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Occluded Urban Fantasy

Like many urban fantasy settings, the core idea of the Here There Be Monsters (HtbM) setting is that while the world seems "normal" on the surface this is a carefully maintained facade concealing the existence of the supernatural. Several obvious questions arise from this core idea.

Who hides the supernatural from whom?

Per the backstory of the setting, wresting control of the world from supernatural groups and entities, and then holding on to that power by suppressing and persecuting those supernaturals who remained in the aftermath was the true purpose of the United Nations (and the League of Nations before it). The clandestine U.N. Accords of Secrecy and Abeyance, which all U.N. member nations are sworn to uphold, is the primary instrument of enforing and maintaining the cover up of the existence of the supernatural.

Described among its codicils are the rules imposed upon supernaturals who wish to co-exist with humanity that are willing to keep a very low profile, and the legal justification for Sanctioning for extermination those who violate the rules.

A list of various individuals or kinds of supernaturals who were deemed dangerous enough to enshrine on a permanant Sanction list are also conveniently enshrined therein. The most prominent of which are Vampires, various kinds of hostile extra dimensional entities and those who summon them, certain orders of mystics such as Ultima Thule, and certain individuals such as Tudor Brezak and Werner Hoffman.

A bounty system incentivizing the hunting of Sanctioned and emergent supernatural threats is laid forth as well, which is directly responsible for the existence of professional hunters of the supernatural and the hidden economy of their trade.

In addition to government enforcement, many groups of supernaturals who continue to exist in shadows have a vested interest to self-police their own kind for fear that the acts of one or a few might bring down Sanction on the many, or draw unwanted attention from murderous hunters eager to claim lucrative bounties. Also, many mystical organizations that pre-existed the Accords saw the way the wind was blowing across World War I and II; a cabal of various such groups made their own pact by forming a loose alliance known as the Councils of Magi and collectively entered into a bargain with the U.N. to ensure their continued existence as the world changed. Consequently they have the privelege and obligation of self-policing in return for being collaborators in the grand scheme.

Why is the existence of the supernatural hidden?

If the normal peoples of the world managed to loosen the grip of the supernatural upon the fate of mankind back during World War I and break it in World War II, why bother with keeping the supernatural hidden and forcing supernatural entities and practitioners into secrecy? Why isn't it enough to just be in control and allow those supernaturals who play by the rules to be open about what they are?

The real answer is because that would lead to a different (but not necessarily worse) tone for the setting. Some GM's might prefer to play it that way (dropping the "Secrecy" Accord, so to speak), and it is also possible that a HtbM campaign might end up going that way over the course of a campaign depending on in-game play. But the core HtbM experience includes the narrative pressure and dramatic tension of struggling to keep things hidden from the mundane world and maintaining the conspiracy.

The in-game explanation is that some supernatural entities are empowered by belief in their own existence, particularly certain powerful extradimensional forces. Similarly, some magic is easier to work in the presence of belief that it will work and is much more difficult to do otherwise. Thus suppressing belief in the supernatural and asserting a rationalism based model of instruction upon the masses has a strong dampening effect on many kinds of supernatural threats. Additionally, certain supernatural creatures have beguiling abilities which grant them power over the hearts and minds of average folk, and allowing them to openly intermix with humanity would be problematic. Forcing such creatures into hiding limits their influence.

What kinds of supernaturals exist?

Broadly speaking, as many kinds as a given GM or group wants to introduce. As far as playable characters go however, there are a handful of recognizeable categories.

  • Innati: innately supernatural beings, ranging from Eldfolk and Fae, to lycanthropes, godlings, and even unique individuals.
  • Believers: those whose belief in one or more extradimensional powers is so great that they are blessed by their patron with various gifts or even become a conduit for their patron(s).
  • Mystics: practitioners of one or more mystical traditions, able to tap into extradimensional power to manifest all manner of effects in their own dimension.
  • Psychics: otherwise normal humans with one or more psionic abilities.
  • Normals: normal unenhanced humans from any walk of life.

A given character might not fight cleanly into one category, or might start out as a Normal and later learn magic and become a Mystic or become affected by a supernatural condition and become an Innati, an Innati might also worship a diety with such fervor that they are empowered by their patron as a Believer, and so on.

What kinds of normal people exist?

The vast majority of the people inhabiting the setting are referred to as "mundanes", which means they are both normal and unaware of the supernatural. These are the people that the Accords of Secrecy and Abeyance are intent upon keeping unaware of the supernatural ("for their own good", of course). Some mundanes may harbor 'New Age' or psuedo-mystical affectations (like crystal power, etc) but they are essentially harmless and will likely live their lives entirely unaware of the supernatural world.

There are of course mundanes who suspect the existence of extra-normal / supernatural things and pick at the fringes of the veil of secrecy, but they come in a wide variety ranging from "on to something specific and real" to "completely wrong and maybe insane". Those in this group who pursue quiet lines of personal inquiry are not a threat to the Accords. Those who are vocal / bring attention to cover ups / otherwise make people question "normalcy" are a threat to the Accords and steps might be taken if necessary.

There are normals who are aware of or have had direct experience with one or more specific supernatural things. This relatively small group of people can be thought of as "partially supernaturally aware". It is important to note that this is not a binary situation...someone may have had contact with, say, some kind of Sidhe related supernatural activity and may have some vague or specific knowledge in the realm of Faery Lore; that does not mean they also somehow know about all the other kinds of supernatural things out there...and it also doesn't mean what they know about what they actually encountered is objectively and academically complete and accurate.

A person, having survived or witnessed such a thing, might go off and start trying to research / discover more, but they are going to have a very difficult time getting accurate information; the silly illustrated fairy books and confusing Celtic myths they're likely to find at the library / book store might have kernels of truth, but they are vague and misleading... the accurate works having been removed from the public purview by those enforcing the Accords. These people are borderline and this is a grey area...but at a certain point a given individual may know enough to not be considered a mundane any longer.

People old enough to remember how things were back before World War II, depending on what part of the world they are from or their personal life experience, often have recollections that contradict the dominant modern disbelief. However many keep it to themselves, or are written off as superstitious or as telling tall tales or perhaps as being senile by younger folk if they don't.

Finally, there is a relatively very small set of normals who have accurate knowledge of one or more types of supernaturals, and probably know at least the broad strokes of the Accords. Such people may not know everything but they know enough to not be considered a mundane, and thus are themselves subject to the Accords (particularly the Accord of Secrecy) including the punishments for violating them.

Professional monster hunters obviously fall into that last group, as do past and present Section M personnel. There are also others scattered here and there, particularly in law enforcement, journalism, some branches of academia, locals who live near supernatural nexuses, and of course survivors of past supernatural outbreaks who "saw too much" to be subject to the usual cover ups. All major and most minor cities have at least one person in law enforcement who has encountered some "weird shit" on the job and has likely interacted with Section M and / or one or more hunters in the past. Similarly some editors and show runners in news media have had at least one visit from a Section M agent in their careers and at the very least know that certain kinds of stories should not be reported on verbatim or at all.

When is the setting, chronologically speaking?

By default, HtbM assumes that it is being played in the "now", whatever year it currently is in the real world and with whatever events and popular culture are currently happening as backdrop. However, any time between the founding of the U.N. (October 24, 1945) and the near future could work.

The late 60's through the mid-70's is a particularly juicy arc of years to place a HtbM campaign in for those who like a bit of a retro feel; the renewed interest in the occult and "spiritual awakenings", the lack of cell phones and invasive media, and the general "grit" and zeitgeist of the era meshes well with the tone of the material.

Where in the world does the setting focus on?

By default, HtbM assumes that games are being run in the United States. However this is a weak assumption mostly represented by references to Section M, the department of the F.B.I. dedicated to enforcing the Accords within the United States. However, this is easily swapped out for any similar internal police oriented government bureau found in a different country.

How are games run within the setting?

By default, HtbM makes no hard assumptions about how the material is used. One offs, episodic "monster of the week", or serial arcs strung together into a long form campaign are all equally valid.

Similarly, a range of tones is appropriate to the setting. Some groups might prefer to run HtbM as a campy action-adventure supernatural drama similar to some popular tv shows. Others might prefer a more grounded or serious take, or to push the horror elements and focus on more malefic or disturbing supernatural threats.

Determining the perspective of the majority of the player characters within a group, in relation to the supernatural aspects of the setting has a major impact as well. A group of monster hunters chasing bounties has a very different feel than characters from different walks of life who are becoming aware of the existence of the supernatural and realizing that what they think they know of reality is a lie. Similarly, a team of FBI Section M Agents dealing with a major supernatural incident feels different than a group of supernatural characters in opposition to the Accords and struggling to go about their business while being hounded by hunters and government lackeys.

In summary, HtbM provides a broad stage for a group to play out interesting stories upon with many different focal points and tones supported.