The Scablands is a weird western / horror setting. The setting’s time period is the 1840s and the area on which it focuses is the eastern portion of what in present day is known as Washington State. It is a time in which the United States and Great Britain are in dispute over who owns the region. It is also a time at which a greater threat looms as elemental demons do battle over the land in their own secret war.
It was created during Episode 4.
Much of the middle of the terrain known to Americans as the Oregon Country is desert. This is due to the Rain Shadow effect off the mountains to the west – everything to the west of the mountains is fertile while much to the east is dry. A good portion of the land, especially that area referred to as the Channeled Scablands, was carved out in a time before mankind by strong elemental forces. In those days there were great floods and it seemed as though glaciers fought mightily with the volcanic bedrock beneath , though some say these were demons of the elements at war with each other. It is rumored that a gateway exists somewhere within the Scablands through which the creatures from the other side are still able to pass.
Despite the dryness, there is also a good portion of land a bit to the north, called the Palouse Hills, that is fertile - wheat and rye are often grown there.
There is a good deal of contention among the area’s inhabitants. The people native to these lands are the Nez Perce, but they find themselves beset by the British on one side and the United States on the other. The slow trickle of French and Russian fur trappers and prospectors who were exploring the region has given way to a torrent of government-backed settlers who want the land for themselves. This has only exacerbated the battle for occupation by spiritual forces that has been taking place in the area for many, many years.
The settlers in the area are currently engaged in what is coming to be known as the Oregon Boundary Dispute. The British refer to the area as the Columbia District while the United States calls it the Oregon Country. Up until this point, the US and Britain have had joint occupancy, which has been renewed on an annual basis, but as the race for the land’s resources continues, the tension grows. There are whispers that it may come to blows as the US President, James K Polk, pushes to claim the area as part of the country’s Manifest Destiny. Among the area’s American sympathizers, the slogan 54° 40' or Fight! Is becoming popular, referring to the desire to claim land all the way up past the 54th parallel.
The major British presence in the area is at Ft. Nez Perce, which sits at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Named for the area’s native people, the fort acts as a trading post. Goods travel to Ft. Nez Perce along the river from the coast and can be transported from there to points east. At the same time, a good number of trappers and prospectors travel through on their way west. The fort was established by the Hudson’s Bay Company, a British trading organization. The fort is currently managed by Major Thomas Simpson, cousin of the area’s administrator, Sir George Simpson.
Major Simpson took charge of Ft. Nez Perce after returning from his exploration of the Northwest Passage. It is said that he came back somehow different, but no one could put their finger on it. In truth, Major Simpson is no longer himself. He has been possessed by an entity known as the Ophidian, a water-aspected demon who seeks to push the current conflict to the breaking point.
The main US presence in the area is in the city of Pasco, on the southern end of the Scablands. While the seat of the Provisional Government of Oregon is in the city of Champoeg, to the east, representatives are present in Pasco to keep an eye on things. Chief among the voices of this local group is Dr. John McLoughlin, a former member of the Hudson’s Bay Company who has clearly shown that his sympathies lie with the American settlers.
The Nez Perce, who have lived in the area for a very long time, are currently overseen by Chief Looking Glass. It is said that they originally sprang the heart’s blood of a great monster – perhaps one of the large, elemental presences that ravaged the land in times past – that was slain by Coyote. As people of the land, many of them understand the spiritual struggle that is going on and are doing what they can to deal with it. This includes communing and bonding with guardian spirits known as weyekins, who provide their human hosts with insight and the powers of the animal or natural element with which each weyekin is associated. Unfortunately, this often means that members of the Nez Perce are seen around strange happenings and are often blamed by the settlers for those supernatural occurrences when in fact they are doing what they can to combat them.
Despite this prejudice, some settlers seek to understand and aid the Nez Perce. A group made up largely of guides and trackers known as the Wolf Lodge has formed. Led by the explorer James Sinclair (also formerly of the Hudson’s Bay Company), the group does what it can to learn the ways of the Nez Perce and teach the other settlers in the region about the very real threat that the ever-present demonic forces pose. It is an uphill battle, for they are often met with skepticism of the same kind that followers of Spiritualism face back east.
Much of the area’s supernatural troubles come from the shadow war between demonic forces – spirits from a dark land beyond dreams. Demons of water and ice dominate the area and are constantly beset by demons of fire and lava from the west. Very few battles take place on the physical plane, but those that do often take place away from prying eyes – or create collateral damage sufficient to slay most witnesses. Some of the more powerful demons have the ability to enter the minds of sleeping mortals, possessing them and doing battle through them while they sleep. Others are strong enough to pull nightmare images from sleeping mortals’ minds and transform them into solid, horrifying creatures that wreak havoc on the populace.
The only humans safe from this onslaught are the ones the wekeyins protect. Slowly, people are learning more about the horrors they face, but their petty territorial dispute serves as a deadly distraction. The further the conflict between the United States and Great Britain progresses, the more control the demons can assert as they tighten their grip. If a concerted effort is not made to direct the attention of the lands’ inhabitants to the true threat that looms over them, all may soon be lost.