ships would hire foreign sailors to fill out their crews and work as anti‐boarding marines.

At the same time, the Tokugawa Shogunate was in heavy decline, and many lower‐class Samurai (little better than thugs, really) were exiled from the country. . . . Many of them caught rumors of the wealth available in California and got passage on Chinese boats across the Pacific. Where, given their extensive hand‐to‐hand combat experience, they were promptly hired on the crews of gold ships.

That’s right: 150 years ago, ronin samurai fought with Mexican pirates over gold bullion off the coast of California.

In this game, three to five players (including a Game Master, or GM) collaboratively create a mashed‐up historical or quasi‐historical setting and then people it with individual characters whom they role‐play in facing the perils and possibilities of a New World. Their actions have consequences for the ultimate fate of the New World as well as for their own individual destinies. As the game plays out, it works to create an imagined history of a New World that never was.

If you are trying to enlist players for a game, the fact that it does provide opportunities to exercise the historical imagination (to get one’s history geek on, as it were) can be an excellent selling point. Connect the game to the genres of what‐if alternative history like Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, Len Deighton’s SS‐GB, and the entire oeuvre of Harry Turtledove as well as straight‐up historical fantasy like J. Gregory Keyes’ Empire of Unreason, Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides, and John Ford’s The Dragon Waiting.

The Eternal Lies playtest is going well. It appears from the following comment that more Pelgrane freelancers have good reason to be slightly smug.:

I’ve just finished reading the entire campaign. To say that I’m speechless would be quite an understatement. From what I’ve learnt beforehand about Eternal Lies, I suspected it would be some kind of Masks of Nyarlathotep thingie TOC style. The funny thing is that I’ve already gmed a personal version of the classic Chaosium campaign based on roughly the same premises that Eternal Lies: the players were to discover what happened 5 years ago to their former characters (the first campaign ended just after the NY chapter because two of my players moved away).

But not even in my wildest dreams would have I imagined such a masterpiece. This is total epic madness. This is  Masks of Nyarlathotep meet Tatters of the King meet Beyond the Mountains of Madness. This is by far the best campaign ever written for a RPG. This is going to be a blast !

I dont know how much efforts and time have been put into this work, but, I really want to thanks everone involved in it. When you read something this good, this captivating, it really makes you proud being a member of the RPG community.

Needless to say, I’ve already told my players to get ready for something really special.

PS: one first suggestion: some of the major NPCs should be more fleshed out (the way they are for instance in “The Big Hoodoo”). Oh and the music is fantastic !

We are in need of playtesters for the second part of the Cthulhu Apocalypse series (the first part, The Dead White World, is available to buy now).

The Apocalypse Machine is a campaign setting which allows players to construct their own apocalypse, deciding everything from the initial cause (from droughts to disease to Dagon and everything in between), to the fallout and the eventual survival conditions. The players get to decide why the water in that particular part of the country is unsafe to drink and where fresh crops will still grow and even where they can stock up on shotguns and baseball bats to defeat the Deep One hordes.

The idea of this playtest would be for your group to construct an apocalypse using the Machine and play a session or two in it then let us know how it went. If you’re interested, please email me with ‘Apocalypse Machine Playtest’ as the subject, stating whether you’ve playtested for us before. The deadline for feedback is the end of May.

Brand new scenario from Adam Gauntlett (Not So Quiet) set in 18th Century London, with a side trip to the Colonies. The exact date is unspecified, but is assumed to be sometime from 1760 to 1770.

The protagonists are members of the exclusive Hell Fire Club, with an interest in fine (pornographic) literature and rational debate. God is dead, and Man may prosper. One of the Club’s most trusted members is involved in a Breach of Promise suit but before the case can be heard, he vanishes and the woman is found dead. Inquiries are being made; Club secrets are on the verge of being revealed. If that happens, the Club members, and the protagonists, could be ruined. Where has their Brother gone? Who – or what – killed his alleged paramour?

The deadline for playtests is on or around the 20th May. If you’re interested, please email me with ‘Hell Fire Playtest’ in the subject line, stating where you heard about the playtest and if you’ve playtested for us before.

Here at Pelgrane we’ve increased our production over the past four months so we have a lot of new projects that need playtesting in exchange for our eternal gratitude and a credit in the relevant book/PDF.

If you’re interested in helping us out with the playtests, please email me stating the name of the playtest you’d like to do (e.g. Blastback Playtest), where you heard about it and if you’ve ever playtested for Pelgrane before. Usually playtests will run for about 6 weeks so please let me know your availability as well.

Trail of Cthulhu

Many Fires – Many Fires is an adventure for Trail of Cthulhu by Jason Morningstar of Black Drop fame. Taking place in the hills and valleys of the Mexican state of Chihuahua, it will introduce the Investigators to a surprising cast of characters and strange new weapons to employ in an epic struggle against an implacable and deadly enemy known as Kųų łą́ – Many Fires. 2-5 Sessions to complete.

The Rending Box – The fourth and final part of Graham Walmsley’s Purist Adventures. In an antiques shop in North London, there is a box. Inside the box is an ancient creature, seeping through into the world. It will show the Investigators the universe as it really is. 1 Session.

Mutant City Blues

3 Brief Cases by Gareth Hanrahan.

The Kids Aren’t Alright – An attack in a Mutant City high school suggests that there’s at least one unidentified mutant among the students. As the characters investigate, they find a mutant dorphing ring. 1 Session.

Shoulder to Shoulder – The squad are sworn to protect the people – even people who decry and despise mutants. When an anti-mutant activist is targeted by terrorists, can the squad overcome their personal feelings on the matter and stop the bomber? 1 Session.

Blastback – An accident at a mutant-only gym brings the characters into the shadowy world of mutant prize-fighting. 1 Session.

Fear Itself

Invasive Proceedures – The kids all say Our Lady’s Hospital is haunted. You can see why, when you look at it, that big gloomy pile of staring windows and rusting beds. They should have torn the place down years ago, instead of letting it linger on like this. I’d hate to be a patient there. They send you there to die. Genuinely chilling adventure by Gareth Hanrahan. 2-5 Sessions.


We are looking for playtesters for a short campaign set in the UK in the 1930s following a global, Mythos-related disaster in the 1930s. I’ve played through this, and it’s great, and very different to any other Cthulhu adventure. It’s written by Graham Walmsley, who wrote The Dying of St Margarets and The Watchers in the Sky.

If you are interested, please email me, subject Cthulhu Apocalypse playtest, saying that you heard about the call on the Pelgrane Press website .

We are looking for volunteers to test a browser-based GUMSHOE character generator. It works with Trail of Cthulhu and Esterrorists.

Please email, subject Character Generator if you are interested.

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