Player handouts for Bookhounds of London
These rumours are player knowledge: the sorts of things eager Book-Hounds are likely to hear as they wander the streets, drink a pint in the pubs, and gossip with their cronies and rivals. Their degree of truth, and their potential for danger and profit, remain in the Keeper’s hands until the Book-Hounds follow the scent to its source.
We reproduce them here as handouts to be distributed to your players. Give each Book-Hound his own “turf” worth of rumours, or let the whole party know “the word on the street” everywhere from Hammersmith to Hockney. Black out rumours you really don’t want to follow up on, and write in new ones you really do. Feel free to add more rumours as you think of them, or as your own research into London (or grimoires, or Arthur Machen, or anything else cool) turns up story hooks.
See p. 92 under “Player-Driven Adventures,” “Plot Hooks,” for how you can use these rumours to generate scenes, and eventually plot spines and whole scenarios.
The rumours can be downloaded from here.
Bookhounds of London offers three different kind of campaign settings: Arabesque, Technicolor and Sordid. This time out I’m going to go Sordid, and discuss the crime of murder.
Murder was an obsession of the Thirties. People read about them all the time – Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers made their careers out of murder – but apart from the fictional variety there were plenty of real killings to occupy headlines. Men like Doctor Crippen, who killed for money and finally fled, bloody-handed, with his lover Ethel le Neve, only to be caught on the SS Montrose while fleeing to Quebec. Or Doctor Buck Ruxton, who bludgeoned his wife and her maid, cut up the bodies, and then lied and said she’d left him. Then there’s Alfred Rouse, the blazing car killer who picked up a hitchhiker and set him on fire in an attempt to disguise Rouse’s own disappearance. Or Nurse Hopton of Gloucester, the poisoner, and any number of trunks with torsos – and other parts – shipped off to railway stations, the better to delay identification.
And when the murderer was safely arrested, there were other murderous celebrities to occupy people’s attention. Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the famous British pathologist who worked on so many bodies, was always news. Detective Chief Superintendent Edward Greeno was making a name for himself collaring some of the most notorious criminals of the age, as was Fabian of the Yard, aka Superintendent Robert Fabian whose memoirs became fodder for a BBC series in the 1950s.
We sometimes forget this, but the reason why writers like Sayers and Christie could make a living from writing crime novels was that their contemporaries were utterly obsessed with crime. It was what they saw every day in the news, which brought them stories of people – it might be your next-door neighbor – who’d sliced up their spouses, or been sliced up themselves. The criminals and those who caught them, all celebrities, clamored for attention every day. Then of course there were the trials, with their attendant photographers, reports, juicy transcripts full of gossip-fodder, and so on and on.
A truly Sordid campaign has to include murder. The Sordid London is the London of “prostitution, drugs, poverty, desperation, extortion, and cruelty”, as the rulebook puts it, and you can’t conceive of that kind of London without there being murders every day. Not the kind of killings that wind up in the comfortable stately homes of old England either; no, these are the brides in the acid bath, the abortionists with dead children in the basement, the elderly beaten to death for their jewellery and whatever cash can be looted from their bank accounts. These are the stories that will be on the front page of every newspaper, with the photo supplements that helpfully point out exactly where the body was found.
But how to introduce these murderers to the campaign? Well, there are at least two options. First, as background noise. If the Keeper is going to present a living world for the players to inhabit, that means there’s going to be a lot of things going on around them which they’re aware of, but do not necessarily directly affect the game. Income tax will be going up, up, up, for a start, and there will be rumblings of trouble in Europe. Yet another Council for Peace will try to persuade everyone to disarm or to compromise on war reparations, and be rudely told where to stick the notion. There will be roadworks and gas explosions, advertising campaigns and sermons. No doubt the Duke of Windsor is in the news again, as he and Wallis Simpson hob-nob with Hitler. All of these things will be going on all the time, and if the Keeper uses this as background then the players ought to be reminded of it all the time. Extra, extra, read all about it, the newsboys call, or perhaps the BBC drones on in their offices during the off hours. It can be something to mention at the beginning of a scene, or as part of an important moment.
Say for instance that the character is due to find something in the newspaper. Well in that event it isn’t just a newspaper, it can be something like: ‘buried on page 12, underneath a photo array showing exactly where the Battersea Torso Killer hacked up his victim, you find …’ Or alternatively something like ‘the radio announcer is describing the crowd outside Birmingham Prison, where baby killer Victor Parsons is about to be hung, as the jingle of the doorbell announces the entry of a customer.’ Yes, it’s flavor text; but it’s text of a very deliberate sort, intended to reinforce the style of campaign you intend to play.
The other way is to make the killer a customer. There are any number of chemically or medically inclined murderers of the Twenties and Thirties. Aside from the doctors and nurses there’s people like Rouse, trying to use modern methods to disguise their crimes, and Haigh wasn’t the first acid bath killer by any stretch. People like that are going to have disposable income and a desire to spend it. Some of them, no doubt, will want books. They may not be particularly interested in Mythos tomes, of course, but that does not matter. What does matter is their usefulness as NPCs, either by supplying knowledge or services that the characters do not themselves possess, or by providing a non-Mythos hook to a horror-themed scenario.
Abilities: Athletics 4, Biology 1, Bargain 4, Credit Rating 1-4 (varies), Chemistry 3, Flattery 3, Filch 6, Health 8, Law 1, Medicine 1, Oral History 3, Preparedness 6, Reassurance 4, Scuffling 9, Weapons 4
Damage: -2 (fist, kick), -1 (knife)
Special: dose of arsenic always handy by (nausea, vomiting, convulsions, coma, death); Health Difficulty 7 or suffer +1 damage for 4 rounds. There would be no treatment in the Thirties for severe arsenic poisoning.
Occupation: Lady’s Maid
Three Things: Perpetually shocked at the wickedness of the world; addicted to thrillers and crime novels of all kinds including true crime accounts; odd chemical odor seems to follow her wherever she goes.
Notes: Ethel is the guiding mind in the Pratt partnership; Mister Pratt, a habitual drunkard, is either in her good graces and therefore allowed to come near her, or driven off with curses and blows if not. Mister Pratt was once a butler in a great household, but his addiction put paid to that and all other forms of permanent employment. Ethel moves from employer to employer every six months to a year, and usually has excellent references. Some of her employers – old Miss Willets, crumbling Miss Jefferson, aged and deaf Mrs Fowlkes-Willoughby – went missing soon after Ethel went into service with them, but in each case the old ladies were without family or friends and their disappearance went unremarked. As far as the neighbors are concerned they went abroad for the good of their health, on doctor’s orders, and their loyal, helpful maid kindly stayed behind to lock the houses up. They’ve stayed locked up ever since. Were the police to check Mister Pratt’s tumbledown East End dwelling, particularly the acid-flecked drains in the yard, they would find something greatly to their interest. Ethel’s fortunes seem to flourish and die remarkably quickly; for a brief time she is flush, and goes to all the best places, but soon afterwards is stony and looking for another job. Ethel picked up some of her knowledge from her experiences as a nurse during the War, and the rest from books. She’s always keen to add to her body of knowledge, and never fails to pick up the latest crime novel.
See also: Ephemera
By Mike Drew
Given the central position Verity Dyse occupies in the events leading to Augustus Darcy’s death it is odd there is so little about her in the Guide. This article is an attempt to suggest some further background, and a possible timeline, based on the hints given by Darcy.
It is not possible to find any Dyse family in the UK Census forms in the period when Verity would have been born. However the name Dyse appears as an Anglicisation of the German Deiss. There are members of the Deiss family listed in the 1891 census – especially in Yorkshire. Some parts of Yorkshire grew fat on the wool trade in the nineteenth century so this might be the perfect place for Verity’s upbringing.
The house of Deiss started from humble origins in Switzerland and grew in importance during the medieval period, spreading out from Switzerland into Germany before splitting into various factions and cadet branches. It is possible that Sir Roland’s father came from Germany to Yorkshire at some point in the middle of the nineteenth century and entered the wool trade, breeding sheep in Yorkshire and exporting the wool to Europe using family connections. Roland entered the family business and took advantage of the movement of the Deiss family to the US to expand across the Atlantic. He built the business in power and prestige and received his K. Like a certain Royal House he changed his name during the Great War, in his case to Dyse – the American branches in addition changed their name to Dice.
Verity would have gone to a decent school, not one of the top tier perhaps, but one befitting the daughter of a rich magnate of gentle, albeit foreign, blood. I might posit Bradford Girls’ Grammar, given Bradford’s place in the wool trade of the area. BGGS students were mainly the daughters of professional men and merchant families and it fought hard to have its girls recognised as on a par with boys and to get them into Oxbridge colleges. After school she would have gone to university and I suggest Girton would have the right air of determined attitude for her as well as giving her another element of the right kind of background to attract the well-to-do and thrill seeking of 1930s London.
I must say at this point that I realise this is all total supposition and people are free to disregard it all as unconfirmed and possibly irrelevant but I think it is interesting to attempt to place Verity in her position in society to try to understand how she ended up where she did.
She must have come to London at some point and it is likely this was after Cambridge. She will have met the fast set and found that looks, money and the right sort of background fitted her very well for society. As well as this, her quest for occult knowledge would be much better served with the bookshops and libraries of the capital than those of Bradford or even York. At this point she would have been about 22. My guess is, based on Darcy’s various descriptions of her, that she is in her late 20s, early 30s at most, when he meets her for the first time. She will have been born around the start of the 20th century and her graduation would have been mid-‘20s, probably 1926 given the rest of the timeline.
At some point her reading, her membership of strange societies and her growing knowledge of the City of London make her realise something is wrong. She decides first to investigate and then attempts to make things right, coming rapidly to the conclusion that she needs further help from experts. It is at this point she goes to stay with the Dice family in California to speak to the man who wrote the book on magical cityscapes. She travels to see de Castries.
How would she know of de Castries? The most obvious answer, given her occult interest, is that she owns a copy of Megapolisomancy. If she owns a copy why might she need to see the man himself? De Castries wrote that although paramental forces give great scope for operating at distant times and localities he did not intend to fully record the method of utilising them. In other words his paranoia kept her from the details she needed. She would have to speak to him for those. As well, his destruction of his own book and the deaths of his former circle meant that she would have had trouble finding practitioners to teach her.
Verity must have gone to San Francisco after Ashton Smith as she is not mentioned in his account. I believe she was there in 1928 into 1929, a couple of years after graduating. At this point de Castries was in his paranoid final days, living in hotels and ignoring much human contact. Although Byers’ story does not mention any women in de Castries’ life Klaas does let slip that he thought de Castries occasionally hired a prostitute. This seems very unlikely. He is described as being fanatically loyal to his mistress, the Lady. Perhaps the person who Klaas saw was in fact Verity and similarly Verity was the woman who Hammett saw at de Castries’ funeral. Whilst it would seem that she would be much better known about if she were his pupil it should be remembered that de Castries regularly changed hotel by the end, and that although Klaas and Ricker were the closest thing to friends he had, they were not bosom companions. Dyse could easily have slipped through the cracks. So, what might she have been after? Whilst she could not have taken the Grand Cipher away, as it ends up in the wall of 607 Rhodes, she may have taken advantage of her proximity to make a copy.
After de Castries death in the summer of 1929 she returned to London. It is likely that she began to investigate the City Seal using de Castries’ theories. She must have noticed the Cabbalistic aspect to the City design as well as the diagonal streets – the significance of which was mentioned in Ashton Smith’s journal. This design would have led her naturally to Wren and the Royal Society’s involvement. We know she spends time in the British Museum and could have read the private papers of the Society’s founders and thus discovered Ashmole’s Dee manuscripts. If she came across Enochian workings seemingly linked to the City she will have needed someone’s help interpreting and implementing them. There is of course one man in London capable of formulating a full Enochian working. One man could take old ritual and make it modern and relevant. One man who could fuse together the Cabbalah and Angel magic. One man who we have seen crop up again and again in this investigation. The one and only Great Beast, Edward Alexander ‘Aleister’ Crowley.
Crowley’s movements in the last years of the 20s and first of the 30s are difficult to pin down at best but it does seem likely that he was in London during winter 1929-30 sorting out Mandrake Press before heading off to Berlin. It would be most likely that Verity approached him at this point. Crowley was always happy to indulge those would pay for his drinks. She would have been able to get training in Enochian magic, the Cabbalah and sex magics before he departed. At this point she began gathering her coven and planning her new expanded Seal.
Crowley leaves Germany in June 1932 and for various reasons returns to Britain. He needs to deal with his wife, now in Colney Hatch asylum. He may well have still been involved in intelligence activities. He definitely renewed his acquaintance with Nancy Cunard, and it is not impossible Verity Dyse, at this point. At this stage his fortunes were on a relatively high plane until spring 1934 when he suffered a major setback. He attempted to sue Nina Hammett for libel over her memoir, The Laughing Torso. Unfortunately for him he lost spectacularly and was plunged into bankruptcy and humiliation. This might explain why he and Verity were seen arguing. I wonder if she went to him for help and he rejected her because of his own problems?
Whatever the nature of her relationship with Crowley there is one thing we know she did around this point. She began a campaign to have the Battersea Shield and other artefacts returned to their original resting places in order to gain the benefits of their protection again. Given that the Shield came from the British Museum I would guess that the other artefacts include the Wandsworth Shield and the Waterloo Helmet. These are other votive offerings left at river crossings by Celtic inhabitants of London. Given what we now believe about Byatis and Nodens it is possible that these were put there to defend one side of the river from the other. This all fits with the theory that Dyse was working to re-seal something beneath London and was using any means she could find.
Darcy first meets Dyse at a sherry party, I think in late 1933. She mentions her desire to contact the spirit of John Dee, supposedly to find his treasure. At this point she must have decided that she needed more help. She had consulted two of the greatest living minds in magic and had followed the work of the Royal Society. She had formed a plan using megapolisomancy and Enochian aethyr. This was not enough however. She needed to go back to the original source of the plan. It may be that she told her followers there would be treasure to get them to help her, but I think her real plan was to talk to the genius behind the original Seal. We know that she did attempt the ritual, we can only assume she made contact, and I believe that what she was told led to her move to Blackheath.
The background of Blackheath has been discussed on the Limited thread. As Byatis was worshipped in the City so Nodens was, in the form of the horned god Cernunnos, under the area around Blackheath and Greenwich. When the Romans came they destroyed the worship of both entities and bound them using new temples. Over Greenwich and Blackheath a network of barrows was built using great heroes to guard the rift in death. Cernunnos returned when he was bound to the Keeper Herne at Windsor by the sorcerer Urswick, collecting the first members of his Wild Hunt. He reappeared in 1714 as Herne the Keeper at Greenwich, defiling ancient barrows weakened by remodelling of the Park. Jack Cade apparently worshipped here and offered to take London for the creature in the shadows with his rebellion. The same cavern was later fed by the mystical bridal offering of 19-year old Lucy, after the caverns had been reopened for tourists, and then by the ghoulish proclivities of degenerate pleasure seekers resurrecting dances for Freyr in The Cavern Club. Nodens has been using the weakening of the Seal to feed and regroup awaiting the chance to strike at the old foe Byatis.
Verity Dyse buys her house and sets her followers to digging – ostensibly for treasure but really to disrupt the barrow seal further – and this is the tunnelling mentioned in the Guide. She returns to Crowley for advice but he has been ruined and refuses to help, leading to their confrontation. Darcy is told by his source that the ritual took place in winter. I would take this to be the winter of 1934. Dyse and her followers take part in a mystical dance ritual (like those to Freya many centuries before) in an effort to summon up the spirit beneath. It comes. Verity is ridden, perhaps fully possessed, but maybe just energised by it. Her quest to save the City now takes a darker twist. She terrifies her followers and hunts down those who oppose her.
Darcy meets up with one of these followers before the young man’s flight to France. This must have worried Verity. She could not risk someone opposing her and likely investigated Darcy futher. Now since the Cipher was broken we know that the Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh was attempting to recruit Darcy. This connection would be all the reason that Dyse/Nodens needed to strike. She could not know how involved he was and could take no risks.
The likelihood is she remembered her old teacher at this point. Megapolisomacy is described as a form of mathematics which can manipulate minds and big buildings – the ‘suicide’ of George Sterling shows the possible ends to which it could be put. Darcy’s death is described as drowning but there is little information on which to go. The thread’s belief is that Darcy committed suicide, driven to leap into the Thames by a powerful working. The Guide was published in November 1935. It will have taken time for Greville to find out about Darcy’s death and then retrieve and polish his manuscript so it is likely that his death was early 1935. With his death Verity believes she is safe to continue her working.
But is it her working? She must at least have been visited by Nodens on Blackheath. Her actions may well fit with Nodens’ desire to see Byatis chained but will the Seal have any effect on Nodens? It is unlikely that humanity will benefit from a fully unleashed god awakening in the middle of London. If the Nodens/Cernunnos/Herne connection is valid then Dyse’s lighting of this wendfire may very well release the Wild Hunt in a psychic darkness driving the inhabitants into madness. Given the previous effect of the Seal – shutting down magic and bringing in the Age of Enlightenment and Science into London – then a fully powered Seal may have the same effect again, reducing Nodens power, but with Dyse so clearly in thrall that is not something upon which anyone can rely. Perhaps the only hope now is for the IPC to take over the working, uniting it with their own, and thus ensure that both entities are returned to slumber.
This review by Matthew Pook is worth considering if only for the terrible pun of the title, Tome Team.
Given the lack of a sourcebook detailing London within the genre of Lovecraftian investigative horror, Bookhounds of London is a much, much needed resource. Although its focus is primarily the book and the booktrade, the information on outré tomes is equally as relevant to Call of-, Realms of-, and Shadows of Cthulhu as they are Trail of Cthulhu. The background to London is equally as relevant and useful to all of these games.
Bookhounds of London has won the prestigious Golden Geek Award 2011 for Best RPG Supplement. Armitage Files was a runner up against stiff competition from Jason Morningstar’s excellent Fiasco Companion.
We are very pleased to have been nominated for a second time in the Golden Geek Awards.
Ashen Stars and Bookhounds of London have been nominated for Best Artwork and Presentation, The Armitage Files and Bookhounds of London for Best Supplement.
You can vote here, but you need to be a member with Geek Gold.
I’m pleased to say Pelgrane Press has received honourable mentions and nominations in the ENnie awards for our releases this year.
The Dance in the Blood by Graham Walmsley gets and honorable mention for Best Adventure, and a nomination for Best Writing. I think that Dance in the Blood is typical of Graham’s adventures, and any one of the others could have just as easily been nominated.
Bookhounds of London by Kenneth Hite gets an honourable mention for Best Setting, and a nomination for Cartography. Beth Lewis extracted, compiled and enhanced these antique maps with new information and the indexers over at yog-sothoth also deserve a big hand for this one. I’m sad that Ken didn’t get a nomination for the setting, which is just outstanding, but the competition was fierce.
Congratulations to all the other publishers and I’ll update you when the voting begins.
There is a new review of Bookhounds of London by Andrew Behaut here.
Not only does Bookhounds make me want to run a game, it makes me feel confident that I could run that game well. Many supplements place the burden of extracting a game from their contents on the Keeper; this book does not. As an unconfident and less experienced Keeper, this is excellent. If you only get one supplement for Trail of Cthulhu, this should be it.
Kafka has posted a very comprehensive and positive review of our newest print release, Bookhounds of London, 5 out of 5 stars. You can read the full review here.
Bookhounds of London is a major hardcover supplement to the Trail of Cthulhu that is: a campaign guide, locale sourcebook, and an adventure. Whomever, decides to buy it will certainly get their money’s worth and more. This is a beautifully and hauntingly illustrated book, in which the graphics are not horrific but do instill a certain sense of dread. I would commend Pelgrane Press once again for creating yet another beautiful product that is both attractive, functional and serves a multitude of purposes.
This issue of RPG Countdown has interviews with four Pelgrane writers
In at #7 Paula Dempsey with the Occult Guide
#4 Robin D Laws with the Dying Earth
#3 Graham Walmsley with Cthulhu Apocalypse: The Dead White World
and #1 Ken Hite with Bookhounds of London