I recently re-watched seasons one and two of The Boys. The misanthropic, cynical part of me enjoys the connections drawn between superheroes and celebrity obsession. The banality surrounding individuals that really don’t deserve such a cultural apotheosis, and the relentless façades used to hide all too human failings whilst simultaneously doing anything, no matter how debased, to court media favour, got me thinking about RPGs -as many things inevitably do these days.
Many of the games we play are grounded in the notion of character advancement, whether this takes the form of levels, building points, or skill increases. With a few exceptions, characters are expected to gain power. Certain games have such a steep levelling curve that characters become, in essence, supers. When you can mow down ranks of soldiers and hardly break a sweat, or cast spells that stop time, control someone’s thoughts, or teleport, you are a superpowered individual.
So, I started idly scribbling notes about what I thought The Boys would look in a fantasy world where ‘adventurer’ is just another name for ‘superhero’.
Salmagundi is a patchwork planet stitched together from bits and pieces purloined by The Collector, a pan dimensional mastermind of cosmic scale heists. People and places, kingdoms and artefacts, even entire continents and moons, she’s stolen them all.
From under the noses of ever watchful, supposedly omnipotent Gods, The Collector spirits away her ill-gotten gains after flawlessly executing meticulously planned robberies, leaving hosts of bamboozled, confounded deities and demigods in her wake. Returning to her lair, she weaves the stolen prizes into a personal museum, a planet she has created. The planet of Salmagundi.
Over the years, The Collector has also gathered a small cabal of allied Gods who have taken up residence in her cosmic lair. Some are partners in crime, others are malcontents uneasy in their resident pantheons and in need of a new place to call home. These Gods rule over the world in The Collector’s stead and help manage the ever-growing celestial bureaucracy surrounding the many faiths, cultures, and magic systems that turn up on the planet.
Life didn’t so much evolve on Salmagundi as was unceremoniously dumped on its surface. People from across the multiverse found themselves living in fragments of their old civilisations knitted into a fresh, new world. Chaos and upheaval reigned for a long time, as disparate cultures butted up against one another, clashing over resources, ideologies, and language barriers. As soon as peace descended and equilibrium was found, The Collector would show up with a new city, species, or landmass to stir the pot once again.
Eventually the problem was turned over to the only resource everyone seemed to have an abundance of -Adventurers. Each time something new was thrust onto Salmagundi, Adventurers would flock to the area, killing the monsters and saving the princes and princesses, defeating the evil empires and tossing magic rings into volcanoes, and so on and so forth.
This approach worked for a time, but swiftly began to present a fresh set of challenges. The more problems Adventurers solved, the more power they gained, until they became an unruly mob of godlike beings, running around and causing more devastation in collateral damage than would have occurred naturally without them.
To combat this irresponsible abuse of power, The Dungeoneers’ Guild was formed to regulate out of control Adventurers and reign in their abilities. The Gods themselves endorsed and aided The Guild as they had swiftly grown annoyed with the constant influx of high-level Adventurers at their door demanding deification and a place at their celestial hearth.
Listing all the features of Salmagundi is pointless. The world is always changing, always in flux. The myriad cultural influences and echoes of past civilisations have mixed together to form a thick, velvety pottage, where landmarks and points of interest might have several names and meanings depending on who you are and where you come from.
At the time of writing, Salmagundi has a single sun and seven moons. Some of these moons are inhabited, and two of them are home to some of The Collector’s allied pantheon. The remaining Gods reside in or on the planet itself.
There are currently three continental land masses on the surface, surrounded by a vast ocean that goes by many names, but is widely known as the Cerulean Vast. The tidal pull from seven moons results in fierce storms and strong currents, and exploration past the coastal regions usually ends in doom.
Due to the unusually large number of languages spoken, a common trade tongue has evolved into a simplistic patois that includes a built-in sign language. Regional dialects vary wildly, but basic communication can usually be achieved. Most other language barriers can be overcome with the ubiquitous whisper gems, which are usually worn as earrings, but different cultures tend to accessorise them according to prevailing tastes.
Most civilisations have morphed from whatever starting shape they had into city states of varying size and influence, ruled by the most potent of Adventurers, although alternate societal structures do exist. One of the various lures into the life of Adventuring is this path to power. High level members of The Dungeoneers’ Guild find fame, fortune, and dominion over towns, cities, and larger territories on their way to apotheosis. In-fighting and vicious squabbling amongst the elite is common, as are plays for control when rising Adventurers try to usurp existing leaders.
The oldest and largest city is the port of Lantris on the southern coast of Antioc. The main headquarters of The Guild can be found there, and due to its central location, the city is a harbour that can be reached by sea from every other continental landmass. It has become a sprawling metropolis, home to thousands of disparate cultures and voices.
The Dungeoneers’ Guild was formed to curtail the destructive excesses of high-level adventurers who had run amok, toppling dynasties, and creating their own little kingdoms, laying waste to the hard-won balance that they had previously helped create.
Today the Guild has become so large and powerful it has subsumed most other guilds and operates them as franchises that trade functional independence for support and resources. For example, the Mages’ Guild supply seers and scry-casters in exchange for magic items and lore brought back from the Frontier.
With the power of all other guilds at their disposal, as well as the support of the Gods and their churches, the Dungeoneers’ Guild has the power base to regulate overpowered Adventuring parties, which they classify, licence, and coordinate.
When a new Frontier opens (the term used to describe anything The Collector adds to Salmagundi), or an ugly problem rears its head somewhere within the Established Lands (the term used to describe former frontiers), guild seers identify the area in need of adventurer intervention and then alert the administrators, who pass on the details of the situation to the handlers, who in turn locate suitable parties and then put the contract up for auction. Eligible adventurers usually bid for these with percentages of future loot, but anything can be put up as collateral in a Guild auction. The awarded contract grants the dispensation to go adventuring and dungeon delving in the target location. The adventurers get to keep a percentage of the loot they find as well as gain status and power, and society gets to stay safe from monsters, evil overlords, and bored PCs.
In the desperate race to higher levels, greater status and epic powers, bidding for new contracts can become cutthroat, whilst spaces on planned dungeon crawls are bitterly contested. A culture of celebrity has formed around adventuring. Famous and named groups usually have their crawls scry-cast live to the public for entertainment, and regular updates can be found posted around town squares and bellowed from the mouths of heralds. Plays and songs are performed, and merchants peddle cheap wares branded with the sigils of famous adventurers.
In addition, famous groups find much sport in sponsored duels and games, pitting one party against another in contests of skill, which not only entertain their adoring fans, but also settle squabbles and establishes a rough pecking order.
Unlicensed adventuring is a serious crime, and punishments are usually swift and harsh to deter further infractions. Adventurers nearly always fall in line when threatened with the revocation of their dungeon crawl licence, or a magic item and healing potion embargo is put in place. For very severe transgressions, there is always an adventuring party higher up the chain itching to secure a rare and prestigious assassination contract. As a rare last resort, divine intervention and a biblical smiting can be called upon.