Thursday, September 1, 2016

Secret Societies in Our World

The Zero Level Blog has started a series of posts about running DCC pulp adventures set in both the Lost World (a subterranean and/or jungle world hidden in the unexplored places) and Our World (a world of cities and nations resembling the real world in the 1920s and 30s.)

Diogo Nogueira suggests that Our World is filled with secret societies. Below are some of my ideas for possible secret societies in Our World.


Secret societies in Our World operate on a kind of chapter system. Every major city has one (or more) chapters of each of the societies described below, but each chapter operates largely independently. There is no overarching coordination between chapters, no central ruling body governing the behavior of every member of a faction. Different chapters in the same faction will share the same philosophy, the same goal or purpose, and the same general plan of action, but there is no single leader with power over all the different chapters in the faction. Two chapters of the same society in different cities (or even the same city) are as likely to oppose one another as they are to oppose other faction's societies.

Most secret society chapters serve as little more than talking clubs for like-minded individuals, who meet up to elaborate their specific version of their faction's philosophy and to make vague "someday" plans for action. A few chapters are very active, and they represent a real source of danger to the PCs.

Every major city the PCs enter is likely to have 1d4+1 active secret societies. (There may be more, but the rest will be involved only in plotting and debate, or in very minor and low-level activity.) Decisions made by the PCs may cause some active chapters to close up, or some quiet societies to become truly active.

Some political and artistic factions are described below. Psychic, sorcerous, and scientific factions will be described in a future post. Additional factions may exist at the judge's discretion. Although these factions may share names and ideas with real-world organizations and real philosophies, they are firmly the residents of Our World, and may depart from the behavior of their real-world namesakes whenever and however the judge sees fit.

(Although factions are intended to be unorganized conglomerates of like-minded but independent chapter-organizations, a judge interested in including a globe-spanning conspiracy in their game might elect instead to give one or more factions a central leadership, and to make the local directors of the city-level franchise-organization directly answerable to their international leadership. Uncovering this state of affairs, unraveling the faction's hierarchy of command, and unmasking the secret leader all represent likely goals for conspiracy play.)

Seen here: Artistic and political factions.
Source: Home Movies.


Anarchist Societies -
Anarchists espouse the dissolution of all government in favor of self-organization into small, egalitarian consensus-based affinity groups. They are above all anti-imperial, but they oppose government at all levels, in addition to bankers and the owners of large companies. Anarchists often espouse COMMUNISM or SOCIALISM but are almost always at odds with the mainstream supporters of those philosophies. Anarchists everywhere support the worker against the owner and subject against the state.

Across Our World, anarchists have waged a campaign of terror, assassinating political leaders like Austria's Empress Elisabeth and America's President McKinley, and bombing stock markets and financial centers. They are the mortal enemies of CAPITALISTS and ANTI-UNIONISTS. Anarchists have a love-hate relationship with IRREDENTISTS. Both groups share a desire to overthrow the current government, but anarchists reject irredentists' authoritarism and traditionalism. Anarchists also side with UNIONISTS against business owners, but dislike their rigid hierarchy and industrialism. Anarchists are usually the allies of DADAISTS, who they see as continuing their political ambitions within the world of art.

Anti-Unionist Societies -
Anti-Unionists are police officers, soldiers, private detectives, government agents, and organized criminals who have traded their political loyalties to serve the needs of capital beyond the reach of the law. Anti-unionists work to protect the wants powerful from the needs of the weak, the business of the rich from the lives of the poor. They believe that might makes right, and that like calls to like, and they revel in the chance to be paid to destroy that which is different and wrong.

Anti-Unionists are the mercenary arm of CAPITALISM (and sometimes FASCISM.) They break strikes, beat picketers, assassinate protest leaders, fire machine guns into peaceful demonstrations, and sell their services to the highest bidder. They are inimically opposed to ANARCHISTS and UNIONISTS.

Irredentist Societies -
Irredentists are micro-nationalists, who hope to abolish distant imperial and national governments and replace them with local and regional autonomous self-rule. They preach secession and strong borders against the outside. Irredentists believe in the importance of tradition and family. They want to form new small countries with strong-man leaders, with only one local language, with ethnic purity achieved by exile or by death. Irredentists' new micro-nations frequently contain lands held by two or more current states, making their attempts to seize land a flashpoint for conflict between countries who are quick to blame one another for the irredentists' deeds.

Irredentists assassinated Austria's Archduke Ferdinand and helped set off the Great War, and irredentists are beneficiaries of the War, establishing new small governments to carve up the collapsing empires. CAPITALISM, COMMUNISM, and SOCIALISM are conquering, universalizing ideas; irredentists reject them in favor of the local and the traditional. Irredentists sometimes support FASCISM, especially its authoritarian leadership and its willingness pursue ethnic cleansing. Irredentists may form temporary alliances with ANARCHISTS to eliminate political leaders, but they despise anarchists' lack of respect for the authority of a husband over his wife, of a father over his child, and they do not trust anarchists' toleration for religious and ethnic diversity.

Unionist Societies -
Unionists form workplace cooperatives to demand higher wages, shorter hours, better safety conditions, and a host of other improvements to their work process, sometimes culminating in the total ownership of all business by the workers. Unionists usually believe that everyone should have jobs and work as hard as they do, and they tend to believe that their own industry is the most important (and that their own work deserves be paid the most.) This can lead to conflict between unionists in different industries, or even different workplaces in the same industry. Unionists view non-union labor as an even greater threat to their cause than business owners, particularly when the non-union workers belong to another ethnic group.

Unionists stage strikes, slow-downs, and walk-outs, and form picket lines to keep out non-union replacements. Unionist demands have yielded a workday reduced from 16 hours down to 10, and a workweek reduced from 7 days down to 6. Most unionists support COMMUNISM or SOCIALISM, and a few endorse FASCISM, especially those most worried about immigrant laborers. Unionists are the arch-enemies of ANTI-UNIONISTS, who represent the will of CAPITALISM to keep hours long and wages low. Unionists may form temporary alliances with ANARCHISTS to oppose a company leader, although unionists consider them lazy for their critiques of labor and industry.


Cubist Societies -
Cubists are painters who attempt to represent objects and scenes, not as they appear in photographs, or in single moment of time to a static observer, but as they are seen over time, from many angles, as they move and progress. Their paintings have a blocky, disjointed look, and require practice to interpret correctly. Learning to interpret cubist images correctly carries its own risks. Unwary viewers later report seeing all motion as a series of superimposed still images, resembling a Thomas Eakins motion study photograph. Cubist authors explore the notion of narrators "unstuck in time," of life events as places that can be returned to again and again; of death not as a single moment, but as a permanent position, one that has always been there, waiting for the narrator to arrive. Incautious readers report losing their belief in free will, seeing the course of their lives as fixed, immutable as a physical structure.

Pablo Picasso and Le Corbusier are the most famous Cubists in Our World. Like the Impressionists before the Great War, the Cubists are obsessed with trying to achieve the greatest possible realism in their images, and like the DADAISTS, they consider most so-called "realism" to be nothing but kitsch. Their shared contempt for other artists is their only point of agreement with the Dadaists however, as the Cubists mostly consider them their enemies, little better than sign-painters, and scorn their abandonment of artistic purity in favor of political agitation. A shared interest in understanding the dimension of time makes the Cubists allies of the RELATIVISTS, who the Cubists see as scientifically "proving" the validity of their own artistic approach. Cubists also follow the work of the NON-EUCLIDEANS, who believe in a literal fourth dimension of space, rather than thinking of time as a fourth dimension.

Dadaist Societies -
Dadaists are artists who reject the idea that art should be beautiful, and insist instead that it should be politically agitating. Dadaists paint surreal and grotesque images, paint over advertisements and photos, cut up and collage existing images, and declare found objects as sculptures. Dadaists consider their public personas to be an extension of their art, often appear wearing outlandish suits and costumes, walking leashed lobsters and other unsuitable pets, and behaving in ways calculated to outrage polite society. Most governments consider Dadaist art to be obscenity, heresy, libel, sedition, propaganda, or all of the above, and to order it banned, burned, or hidden away.

Although Dadaists are fond of slogans like "Dada is terror," and "Dada destroys all," their worst provocations are more likely to take the form of graffiti, vandalism, and sabotage, rather than outright acts of violence. Truly successful dadaist exhibitions have been known to incite riots and mob violence, directed as often against the dadaists themselves as it is against their enemies. Salvador Dali and Marcel Duchamp are among the most famous Dadaists in Our World. Dadaists consider all other art to be instruments of CAPITALISM, and treat all other artists, including the CUBISTS, to be as much their enemies as the capitalists are. Dadaists admire the ANARCHISTS, and consider their bombings and assassinations as a kind of dadaist art in the medium of violence.

Cubist vision.
Source: Thomas Eakins.

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