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Of Gods and Monsters

"The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination." - Albert Einstein

The most powerful thing in the world is belief. Man is a cunning animal, but it's his imagination that sets him apart. The things born of human imagination become real and take on a life of their own. God didn't create man.

Man dreamed of god.

When man left Europe for the new world, he brought his gods with him. When he enslaved other men from Africa and brought them over, they brought their gods, too. And as they decimated the indigenous peoples of the land, their gods died with them. Immigrants and slaves, natives and migrants, they all have their beliefs.

You are their gods and monsters.

When Scandinavians left Sweden and Norway for Minnesota and Wisconsin, Odin and Thor didn't travel with them. Instead, new versions of them sprouted in America. For this reason the Odin of America is not the Odin of Norway, but he has his history, his memories and personality. What came before America is only history, however. It wasn't them. Their life and experiences started here, and the Odin of the new world is different than the one in Norway. So it is with every god and monster, every creature of mythology and magic brought here by immigrants.

The native gods, however, are the originals, and they're dying. Their people pushed to the brink of extinction, they already live in the last days. They already know the truth that the others will soon learn:

Magic is dying. Man has usurped the gods they created to explain the mysteries of existence. These are the end times for beings of wonder.

You can play either a dying god or a forgotten creature, both beings of imagination in a world that's embracing science. You are a shadow of your former self, barely more than a mortal, and you eke out what little worship and awe you can to survive. Whether deity or beast, being forgotten is the worst death of all.

Running Away with the Circus

Over the years at the start of the 20th century, gods and monsters began joining the traveling shows that toured America, performing for crowds and basking in the brief adulation. They'd been largely abandoned by the people who gave them life over the centuries prior, and this gave them a new form of belief, a shorter but headier hit of awe and wonder. The crowds watching them saw glimpses of magic, but before any risk could arise from such brazen displays, they moved on to the next show, the next town. It became a way to survive, and even to thrive again. The Roaring 20's were magical days, and for a time they thought their fortunes were changing.

The Great Depression brought all that to a stark, jarring halt. The Dust Bowl made it worse.

Now the people are starving, the land is blighted and dying, and the gods and monsters can barely hold on. Between early 1930 and the game's beginning in late 1934, they all consolidated under one banner: The Carnival of Wonders. Every marquee performer is either god or beast, and much of the crew is as well. Those mortals who work and travel with the show know what they live among, and are some of the precious few true believers left. In the darkest of times, even one or two faithful can keep a dream alive a little longer. You are the gods and monsters that make up the Carnival of Wonder, and those mortals are your Supporting Roles. Use them wisely - you need them.

Life as a Carnie

This is not your average carnival.

In carnie terms, there's trade and there's rubes. Trade are fellow carnies, those who live the life of a traveling performer, conman, grifter and more. Trade knows the rules of the road and lives by a complex and obscure code of conduct. Honor amongst thieves. In this carnival, however, those thieves are gods and creatures of myth and legend.

In this carnival, rubes are more than just the yokels who come to the shows, the marks the carnies fleece. A rube is any mortal that doesn't realize the way the world truly is.

The world isn't friendly to magic anymore, fear and suspicion are strong as the world suffers through the turmoil leading up to World War II. Simply doing the incredible can get an angry mob on your heels in a blink, and you're no longer invincible. Performing in the carnival allows you a way to be who and what you truly are in a setting where the rubes are expecting the unbelievable. It's a safe place and means of flaunting your powers and getting adulation for it. Then you move on to the next town before people get too suspicious.

It's a life on the road, of living in trailers and tents, of having no true place to call home. Sometimes the money and awe is good, and you eat well and sleep peacefully. More often than not, it isn't and you don't. Still, you make the best of it.

Everyone Carries Their Weight

There are no free rides and no free meals in showbiz, and the carnival is no exception. Everyone has a job to do, whether being in the biggest spotlight digging latrines. Below are all the different angles you can play.

Big Top

Most shows don't have one, can't support one, but the Carnival of Wonders can. All of the biggest performers end up here, where they get the biggest crowds and biggest rewards in the form of adulation.

Private Stages and Tents

The up-and-comers that start out in the ten-in-one and move up to midway stages dream of the big top, but many only make it here. A show of your own, secluded and private means more money and attention, and for many performers it's not a bad life. Snake charmer, feats of strength, freaks and geeks with a good gimmick, etc.

Midway Side Stages

Small platform stages line the midway, the heart of any carnival, and while you perform for free you have a decent shot at tips and crowds. These performers are newer or less popular, unable to draw good crowds or put on lengthy shows, but often good for a quick flash. Sword swallowers and fire eaters, rubber men and one-trick geeks or freaks, jugglers, etc.

Ten in One

It gets a lot of traffic - see ten acts for the price of one! - but it means little money and struggling with nine others for tips. The newest acts and bottom-rung performers cycle through here with turns on the midway side stages as well.

Ballies and Talkers

Performing isn't for everyone, nor is it something every god and monster can do. Storyteller types, tricksters, conmen, they do well as a bally or talker - those that lure people into shows and tents, narrate performances, help sell the magic.

Artisans and Vendors

Others have gifts of fortune-telling, or crafting, an art or skill they sell. Gods and monsters with such gifts generally work out of booths, tents or trailers.

Food, Rides and Games

While mostly mortals, a god of travel might find reward running the Ferris wheel, or a god of wine tending bar for the adults. Even a trickster god may get by running one of the many, oft-rigged, games of chance.

Adult Entertainers

The redlight tent. The burlesque show. The cooch tent. It has many names, but everyone knows what it is. Striptease, erotic art and performance, and even a full-service brothel, this is an area many gods and monsters find suits them.

Roustabouts

A carnival doesn't build itself. Mostly made of mortals, they are the crew that sets everything up, puts everything together, and makes sure it keeps running. Then they tear it all down and pack it up to do it again somewhere else. Gods and monsters tied to building, construction, and so on get powered by the carnival's success built with their hands.

The Circuit

The circuit usually has you North in the warmer months and South in the colder months, avoiding the extremes on both ends. Sometimes detours arise. Sometimes you just have to go somewhere at a specific time. It happens. For the most part, you stick to the circuit, though.

Management

Veles, Mephistopheles, or Mephisto the Magnificent (same being) is widely considered the boss of the carnival. It was he who started pulling you all together, and he who united you under your current banner. Meph, however, claims there is another being, something older and stranger than any of you that really calls the shots and put this all together.

Management.

No one's sure if there really is a Management to speak of. Meph is a demon or a trickster god depending on which version you believe, after all, so it wouldn't surprise anyone to learn that it's just him. Still, some say he's telling the truth, that something much older and more powerful is in that private trailer with him. But who or what is it?

The Laws of the Carnival

There are rules for being with any organization, and the Carnival of Wonders is no different. Their laws, however, are.

1. Belief is sacred. None shall harm those mortals and animals within the troupe who believe. (This basically means hurting, but especially killing, SRs is a big no-no. You gods and monsters can resurrect. Mortals and animals cannot, and they are your power.)

2. Secrecy is paramount. None shall feed or indulge in their darker natures on carnival grounds. (You don't shit where you eat. If you need to eat flesh, or kill mortals to sustain yourself, the killing happens off the grounds. It's too risky to do where crowds might see.)

3. All must carry their own weight. (Everyone, even believers, need to find a function within the carnival. There are no free rides.)

4. The lost may be found, but they will carry their weight. (Gods and monsters discovered along the way can be taken in, but they need to contribute quickly.)

5. Conflicts must be settled. Bad blood cannot be tolerated, or it will fester. (Got beef? Deal with it and shake hands. Figure out a challenge or way to settle things or they'll be settled for you.)