Notes from Freedom City setting for Madam Shade
Nearly every religion in the world is represented in Freedom City to one degree or another. The city’s population is predominantly Christian and Protestant. There is a substantial Catholic minority, along with adherents to other faiths like Judaism and Islam. Catholicism and Judaism are particularly influential in the West End with its diverse immigrant communities. Islam is strongest among the African-American and Arabic segments of the city’s population. Freedom City has a small neo-pagan population. There are people embracing Wicca and others following African traditions like Santeria and Voodoo. The latter tend to practice behind the scenes, and a number of believers in Santeria and Voodoo attend Christian churches while continuing their own cultural practices in private. Certainly, the presence of the Voodoo goddess Siren in the Freedom League has encouraged their faith, and this is something of concern to some of the city’s more conservative religious leaders. Neo-pagans tend to be most common in the Riverside area, while Santeria and Voodoo are found more often in the West End and Southside.
Temples and Churches in Freedom City
THE SOUTHSIDE BOTANICA This small storefront in Lincoln is actually the most active Voodoo temple in the city. The store in front sells candles, herbs, trinkets, and charms along with simple household goods. A space in back and the main temple area in the basement serve the needs of members of the Voodoo community when they gather for worship.
Madame Marie Otando is the mambo, or priestess, and proprietor of the establishment. Her family comes from Haiti but Marie grew up in Lincoln and knows the neighborhood exceedingly well. What most people don’t know is Madame Marie has a small measure of true mystical power. She uses it only to help people in her neighborhood from time to time and to warn them against the work of evil spirits. She has earned Siren’s trust and aided her in the past, and would gladly do so in the future. The Botanica has had some legal trouble regarding the practice of sacrificing chickens and other animals during Voodoo rituals. For the time being, the courts have upheld the sacrifices under the context of freedom of religion, but some locals aren’t satisfied with the ruling and there have been threats made against the Botanica and Madame Marie.
THE MAYOMBE The cult of the Mayombe stretches back as far as the history of Voodoo itself. For as long as people have worshipped the loa, the gods of Voodoo, there have been those drawn only to the corrupt side. Whether motivated by hatred, vengeance, or simple power-lust, they have fallen under the influence of evil spirits and become their agents in the material world. The Mayombe’s stronghold has always been the New Orleans area of Louisiana, the center of American Voodoo practices. There the cult thrived in the shadows of the bayous late at night, when other folk were asleep. Mayombe cultists were responsible for many crimes, and did a great deal to give Voodoo its dark and sinister reputation among non-believers. At least a part of the Mayombe’s power came from an intermingling between humans and debased Serpent People in the bayous. Their families often initiated members of the cult from childhood, and some bloodlines were particularly influential within the Mayombe’s ranks. In modern years, the Mayombe came under the sway of Lady Mamba, an initiate of the cult. They served as Lady Mamba’s agents and underlings in her schemes to accumulate power and influence for herself. On a larger scale, the Mayombe cult also became the agents of a faction of the Voodoo loa who considered humanity unworthy, and wished to prove it to their fellow gods. The goddess Siren opposed this faction of loa (led by Baron Samedi) and took a human host in order to prove humanity worthy of the protection and guidance of the gods. Siren became the primary adversary of the Mayombe, although she has found allies on occasion, including the Master Mage, Adrian Eldritch. Lady Mamba gave birth to two children by two fathers. Her daughter’s father was human, although Dahlia inherited a measure of her mother’s mystical potential. Her son’s father, on the other hand, was a Serpent Man, making him a mutant mix of human and reptilian characteristics. The two siblings were raised in the ranks of the Mayombe as Lady Mamba’s heirs and, later, her primary agents. They have never known life outside of the cult’s ranks, and have no purpose except to serve the Mayombe’s cause, although they sometimes chafe under the watchful eye of their mother. Dahlia, in particular, considers what things would be like if she led the cult. In the present day, however, the Mayombe is only a shadow of what it once was. Many of the cult’s members are older, and it hasn’t replaced its losses in recent years. Lady Mamba’s power and influence have diminished, and her children are not permitted to lead without her guidance. Baron Samedi focuses far more on his criminal empire in Freedom City and has largely abandoned the cult. The Mayombe want to reclaim the favor of the loa and the power they once held and are willing to take great risks in order to do so. Use the Cultist archetype from Chapter 11 of Mutants & Masterminds for the rank-and-file members of the Mayombe.
CROSSBONES A “voodoo rap” band combining islands music and modern rap, Crossbones goes for a lurid Hollywood Voodoo style, complete with top hats and dark sunglasses, white greasepaint, and lots of skulls and macabre props. They’ve invited Siren to attend their shows before, but the heroine has always politely declined.
ZOMBIE POWDER Followers of the Voodoo loa Baron Samedi create this fine gray powder. Users snort or smoke it, producing a preternatural calm and confidence. While less addictive than max, zombie powder gets easily abused as a stress-reliever or painkiller, and frequent use causes brain hemorrhage, coma, or heart failure. Siren works hard to shut down any known sources of zombie powder, but her old foe keeps finding new ways of getting onto the streets.
GUINEE, THE ISLAND BENEATH THE SEA At the bottom of a vast interdimensional ocean lies Guinee, the island home of the loa, gods of Voodoo. Although it is described as an island, the territory covered by Guinee is vast, and difficult to map in three-dimensional terms. The rulers of the domain of the loa are the great serpent gods Damballah and Ayieda, the white snake and the rainbow serpent. They are the most ancient of their kind, and have spiritual ties to the Serpent People on Earth, although they no longer receive worship from them. Although the loa interact with humanity more often than other ancient gods, they still observe restrictions on their interference in human affairs. Currently, the loa observe the struggle between Siren and Baron Samedi to determine the fate of future relations with humanity. Baron Samedi maintains that mortals are innately corrupt, and fit as nothing more than the hosts and playthings of the powerful loa. Siren champions the human spirit and potential, advocating partnership and cooperation. Although their struggle has been going on for years, the loa are timeless and patient, willing to let things play out.
SIREN Of the Freedom League
Cassandra Vale traveled to Haiti in 1962 to study the traditions of Voodoo for her doctoral thesis in psychology. Her theory proposed the actual belief in the supernatural, wholly or at least in part, made such things possible reflexively and retroactively. She managed to earn the trust of some of the locals and gathered a great deal of information about their beliefs, even witnessing and taking part in some lesser Voodoo rituals. While boating off the coast of Haiti near the end of her stay, Cassandra accidentally ran across a drug smuggling operation and was captured. Eliminating a potential witness, the smugglers tied her up and tossed her overboard to the sharks. Cassandra thought she would die, but as she sank into the water, she heard a gentle voice telling her not to fear. “I will help you, if you let me,” the voice said, and Cassandra welcomed her aid. With Cassandra’s approval, the Voodoo loa Siren, goddess of the sea, entered her body and became as one with her. The drug-smugglers, watching the waters for the blood and the inevitable feeding frenzy, were startled to see a green-haired woman rise up out of the deep on the back of a shark. The ocean waves struck their boat at her command, capsizing it and dumping the drug smugglers in among the sharks. She produced a magical net from the waters that snared the drug-runners, and flew them to shore to face the authorities. Cassandra woke up the next morning thinking the whole experience had been some kind of strange dream. She realized it actually happened when Siren appeared to her in a vision and explained she had been chosen for a very special purpose. The goddess maintained the people of the world were ultimately good and worthy of the aid of the loa; Baron Samedi, the loa of the dead, conversely maintained that humanity responded only to base impulses and needs and were simply worthy of becoming slaves and playthings of the loa. So it was decided both of them would have the opportunity to prove their cases. They each chose mortals in whom they would merge to operate in the physical world, and Siren chose Cassandra. Together, she and the loa would overcome the plans of Baron Samedi to prove humanity was worth saving. Siren didn’t have long to wait before the Baron struck with his first ploy, transforming the criminals she captured into his zombie minions and sending them against her. When Cassandra returned home to Louisiana, the sea goddess Siren became well known along the Gulf Coast, fighting against smugglers, drug-runners, dangerous creatures and the agents of Baron Samedi. She aided the people of Freedom City during Hades’ invasion and become a member of the Freedom League; she remained a crucial part of the League for its first five
Maria’s parents were both children of immigrants: her father’s family from Central America, her mother’s from Greece. She grew up in California, where she decided to attend the police academy and become an officer. She earned high marks in criminal procedure, shooting, and hand-to-hand combat, but also had a problem with authority. Her temper got her into trouble on occasion, but she graduated with honors and found a job with the police force. Officer Montoya worked the streets, dealing with gangs, organized crime, and other risks on a daily basis. A routine investigation led her to evidence of corruption within the department. She was warned to mind her own business, but instead chose to dig deeper on her own. Maria discovered far more than just a few dirty cops. She uncovered infiltration by the alien Grue! Hunted by the Grue, she found an ally in Pseudo, a rogue member of his race, who sought to warn Earth of the impending invasion. Maria also came to the attention of Mentor and the Star Knights. With the Grue threatening to invade, Mentor appointed Maria the new Star Knight of Earth’s sector of space. She accepted the job and got her initial training “on the job” helping the Freedom League and Earth’s other heroes against the alien invasion. Once the Earth was safe, Maria underwent training at the Star Citadel, and met her predecessor, A’Lan Koor. Once her formal Star Knight training was complete, Sri Montoya returned to Earth, where she now serves as Earth’s resident Star Knight and a member of the Freedom League. Star Knight is fairly hard-nosed compared to her teammates, she had to be in order to make it as a woman in a largely male police force. She tends to go for the aggressive solution, although she’s learned some diplomacy from the Star Knights and some restraint from Captain Thunder. She admires her teammates and is still working on getting past their reputations to get to know them as people, not just heroic icons. years, and then returned to New Orleans, erratically serving as a reservist member of the League for many years, since Baron Samedi concentrated his efforts far away from Freedom City. Still, she was on hand for the Terminus Invasion. When the Freedom League reformed following Omega’s defeat, Siren rejoined comrades new and old in the fight for justice. Baron Samedi has since followed Siren’s presence in Freedom City by extending the reach of his criminal empire there. His minions are now peddling zombie powder on the streets of Lincoln and Southside. With each new addict, the Barons’s presence in Freedom City becomes stronger. This has not escaped Siren’s notice.
Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign The history of the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign predates human civilization—human existence, actually—beginning in the latter days of the Empire of the Serpent People, millions of years ago. The oncepowerful race of Serpent People achieved the peak of their civilization before humans began walking upright. Part of their decline can be traced to strange cults, worshipping alien gods from outside reality. One such cult was the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign, so named for the symbol of their god, the dreaded Unspeakable One. It is said to speak the god’s true name invites madness, death, and disaster, so it is all but forgotten save for a few forbidden documents from ancient Lemuria, the center of the Serpent Empire. Some speculate that worship of the Unspeakable One led to the degeneration of the Lemurian Serpent People, while others suggest the degeneration of their culture drove the Serpent People to join cults like the Brotherhood. Whatever the case, the Brotherhood and its deity are associated with the downfall of Serpent People civilization. Followers of the cult were forced underground long before the remainder of the Serpent People fled there following the sinking of Lemuria. In the millennia following the fall of their civilization, more Serpent People joined the cult, which fractured into numerous splinter groups. They struggled amongst themselves, breaking apart, conquering each other, forming larger groups before being torn apart again to continue the cycle on and on. The Serpent People fought wars with the Morlocks and Sub-Terrans in the tunnels and caverns of the underworld and their civilization continued to degenerate, until it could barely be called “civilization” at all. Occasional Serpent People were throwbacks to their intelligent ancestors. They became leaders of bands of their degenerate brethren, but few were able to do more than that. The rise of human civilization brought the first real changes in the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign in millennia. The Serpent People leaders of the cult began recruiting human followers. This gave them influence on the surface world, and human cultists and prisoners were used as breeding stock for Serpent People experiments and reproduction. Occasionally the Brotherhood ran afoul of a human hero capable of opposing them, but for the most part they went unnoticed, largely because their activities never really amounted to much. That began to change in the 20th century with the rise of superhuman activity and the birth of a greater number of intelligent Serpent People to members of the Brotherhood. The Serpent People became more active in Sub-Terra, coming into conflict with their ancient enemies the Morlocks again. They also became more active on the surface world, spawning both human cults and half-human offspring. The Brotherhood clashed on occasion with Earth’s Master Mage, Adrian Eldritch and, later, with the Voodoo goddess Siren, who fought the Serpent People half-breeds among the Mayombe. The most ambitious plans of the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign involve unearthing lost artifacts and knowledge from Lemuria, particularly those associated with their patron, the Unspeakable One. One such item, the Serpent Scepter, is actually associated with the snake-god of ancient Lemuria, but the Brotherhood used it in an attempt to seize control of Atlantis and launch an attack on the surface world. The ultimate goal of the Brotherhood is to summon the Unspeakable One into Earth’s dimension. All indications are this would lead to madness for all creatures on Earth, at the very least, possibly the destruction of reality. The members of the cult either believe their patron will conquer the universe and grant power to its loyal followers or else they are too mad to care what happens and intend to share their madness with all creation.
THE UNSPEAKABLE ONE The Brotherhood’s unnamed patron is a being of cosmic power and unknowable intentions. There are no images of the Unspeakable One among the Brotherhood, only the Yellow Sign and other symbols of its power. Those claiming brushes with the Unspeakable One’s power speak of amorphous masses of tentacles, strange, shifting shapes, random piping and whistling music, and a vast and bottomless void. Such individuals are also invariably insane, so their accounts are questionable at best. The Unspeakable One is beyond game stats, possessing untold cosmic power. If it were ever summoned to Earth, there would be little, if anything, that could stand against it. The Gamemaster can use the threat (or even the presence) of the Unspeakable One as a plot device in the campaign, but should be certain to give the heroes a means of overcoming the mad god; usually by disrupting whatever ritual the Brotherhood is performing to summon it to this reality. The Unspeakable One rarely, if ever, intervenes on the behalf of the Brotherhood. In fact, it’s quite possible it is entirely unaware of its worshippers, existing only to inflict madness and devastation on the universe.
THE SERPENT SCEPTER The Serpent Scepter is an artifact of the ancient Serpent People civilization of Lemuria. It is a rod of greenish stone, similar to jade, except infinitely harder, about two feet long and carved in the shape of a writhing serpent. The scepter is infused with preternatural power. Among other things, the Serpent Scepter is completely indestructible to any known force. Over the millennia, guardians aware of the Serpent Scepter’s power have tried to place it out of the reach of would-be wielders: at the bottom of the sea, in ancient vaults, and even in dimensions beyond this one. Always the Scepter seems to find its way into the hands of those it can corrupt with its power.
Baron Samedi Simon DuLac grew up in Haiti, so the power of Voodoo was a proven fact to him. But Simon was always more interested in immediate, worldly power, which led him to becoming an important figure in the Caribbean underworld. He smuggled drugs and laundered money. He used the fearsome reputation of Voodoo to his advantage, without particularly caring what the loa thought of it, but the loa did notice, and did care. Baron Samedi, the loa of death and the undead, chose Simon as his cheval, his “horse” that he would ride in the mortal world. Baron Samedi maintained to his fellow loa that humanity was a base and unworthy race, suitable only to serve as the loa wished. The sea loa Siren opposed his view, claiming humanity was valuable in its own right. So the two loa chose vessels to inhabit to prove which of them was right once and for all. Using Simon’s criminal network, Baron Samedi was able to begin distributing his “zombie powder” (see Chapter 3). He works to corrupt and degrade humanity and to deal with Siren, who has also taken on a human host and become a continual thorn in his side. Eventually, the loa knows that he will triumph, and the world will become a vast graveyard of his mindless zombie followers. Baron Samedi isn’t human at all, but a malevolent spirit that feeds on human suffering and death. Humanity is nothing more than cattle to be used as he sees fit. He turns both the living and the dead into zombie puppets with no will of their own. Samedi can be quite charming and enjoys winning others over to his side of their own free will with promises of wealth, prestige, and power. He exists to corrupt people, proving that humans ultimately want what he offers them. Baron Samedi is a spirit inhabiting the body of Simon DuLac. He grants his mortal host great strength, endurance, and resistance to injury. He can regenerate damage to his mortal host body at an accelerated rate. Like Siren and her host body, the Baron’s presence prevents his host body from aging. Baron Samedi also has various magical powers. He can animate the dead, exert some control over the minds of the living, command reptiles, and create clouds of smoke or pitch darkness. These are innate abilities for him, not just mortal sorcery. He’s never without some zombie henchmen at hand, and is always creating more. Baron Samedi usually prefers to have his zombies and enthralled minions do his dirty work for him. If seriously threatened, he can step into a shadow and disappear, reappearing some distance away.
Siren and Baron Samedi are both loa of the Voodoo pantheon.
THE HISTORICAL MUSEUM Dr. Metropolis’ miniature representation of 1908 Freedom City might be nothing more than a curiosity, but you can also use it as an adventure hook, if you like. Perhaps the model is linked in some way to the actual Freedom City of the time, making it useful for time-travel adventures. A villain like Toy Boy might capture a group of heroes and shrink them or place their minds in tiny animatronic duplicates, convincing them they really are in 1908 Freedom and their lives as modern-day superheroes are a strange sort of dream or delusion. Perhaps a magical villain like Malador the Mystic or Baron Samedi could use the replica as a kind of “voodoo doll” to influence the modern-day Freedom City by manipulating it.
Maitre Carrefour: Corrupt Voodoo sorcerer and foe of Siren.
Voodoo Dahlia (Dahlia Dupree): Voodoo sorceress and temptress, member of the Mayombe. Daughter of Lady Mamba.
BARON SAMEDI The Voodoo loa does not take kindly to imprisonment. Assuming the Baron cannot simply abandon his current “horse” (host body) for some reason, it’s possible he could end up in Lockdown. If so, Baron Samedi is likely to seek out the worship he feels is his due, and to set himself up as a gang-leader and powerful patron inside Buckner Ridge. His powerful Charisma makes it likely younger criminals like Skab will flock to his leadership, possibly creating a religious cult around him. Baron Samedi is a god of darkness as well as death, so the shunting of Lockdown into the shadow dimension might serve his ultimate goals in some way. On the other hand, the Baron could be aware of an even greater threat in that shadow world, enough for him to ally with others in getting back to Earth!