Science and Superstition
When I was young, I never really played outside, despite my parents, who attempted to get interested in sports. This naturally failed as I was far too busy watching Saturday morning cartoons. On any given weekend, I’d be in front of the television watching Transformers, G.I. Joe, Voltron, The Real Ghostbusters, Speed Racer, Johnny Quest, and, of course, Scooby-Doo! Where are You?. While all of these shows are great, Scooby-Doo is the show that left one of the greatest impressions on me in later years. I never knew it then, but it would influence not only the shows I would watch afterward, but also, my Dungeons and Dragons games.
An important theme, which plays a part in a lot of my games, is the conflict between science and superstition. While Eberron is considered to be a fantasy setting for the purposes of including most of the swords and sorcerery prevalent in D&D, I’ve always considered myself to be a science fiction fan. When I was young, science fiction was epitomized by two shows- The X-Files and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Both of these shows represent the dichotomy between science and superstition found in many Scooby-Doo series.
Scientific skepticism is represented by Star Trek. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, most of the monsters are created by abuses in scientific experimentation, meaning they have mundane sources, such as viruses, strange astrophysical anomalies, or the Borg’s ubiquitous, dehumanizing cybernetics. They are also defeated with the very same use of scientific theory, such as using logic to deprogram a lost Borg or insane computer program. Criminals in Scooby-Doo often play upon the populace’s fears of ghosts, lizard men, aliens, and other monsters, taking advantage of their victims’ lack of deductive reasoning. The “meddling kids” use deduction to expose monsters as nothing more than a corrupt adult in a costume. Science and reason save the day, where superstition and fear cannot. Science brings light of civilization to the darkest reaches of the universe, carried by Captain Picard on the USS Enterprise and Scooby in the Mystery Machine.
Superstition, on the other hand, is represented by The X-Files and the notion that paranormal occurrences are real, malevolent forces plotting against society. This theme also, naturally, lends itself to more conspiracy-driven storylines seen on The X-Files, which features Mulder and Scully facing off against the mysterious Cigarette-Smoking Man and real-life aliens. While in The X-Files humans are actively consorting with aliens for control of the world, the paranormal conspiracies in the original Scooby-Doo are far more down-to-earth. The criminals are in cahoots with each other to hide an artifact or steal money and are using the monster to keep onlookers away. In The Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby-Doo unlike in the original series the monsters are, in fact, as real as Mulder’s aliens. They are really out to get you. They can, however, be defeated through back-engineered alien technology (and bullets) in The X-Files or by trapping them Ghostbusters-style in a magical chest. You should still be careful though, because they can actually terrorize you in the night.
In Eberron, the meddling kids unmasking paranormal conspirators could be either the Player Character’s Party or the DM’s Non-Player Characters. From the point of view of some characters, the adventurers could actually be the monsters that deserve exposure with shrewd skepticism and the best magical forensics money can buy. The concept that the Party is a malevolent conspiracy that threatens society is what leads Elle in all her incarnations to work both for and against the Players. Since Eberron is a Dungeons and Dragons setting the monsters are quite real. Demons and devils regularly conspire to manipulate the outcome of wars or the core fabric of reality. So, in this sense, when the Party unmasks a group of cultists or Dreaming Dark agents manipulating kingdoms, they are to the cultists the “meddling kids.” In Eberron, the monsters really are out to get you, but you can also be a monster out to get them right back.
Science and superstition are regularly conflict in Eberron. While Keith Baker has never stated whether or not the gods exist in the setting, I have always held that Eberron is an atheistic universe. If the Sovereign Host and Dark Six ever did exist, they left millions upon millions of years ago. The old gods do not take an active part in people’s lives. There are new god-like beings that regularly take part in the events that shape the world. They are dragons, demons, the Silver Flame, the Undying Court, and many others. These “new gods” are regularly worshiped by those who don’t comprehend that they are nothing more than ascended beings, originally as mortal as their followers. Vol is originally an elf like the Undying Court. Dragons can be slain. Demons are simply evil outsiders. The Silver Flame is never sapient until Tira Miron, the couatl, and the demon merged with it. Yet, people still believe in these “gods”, often despite the advances in magical technology and sciences. Magic, originally placed on the side of superstition, is actually a rational science in the world. This fact is especially evident when viewing the artificer as somebody who manipulates the very nature of magical items through a deductive understanding of magic. An artificer has books on magic, unlike a wizard who has books of magic. Somebody has to keep the magical trains running on time. This conflict is especially evident when the PC Party sometimes representing science clashes with the new religions like the Silver Flame or the Blood of Vol, representing superstition. In Eberron, Mulder’s aliens and Scooby’s ghosts can be trapped in magical chests built by mad scientists using reason instead of superstition.
Meddling Kids, Jr. Inquisitives Agency
Recently Cartoon Network broadcasted its new Scooby Doo series, Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, an edgier interpretation of the original series, featuring the Gang in their hometown of Crystal Cove, California. There they debunk paranormal crimes much to the chagrin of the townsfolk, who rely on paranormal tourism. This new series has three major features which makes it an excellent example of either an NPC or PC Party in Eberron. The first feature is a consistent setting that allows for reoccurring characters, such as the inclusion of the Gang’s parents, including Fred’s father, the Mayor, and the town’s sheriff, who regularly attempt to prevent the kids from solving mysteries even escorting them back to school in handcuffs. The second feature follows from the first, since the consistent setting allows the Gang to solve a season-long mystery about the disappearance of the first Mystery Incorporated. Just like how Veronica Mars details Veronica’s season-length investigation into the murder of her friend Lily Kane. Finally, Mystery Incorporated focuses on the group’s relationships, especially romantically. Since they are in high school, the Gang is discovering they are attracted to each other. Velma and Daphne regularly attempt to get Shaggy and Fred, respectively, to return their amorous advances with hilarious results. This is especially evident when Velma desecrates two graves after Shaggy considers possibly viewing a horror movie marathon with Scooby instead of going to prom with her. Fred also realizes his feelings for Daphne after his traps, which he is obsessed with, fail to both catch the monster and endanger his friend. He is needless to say riddled with guilt after these failures. All of these features taken together provide an excellent frame of reference for a faction I created before watching the show, yet still inspired by the Scooby Doo franchise- the Meddling Kids, Jr. Inquisitives Agency!
“I Would’ve Done It Too!”
A Brief History of Meddling Kids, Jr. Inquisitives Agency
When I was designing groups for my Morgrave game in Complete Eberron, I wanted to have a faction that is very similar to Mystery Incorporated in Scooby Doo, considering the influence it has had on the stories in my previous Eberron games. Since I had decided in the Demons game, Elle K. Brienne would be a spy for the Dark Lanterns; it fell to her sister Luisa to become my new girl detective in Sharn. This naturally led to me assuming that unlike her two sisters, Elle, who serves in the military, and Charlotte, who is a thief, Luisa actually attends college. While she is attending Morgrave University under the Masters of Mystery apprenticeship program, she forms a group to solve crimes around campus, since the Morgrave Watch is far too complacent and corrupt to be of any real use to the student body. Thus, I had the beginnings of Meddling Kids.
There have always been student groups devoted to detective work on the Morgrave campus; however, none of them reach the level of infamy as Luisa’s group. The Meddling Kids, Jr. Inquisitives Agency is officially formed in the year 990 YK, during Luisa’s sophomore year of college. While they never solved any crimes of note during the first semester of her involvement in the group, they eventually become famous for solving the Aereni Mummy Hoax in the second semester of that year. With their canny magical forensic skills, Luisa and her friends are able to expose a gang of thieves, who were using a fake “mummy” to prevent investigation into the theft of many antiquities in the Devina Museum. While the thieves are manacled, one of them shouts, “We would’ve done it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!” The Morgrave Raider student newspaper promptly runs an article with the headline, “Meddling Kids Unwrap Museum Mummy Mystery” from then on the group is known as Meddling Kids. Luisa graduates in 992 YK joining the independent detective agency that sponsors the Masters of Mystery program.
Currently Meddling Kids is sponsored by Luisa Brienne herself, after forming her own private detective agency. Since the Masters of Mystery program is not nearly as large as it was when she was in school, Luisa has only one apprentice- the over-achieving Vicky “Vivi” Belmonte. “Vivi” is very intent on discovering the true nature of the PC Party’s Department of Planar Research after a magical disaster during one of her classes there causes multiple injuries and the “disappearance” of one student. She believes Professor Stein, the PC mad scientist, is corrupt and will endanger the school if his experiments continue. Unfortunately, she is having trouble finding the evidence she needs to implicate her teacher, since even Dean Larrian ir’Morgrave believes the disaster is merely an “accident.” Until she can find this evidence, she is unable to continue her investigations in earnest, but this will not stop her from doggedly pursuing the completely innocent, mad scientist.
Player Characters interested in joining the Meddling Kids, Jr. Inquisitives Agency should be interested in solving crimes and possibly entering into the Master Inquisitive prestige class whilst attending classes at Morgrave University.
This article was posted around September, 2010. There is a much longer post about Elle Brienne, her sisters, and their friends and foes later. That post precedes this post, but I want to work more on my Pathfinder homebrew setting, Saecularum. My explanation of the inspirations and themes of that setting, explicitly reference this post. It’s all related somehow.
Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is currently on long-term hiatus, due to contract negotiations between the show’s producers and the studio.