Welcome to the Neverwhere D6 role playing game. If you haven't yet read Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, I recommend that you run right out and buy a copy. Call in sick tomorrow and stay home to read it. These pages will assume a general familiarity with the novel, but should be useful in introducing all players to the Underside.
Neverwhere and London
The Neverwhere D6 role-playing is based on Neil Gaiman's novel Neverwhere. Set in London, or rather London Below, the novel follows Richard Mayhew's journey from a regular, cubicle-dwelling working stiff to tunnel-dwelling, beast-slaying hero (even if it is all by accident).
London Below, as the name suggests, exists under London proper. It also exists aside from "normal" London life. It is a completely different world, based on feudal structures, magic and (apparently) some very divergent laws of physics. These underdwellers live in the subway tunnels, sewers, and forgotten catacombs that twist beneath the city. Furthermore, time passes differently there: Roman centurions can mix with post-modern punk rockers; day slips seamlessly into night, into yesterday and then back into two days from now. When dealing with the "structure" of London Below, it is best not to think about it too much. There is no sensible answer and you'll only get a headache.
London Below is populated with all manner of people and creatures, most of whom have "fallen through the cracks" of what the rest of us see as reality. As such, "normal" folks do not even notice an underdweller unless the he draws attention to himself. Underdwellers are essentially invisible until noticed and are quickly forgotten once out of site of anyone who does manage to notice them.
The world below is harsh, cruel and dangerous. Everything is for barter and survival demands a combination of luck, wits and brutality. It's best to make a few friends and secure a few favors in your debt.
There are little pockets of old time in London, where things and
places stay the same, like bubbles in amber.
Falling "Between the Cracks"
While many of the residents of the Underside were born into it, many others arrive from the World Above on a regular basis. Those that do usually fall into two categories: those that have "fallen between the cracks" and those that have been "exposed" to underdwellers.
Those that have "fallen between the cracks" are usually those poor souls that have gone largely unnoticed in the world. The homeless, the abused, and the chronically lonely may be included in this category. It may also include those that actively seek to escape the World Above and find themselves in a whole new realm.
Those that have been "exposed" to underdwellers for too long may find themselves transformed into an underdweller despite a well-rooted life in the World Above. This is the case with Neverwhere's protagonist Richard Mayhew. He had a good job, a fiancé, and many friends. But his exposure to Door and the marquis de Carabas caused him to fall between the cracks of society and into the Underside. It's not that Richard ceased to exist Above—his belongings and even his history remained. Only, no one above remembered him. The universe simply filled in the gap where Richard once was. At best, his former friends would vaguely recognize him, though be unable to place his name. And like all other updwellers, they would forget him as soon as he was out of sight.
The Worlds Below
In Neverwhere, Gaiman alludes to other "Cities Below" in the world—specifically Calcutta, Bangkok, New York and Berlin. In this game, undercities exist beneath every major city in the world. Each shares some characteristics: it is populated by those who have "fallen through the cracks"; ruled by social structures bordering on anarchy; and is filled with adventure, danger and magic. But each undercity is also unique, taking on the flavor and history the appropriate city above. See the Undercities of the World section.
Each City Below has its own system of social order (or lack thereof). By and large, the dwellers have adopted feudal systems based on the medieval societies of the countries beneath which they live. The Undercities in America are a bit more flexible, with a combination of feudal titles, modern "political" demagogueries, and gang-like mobs.
In every part of the Underside, many choose to swear fealty to a particularly powerful force—be it a single, "royal" individual, a guild, tribe or religion. These loyalties require regular attention—one must pay homage, provide tithes, or come to the aid of one's brethren. But they also provide a community for support and mutual defense. Those that choose to go it alone risk greater dangers and more uncertainty.
Interacting with Your
By and large, those Below view even their friends with a touch of suspicion. It's a harsh world, where loyalties shift rapidly; it's best to rely on one's own wits and resources. However, a few worthy souls do band together, forming tribes or "families" that provide as much security as one may hope for in any world.
But even with close-knit groups, all things are up for bargain. Food, protection, information and all manners of goods get passed through trade. Even favors provide the most valuable of currency. An able underdweller will not only be quick with a knife, but sharp in a bargain.
The Floating Market
There's a truce in the market. If anyone hurt anyone there, the whole of London Below would be down on them like a ton of sewage.
-Anaesthesia, one of the Rat-Speakers.
Every City Below has a marketplace where all goods and services may be haggled for and purchased. Markets occur at least a few times a week, never in the same place as the last (hence the term "floating"). The Markets occur in odd places: the retail floor of a department store, the deck of an old aircraft carrier, or within other public places. The Markets occur late at night and go unnoticed by updwellers (and their technology) and when the Market closes, it leaves no trace behind. (No, don't ask how or why...once again, that's just the way it is!).
Those Below hold a special connection with the Markets: they all respect a truce of non-violence and against theft; they pass along the location of the next market, even to enemies; and generally approach the Market with a kind of communal conviviality.
Getting to the a Market may require a minor quest or adventure—it may be a dangerous route, guarded by a puzzle or beast, or require some "price" to be paid for entrance.
The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar exists aside from all the various Cities Below. It is unclear where it is actually located—in facts, parts of the bazaar simultaneously exist in different parts of the world. The Bazaar is a nexus where all underdwellers, from all the Cities Below, may come. As with the Floating Markets, a Truce of non-violence and against theft is strictly enforced.
The Bazaar provides the most arcane and rare wares—those only whispered of in the Markets. Need the fresh heart of a long-extinct animal for a spell? How about information from the guy who built the first tunnels beneath Rome? Or maybe you just need someone to help you locate the fragment of your soul that was stolen from you last night while you slept. The Bazaar is the place to go.
But getting there is not easy. Indeed, it is much more dangerous than reaching any of the Floating Markets. It may take a journey of days or weeks to find out where the Bazaar is, then pass through the labyrinthine requirements to gain entrance. As always, the effort will be fraught with danger, sacrifice, and dark magicks.
Note: The Grand Bazaar is something of my own creation. I thought it appropriate to have a place where underdwellers from different Cities Below could convene. Also, there should be some items too rare to find in a Floating Market.
For one thing, there's a lot of walking around in the Underside. Given the surroundings, most motorized vehicles are impractical—and that's assuming that an underdweller could get them to work in the first place. Furthermore, much of the technology will ignore, or even actively exclude, an underdweller (yes, as if the technology has a mind of its own). In the novel, Richard could not board a subway train—it slammed its doors on him. Later, Door explained that they could ride some subway trains, but you had to let the train "know who was boss."
That said, the those Below have discovered all sorts of alternative methods for getting around quickly. Many learn which doors and pathways provide quick connections to other locations located far away. In its crassest form, it may seem to be a kind of teleportation—but that's pigeon-holing a bit too much. For the game, the GM may provide these various portals for sake of convenience or (better yet) adventure.
Technology in the Underside:
Though it is unclear from the novel, it appears that a modern technology functions differently in the Underside than it does Above. Despite the cutthroats, assassins, and other unsavory types, no one uses modern weapons such as handguns, explosives, or tasers. Rather, the underdwellers arm themselves with archaic weapons such as swords, clubs, crossbows and spears. For the game, GM's and players should assume that if an underdweller attempts to use a modern weapon, it simply won't work.
Some more harmless technology may function, at least sometimes. For example, Hunter uses an electric flashlight. But Richard's digital watch ceases to work when he "falls between the cracks" and becomes an underdweller. It is easy to propose some strange paradoxes—what if an underdweller attempts to drive a car, for example, will he be invisible, will the car? In general, GM's should err on the side of simplicity: the car simply doesn't work, or other drives recognize that someone is driving the car, but just can't seem to recognize the face of the driver. GM's should allow modern technology that does not imbalance the game—and always reserve the right to say that something ceases to work (without need to explain why).
There seems to be some very advanced and elegant forms of technology
that have developed in the Underside but gone undiscovered Above.
The holographic diary of Lord Portico (Door's father) is one such example.
These devices resemble 19th Century inventions, apparently pre-electric
in design and are likely to be quite valuable. GM's and players should
feel free to develop this divergent "steampunk" technology.
First and foremost, don't try to make too much sense of the world. In fact, whenever anything becomes too predictable, the GM should change it. One of the greatest things about the book is that it makes no sense at times: Richard may walk through a door on a roof during the daytime and end up in the broom closet of his flat during that night.
Second, while combat is part of the game, Neverwhere is much more about storytelling: suspense, mystery and character development. There are probably better gaming "worlds" for playing a combat-heavy modern fantasy game. (Besides, I'm guessing Neil would prefer it.)
Finally, as with all the games I've posted (and all games you play, in my opinion), change the rules as you see fit. These are only guidelines to help the GM and the players have a good time. Experiment, tweak and outright revise!.
The Neverwhere D6 game is based on West End Game's D6 Classic, specifically as laid out in its Star Wars games. I will try and point out where I've added my own little twists.
I've based the game on the Neverwhere novel only. The book actually came after a television show that ran in England on the BBC some years ago. I've never seen the show, so I really can't add much to the game from it (obviously). A movie has been in various stages of production for years, but I'm not sure of its current status. If it ever gets made, I'll alter the game accordingly.
Because this game is based on a book, I don't really have very many images to go along with the text. This is unfortunate, since I think images add a lot to a RPG. I will try to supplement the game with some appropriate images and maps. But I am going to try an experiment: instead of posting images to describe some aspects of the game, I'm going to include excerpts from the novel. I will also add prose descriptions of my own (with my own Neverwhere characters) to spice things up. Let me know what you think.
Finally, there is at least one other "modern fantasy" RPG out there—Underworld by Adamant Entertainment. I have purposely not even picked up the game. I've read a couple of reviews of it (both were favorable), but decided that I didn't want to borrow from their game (even unintentionally). That said, it may well add a lot to your Neverwhere game. Check them at: http://adamant.rpg.net/uw/index.html . You might also find some useful resources in various "Steampunk" games and comics.