Onward to Barlow’s Guide & The B-Files

Barlow's Guide Combined Cover promo

So with Recursion finally published in ebook and paperback, it’s back to work on the sourcebook! Yay! To let everyone know where it’s going, I’m finished with the long first chapter on different regions and nations of the world and how the aftermath of the Event has changed them. I’m pushing my way through a chapter on different post-Event organizations.

Both of these chapters are totally rules-free for the benefit of a) fans who just want meaty world background and b) players using the source-material for non-Fate games. However, they will be followed by a chapter going into advanced uses of Aspects and Stunts to flesh out what’s in the gamebook, as well as pages and pages of characters from the books. And that’s not getting into the new templates and of course all the great capes submitted during the kickstarter campaign. No promises, but I’d love to have the electronic edition for everyone by the end of next month, with the printed edition shipped the month after.

Meanwhile, I’m also working on a Wearing the Cape novella, smaller than my regular novels but still an Astra adventure. No completion date or even a title, just a cool idea and some scenes so far.

In the next week or so, now that Infinity War has been out for a while, I’d like to do a post on it. Meanwhile, to let you see some of the good stuff coming in the sourcebook, here’s a couple of excerpts.


The Serene Republic of Cuba

Possibly the strangest national Post-Event story belongs to Cuba. A “unitary Marxist-Leninist one-party socialist republic” (a brutal police-state), Cuba imploded politically the week of the Event. Under the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior, the National Revolutionary Police (the PNR) began arresting all “politically suspect” breakthroughs. As authoritarian regimes around the world discovered, brutal actions against large numbers of their citizens played out differently with breakthroughs in the picture. Some breakthroughs rallied to the defense of the Republic of Cuba. Most didn’t. Police stations burned across the island as first the police and then the army failed to maintain control. A group of breakthroughs calling themselves The People’s True Revolution began a campaign of mass-assassination against Communist Party leaders and officials. Government reprisals killed thousands.

Then the Tyrant announced himself.

By radio, internet, and tv, the faceless Tyrant announced a cessation of the killing; henceforth anyone who attacked any official or citizen would be “dealt with.” His announcement was ignored, and many, many people were promptly dealt with by Upright Men who appeared from nowhere and took them away. None of the taken who returned remembered what happened wherever they went, but they didn’t hurt anyone ever again. Then the Tyrant announced the new Serene Republic of Cuba. He called for patience while direct representatives of the Cuban people were chosen and assembled to create a new state constitution under his direction.

This set the pattern of The Serene Republic of Cuba. To this day, nobody knows who the Tyrant is, but he is head of the new and uniquely structured government.

Under the New Charter, Cuba is now a demarchy. Each year, every Cuban citizen who wants to stand for national office submits their name to the Sortition Board. On Sortition Day, five hundred names are drawn by lot for nomination to the Assembly, Cuba’s national congress, where they will serve as representatives for one year. Ten names are also drawn for nomination to the Council. These ten must have previously served on the Assembly. The Cuban people may affirm or reject the nominations; if one in five rejects a citizen’s nomination, the nomination fails and a replacement name is drawn. The Assembly and Council are the legislative bodies of the SRC government, but their law-making powers are restricted by the people’s Charter Rights and the Tyrant’s Veto. Under the Charter, the office of Tyrant will be held by the unknown Tyrant for fifty years, after which the office will become an annually elective one, election and re-election made by the representatives of that year’s Assembly, with a term limit of five years.

The Tyrant of Cuba and the Upright Men

Under the Tyrant, Cuba has truly dedicated itself to Libertas, Equitas, Concordia. Government management of the economy is a thing of the past, and Cuba’s free market is booming. Although the island nation has a way to go to catch up, its per-capita wealth will likely match that of North America and Europe within a generation or two. The national government acts minimally on provincial and community governments, and laws are fair and fairly enforced. Thousands of Cuban-Americans are returning to Cuba every year, and many Cubans call it El Paradiso. In comparison to pre-Event Cuba, it’s a utopia.

If it is, it’s a utopia under the light but sinister rule of a benevolent dictator nobody knows anything about.

The Tyrant has only ever acted and communicated through the Upright Men, and nobody knows anything about them, either. They wear distinctive black suits with narrow black ties and black flat-brimmed hats, but nobody who sees them can remember details other than an impression that they’re tall and almost cadaverously lean. They are invisible to recordings. Their only known mode of “attack” is to teleport onto the scene, lay a hand on their target, and teleport away with them. Resisting targets just draw more Upright Men. Physical attacks on them can apparently land with effect, and an injured Upright Man will disappear to be replaced. The single largest witnessed pile-on of Upright Men was described as a sequential and then simultaneous cascade of more than two dozen.

While the nature of the Upright Men is a complete mystery, what triggers an appearance is not.  An Upright Man might appear to deliver a message from the Tyrant. If it’s instructions, and the instructions aren’t followed, the recipient of the instructions is taken. But far more often, Upright Men appear to take either corrupt politicians and officials (and evidence of corruption or abuse almost invariably found after the fact), or breakthroughs engaging in violent criminal activity. These individuals are never turned over to the court system; if they are returned, they are considered to have “paid their dues.” Notably, they never repeat the triggering behavior.

The Upright Men function as the voice of the Tyrant and as an extra-judicial source of “justice” in Cuban society. Since their judgements never appear to be in error, many Cubans love them. Others loudly condemn them, but freedom of speech is written into Cuba’s new Charter Rights and nobody speaking against them has ever been taken. Nor has anyone whose tried to attack an Upright Man ever been taken, unless their action injured others.

International Relations

Cuba’s relations with the rest of the world are . . . fraught. On the one hand, the Tyrant has announced no military ambitions and has not built up the army. The new government has opened reciprocal trade relations with all states interested in fair trade. The island is now completely open to emigration (immigration is mostly limited to Cuban ex-pats wishing to return) and tourism.

On the other hand, Cuba has become a sanctuary for many “supervillains.” Anybody can go to a Cuban embassy and ask for refuge, or just visit as a tourist and drop by a police office to do the same. The request will be passed to the Tyrant, and nobody knows why he may decide to grant sanctuary. Guests who simply get fake identities and stay illegally have sometimes been allowed to remain even after foreign governments tracking them there have revealed their presence and asked for their return. At other times arrivals on the island have been met at the gate by an Upright Man asking them to leave. Some of those given refuge have been known terrorists.

Many liberal western states also have a great deal of difficulty with the Tyrant since he is a dictator. Arguably a benevolent dictator, but a head of state who exercises absolute and arbitrary power. Despite the otherwise utterly liberal and democratic (if weird) nature of the Cuban government, the country has not been invited to join the League of Democratic States.

Lastly, the Tyrant has formally claimed Guantanamo Bay and does not recognize the United States’ claim to its perpetual lease there. The US President doesn’t recognize the Tyrant’s claim, but neither party has made any moves over it (one political pundit has compared the apparent mutual attitude to two cats sharing the same balcony perch while ignoring each other). Cuba treats the boundary between the US military base and the rest of Cuba like an international boundary, with a checkpoint that simply records crossings but doesn’t stop US military personnel and Cuban citizens from crossing either way. Many Cubans do contract work on the base, and US military personnel visit Guantanamo City for R&R.

Box: Using the Serene Republic of Cuba.

The Upright Men defy classification, other than to call them Mentalist-Types since they teleport. No Upright Man has ever been successfully controlled by magic, psi-powers, or Verne-tech, nor can their minds be read or their purposes mystically divined. What they do to subdue targets once they’re taken away is as much a mystery as everything else about them. When they bother to talk, they speak as dispassionate observers with little or no emotional inflection, leading some to speculate they might not be fully human. Their goals (presumed to be the Tyrant’s goals) are completely opaque, other than the continued serenity of the Serene Republic of Cuba.

The GM should feel utterly free to make what she wants from the Serene Republic of Cuba, the Tyrant, and the Upright Men. The Tyrant could be an absolute villain with diabolical plans for the rest of the world. Or he could be a scrupulous and just man, doing everything he does for what he sees as the benefit of the people of Cuba. He might be both. The one thing the GM should not do is break the mystery; whatever she decides, the PCs and players must never be allowed to peer inside the Black Box that is Cuba’s truth. Of course this assumes that the campaign is utterly canon; in an un-canon campaign the GM is free to turn the Tyrant into a known threat along the lines of Marvel’s Victor Von Doom of Latveria. The people of Cuba are his “children,” the Upright Men are his Doom Bots, etc., have fun with my absolute blessing.  If you take this approach, it’s a very good idea to make the Upright Men just a little less powerful and omniscient.


“The First Star to The Right, and Straight on Till Morning.”

While still rare, world-jumpers are far more common than time travelers. Sometimes, the ability to reality-hop is just a tangential part of a breakthrough’s power; other times, it’s the core of the jumper’s power. Post-Event researchers are only just beginning to understand extrareality, with the serious handicap of not knowing if the observations and rules they’re establishing actually describe what it is or what they want it to be. However, a structural theory has emerged, dubbed the Infinitude. The theory appears to account for all observed phenomena and has, so far, been reliably predictive. It might actually be the way things are. Extrareality Theory divides the Infinitude, the space of all possible realities, into Stage I and Stage II Realities.

Stage I Realities

The current Theory of Everything begins with the Big Bang, with an addition to the theory; in the first moment of creation, the infinitesimal span between P and P + 10−43 (the moment known as the Planck Epoch when all forces including gravity were fully unified), the universe split. It then inflated as an infinite number of universes, the State I Realities. All Stage I Realities began as perfect copies, but over time they diverged, first on the quantum level, then on the macro level. Once life and later intelligent life entered the picture, they diverged even more quickly. However, with an infinite number of universes, a smaller set of infinite universes remain almost completely identical. In theory, there is a universe otherwise identical to the one you know except that there you ate something different for breakfast. Stage I Realities are labeled Alternate Presents (APs), and they are as immune to change as the P of our own reality.

Note that historic changes leading to very different-appearing presents do not have to be causally related. In one discovered AP, history began to diverge during WWI. Hitler was killed in action on the Eastern Front. Consequently, there was no Nazi Germany. Also, the Russian Provisional Government withdrew Russia from the war earlier. As a result, there was no Bolshevik Revolution and Communist Russia. Neither divergence caused the other, but the result was a very different geopolitical situation in the 21st Century.

Visiting Stage I Realities

Some jumpers have shown the power to enter the AP extrarealities. However, not all are equally accessible. If a traveler jumps to an AP where he doesn’t exist (where he was never born or he’s died), he will arrive physically. However, if he jumps to an AP where he has an extrareality analogue (twin), then he will mentally “possess” his twin, bringing only his memories and consciousness. His own body disappears from his previous reality for the duration. If he stays there too long, “host memories” will begin to emerge, and eventually he and his twin will become a single person with the memories of both and a melded personality. At this point the traveler is stuck as his new composite-self; if he jumps again, all of him goes.

Researchers have no idea why it works this way, but one theory is that all analogues of you are actually you, all part of one big multi-reality Oversoul. The “you” that you see in the mirror in the morning is just the instantiation of you that you’re aware of. Of course this is just a theory, along with the theory that all other Stage I Realities are actually real, as real as our own Reality Prime.

Stage II Realities

Stage II Realities are much more difficult to explain. They’re called Stage II because they appear to be causally linked to Stage I Realities and therefor dependent on them, but this may not be true. It may be that only access to Stage II Realities is dependent on Stage I Realities. In either case, Stage II Realities are all extrarealities that we might describe as “fictions.” The category includes realms of folklore, mythology, and religious beliefs, as well as realms of recorded (and hypothesized) history and fiction. Debates about the nature of many visited Stage II Realities get heated; does any afterlife realm really, objectively, exist? Or are various afterlife realms visited by supernatural breakthroughs created by them?

Lumping the Christian Heaven in with Barsoom as a Stage II Reality might seem insulting, when obviously Barsoom, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fictional Mars, is a fictional creation. But is it? If they do share the same level of realness, perhaps Burroughs imaginatively accessed a real extrareality long before the Event. Could prophets and other visionary religious types have been doing the same with their portrayals of Heaven and Hell? Or Heaven could be real, the Throne of God, while Barsoom is a fictional creation made real by Post-Event breakthroughs. There is, literally, no way to tell; no scientific test has yet been devised that will differentiate one from the other in any observable way.

Not all Stage II Realities need to look different. Some observed S2s have been mistaken for P – x, until divergences were created. For example, one devoted scholar of the history of the European conflicts of the 20th Century triggered a breakthrough-jump that took him “back” to 1911. With the bits of 21st Century technology he brought with him (a smart-phone, for one), and his foreknowledge of events leading up to WWI, he was able to get the attention of people who could introduce him to the people who could keep the Great War from happening. He also started a weapons and technology race, but in a decade S2 1911 managed to make the leap to an effective Western League that has so far kept wars between any developed nations from breaking out.

Extrarealities and Reality Prime

In-canon, the reality of extrarealities has so far had little effect on Reality Prime (the “real” world). Incursions from outside Reality Prime are rare and usually limited in scope. (Japan’s kaiju and oni problem is an exception—one that appears deliberately created.) This means that extrarealities are almost always destinations for adventure. A small subset of superhumans also claim to be visitors from extrarealities rather than breakthroughs. Whether or not they really are is up to the GM, but no definitive answer is necessary. PCs will believe different things in this regard, and in the spirit of the books the GM should keep the truth about such claims under his hat unless revealing the truth is part of the plot. For example, an incursion’s claim of coming from the future with a warning of an impending catastrophe could turn out to be an elaborate scam (which won’t prove or disprove other claims).

On the other hand, there is nothing that says GMs must stick to the limited-incursion rule. Just dialing up the prevalence and impact of incursions can make a Post-Event campaign much more epically heroic. What if the world’s breakthroughs need to come together to fight off a massive invasion of Earth launched by Ming the Merciless? Cthulhu? Or any other potentially world-conquering or ending Threat from Another Dimension? (Note: GMs need not copy threats from fiction. If extrarealities are more than just subjectively real, then the Infinitude holds dreams and nightmares we’ve never thought of.)

And of course, nothing is more true to the superhero genre than crossovers! How can any GM pass up the opportunity to work up cape-files for their favorite superheroes and arrange for them to get transported to Reality Prime to meet the group’s CAI team? Or for the team to get transported into the Marvel or DC universes to meet the iconic heroes that inspired and shaped so many breakthrough templates? (Or meet Velveteen or Halo, for that matter. . .)



27 thoughts on “Onward to Barlow’s Guide & The B-Files

  1. I’m also working on a Wearing the Cape novella, smaller than my regular novels but still an Astra adventure. No completion date or even a title, just a cool idea and some scenes so far.
    I was about to ask for an Omega Night sized story.
    There’s a few people I’d like to have visit Astra, but I’m probably forbidden from saying their names.

    1. ‘The Mighty Halo’ has got to visit The Dome in your story.
      “Hi Bob. Hi Tom.” (She gets it right) “Is Astra in? She said I could visit if I’m ever in..” (she winks) ‘Chicago’.

      1. Dr. Beth would want to run every test short of an autopsy on a human non-superhuman who had physically manifested from an extrareality. He’d have trouble getting blood but what is *really* needed is a few unfertilized eggs. (Because of some of the Bad Futures.)

    2. The 2nd person I’d like to visit Astra…
      Or have Astra visit her….
      And I don’t know how it would happen….
      And the rules seem to forbid it…
      The mundane human Hope Corrigan.

  2. Nice artwork! Interesting Excerpts! Which leads to….
    Errata?: “It then inflated as an infinite number of universes, the State I Realities.”
    Everywhere else it says “Stage”; the same error (whichever one is right) is in the text that went up on the Kickstarter Page.

  3. Great cover. It’s also cool to see Astra in her blue skirted outfit. That’s the Astra I know! The shorts and the blue halter, great for a brief Chicago summer. But she’s better in the skirt.

    I like your storyline about Cuba. I would be quite interested in reading about Astra’s adventures there.

      1. Speaking of STH, your excerpt above gives no impression that The Serene Republic was announced after The Big Quake of the first book, indeed it gives me the impression that it’s been around for years, if not most of the decade between The Event and WTC. But in STH (chapter 21) Shel reports that the Republic is less than two years old, and that the Tyrant and the UM made no appearances before the California Quake or in TBBoCP.

        There’s also a description of “the biggest Upright Man incident”. Very Impressive.

      1. Yep, in the first book a slightly drunk Hope talked about being able to dance naked on the Polar icescape.

  4. Japan’s oni problem, huh? Guess it keeps Kaminari and Kochi busy. Also explains Astra’s remarks about Japan’s issues with gates.

  5. In the Recursions Glossary it’s mentioned that the understanding of Extra Realities is spotty at best.
    (The most useful information on ERs is from the Faith Corrigan of ER#1)
    What the researchers can’t understand is ER#12. (Grrl Power)
    Supers but no Event? They always existed but no one noticed until recently?
    *Obviously* it’s a Stage II reality, which is probably why The Real World (The Astraverse) is fiction to them.
    The two year time lag for information to cross the inter-reality barrier probably means something. The Universes are two light years apart? The interceding medium slows the information transfer?
    (Like the way photons from the Sun’s core take thousands of years to reach the photosphere.)
    Anyone who proposes TRW is a Stage II needs a vacation.

  6. No idea how serious you are being, but
    #1 The lack of precipitating event is explained in-comic as a veil spell used to hide the aliens, monsters, and wizards from mundane view. Supers were recently removed from the veil’s coverage, so poof!
    #2 The time lag between an occurence and the dramatization of same is at often more than two years, so I doubt that means anything at all. Expecially given that light takes four years to reach even the closest star.

    1. Thanks for reminding me of The Veil.
      I was ‘speaking’ from the point of view of the Astraverse’s experts. A subset of the Oroboros Future research group?

  7. How ill this be different from the RPG guidebook? I’m not an RPGer (I’m too busy being a nerd in other areas) but it sounds like some stuff will be the same between the two. Just curious. I’ll buy this as soon as I see it’s available 🙂

    1. It won’t be “different” from the gamebook, so much as “more.” The sourcebook isn’t required for you to play the game, but it adds another 30+ pages of history and background material on the Post-Event World (for one thing, it goes into greater detail on what happened outside the US and what the world looks like now). It also adds some optional rules refinements, give more examples of how to use the Power Aspect System, and includes nearly 50 more cape-files, 20 of them characters met in the books and close to 30 created by Kickstarter backers (some of which have appeared an may appear in WtC stories).

      1. Glossary also?
        Ask Dave at Grrl Power to proof read your Halo entry.
        Her 6th Orb activated last year.
        She now uses it for Oxygen and CO2 scrubbing.
        I suspect (but it has not yet been revealed) that it can replicate any gas or liquid.

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