Tracks is a different kind of fantasy - one not set in any European trope. No wizards, dragons, fae, or vampires here. Instead, I looked to the American mid-west and the rich lore surrounding the great engines that used to ply our rails. The premise is simple. What if the world rushing by your window wasn't yours? What if there was a degree of truth behind the tall tales told around rail camps and hobo jungles?
Tracks takes place in and around Illinoise and Ohio. Each of the towns and places mentioned exist to this day, from the Blue Island yards of Chicago to Cleveland's Kingsbury Run. They just exist...differently.
If trains connect different yet similar worlds, there must be a hub. This over-arching landscape is Hobohemia, a network of rails, hobo jungles, and baronies supporting the mighty engines hauling freight and people across mid-America. Here, both the engines and even the rails themselves are alive, maintained by both artisans and high-spirited steam children.
Tracks must be built,refurbished, or torn down. This is the responsibility of Hobohemia's few gandy dancers who can summon both temporary or permanent rail lines. It is a hard life demanding a deep introspection of the soul, but it can also be a lucrative career as gandy dancers are highly valued by hobo king and rail baron alike.
Steam children are Hobohemia's purest spirits, often appearing as feminine apparitions wreathed in steam. They breathe life into the newly manufactured steam engines, and help propel the steel behemoths down the track. Their power is coveted by some barons, who will even stoop to enslaving the children for the energy they can provide.
Hobos make up much of Hobohemia's population, and for the most part travel the rails spreading their own brand of free spirit and culture. They live outside of "anchor cities" such as Chicago and Cleveland, which serve as conduits between Hobohemia and the regular worlds.
When your destination might be one among many realities, each with its own network of tracks, knowing how to get there is where the conductor comes in. He can fix a train station in a particular location, at a specific time, and is the unquestioned navigator of all trains crossing Hobohemia.
Unions play an important part in the organization and welfare of Hobohemia. A carded member will see Hobohemia slightly differently than regular folks, with even the Hobos looking more like gentlemen of the road rather than vagabonds.
These monstrosities are the physical manifestation of a man who has succumbed to his base nature. Shorn of self-esteem and hope, yegg are the swirling black antithesis of steam children.
A business philosophy of profit and productivity over all else, Taylorism threatens the freedom of Hobohemia's craftsmen and hobos alike. This practice has been embraced by the Erie Railroad's Baron, who now seeks to spread this thinking across the land.