Red Markets: The Great Dismal Swamp

In the decades before the Civil War, runaway slaves found refuge in the Great Dismal Swamp, an enormous expanse of forbidding wilderness on the border between Virginia and North Carolina. They were constantly pressed between the danger of capture and the extreme challenges of material survival in a landscape where even stone and metal were rarefied resources. To this day, only faint traces of their lives and communities can be found deep within the swamp. For one group of new fugitives in the 1850s, their struggles in the swamp are further complicated by a dark force offering an easy way out of their desperate circumstances. What will they choose to do with their hard-won freedom? Ethan adapted the Red Markets system for this scenario, adding some cosmic horror elements (as if economic horror weren’t bad enough). Check out for more!

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  1. Is This Where Gibson Got His Twitter Handle

    this was nifty, see my comments on Patreon re: use of Red Markets was definitely fun but maybe Caleb’s right it didn’t need to be in his system

  2. Thanks for the feedback! I really do think that Red Markets is the perfect system to run this scenario in, though when I publish the whole Civil War collection I’m sure I’ll have to use something else. RM conveys the material poverty of the Maroons better than any other game that I know of.

    I was trying a lot of little ideas with the hacks I made to the Red Markets rules, some of which I think worked well and others not so much. I’m not sure that I really needed Survival as a separate skill. Using cards for all the pieces of equipment worked fabulously. I’d like to make that a regular feature of all Red Markets games that I run.

  3. This was interesting to listen to, though I think one big thing you could do is work on pacing the cthulu elements out a bit more. The fetish thing early on was good, but some indicators as they’re working jobs the first couple weeks could give them the “something is off” feeling, and then dialing back crazy cultist man is possible.

    I also think that maybe instead of running it in a massively modified red markets setup, that maybe you could pull the economic bits out and put them into something like trail of cthulu.

  4. I think this is a good proof of concept game, I like how you did Unnatural. I think that with a more developed ‘home enclave’ and jobs, even if they are flavored differently, I think it’ll pan out well.

    To fit in everything you wanted, I get that it was going to feel a little uneven, and sure, it may’ve been, but the concept is sound! I think the tough part is the mercenary aspect of Red markets, that you could cut out, but that is an integral part of the game.

    Keep it up, keep refining it, and I’ll happily listen to more!

  5. This was such a different run than when Technical Difficulties played it. As Zero said, I think it worked well as a proof of concept and I had a lot of fun listening to it. I think this iteration worked better as a straight survival and escape game, no Cthulhu elements played.

  6. “when I publish the whole Civil War collection”

    When, how and so on? Need this 🙂

  7. I really liked the character building parts. However I think maybe a bit more taxes on the PCs per week. Otherwise just making something a retirement with a bounty number attached and milestones (get papers, get supplies etc.) and you could do a campaign in the swamp.

  8. “One day your gonna need a BOAT! And when you look up at me on my boat and say I need a Boat, I’m gonna look down from my Boat to you and say NO!”

    Killed me as much as it did the party… with laughter.

  9. I love the idea of this (The Dismal Swamp is such a cool setting and the Plantation/Emancipation themes are a great, novel and interesting choice for PC set-up) though it didn’t seem to quite come together. The dire economic hardship of the historical ‘Loss’ – the unpersons of free coloureds in the antebellum era – does feel like an interesting use of the RM mechanics though, a sharper twist. Kind of reminds me of the novel Lovecraft County in the sense that racism and institutional oppression is filling much of the same role as a supernatural horror, beyond you know, the supernatural horror you’ve got with the mythos itself.

    I think maybe playing in the abstract more closely to pass time quicker – and driving the PCs to make ties in the Swamp, rather than just treating it as a halfway house – would possibly help?

    Anyway all that aside this made me laugh more than any other RPPR session. The thought of 5 dudes hotboxing tobacco until they were lit up enough to raid the plantation just killed me, and Chekov’s boat of course.

  10. Thanks for the feedback, Will! When the Technical Difficulties session comes out, you can hear a version that went a lot more according to my intended design, with characters integrating into the swamp community and addressing the passage of time more fully. This crew was a bit more…railroad resistant. 🙂

    And thanks, Teapot! This could absolutely make a full-blown Red Markets campaign setting, if you have a group that is willing to engage with the historical material over the long term. You wouldn’t even need the Lovecraftian supernatural elements. It’s basically de-nerd-troping the Poverty Simulator into a very close real-world analogue.

    And ZypherIM, the crew gave me the same feedback after the session, and I took it to heart for the TD version. Coming soon!

  11. Great job Ethan. Mostly I’m echoing previous commenters.

    Very entertaining episode. The “if only our forger was a sniper,” and “why are the fireflies coughing?” were my favorite bits.

    I do like the use of the Red Markets system to impress upon the players their deprivation in the Dismal Swamp. In general, I think unique settings require unique rules for the players to get it in their heads that they are experiencing a different place.

    I like the weekly build skills/get items meta choices. It builds up the players and gives them some feeling of belonging/empathy towards the characters they work under. This is perfect for a horror game where you put those emotional bonds in peril.

    I would consider making the decay penalty per week (loss of dot of clothes, axe dot loss for being wood in the swamp) slightly increased if you are playing a short version of this scenario, and the RPPR episode did feel like a truncated version of the full adventure. In addition I would look at increasing the number of skill points gained per failed week.

    The adventure feels like it could have lead up to three climaxes: a raid on a plantation, retaliatory strike by slavers, running away from Cthulhu monster awakened in the swamp due to strike. It just felt like you needed more game time.

    The snake descriptions of the vodoun Cthulhu cultist were awesome.

    Looking forwards to the Technical Difficulties Lets Play.

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