Saturday, March 31, 2012

Campaign Idea: Batmania

The Australian mountain forests are funereal, secret, stern. Their solitude is desolation. They seem to stifle in their black gorges a story of sullen despair… The very animal life of these frowning hills is either grotesque or ghostly. Great gray kangaroos hop noiselessly over the coarse grass. Flights of white cockatoos stream out shrieking like evil souls. The sun suddenly sinks, and the mopokes burst out into horrible peals of semi-human laughter. The natives aver that when night comes, from out the bottomless depths of some lagoon the Bunyip rises, and in form like a monstrous sea-calf, drags his loathsome length from out the ooze. From a corner of the silent forest rises a dismal chant, and around a fire, dance natives painted like skeletons. All is fear-inspiring and gloomy.
- Marcus Clarke

Deep in the southern hemisphere there lies an uncharted continent known only as Terra Australis Incognita. It is a land more ancient than any other; the elves have no memory of it, the dwarves have no records of it inscribed upon their stones. Its people, the dark-skinned natives of the many tongues, have never before seen the strange white men who are now settling on their shores.

In Sydney Cove and Van Diemen's Land, small penal colonies have been established, where the overflowing inmates of Albion's soot-stained prisons are shipped to toil the rest of their days under the hot southern sun. Yet there are also men who come to this land willingly, seeking its rich natural resources, and the foremost amongst these men is John Batman. Having made his fortune in Van Diemen's Land, he has now established a third fledgling colony: a ramshackle camp on the banks of the Yarra River, which he has given the name, Batmania.

The forests of this land are thick, the mountains tall and ancient. Even the Kulin people, who have dwelled here for uncounted generations, know only a small fraction of the secrets that the uncharted bushland holds. Rumours abound of weird monsters that roam the dry interior, of enormous hairy giants who lurk in the mountains, and of cyclopean ruins of ochre stone, built by some empire lost to time. Though there are no elves or dwarves native to Terra Australis, they have rough equivalents in the brolga people and the wombat folk - strange beings who are half-man and half-creature, with whom the Kulin natives share a quiet but enduring peace.

As it was in Albion long ago, a great age of adventuring is about to begin. Swordsmen, pistoliers, sorcerers and priests from all over the world are arriving in Batmania, eager to make their fortune exploring the undiscovered country. At the same time, the young men and women of the Kulin take up their own weapons and their own magics, leaving their tribes to go 'walkabout' alone or in the company of white men. For these bold souls, either riches or death await. From the seal rocks of Phillip Island to the rugged peaks of the Dandenong Ranges, from the dusty plains of the northwest to the creeping horrors of Van Diemen's Land, they will pursue their prize, and either return as heroes or be forgotten as a few more of those who vanished into the last uncharted continent.

Note to international readers: Don't snigger. John Batman was a real person and the city where I live (Melbourne) really was called Batmania when it was first founded. It has nothing to do with a certain gravelly-voiced superhero.

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