Hell is Empty
A Superhero Roleplay
A hero is a man who does what he can.
Death, after all, is the common expectation from birth. Neither heroes nor cowards can escape it.
The year is 1931. The Great Depression has crippled the United States and the world. Unemployment is at an all-time high, and the War to End All Wars still lingers in the minds of many. Crime festers in American streets due to unemployment and economic troubles, and law enforcement is too preoccupied to deal with all of it. Urban decay is at an all-time high, and nowhere is it higher than the city of Dustbowl, Ohio, a sprawling urban metropolis of 7 million people in the American Midwest. The police are blind to the crime in the streets, and the politicians are too busy worrying about their own money to care about the common man.
But there are those who would fight. Those who would fight for the justice and freedom of the common man, or those who would fight for the sadism of intentional harm. Those who would take the law into their own hands and clean up the streets, or those who would see the walls of society crumble at their whims. Those who would raise a city or knock it down. Those who would save and those who would condemn. Those who defend and those who destroy. Heroes, and villains.
YOU are a superhero, for lack of a better term. A hero, villain, or rogue who is seeking to don a different outfit and fight crime for whatever reason, be it justice, personal gain, or pure chaos. Each of you will be operating independently to begin with, but you may form alliances and gain nemeses as the story progresses. Your actions and personalities dictate the world around you, and your every move shapes Dustbowl as it struggles through the Great Depression.
It is October 19th, 7 PM, and across Dustbowl the various heroes, villains, and rogues of the city are taking their steps ever closer to their destinies.
Life is good for you in this shithole section of hell called Dustbowl, Ohio. At the moment you’re sitting in a small speakeasy on 9th and Parker in South Dustbowl called Shiny Lou’s Chime Club, nursing a glass of cognac, smoking a cigarette, and listening to Black Bottom by Annette Hanshaw. You and “Shiny” Lou Messberg are good friends, and you’ve just completed a well-paying job for Lou smuggling some moonshine from Arkansas into the city with a well-placed word, and perhaps a well-placed bullet as well. The smoke in the room parts by the door as a scraggly, bearded man
walks into the bar, muttering to himself and sitting down at the counter. “I’ve come to see that five-legged dog you got,” mutters the man, and the bartender, noticing the clue phrase, wordlessly slides him a glass of whisky. You smile and watch the man shakily sip his drink. This is your perfect target.
Your modest but expansive house is just on the edge of Dustbowl, and it’s in your cozy library that you sit in now in your comfortable evening robe, rereading Steppenwolf
by Herman Hesse and drinking a delicate cup of Ullanovost black tea. A single flickering gas lamp is your only source of light as you pour over the words, savoring them like a dog gnaws on a bone. But your reading is interrupted by a very loud banging noise coming from your front door. Grumbling, you put down your book and take off your glasses, crossly and quickly walking to the door. The journey is long as your house is huge by Dustbowl standards, but after two flights of stairs down you make it to the front door (I need to get a butler,” you mutter to yourself
). Finally, you open it. Standing at the door is a dirty, disheveled homeless man
, his long hair soaked in sweat and clutching his chest. His shirt is dripping blood. “H-h-help m-m-me,” he stutters before collapsing on your porch. “Yebat,” you curse, and drag him inside the house to give him medical attention.
Walking down the streets of Dustbowl late at night is cold, but you’ve got nothing better to do. As Masquerade, you don’t care. Rounding the corner, you notice a ragged looking homeless man
standing on the corner, fanning his hands over a small fire make in a barrel. The moon peeks out from behind some clouds, and you see the glint of a pearl necklace hanging lazily out of his pocket. Perfect. “Hey,” you call out. The man turns around. With a flick of the wrist, an illusory ten-dollar bill appears in your hand. “Want to make a quick buck?” “Sure,” calls back the man, walking hurriedly forward. He took the bait. With a snap, you swipe the sword out of your cane and punch the man in the face at the same time. As he reels backwards, you deliver a lazy backwards swipe across his chest, leaving a deep cut. He falls back onto the ground and you pluck the necklace out of his pocket, then hurriedly run. “Bills to pay, things to do,” you mutter to yourself as you leave the man bleeding on the ground.
Shiny Lou’s Chime Club is the perfect place for you. Small, out of view, quiet when you want it quiet, and fun when you want it fun. Tonight, it’s quiet, as Annette Hanshaw drifts lazily from the radio. You’re sitting in the far back booth, sipping on your second whiskey of the night. Today was a bad day. The visions were strong today, and the same one from yesterday too: the man in all white, with the bright red circle where his face should be. And the laughter, oh Lord, the laughter. You shudder to yourself just thinking of it. Trying to distract yourself, you watch the beautiful woman
at the counter some more. She has that smoldering allure around her, like the films stars you can’t afford to see. Maybe one of these days you’ll work up the courage to talk to her; both of you are here every night. But tonight, a man you’ve never seen before
walks in, sits down, and starts drinking whiskey. You squint at him. He seems familiar. That’s not good.
A cat you found in the alley on 11th and Jackson is following you as you cross the street into Murray’s Hamburgers. She waits outside and watches you as you wander in to sit at the counter. It’s your dinner break, since A&A Construction have you guys working a shit shift building this new tunnel to Who-the-fuck-Caresville. You watched your boss crush a rat with a girder today for no reason other than to crush a rat with a girder, the same guy who also told you today to either clean up your crazy Breed fuckin’ around or find another job. Racist asshole. The waitress walks to you. “Two cheeseburgers, fries, extra pickles, water,” you grumble. It’s a two cheeseburger kind of day today. As you wait for your food, a young man wearing an apron
with Dustbowl Ice-Cream written on it hurriedly walks in and sits next to you. “Beef hoagie, toasted, make it fast,” he hurriedly says, then looks at you with a nervous, stupid grin. Please, please don’t talk to me,
Albert: I’m gonna talk to him,
you think, waiting for your hoagie roll and sitting at the counter of Murray’s Hamburgers. Sure, you’ve only got a twenty-minute break for dinner, but you might as well make it interesting. You look behind you to check to see that Mary is working the counter. She’s busy talking to the third customer of the day, but she looks beautiful, messy apron and chilly face and all. “I’m gonna ask that girl to a motion picture tomorrow,” you say to the man sitting next to you, nudging him and pointing back at her. “Been saving up money for it for three weeks now. Won’t that be swell!” He turns to you and stares at you dully. He’s a weathered, scarred Injun
, and you immediately regret talking to him as he grunts and resumes staring at nothing. Now, however, you feel bad. I oughta’ say something.
Your luck today has been fantastic. First, the successes on the corner today – six dollars in charity today. Six dollars! And the piece de resistance, of course, was the pearl necklace that fat rich lady dropped out of the hole in her shopping bag as she walked past. Quick as a flash, your hand darted out and caught it, slipping it into your back pocket. And now, 7 PM, your luck is about to get even better. “Hey,” you hear, and you turn around to see a strangely dressed man with a cane
, waving a ten dollar bill. “Want to make a quick buck?” he asks, and of course you agree! “Sure,” you say, and walk towards you. That’s when your luck ends. Before you know what’s happened, you’re lying on your back, clutching your bleeding chest and breathing heavily through your broken nose. The necklace is gone, and you’re hurt. You stagger to your feet, leaning on the fence to support you. The minutes pass by in a pain-filled haze as you dazedly half-run, half-shamble to anything that looks like a house. Finally, you don’t know how long it’s been, but you arrive on the doorstep of a fancy house and pound on the door. The door parts to reveal a striking Russian women in a night gown
, looking at you with disapproval. “H-h-help m-m-me,” you stutter, and then you collapse.
You wash your hands in the small puddle beneath the gutter, wiping the man’s blood off of your palms. He’s a nobody, a nothing, and that’s how he’ll be remembered as he slumps against the alley wall, dead and fat. You took his watch and twelve dollars and thirty-six cents from him. You debated taking his shoes, too, nice black Bruno Magli’s, but you decided against it. Even I’ve got standards.
You shudder as you shake your shoulders and walk out of the alley. You’re a rich man now, at least by your own reckoning, and you might as well celebrate. You haven’t had a drink since ’29; why not now? Across the street, the broken neon sign proclaims “Shiny Lou’s Chime Club.” Perfect. You look both ways, then cross the street into the bar. “Welcome to Shiny Lou’s, home of Max, the five-legged dog,” the greeter cheerfully says. “Fuck off,” you mutter. You’re here to drink, not to chit-chat. You sit at the bar, remembering what the greeter said. “I’ve come to see that five-legged dog you got,” you grumble, and the bartender’s eyes light up. He slides a glass of whiskey across the countertop towards you. Bingo