Setting and World-Building

The default Setting of The Contract is a World known as "The Illumination".  The Illuminated Earth is a version of the modern world where the advent of smartphones and the internet confirmed the existence of the supernatural instead of disproving it.

The spectre of magic and otherworldly phenomena looms large in the zeitgeist despite their extreme rarity. As a result, modern society has twisted into a superstitious and paranoid reflection of itself.

Yet, some witch hunts do have merit. It's an open secret that billionaires and Senators employ paranormal advisors and bodyguards. Charlatans become pop culture icons, and each revelation inspires a new cult.

The world is changing. The secret societies that pull humanity's strings are scrambling to adapt.

Now's a good time to move up.

Using the Default Setting

When creating a World, you can choose to use this default Setting wholesale, and the details of it are included here.  You can also make modifications to it, or cherry pick the bits you like and scrap the rest.  The details of your World are entirely up to you; this Guide is a resource intended to ease the process of creating that World as much as possible.

If you do use The Illumination as your Setting, remember that any World Events which occur only effect *your* version of this Setting, and not any other Worlds which also use the default Setting.

Culture and Society

How Common is the Supernatural?

Truly supernatural creatures and phenomena are extremely rare. In any given city, only a handful of people are supernatural beings. Magical objects and alien artifacts are similarly rare. Most people will never have an encounter with the supernatural, and many of those who do don’t realize it has happened.

Despite this rarity, the cultural impact of the supernatural is extreme. Smartphones and the internet have magnified their presence in the zeitgeist, leading to a dramatic increase in superstition, religion, witch hunts, and charlatans. This is a time of discovery and change in human culture, and videos of genuine supernatural phenomena go viral every day.

The supernatural is far more common in the upper echelons of society. Those who have power often seek out the supernatural, and vice-versa. Most modern billionaires, aristocrats, politicians, and royalty have some ongoing contact with at least one supernatural creature that claims to help them in some way. Others hold positions of power because they have used supernatural means to advance.

There is no established legal status for supernatural beings, as they are incredibly rare. Certain towns have declared themselves “safe havens” and others have created laws specifically forbidding any non-humans. There have been a few legal challenges, but no real precedent has been set because of the variety of creatures. Supernatural beings that live “out of the closet” often disappear. Some are murdered, some go back into hiding, and some are captured and used for various ends. There are no celebrity werewolves. . . at the moment.

Do people know about Harbingers and The Games?

Even among those “in the know,” direct knowledge of The Games is rare. Because The Games have been on pause for the past hundred years, only older creatures or those with an advanced intelligence network tend to know about them. Of course, all it would take is a single Contractor interview on TV to change the situation dramatically.

Science and Magic?

Scientists across the world have been given access to various supernatural artifacts and creatures. The results are all over the map. In most cases, scientists have only successfully quantified the unexplainability of supernatural phenomena. For example, they may be able to tell you how much mass a werewolf gains during their transformation, but not where the matter comes from. No means of detecting “magic” has been developed yet.

However, science is occasionally successful at replicating and harnessing the supernatural. Several companies and governments manufacture new lines of ultra-high-end products and technologies that are not yet available to the general public.

More than once a scientist has been corrupted by their work. Infection, obsession, and insanity are not uncommon. Several scientists have stolen their subjects and gone off to become wizards, free agents, or monsters themselves.

Charlatans

The increase in interest in the supernatural and overall unknowableness of the world has led to a resurgence of services that claim to be supernatural. Everything from palm reading to televangelism is more common than ever. The vast majority of witches, psychics, magicians, hypnotists, cures, potions, faith healers, and clairvoyants are complete fakes, yet they have experienced surprising success in recent years.

Most people scoff at most supernatural services, but those same people often buy into at least one personal “supernatural” aid.

Monster hunters and exorcists are one amusing form of charlatan. The vast majority have never encountered anything supernatural and do absolutely nothing besides burn sage and carry a gun with silver bullets. Even so, they see surprising success calming the nerves of people and communities that believe they are haunted by paranormal phenomena.

GMs are encouraged to create their own Harbingers. Those below are only examples, but fit well within The Illumination and can be borrowed for any Setting.

Most people avoid speaking to The Talent, and that suits him just fine.

He’s not repulsive. In fact, he’s quite put-together. His slacks are pressed, and his amber button-down, though its oversized collar is a little dated, is freshly cleaned and stain-free. Perhaps it’s the attention to detail that puts people off.  His braided belt matches his leather shoes. His aviator shades’ frames match the gold of his watch, and their gradient-lenses match his shirt. 

Yet most of his conversations are with wait staff and flight attendants. It’s the energy about him. Mostly he is quiet, attentive, thinking, but when he speaks, it’s with the sorts of clever words and barely-contained enthusiasm most people associate with used car salesmen and other scam artists. He’s not trustworthy. Better not to get involved. 

Of course, this is all by design. 

The Talent looks at humans the same way most people look at rocks. Mostly, they are uninteresting, sometimes they are useful, and, occasionally, if you wander long and far enough and watch ever-so-carefully, you might just find a golden nugget. 

This is his gift: an eye for value. Not market prices or even sentimental value, but the sort of value that might only show itself in one particular place, in one particular moment. The value of a chance encounter that will change history forever. 

Contractors and potential recruits have value. Not even for the tasks they might accomplish but for the finder’s fee he charges the Powers that Be. He runs The Agency, a small collection of Harbingers that do all the heavy lifting of actually finding tasks for the Contractors. The Talent is just a middle-man who finds individuals with promise and delivers them to the tests. 

He enjoys his work immensely. Long ago, on another world, in another dimension, he signed The Contract. He participated in the Games. The horrors he witnessed, the lines he crossed, and the powers he gained transformed him, distanced him. But that look on a new recruit’s face when they hear his offer. . . it makes him feel young again. 

Playing The Talent

The Talent is a great Harbinger to use for initial introductions for new Contractors or for quick introductions with extant Contractors. 

He behaves like a cross between a hollywood talent agent, a used car salesperson, and a  coked-out investor. If he lets someone see a glimpse of the smooth operator hiding underneath, it is on purpose. 

He describes himself as a partner at “The Agency.” The connect contract workers with clients who need a group that will always deliver results. “Think of us like. . .Uber for badasses.”  Security? Sometimes. Thieves? On occasion. Assassins? Look, drop the labels, kid; we’re the ones that get shit done. He will never hint at or reveal the fact that the jobs are merely tests or that he is doing it for kickbacks from The Powers that Be. 

He often bounces back and forth between praising a potential recruit’s talents and negging them. 

Most people won’t want to talk to him, won’t give him the time of day, and will walk away. When they do, he shows a glimpse of power. He might freeze time. The recruit might find that any door they open leads back to his office. He might accomplish whatever task the contractor used as an excuse with the snap of his fingers, or transport them to a remote mountain in Antarctica. 

One he has their attention, he makes the offer. He isn’t offering a full-time position or partnership at The Agency, just some contract work. He is very clear that the jobs will be risky, perhaps even deadly, and that the payment will be an awakening of their supernatural potential, an opportunity to become something more.

He will explain that in order to accept this job and to be considered for others in the future, the recruit must be “Imbued.” This will change how they learn, making a single job worth a year of intense study. It will protect their psyches from any traumatic experiences. . . to a degree. They can back out at any time, but once you’re out, you’re out. 

When they accept, he will give them an ipad “contract” that describes the terms of imbuement (basically what’s above). To sign, they place their thumb on the ipad. When they do, they feel prick of pain, like a needle in their fingertip, and they experience a mind-bending expansion of consciousness, awareness, and one-ness with the universe. They are a drop rejoining the ocean of creation. This feeling, and any insights or knowledge that came with it, fade like the memories of a dream upon waking, and they are left knowing only that they experienced something truly remarkable. 

The Talent will also give the Contractor a burner phone (think like a motorola brick) so they can be contacted quickly in the future. With all this out of the way, he will proceed to give the brief and potentially deliver the Contractor to the location of their first Game. 

Charlotte the Dreamer

Charlotte the Dreamer is a dreamfaring entity that wanders and curates the collective unconscious of humanity. She acts as a Harbinger from time to time. 

Inviting a Contractor: 

Ask the player one of the following questions about their character (or feel free to skip if you know the character’s backstory well):

  • Describe one important event in your Character’s life
  • Have you ever been in love? Who with?
  • Where do you work? What happened at your job today?
  • What was a formative event in your childhood?
  • When did you realize you weren’t like other people?

Once they’ve answered, ask them where your character lives and sleeps, and describe their character going to bed or allow them to describe it themselves. 

Their dream takes them back to the formative moment you asked about, only a bit more surreal. Throw random changes in there, change the setting, replace an object with a corndog, etc. The dream may have motifs of the upcoming Game woven into it. 

Shortly, the dreaming Contractor will notice an object from the following list:

  • A seed
  • A stick of dynamite / firework
  • An infant, puppy, or young animal
  • A cancerous cell
  • A bet or gamble (cards, dice, etc)
  • Something else with POTENTIAL 

As they stare at this item, the dream shifts and becomes much more visceral and focused. The action pauses. They can feel their clothes on their body, the setting around them. It is a sensation just like waking up, only they remain in the dream. 

One of the NPCs in the dream (usually female) will speak to the Contractor. If there were no other Characters in the dream, one will appear, taking the form of someone from the Contractor’s memory (could be anyone from a significant figure to that morning’s barista). 

They will greet the Contractor. They will confirm that they are still dreaming and disclose that they are currently speaking to an entity that has taken control of their dream. If asked for a name, she will introduce herself as Charlotte. 

She has full control of the reality of the Contractor’s dream and may change anything she’d like about it. She can also affect the real world from dreams, and she may allude to that fact. She could kill the Contractor in their dream, and they would die in real life. Or she may keep them asleep as long as she likes. 

She has all sorts of interesting one-liners about dreams, but doesn’t talk at length or go into any specifics. “They say the dream world is a reflection of our own. But what side of the mirror are we on?”  etc.

Her main purpose here is to invite the potential Contractor on their game, and she will quickly get to the point. 

If this is the Contractor’s first game, she will explain that they have potential and liken them to the object the Contractor focused on earlier. They are “a seed ready to sprout.” and she is here to water them, etc. She has a mission that is dangerous. She asks the Contractor to risk their life and promises power in return. She will explain that accepting will put the Contractor’s name on the lists of many creatures who can make similar offers. She may explain that agreeing will alter the way they learn (faster after missions) or she may not. If asked about the mission, she will only say that some new sort of creature threatens to invade humanity’s collective unconscious, and she wishes to stop it. 

She tells them to dip their finger into an ink-well if they accept. When the Contractor does, they are sucked inside and find themselves at their home. It is still a dream and Charlotte is standing beside them. She tells them to pack a bag, bringing “whatever would let them shine best as themselves.”  The act of packing is potentially dreamlike, with things they had meant to grab appearing in their pack, etc.   Don't spend long on it.

If the Player specifically attempts to do something via lucid dreaming, allow them to roll Mind, difficulty 9. If they succeed, they have some success in shifting the dream in some way. Even complete successes can only shift the dream a little (e.g. making an item appear, changing appearance a bit, floating). 

Once they are done, she wishes them luck, and blows some dust into their eyes. They cannot move to avoid it. When they rub their eyes, they feel the sensation of waking up again, and when they open them, they are at the location of the Game.

There are a wide variety of different organizations within The Illumination, with their own resources and motives.  This is not an exhaustive list, and can be easily modified to suit your World 

The Illuminati

An ancient order of atheist and agnostic humans that seek to end the influence of mystical creatures in the world's religious organizations, especially the Catholic church.

The FBI

The United States Government's internal intelligence arm.

An talent agency. The partners are all Harbingers, and the talent is all Contractors.

The Menagerie is a sort of hybrid zoo/traveling circus organization dedicated to the collection and “preservation” of supernatural entities and objects. They primarily cater to the wealthy, though anyone can attend if they can scrounge together enough for the pricey tickets. The Menagerie has an annual circuit which they make around the United States, but are also available to be booked for private events (at a premium, of course). They maintain a large enough stock of creatures at their headquarters in San Bernardino to put on up to three shows at once in different locations.

Monsters and artifacts for The Menagerie are largely gathered by The Collector, a former high-end art thief who went (mostly) legit after realizing that many jurisdictions had not passed any laws governing the rights of non-humans. The Collector spent a number of years personally acquiring assets, until he reached a point where he could afford hiring Contractors to do the dirty work for him. He sells primarily to The Menagerie due to personal connections with a couple members of the Board of Directors, but will occasionally take outside jobs if the pay is right.

Officially, The Menagerie exists in the same legal space as any circus or zoo, and they spend a lot of time and money lobbying Congress and state legislatures to make sure their work remains on the up and up. Unofficially, however, they serve a more nefarious purpose. Not many have done the leg work necessary to notice the high frequency of rotating acts, and the inability to track what happens to a Menagerie asset once it is no longer being showcased, and even fewer have made the connection between The Menagerie’s private showings and the increasing prevalence of private supernatural collections among the ultra-wealthy. The Menagerie works overtime to make sure that anyone who has noticed these things is either highly motivated to keep quiet, or is simply unable to talk.

The exhibits are deadly, the food is greasy, and the owners would do anything to keep their business running. Do you possess the courage to enter The Menagerie?

The Band of Blood

Few organizations are as deadly or terrifying to Contractors as The Band of Blood. Its members can be identified by their rings: a simple red band that cannot be removed by any known means.

The Band of Blood is a fraternity of Contractors who have lost sight of their original ambitions but still participate in the Games as a way to give their lives meaning. As free agents without an home to return to, they allow the Harbingers to transport them from dimension to dimension as needed. Many are adrenaline junkies of the worst sort, chasing the thrill of risking their own lives. Each member is a cold and ruthless killer that will do whatever it takes to achieve their current objective.

Taking the Blood Oath offers certain benefits but comes at a horrible price. When The Band of Blood spots a Contractor they may like to recruit, they go to work separating that Contractor from their world. This involves murdering the potential recruit's friends and family, undermining their ambition, and pushing a nihilistic philosophy onto them. Mental and emotional conditioning are not out of the question. Any recruits who still refuse are killed or abandoned.

Prometheus Ventures

A Palo-Alto based venture capital firm that employs hunters to acquire supernatural creatures and artifacts. They start and back companies that seek to capitalize on reverse-engineering and commoditizing paranormal phenomena.

Think of them as venture capital for Bond Villains.

Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

A secret society devoted to the study and practice of the occult, metaphysics, and paranormal activities. The grand designs of their leader, Samuel Woodman, can only be guessed at. . .

Cults are plentiful and various. Generally, they spring up around a single paranormal creature or phenomena. They are often insular, secretive, ambitious, and deadly.