Gamebook store

Monday 2 July 2012

A new world of gods and monsters

Following on from recent posts about Frankenstein's Legions, the game concept I developed with Martin McKenna that grew to become an entire created world and a novel, I dug out our original high concept document and I'll be posting it up in instalments over the next few days.

(The usual caveat applies: this is nothing to do with my recent Frankenstein app book, which is not a bit steampunkish and in fact is not really even a genre novel (though it is interactive). But if you do like steampunk, hop over to Martin's blog where you'll find he is still working that side of the fantasy street better than anybody.)

In the mid 1800s, scientists recover and perfect
Victor Frankenstein’s secrets of reanimation,
with disastrous consequences.

The Emperor Napoleon is brought back to life and unleashes his resurrected armies on Europe.

Rival factions battle for control amid the war-torn ruins.

Frankenstein’s Legions is a strategy-adventure game that will take the player on a journey into the heart of darkness. This is a world in which Victor Frankenstein’s discoveries have been put to terrible use by the military of the day. Dead men are hauled from the battlefield, their bodies stitched together and resurrected to fight again, regarded with fear and loathing by the living men they stand beside.

The player is Tom Clerval, an army officer in charge of a platoon of resurrected soldiers. This is a third-person action-strategy game with a fully developed story and with optional strategic depth for those players who want it.

In the course of the game, Clerval must maintain and expand his platoon, which consists of around a dozen monsters. Each monster has individual personality and customizable attributes. And each has his own unique life story, which you can find out in the course of the game.

This is not an “eye in the sky” strategy game. The player is right in the midst of the action with smoke and shrapnel and clods of earth flying all around him. Hundreds of soldiers are fighting to the death. The player controls Clerval and his platoon of monsters, and can set standing orders that friendly soldiers will recognize – for example to muster at a point or stand guard. Other characters react to the player but are not directly under his control.

The core design principles are:
  • A fast-paced, thrilling, immersive game with lots of excitement. You will feel as if you are right in there in the thick of battle, not watching it dispassionately from on high.
  • Gameplay depth for those who want it. Game decisions are simple but have strategic effect – whether to galvanize your monsters before a battle for extra strength, or save the electricity to heal up survivors afterwards, and so on.
  • A sense of dread as in the best science fiction. One of your monsters turns to glare at you. Will he obey your orders, or rip you to pieces? Then he is gone, charging into the mist, howling, arms flailing, to attack the enemy.
  • Emotional involvement evoked by having a small core team of characters, each with unique attributes, idiosyncrasies and a backstory that unfolds over the course of the game. These are characters you will care about.

A Modern Prometheus?

 “O pity the dead that are dead, but cannot make the journey. Still they moan and beat against the silvery adamant walls of life’s exclusive city.”

Extending the premise of Mary Shelley’s original novel, the game is set in an alternate 19th century in which wars are fought using Frankenstein’s technology. Armies are recycled into the field by resurrecting the dead and continually repairing them with spare body parts.

After Napoleon’s exile to St Helena following the Battle of Waterloo, severe penalties imposed on France by Britain and her allies leads to a new revolutionary Convention taking power. The Convention’s scientists discover Dr Frankenstein’s techniques and begin experimenting with bodies from the guillotine. To the Convention, this is Year Zero. Along with a rationalist revision of science and the calendar comes a willingness – even eagerness – to make full use of the Frankenstein technology in warfare.

By the mid-1800s, the war in Europe has been raging for decades and whole countries have become devastated wasteland. Trenches and barbed wire cut across churned fields of mud. Clouds of yellow gas poison the soil. It is as though the Great War has started eighty years early.

On the battlefield, surgeons employ the Frankenstein procedures to reclaim body parts from the dead and dying. Armies will fall in battle, only for the surgeons to go out at dusk collecting the undamaged parts for assembly into a new band of patchwork soldiers ready to take the field the next day. In most cases only the lowest grade of serum is used and the unfortunates tend to become progressively ragged and insane.

The cities too bear the scars of war. The slums stink of formaldehyde and there is a new and frightening underclass that causes people to lock their doors at night. Myths have grown around the revenant war veterans - that they are eaters of human flesh, that their blood is cold and does not flow, that death follows closely from their touch.

Recently the Convention sent a squad to St Helena to recover Napoleon’s corpse. They resurrected him using the best serum available to them at the time. It was a partial success. Napoleon’s body had already begun to decay and he now spends most of his time suspended in preservative oils brought from Egypt, emerging from the Versailles Palace only on rare state occasions.

From the Convention’s perspective, they have secured the greatest military mind of the age as a resource. Napoleon himself, however, has other plans.


  1. You should have called it "France-kenstein" ! :-)

  2. If you think this version was Franco-centric, Olivier, how about my recent iOS book?

  3. Alas, I'm not iOs-enabled (and I'm scared by the pictures of écorchés everywhere; still yesterday evening, I was re-reading DW6 before going to bed, but I fear that "Frankenstein" would give me nightmares).
    When Napoleon's body was exhumated many years after his death ( ), it was well-preserved. I think this is due to the warm climate of St Helena and to the fact his doctors had done their best to slow down decomposition, especially through the removal of inner organs.

  4. A word of warning, then, Olivier: do not under any circumstances watch Pascal Laugier's film Martyrs. Even though I made Frankenstein's monster an écorché, I didn't visualize quite how horrific that would look until I saw the movie.

  5. Good Lord, I hated 'Martyrs'. I love my horror films, but that was just repugnant gore, all bound up with some faux-spiritual rationalisation about why it's okay to torture young women to death. I walked out (of my living room) partway through. Disgusting.

    That it frequently attains high spots on various 'best horror film' lists mystifies me. I only rented the DVD because the guy working in the shop had told me what an amazing film it was. I nearly punched him when I took it back.

    1. I'm with you there, Paul. The whole Saw/Hostel trend in horror leaves me cold. I prefer a slow development of crawling unease, as in the TV adaptation of The Woman in Black. Judging by the recent movie, this is a lost art. Today's directors know how to revolt and shock us, but not how to truly instill horror.

  6. Hm, not sure if I should... Heard about gore websites 15 years ago. There is one that I go regularly to at It is quite disturbing, depicting lynchings and the outcome of car and plane crashes. But as we're living in a sheltered world, I think it helps open ones eyes.


    1. I once saw a video of a Daesh execution. Once was enough for me.

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