Sunday, June 10, 2012

Adventures in Psi World

The introductory adventures in the twenty page The Psi World Adventure book were addressed in an earlier post. Fantasy Games Unlimited also published three adventure/ supplement books for Psi World: The Hammer Shall Strike, Underground Railroad, and Cause for War. Hammer and Railroad are still available, either through RPGNow or directly from FGU. Alas, your humble host neither owns nor has access to Cause for War. As such, he will be unable to comment at length on that product.

The Hammer Shall Strike was written by the creators of Psi World, “Dell Carr & Cheron,” and it sports a cover by the very talented Bill Willingham. Interior sketches were done by William H. Keith Jr., whose artistic talent does not approach Willingham's level. Few artists could compare well against Willingham, but Keith's efforts appear markedly amateurish.  Aside from introducing new psionic talents, Hammer includes two adventures.  In 'Transition,' the player characters search for teenagers who have begun to exhibit psionic powers.  The PCs must reach the teenagers before an opposing group does.  (One scene takes place in a fast food restaurant “owned and operated by Wendy McDonald, a thin redhead...”  Get it?  Hahaha!  Inane adventure module humor.)  In 'The Hammer Shall Strike,' PCs must infiltrate a cult in order to investigate sinister rumors.  Both adventures build upon the setting that the authors introduced in The Psi World Adventure and both adventures accommodate either a psionic or non-psionic party.  The authors provide ample ways to involve various types of player characters.

William Keith is responsible for all of the art in Underground Railroad.  He and his brother, J. Andrew Keith, co-wrote the book (Andrew wrote the fist two adventures in this module while William wrote the third).  The copyright owner is listed as Marischal Adventures; a company established by the Keith brothers.  Both brothers have numerous writing credits – fiction as well as RPG material (especially for GDW).  It is perhaps for the best that William Keith has focused on writing more than illustrating.  William Keith is also responsible for all of the art in Cause for War, but his brother has sole writing credit for that product.

Underground Railroad (and, evidently, Cause for War) takes place in a setting distinct from that which the Carrs established.  (Your humble host is given to understand that Cause for War can act as a continuation of a campaign that begins with Underground Railroad.)   In the Keith brothers setting, psionics came about via the Great Plague:

The origin of the Great Plague is a mystery. Some theorize that it was a bacteriological weapon which was released accidentally and ran out of control; others claim an extra-terrestrial origin, pointing to the fact that the Soviet Mars Mission of 1998 returned only a few weeks before the first cases were reported in Eastern Europe. No one can be certain of the origins of the disease - but none can doubt the effects.

By the time it had run its course, the Great Plague had killed over 40% of the world's population. There was no cure - a person who caught the disease lived or died according to natural resistance, and luck. Most people died. Only a handful who contracted it lived.

Those who did frequently exhibited an unusual side-effect – the development of strong psionic powers...

Anyway, civilization collapsed, persecution against psionics became common, and “large nations gave way to smaller, more loosely structured states.” What used to be the United States now consists of about twenty independent nations.

Like Wikipedia says, the historical Underground Railroad “was a network of secret routes and safe houses.”  Whereas in history,  the Underground Railroad was used by escaping slaves, the underground railroad in this Psi World module is used by psis to escape the fascist regime of the Central States Confederacy (just in case the analogy wasn't obvious before).  They try to escape to the psionic tolerant (but militarily weaker) Free State.  Unlike the Carr setting, there is no provision for the player characters to be anything other than psionic.

The border between the Confederacy and the Free State reaches across what used to be lower Wisconsin.  The psionic underground railroad is situated in the “Hunter's Lake” area of the Confederacy, just south of the Free State border.  So, there's a lake area in southern Wisconsin that represents oppression.  Ah, so there's more than one analogy at work here!  Your humble host supposes that the Keith brothers were attempting to make a statement about a certain Lake Geneva company and its overbearing influence on the role-playing game market in the early years of the hobby.  For the sake of comparison, here are maps of “Hunter's Lake” and Lake Geneva.  Scale is approximate.

Hunter's Lake:

Lake Geneva:
© 2012, Yahoo!


  1. Eh, I like William H. Keith's art, but then I'm a Traveller junky. However, if one is comparing it to Bill Willingham's, then sure there's no real contest. Willingham did the cover that I consider to be the best fantasy RPG cover of all time. FGU sure had some great art talent in their pool (they also had Matt Wagner).

    I don't recall Cause for War. Do you have any more information on it at all?

    1. My sole source of information for Cause for War is RPGGeek .

  2. I really enjoyed reading your posts about "Psi Wold," especially the insights in this post regarding the implied commentary about TSR.

    As a kid in the 1980s, "Psi World" seemed to me to blend the themes of fear & persecution from the "X-Men" comic books with the dystopian replicant hunting of "Blade Runner." The relative lack of setting detail in the box set actually made the game more intriguing to me.

    That being said, I was disappointed the three subsequently published adventures didn't expand on the colorful/futuristic aspects of the game world hinted at in the 'Introduction.' As a kid from southern California, the Keiths' alternative vision for the game world in particular, set in the largely rural Mid-West dominated by a new Confederacy, emphasized all the least interesting aspects of the game to me personally.