New Campaign Coming- Mixing Tom Waits, Dark Cabaret, Vaudeville, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus into an OSR D&D Sandwich

The other night I was sitting in my house sipping on a rum and lime with lime seltzer water, the lights are down low and I’m enjoying the dulcet tones of Tom Waits (for those of who don’t know who he is- here are two songs: Hanging on St Christopher and Hoist That Rag), and I was thinking of his excellent performance as the Devil in the wacky kick ass movie The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.

I started thinking it would be really fun to run a game in this weird imagination style world and posed these thoughts on Google + and got a few people expressing interest in A) me doing something like this; and B) wanting to play in it.  That equals awesome and gave me the drive to start pondering it more.

All it Takes is a Little IMAGINATION…

I started thinking about a few more things I wanted to pull inspiration from for this “setting” and here’s a list of what I’ve come up with.

Tom Waits

Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus


Little Nemo Adventures in Slumberland

Dark Cabaret (including various bands like Dresden Dolls, Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire, Katzenjammer, etc).



Jazz Age

Hellboy Comics

Various Fairy Tales

The Sandman Comics

And music videos like this one by Dead Weather:

Now I’m not going to take or capture EVERYTHING from this list, but I’m looking for feelings/images/inspirations/etc that will capture what I want.

A huge part of my motivation for doing this campaign and keeping it OSR(ish) D&D is to make it available for Flailsnails games on G+ (or other social networks) hangouts.  If you haven’t heard of Flailsnails, hope over to Jeff’s blog and scope out a description.  And if you want to see some of the fun to be hand in a flailsnail game, go scope out Zak’s blog.

The Rough Concept

Right now I’m envisioning a world of whimsy and make believe that borders on the cartoonish, yet has a sense of depravity and realism.  A seedy dark underbelly that is both exciting and terrifying.  Tom Waits’ songs often speak of such things, and seeing as how that is THE main source of inspiration, I better fucking capture that.

When I considered races, I scratched out all the regular ones except humans.  Classes are derivatives of standard D&D (both of these I’ll release as separate posts).

I created a seventh Attribute: Imagination.  Certain abilities will need to be rolled off of that.  Also I created a mechanic that allows a player to burn an Imagination Point (everyone starts with one, and having a high Imagination Attribute, and/or being a certain races gives you more), and you can either A) add something to the scene (IE there is a door in this alley for us to escape down); or B) Actually change the physical environment, etc in some way (this will be work if a successful Imagination roll is made).

I do NOT have rules for these as they should be handled through Player creativity and then discussion with the GM and reaching a compromise or the GM having final arbitration and just saying no due to X, Y, and Z reasons.

I have not drawn up a world yet, because I really do want to keep it lose and every changing/growing.  I know I will play on cheap names and puns though…  When the group travels to the Isle of White- it’ll be just that.  Everything on the island will be white, and they are hungry for color to come in, as it is exotic, strange, and new…  However as things remain there, all color will be lost.  If there is a “Great Depression”, it will be when EVERYONE was/is depressed, sad, morose, and mopey.


Aside from a FEW enemies in a standard Monster Manual (Vampires, Witches- more on this in a minute, Barghest, etc) all monsters are going to be generated by the awesome Forge, taken from pictures on the kick ass Monster Brains website, or other various things and then I’ll stat them up and give them weird fucked up abilities, as I am wont to do.

What I see as being a main source of trouble and contention here is the realm of Nightmare.  This is where evil diabolical thoughts and feelings take hold and coalesce into terrible creatures that plague the landscape and can even get into people’s minds and invade their dreams (a la Freddy Krueger) and devour them.

Witches are going to be repugnant and reprehensible creatures that are able to consume Imagination (hurrah!  An ability drain!!).  Should anyone fall prey to this horrible fate, they become a dreaded creature (working on the name) that is almost unstoppable and hungers for imagination and life.


I’ve been talking to Trey over at From the Sorcerer’s Skull about pulp style games and various systems recently, and I’ve been inspired by his awesome Weird Adventures book and how it takes the original fantasy D&D tropes and modernizes them, but still keeps the fantastical feel.

With my being influenced by Vaudeville, Jazz Age, and Dark Cabaret I was thinking it would be fun to take a page out of Trey’s book and modernize everything to the early 1920’s.

I admit that part of me keeps flipping back and forth between the modernization to the Jazz Age for this game, while other parts want me to just take influences from it, and keep it in more of a “standard” fantasy technology level.  I haven’t quite made up my mind yet, but as I develop the setting I’ll see what works and “feels” right and go from there.

Alright, I’ve prattled on long enough for today…  Coming soon.  Races.

Author: wrathofzombie

I am a History major attending a community college until I can get more financial aid and attend a four year school. I am living in NJ with my girlfriend who is currently wrapping up on obtaining her PhD in Toxicology. I love Star Wars, Role-playing, video games, working out, reading, writing, and hanging with my girlfriend, dog (Perfect), and two kittens (Birch and Brambles). My main focus on this site will be my discussion of Role-playing games and ideas and hopefully contribute something worth a damn.

7 thoughts

  1. Good inspirations there (and thanks for the plug). I think there’s a lot of room to move fantasy from the traditional era and do some neat things. However, adding new tropes to the old isn’t bad either.

  2. Great concept. Nice array of sources for mood. I try to do this kind of thing with the various cultures in my world. Basing them on a sort of style book of ideas gives them each a unique feel, which I then must communicate to my players. Works better some times than others.

    Do you feel that you have a core set of go to mechanics? All of your stuff I’ve read so far has elements in common, but each has been fairly unique. Is it desirable to run different settings from the same core?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s