What follows is based on true historical events
Something monstrous stalks the French countryside of Gévaudan. A terrible beast is slaying scores of innocents, and particularly relishes in targeting young women and children. The first known killing is recorded on June 30, 1764, that of a young girl by the name of Jeanne Boulet. Those who survive its brutal attacks report the Beast as being “like a wolf… but not a wolf!” Indeed, the reports begin to claim that this beast is possessed of supernatural abilities.
On New Year’s Eve, 1764, the Bishop of Mende proclaims the Beast a scourge sent by God to punish the people for their wicked ways. The people are commanded to pray and repent, but this only serves to increase terror across the region and stoke the flames of superstition. Talk spreads of demons, witches, and werewolves stalking the countryside. Although aid had been provided by the nobles, the lack of results became an embarrassment to the crown. In response, King Louis XV offers considerable rewards for slaying the Beast. Meanwhile, Étienne Lafont rallies the local authorities in an attempt to quell the fears of the people and organize an effective response to the situation.
The established three estates of the Ancien Régime are at odds in this forsaken land. While the clergy, nobility and locals grapple with each other to eliminate the Beast, a fourth estate emerges, that of the independent press, which may just have the power to rival all three. The story of The Beast is immediately spun into one of the first sensationalized and most influential media crazes. Captivating imaginations across France, Europe and beyond, the rising number of “unnatural deaths” increases demand for publications such as the Courrier d’Avignon. All the while the beast remains unchecked.
Players enter the scene in January 1765, where they take on the role of hunters in pursuit of the Beast. Some have come for holy reasons, believing they combat the Devil’s manifestations on Earth. Others are driven by altruistic motives, hoping to save more innocents from being slaughtered by the menace. There are those with less honorable reasons too, obsessed with seeking fame and fortune in slaying the Beast. And a diabolical few have more sinister motives, hoping to use the events as a smokescreen for their own personal vendettas and dark deeds. Veteran hunters also flock to the area just for sport, as this is a hunt for the ages!
In the 18th century, Gévaudan is an untamed wilderness, and is a far cry from most of France’s more civilized regions. There are no roads, and it is by foot or on horseback that people must traverse the countryside, creating ‘travers’ – useful shortcuts known only to those knowledgeable of land’s secrets. Travel is made even more treacherous by the extreme meteorological phenomena of the time. The climate is unnaturally cold. Snow, ice and fog abound, all of which impede the hunt. Other hazards appear in the shape of bandits, brigands, thieves, and murderers who may spring from the dense fog and attack without warning.
The rule of law in Gévaudan is complicated and has become a political nightmare. Due to an ancient treaty that holds it under the joint auspices of the King of France and the Bishop of Mende, justice is often brought too late – if it is found at all. France has suffered many setbacks over the last 50 years, including plagues, and more recently the humiliating and devastating losses of the Seven Year’s Wars, which has drastically afflicted France’s status as a European power. The Beast of Gévaudan is becoming a metaphor of misery across entire nation.
If they hope to succeed, players will need to curry favour with one of the four estates, through whose generosity they will gain superiority on the hunt. And with luck on their side, they might finally bring an end to The Beast of Gévaudan’s reign of terror!