There are scholars and poets who tell of parallel universes, other worlds, and alternate histories that lie within the reach of our imaginations. In these variant realities, computing was not invented by Babbage and Lovelace in 1822, Cavorite is merely a dream, magic and the Fae remain things of children’s tales, and the barons did not rise to power after the American Civil War. It is hard to imagine living in a world without our technological advances of steam, aether, magic, and clockwork computing, which is why in this year of 1893 the Chicago Exposition is a global celebration of that science and culture.
Some argue that these advancements should belong to the people, but in recent decades since the Barons of Industry took increased governance of the country, scientific knowledge has become the guarded and prized possessions of the baronies. For those willing to accept the sovereignty of the barons, protection and prosperity are permitted, but for those who refuse to yield to the power, marginalization is their lot. Chicago is governed by four baronies who maintain civility and decorum in public, but it is commonly known that behind closed doors ruthless rivalries divide them, and each strives to dominate the others.
Beneath the reaches of the barons, however, lie smog filled streets in which the outcasts, dissidents, and rebels operate in the shadows. Often referred to as “Smog Runners,” those who operate in this underbelly of the city will frequently run espionage missions for the barons as each of their houses quietly battle each other under the veneer of polite society. Of course most Smog Runners never actually met their patron; a middle person, or “Fixer,” is almost always the deniable connection between the barons and the smog runners.
The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 is an opportunity for Chicago’s four baronies to display their latest innovations, but it also an opportunity for them to steal each other’s research. While the public wander in awe of the exhibits, merchants, and cultural displays, teams of smog runners will be secretly maneuvering through the crowds and shadows; plus various other unsavory elements not welcome by the barons. Each barony is certain to have its own team of “Pinkertons” to intercept any intruders, but those goons are just one of the many hazards facing a trespassing Smog Runner.
If you are going to run in the shadows of the baronies, best to assemble a good team. You will need a “Clacker” to gain access to difference engine computing networks, a “Mage” for magical encounters and traps, an “Enforcer” for sharp shooting, and any other experts willing to risk a baron’s wrath. Every smog runner has their own reason for operating in the shadows, each has a different story, different social standings even, but all of them are searching for something that lies beyond the power of the barons.