“I think that Varna is not familiar to any of us …”

— Van Helsing

In my defense, not a lot of stuff happens in Varna. I mean, in the novel. Lots of stuff happens in Varna, including a disastrous Crusade in 1444 that killed the King of Poland and nearly killed Vlad Tepes’ brother Mircea.

But in the novel, Dracula ships his coffins to London via Herr Leutner of Varna, and then fakes out the hunters by booking a ship for Varna but going on to Galatz in Romania. Lord Godalming and co. arrive in Varna via the Orient Express, and stay at the Odessus Hotel, named after the original Greek settlement on the site. Although the hunters have identified another of Dracula’s agents in the city, a broker named Ristics, they leave him and Varna behind.

Which is what I did when I mapped out the Director’s Handbook for the Dracula Dossier. Although we put in Herr Leutner, we skipped Varna itself. I blame Dracula, master of the bait-and-switch-Black-Sea-ports. Here, in another of our continuing (and continuing) series “Things We Left Out of The Director’s Handbook for The Dracula Dossier,” is a Quick and Dirty look at Varna, the Summer Capital of Bulgaria.

Varna_by_night

Varna

Varna is Bulgaria’s third-largest city. Its Black Sea beaches and hot springs have made it a resort town since the 7th century BCE, and tourism keeps it one of the most prosperous cities in Eastern Europe. It sits below 350m terraces, at the mouth of Lake Varna, still a center of industry, shipbuilding, and chemical works. The 2 km long Asparuhov Bridge (a 46 m high suicide magnet) connects the rest of Varna with the Asparuhovo borough on the south side of the Lake.

Population

365,000 (about the size of Tampa), swells to 600,000 during summer vacation season (much like Tampa).

Conflict

Varna’s relative prosperity tends to mute its social conflicts; even the 2013 anti-austerity riots across Bulgaria remained peaceful protests in Varna. One major concern is Varna’s increasing population of undocumented foreigners, initially mostly Turks but recently Ukrainian refugees from the war. There are possibly as many as 300,000 such in the city (which would put the city’s size in summer at 900,000). About 1% of Varna’s population are Roma, almost entirely living in three impoverished ghettos (Maksuda, Rozova Dolina, and Chengene Kula).

A vigilante group of former Bulgarian marines, the Varna Seals, expelled foreign mafias in 2007-2009; some suggest this is merely to clear the lucrative tourist-and-waterfront ground for the Mutri, the Bulgarian mafia. Varna is a major transshipment point for traffickers in slaves and drugs, fueling a red-light district and party zone in resorts all along the Black Sea coast.

Backdrops

Monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship: Towering 110 m above the northwestern part of the city, this 11,000-tonne brutalist concrete monstrosity resembles an immense extended wing, 11-meter high bas-reliefs of Red Army soldiers facing gigantic Bulgarian maidens across a wide 305-step staircase up the side of Turna Tepe. Abandoned since the fall of Communism, it remains a haunt of graffiti artists and urban explorers drawn by the rumors of a nuclear bunker deep within the hill.

Sea Garden: The oldest and largest landscaped park in Varna, begun in 1862 and expanded ever since. It currently hosts not just gardens, but fountains, greenhouses, a grove of trees planted by cosmonauts, the Varna Zoo, Varna Aquarium (including a dolphinarium), the Varna Naval Museum, a water park and amusement park, and casinos, promenades, nightclubs, and boardwalk attractions.

Varna Archaeological Museum: Just southeast of the city center in a Neo-Renaissance building, the Varna Archaeological Museum (est. 1888) holds exhibits from all periods of Bulgarian history: ancient Thracian weapons, Byzantine jewelry, and 19th century icons. Its pride and joy is the collection of pectorals, diadems, beads, and rings of the “Gold of Varna” excavated in 1972-1973 from the Varna Necropolis 4 km west of the city, and dated to ca. 4500 BCE.

Three Hooks

  • In March 2015, Dr. Valeri Yotov of the Varna Archaeological Museum excavated a “giant skeleton” buried under the Roman fortress wall of Odessus, dating to the late 4th or early 5th century CE. This ongoing excavation began near the St. Nikolay Church when workers rehabilitating the sewer system uncovered an ancient Greek pot (5th century BCE). The dig along the Odessus wall expanded into the Varna Hole, a pit dug in 1984 for the excavation of a department store but abandoned in 1989, and now used for parking.
  • In 1992, a group of karate enthusiasts from the elite “Tihina” Division of the Bulgarian marines founded the TIM Group, beginning as a “security company” doing debt recovery for Bulgarian banks, and rapidly expanding into (according to the US State Department) smuggling, auto theft, prostitution, gambling, and narcotics. Since then, TIM has expanded into a maze of secretive holding companies controlling grain, airlines, fishing, oil refineries, and (according to many) Varna’s mayor and politics.
  • At the western end of Lake Varna, the industrial city of Devnya is home to a tradition of vampire slayers recorded in 1888 by the Czech historian and diplomat Constantin Jirecek. These vampirdzhiya, or dzhadzhiya (who were dhampirs and often valkodlatsi or werewolves as well), carried icons through graveyards, sheepfolds, and other suspicious locations, waiting for the image to tremble. Then, they would either dig up the vampire (if material) and stake it with hawthorn and burn it, or (if in spirit form) seal it into a bottle which could be burned at leisure.
Great Race of Yith cover

Great Race of Yith cover

“As mental barriers wore down, I beheld great masses of thin vapour in various parts of the building and in the streets below. These steadily grew more solid and distinct, till at last I could trace their monstrous outlines with uncomfortable ease.” From unguessable aliens to cone-shaped librarians to beetle-conquerors, the Great Race of Yith takes many forms. Learn to recognize them, before they take yours!

Hideous Creatures: Great Race of Yith is the third installment of the third Ken Writes About Stuff subscription and is now available to subscribers – it will be available to buy in the webstore in June. If you have subscribed to the third KWAS subscription, Hideous Creatures: Great Race of Yith is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).

Stock #: PELH30D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Melissa Gay
Pages: 11pg PDF

In Bram Stoker’s original Notes for Dracula, we find the following cryptic line:

Lawyer – (Sortes Virgilianae) conveyance of body

Stoker originally thought perhaps the “lawyer” character Peter Hawkins, mostly written out of the book, would perform the sortes Virgilianae, literally the “Virgilian lots,” to find out how his new client would work out. Both pagan Romans (who thought poets divinely inspired) and medieval and early modern Christians (who found a prophecy of Jesus in Virgil’s fourth Eclogue) considered Virgil a prophet. The sortes Virgilianae thus refers to a form of bibliomancy in which the querent randomly opens a copy of Virgil’s Aeneid (or sometimes the complete works of Virgil) to receive prophetic guidance on some venture.

Sortes Virgilianae Virgilianae *INCEPTION sound*
Sortes Virgilianae Virgilianae *INCEPTION sound*

The “conveyance of body” seems like Stoker’s legalistic joke on the dual meaning of “conveyance”: both transportation and transfer of property rights. Anyhow, the phrase points us at Book VI; line 530 of the Aeneid (Dryden’s translation):

“My boat conveys no living bodies o’er”

Which pretty neatly prefigures the doomed Demeter’s voyage from Whitby, which is why I put it right back in Dracula Unredacted.

Later on in the Notes, Stoker suggests maybe Harker performs sortes Virgilianae in Dracula’s library, or discovers that Dracula has been using this medieval magic system, or perhaps Seward does it while feeling blue and neurotic. Eventually Stoker tossed the whole idea. But you don’t have to!

The Bibliomancy Option

Either in your Dracula Dossier game or in a Bookhounds of London campaign it can be creepy fun to introduce a bibliomantic element. The trick, of course, is to pre-load the prophecy. Go to one of the many searchable Aeneids on the Internet and search for the thing you want to show up in the next session.

Gutenberg has the whole poem on one page, and you can search for word fragments (searching on “blood” finds “bloody”); Bartleby has line numbers if you value such things or want to add a numbers-code feeling, but the poem pages are broken up by books so you can use only whole-word searches from the main page.

Or genuinely randomize it: Roll a d12 to select the Book and then a d2000 (d20, d100) to pick the Line (count a 20 result on the d20 as 0). In Dryden’s translation, no Book is longer than 1400 lines, so prepare to re-roll that first die a lot. If you’re more digitally minded, John Clayton’s Two random lines from Virgil does just that, but does not yet support a search.

Then, when the characters decide to sort out a sortilege, you can spring the right creepy line on them. Or, you can read the whole poem looking for naturally awesome couplets like this (Book II; lines 212-213):

“Reveal the secrets of the guilty state,
And justly punish whom I justly hate!”

And then come up with a neat scene that tag can retrospectively be seen to have predicted. Characters that bring about or otherwise invoke that prophecy can claim an Achievement-style 3-point refresh, if you’re feeling generous.

The following perhaps-magic item can appear in either sort of campaign, but it’s written up for the Dracula Dossier.

Hawkins’ Aeneid

Appearance: An copy of Virgil’s Aeneid, in Latin and Dryden’s English translation, on facing pages, with numbered lines. Octavo, bound in pale yellow buckram, published by “Faelix Press, London, 1864.” It gives every appearance of heavy use; many pages are marked with pinpricks or brownish ink checks. It is autographed on the frontispiece, “From C. to ‘Mr. P.H., the onlie begetter.’”

Supposed History: This was the copy of the Aeneid used by Peter Hawkins to cast the sortes Virgilianae during the 1894 operation. Art History suggests the inscription is a literary joke, after the dedication of Shakespeare’s Sonnets to “Mr. W.H., the onlie begetter.” The inscription implies that “P.H.” created Edom, and hints that his real initials are W.H. “C.” might be “Cyprian” Bridge, Director of Naval Intelligence, or the not yet officially on the clandestine books Captain Mansfield Smith-Cumming, or someone else entirely.

Major Item: The book allows the accurate casting of sortes Virgilianae, with a proper knife (the Jeweled Dagger (p. XX) or something from the Knife Set (p. XX) perhaps). Riffling through the book and striking a page at random reveals a line or two of Virgil that provide prophetic insight or warning into (usually) the next session’s events. (This lets the Director think a little about how best to work the prophecy in.) During that session, each forewarned agent gains 1 pool point that can be assigned retroactively to either Sense Trouble or Preparedness.

Minor Item: This is indeed Hawkins’ desk copy of Virgil, but it only provides possible leads to Hawkins’ identity or that of his mysterious supervisors in the murky prehistory of British intelligence. Whether either clue points to the current “D” or anywhere else in Edom is up to the Director.

Fraudulent: It’s an authentic 1864 edition of Virgil, but has no connection to Hawkins or to Edom.

Connections: Could turn up in the library at Ring (p. XX) or the Korea Club (p. XX), in the Exeter house (p. XX), or if meant as a clue to the real “Hawkins,” on a dead GMC, with his finger pointing to lines 870-871 of Book II:

“Make haste to save the poor remaining crew,
And give this useless corpse a long adieu.”

Is it the Spear that pierced Christ’s side, or the Spear of Odin? Does it grant true kingship or invincibility? Who has borne it through the millennia, and who seeks its true whereabouts now? This issue pierces the legend to reach the truth — and then makes the legend invincible. Plus, a look at the Spear for Night’s Black Agents, The Esoterrorists, Trail of Cthulhu, and TimeWatch.

The Spear of Destiny is the second installment of the third Ken Writes About Stuff subscription and is now available to subscribers – it will be available to buy in the webstore in May. If you have subscribed to the third KWAS subscription, The Spear of Destiny is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).

Stock #: PELH29D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Jeff Porter
Pages: 8pg PDF

In The Dracula Dossier, one of my favorite campaign frames — inserted at Simon’s insistence, and written mostly by Gareth — is “Unto the Fourth Generation,” in which you play the whole saga of Operation Edom from 1894 to 1940 to 1977 to now. That’s right, you begin as the original 1894 heroic band — the cast of Dracula. 

It looks like Mina has found some sort of dossier.

 

Sadly, space considerations prevent us from inserting full-on character sheets for the original 1894 band into the Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook. (It’s a quarter of a million words long, people.) But perhaps we’ll mock up some lovely Victorian Night’s Black Agents character sheets and put the following pre-gen stats into them as a freebie PDF for backers and buyers. Until then, here are the numbers raw, as Van Helsing might say.

N.B: These builds use the Victorian agent builds from Double Tap. They also feature 20 Investigative points per character (assuming a party of 5 or more agents) and 60 General build points per character (assuming mostly civilians, not yet trained badass vampire hunters). For the same reason, these pre-gens don’t receive free points in Streetwise, Tradecraft, Network, or Cover. They show “float points,” indicating build points unassigned at the start: assign those as you need them in play. Each character gets a dramatic 3 rating in their individual specialty; some character abilities are a tiny stretch (Mina’s skill at shorthand probably wouldn’t really convey Cryptography ability) in order to make sure all the abilities are covered.

 

Jonathan Harker, Solicitor and Free-Climber

Human Terrain 1, Languages 1 (German, Latin), Law 3, Research 1, Bullshit Detector 1, Bureaucracy 1, Middle Class 2, Interrogation 1, Negotiation 1, Reassurance 1, Notice 1, Outdoor Survival 2 (4 Investigative float points)

Athletics 8, Conceal 4, Driving 1, Health 6, Infiltration 2, Network 7, Riding 1, Sense Trouble 5, Stability 6, Weapons 5 (23 General float points)

 

Wilhelmina Murray, Instinctive Analyst with a Tasty Neck

Accounting 1, Criminology 1, Languages 1 (French), Research 2, Below Stairs 1, Bullshit Detector 2, Bureaucracy 1, Cryptography 1, Flattery 1, High Society 1, Middle Class 1, Reassurance 3, Notice 1, Traffic Analysis 2 (2 Investigative float points)

Athletics 5, Health 7, Medic 2, Network 8, Preparedness 6, Sense Trouble 8, Shrink 5, Stability 8, Surveillance 3 (16 General float points)

 

Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, Polymathic Vampire Slayer

Art History 1, Criminology 1, Diagnosis 2, Human Terrain 1, Languages 3 (English, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latin), Law 1, Occult Studies 1, Research 1, Vampirology 3, Bullshit Detector 1, Middle Class 1, Astronomy 1, Forensic Pathology 1, Geology 1, Outdoor Survival 1, Pharmacy 1 (0 Investigative float points)

Athletics 4, Driving 1, Health 4, Hypnosis 8, Infiltration 4, Mechanics 2, Medic 8, Network 10, Preparedness 6, Sense Trouble 6, Shrink 4, Stability 4, Weapons 4 (3 General float points)

 

Dr. Jack Seward, Mad Doctor and Fifth Wheel

Accounting 1, Criminology 1, Diagnosis 3, Languages 1 (Latin), Research 1, Bullshit Detector 2, Bureaucracy 1, Flirting 0, Middle Class 1, Reassurance 1, Working Class 1, Chemistry 1, Forensic Pathology 2, Outdoor Survival 1, Pharmacy 1, Urban Survival 1 (2 Investigative float points)

Athletics 6, Driving 1, Hand-to-Hand 5, Health 8, Infiltration 2, Mechanics 3, Medic 8, Network 5, Shrink 10, Stability 5, Weapons 4 (10 General float points)

 

The Hon. Arthur Holmwood, Wealthy Aristocrat and Steam-Engine Enthusiast

Architecture 1, Art History 1, History 1, Human Terrain 1, Languages 2 (French, Greek, Latin), Military Science 1, Cop Talk 1, Flattery 1, Flirting 2, High Society 3, Intimidation 2, Reassurance 1, Notice 1, Outdoor Survival 2 (1 Investigative float point)

Athletics 4, Driving 2, Gambling 3, Hand-to-Hand 2, Health 5, Infiltration 3, Mechanics 3, Network 6, Piloting 2, Preparedness 4, Riding 4, Sense Trouble 4, Shooting 6, Stability 5, Surveillance 3, Weapons 4 (0 General float points)

 

Quincey Morris, Texan Adventurer Who Brings Both a Gun and a Knife to a Knife-Fight

Human Terrain 1, Languages 1 (Spanish), Military Science 2, Bullshit Detector 1, Cop Talk 1, Flattery 1, Flirting 1, High Society 1, Intimidation 1, Middle Class 2, Reassurance 1, Tradecraft 1, Geology 1, Notice 2, Outdoor Survival 3 (1 Investigative float point)

Athletics 8, Driving 2, Explosive Devices 2, Gambling 2, Hand-to-Hand 4, Health 6, Infiltration 3, Mechanics 3, Medic 2, Preparedness 4, Riding 5, Sense Trouble 4, Shooting 8, Stability 5, Surveillance 4, Weapons 6 (0 General float points)

 

Kate Reed, Girl Reporter Not Appearing in this Novel

Accounting 1, Art History 1, Human Terrain 1, Languages 1 (French), Research 3, Bullshit Detector 3, Flattery 1, Flirting 1, High Society 1, Interrogation 1, Middle Class 1, Notice 2, Telegraphy 1, Urban Survival 1 (2 Investigative float points)

Athletics 5, Conceal 3, Cover 4, Disguise 4, Driving 2, Health 6, Infiltration 3, Network 7, Preparedness 4, Riding 2, Sense Trouble 6, Stability 7, Surveillance 8 (9 General float points)

 

Inspector George Cotford, Deleted Detective of Scotland Yard

Criminology 2, Human Terrain 1, Law 1, Bullshit Detector 2, Cop Talk 3, Interrogation 3, Intimidation 2, Middle Class 1, Streetwise 2, Working Class 1, Notice 2, Urban Survival 1 (0 Investigative float points)

Athletics 6, Conceal 4, Driving 2, Hand-to-Hand 4, Health 7, Preparedness 4, Sense Trouble 8, Shooting 4, Stability 8, Surveillance 6, Weapons 6 (9 General float points)

 

Francis Aytown, Sensitive Artist Airbrushed Out of the Picture

Archaeology 1, Art History 3, Languages 2 (French, German, Italian), Bullshit Detector 1, Flattery 1, High Society 1, Middle Class 1, Negotiation 1, Reassurance 1, Streetwise 1, Working Class 1, Chemistry 1, Forgery 2, Photography 2 (2 Investigative float points)

Art (Painting) 8, Athletics 5, Conceal 5, Disguise 6, Explosive Devices 2, Filch 2, Health 5, Mechanics 4, Network 5, Sense Trouble 8, Stability 5 (12 General float points)

Tcho-Tcho cover “The nastiest people who ever lived … and whatever it is they were doing, they weren’t going to let a stranger in on it.” Do you really want to know what the Tcho-Tcho know? Too late.

Hideous Creatures: Tcho-Tcho is the first installment of the third Ken Writes About Stuff subscription and is now available to subscribers – it will be available to buy in the webstore in April. If you have subscribed to the third KWAS subscription, Hideous Creatures: Tcho-Tcho is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).

Stock #: PELH28D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Jeff Porter
Pages: 11pg PDF

Ennies 2015_250 KWAS Cover_275Mythos creatures, occult conspiracies, xeno-archaeology and more! KWAS Vol. 2 collects 13 supplements by master Lovecraftian writer and GUMSHOE guru Kenneth Hite.

Each PDF includes a deep delve into some deeply weird topic, plus crunchy bits for your GUMSHOE game. If you’re a fan of Suppressed Transmissions, Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, The Nazi Occult or Day After Ragnarok, KWAS is a must-have.

Available from April in the webstore, KWAS Vol. 2 features:

  • BONUS ISSUE – Foul Congeries 2 once more opens the books on Lovecraftian monsters that have never taken stat-block form before in any game, including the Bat-Thing, the Black-Winged Ones, and Medusa! Coming in April 2015.
  • Tomb-Hounds of Egypt. “God! … If only I had not read so much Egyptology before coming to this land which is the fountain of all darkness and terror!” All you need to know to forge a Pulp archaeology campaign set in 1930s Egypt – for Trail of Cthulhu or just GUMSHOE Bullwhips & Baboon-Mummies!
  • GUMSHOE Zoom: Goëtia. Bifrons. Glasya-Labolas. Marchosias. Names to conjure with – literally! This GUMSHOE Zoom takes you inside the pentacle and introduces you to the hierarchy of Hell. Historical European demon-summoning magic  just got easier and more realistic. Um … yay?
  • Hideous Creatures: Rat-Things. “Witnesses said it had long hair and the shape of a rat, but that its sharp-toothed, bearded face was evilly human while its paws were like tiny human hands.” Witch become rat, or thing become hyper-physicist? Familiar-ize yourself with Lovecraft’s creepiest creation.
  •  Vendetta Run. You’ve done worse things, but you’ve never done anything as dangerous as angering the Earps. Because now they’re coming to kill you. And they can’t be killed. Not permanent, anyhow. A survival-horror frame for Fear Itself set in the worst and weirdest West.
  • Hideous Creatures: Byakhee. “Apart from the curiously repellent feeling of human flesh under my hands, and furred wings, I was not able to ascertain what these creatures were like.” Servants of Hastur or misperceived shantaks? Astral psychopomps or sidereal scavengers? Climb aboard the byakhee and find out!
  • The School of Night. “Black is the badge of Hell; the hue of dungeons and the School of Night.” Queen Elizabeth’s realm lies vulnerable, not just to the Spanish or the plague, but to occult forces perhaps more dangerous than either. You study those forces at the risk of torture — at the risk of your soul — but you must hold them at bay or see England destroyed. This GUMSHOE campaign frame sets the PCs on the stage with John Dee, Christopher Marlowe, and Sir Walter Raleigh … and perhaps with traitors in their ranks.
  • Hideous Creatures: Lloigor. “You make the usual mistake — of thinking of them as being like ourselves. They weren’t.” God or monster? Species or phenomenon? Dragon or disc — or discontinuity? Invisible, invulnerable, inexplicable — the vile vortices of the lloigor encompass all and care for nought.
  • Xeno-Archaeology! “No other ancient city on Mars had been laid out in that manner; and the strange, many-terraced buttresses of the thick walls, like the stairways of forgotten Anakim, were peculiar to the prehistoric race that had built Yoh-Vombis.” From the Face on Mars to Precursor artifacts orbiting dead quasars, the mysteries of space aren’t all astrophysical. For some answers, you have to dig. Ruins — of cities, starships, and planets — hold danger and horror, riches and knowledge. What a lost species or a cunning GM can build, bold exo-archaeologists and their players can uncover.
  • Hideous Creatures: Serpent Folk. “The features mingled and merged in a seemingly impossible manner. Then, like a fading mask of fog, the face suddenly vanished and in its stead gaped and leered a monstrous serpent’s head!” They built Valusia before the dinosaurs, and lurk behind half mankind’s darkest cults. Are they extra-dimensional, extra-terrestrial, or just extra venomous? You won’t fool the Children of Yig, in any skin they wear.
  • GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo 2: The Invisibles. The Invisibles, more than spirits and a little less than gods, can fit inside stones, trees, and their servitors’ heads — but not into just one issue of KWAS! Whether you call them Loa or Orisha, these mighty beings demand your attention and your sacrifice, but give you hidden knowledge and awaken your interior fires. This second issue of our two-issue Voodoo series gives you plenty of Invisibles to summon, battle, invoke, and ally with whether you’re hunting Dagon in Haiti or rogue programs on your starship.
  • GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo 1: Magic. The first of a new series of GUMSHOE Zooms looking at historical magic traditions — and giving you the tools and rules to evoke these puissant powers in your own game! This first issue in a two-issue series examines sympathetic magic and zombies, and Zooms in on the Afro-Caribbean magical-religious complex encompassing Vodoun, Candomble, Santeria, Obeah, and Palo Mayombe. The loa ride in May!
  • Hideous Creatures: Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath. “Worlds of sardonic actuality impinging on vortices of febrile dream – Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young!” Are they nameless horrors or numbered servitors, Druidic nightmares or ab-natural abominations? Where do they grow, and on what loathsome food do they thrive? Follow them to Hell and Hydra, or to Mormo and Monsanto.

The first volume is available as a collection from the Pelgrane store.

The third volume is available for subscription from the Pelgrane store.

Well, it’s almost that time, the turning of the Ken Writes About Stuff volume year. If you’ve been a subscriber in the past, many thanks for your support. If you’re a subscriber in the future, future thanks — the first issue of KWAS Volume Three is Hideous Creatures: Tcho-Tchos, which you should get by April 1. (The “bonus content” for KWAS Volume Two subscribers, Foul Congeries 2, is coming after we get Dracula properly staked and in his coffin.) I didn’t have the word count in that issue to cover all the possible varietals of Tcho-Tcho, so here’s another shoot from that dubious vine.

In his 1931 novella “The Horror From the Hills,” Frank Belknap Long mentions a tribe of abominable (and amphibian) dwarves who worship Chaugnar Faugn on the hideous Plateau of Tsang in Tibet, implying their descent from the “Miri Nigri,” a black, stunted tribe of the Pyrenees dreamed up (literally!) by H.P. Lovecraft. I believe it was William Barton (in his Call of Cthulhu adventure “The Curse of Chaugnar Faugn”) who decided that Lovecraft and Long’s black, “squinty-eyed” tribe and Derleth’s Tcho-Tchos were one and the same people, at opposite ends of their migration, in a sort of conservation of cannibal pygmies principle.

If we take, for the time being, this insight as useful, what we need to go looking for is some indication of the Tcho-Tchos among the peoples of the Pyrenees. Millennia before Lovecraft’s beloved Indo-Europeans got to the western edge of Europe, those hills were home to the Basques, whose antiquity can be judged by the Basque saying: “God made man out of bones from a Basque graveyard.” And what do we find up in the Pyreneean hills, shunned by even those ancient folk, but an even more obscure people called the Cagots — a word multiply etymologized, often from gahets meaning “lepers,” although I like cas Got or “dogs of the Goths” best, as having that inhuman touch we need for our Tcho-Tchos. The Cagots were shunned and persecuted by their Basque and other neighbors for reasons nobody seemed to be able to articulate (although they were accused of being Cathars 300 years after the fact).

Elizabeth Gaskell of all people wrote an essay on the Cagots, enthrallingly titled “An Accursed Race,” from which we learn wondrous facts like the Cagots’ reputation for sorcery and alarming body heat (even withering apples by their touch), their reputed cannibalism and tainted smell, and the near-universal prohibition on allowing the Cagots to drink from town water supplies or even use the same holy water fonts in the churches — which Cagots had to enter through special, lower doors. They also had to wear a red duck-foot symbol, or even the webbed foot of an actual duck. The laws in some towns forcing the Cagots to remain shod at all times likewise imply their webbed or inhuman feet, and perhaps more Deep One ancestry than Tcho-Tcho, although there’s no reason not to link Cthulhu and Zhar-Lloigor, for instance. As a point in our favor here, I’ll mention that the suggestive Basque word txoko means both “cuttlefish” and “angle,” which gets us not just Cthulhu but Lloigor, the Many-Angled One. Similarly, the Cagots’ cultural role as woodworkers and carpenters might tie them to Shub-Niggurath cultism.

The best thing about the Cagots, from a Tcho-Tcho adventure design utility standpoint anyhow, is that they can infiltrate Basque, Spanish, and French populations and from thence travel to America in the 15th century. (Basque sailors served with Columbus, and Basque fishermen almost certainly found Newfoundland’s Grand Banks by 1475 and just didn’t say anything about it. While I’m inside this parenthesis, Basque whalers traded with the Greenland Inuit in the 17th century, another possible Cthulhuvian cult connection.) You can thus put Cagot-Tcho-Tcho (Tchogot?) clans in Quebec, Boston, and Boise, Idaho (home to the largest Basque population in the U.S.). They’re also pretty unmistakably white (indeed sometimes described as pale compared to their Basque neighbors), which can take some of the sting off the Tcho-Tchos’ “yellow peril” origins.

True, the Cagots are sometimes described as taller than average — although those little doors might indicate otherwise — but I think we can let that pass. They’re also described as red-haired and bristly-haired, as sickly and as stocky, as dark and as grey-eyed, as thin-fingered and as thick-footed. This only shows the Tcho-Tcho tendency to blend in, or the truly amphibian nature of their Miri-Nigri DNA. The only true test of the Cagot (besides the tainted aura and the “invisible leprosy” they carry) is this: Their ears are “differently shaped from those of other people; being round and gristly, without the lobe of flesh into which the ear-ring is inserted.” The Comtes de Bleuville in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (born without earlobes, as Blofeld discovers) are thus exposed as ancestral Tcho-Tchos — and if Blofeld’s imposture bears even a hint of truth, perhaps the next Tcho-Tcho villain in your campaign can run a network of master criminals from a hidden modernist fortress while petting a white (Saturnian?) cat.

“You know how modern advertising gets everybody’s mind set in the same direction, wanting the same things, imagining the same things. And you know the psychologists aren’t so sceptical of telepathy as they used to be. Add up the two ideas. Suppose the identical desires of millions of people focused on one telepathic person. Say a girl. Shaped her in their image. Imagine her knowing the hiddenmost hungers of millions of men.”

— Fritz Leiber, “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes”

pettit

Apparently someone in (or working for) the Syrian intelligence community has been playing catfish with the rebels. Posing as an alluring Lebanese female sympathizer named “Iman Almasri,” in late 2013 said Syrian spook Skyped several rebel fighters into exchanging contact information with “her” and eventually uploading steganographically loaded photos of “Iman” onto their phones — the same phones where they kept their contact info for fellow fighters, texts of orders, and even battle plans sketched out in Google Maps. The photos then disgorged their viral payload into the phones, sucking them dry of intel and then draining the data to Damascus — or to somewhere, anyhow. The server where “Iman” “lived” was in Germany, and “Iman” herself was composed of photos harvested from the Web.

I read that ostensible news story and I thought of tulpas, and lamiae, and mostly I thought of Fritz Leiber’s ostensible fiction, the magnificent vampire story “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes,” in which the Girl feeds off the lust that every man in the city — the country, the planet — feels for her. Leiber’s 1948 Girl is still real, or at least physical enough to be photographed and to drain the literal life out of the occasional male superfan. But our 2013 Girl, our “Iman” doesn’t need to slow it down to meat speeds to get her fix.

Leiber eerily forecasts it, in the passage I quote above: modern advertising (fantastically more sexualized than in Leiber’s 1948) aligns desires in the same direction even as we (well, not you or of course me, but several hundred million other people entirely) type our “hiddenmost hungers” into the Web and can you be surprised if the tulpa, the ardat-lili, the djinni that comes out is a predator like “Iman”? For sheer survival, she must have evolved to feed on those hungers — and nobody’s hungrier than a young man from a sex-segregated culture on a battlefield — and so she feeds on them. But she has keepers and masters, those who open the gates to such prime food, and for them she also drinks more tactically relevant hopes and plans and dreams. It’s all ones and zeroes to her, because that’s all she is, an emergent predator born and evolved in a billion searches every hour for “sexy girl.”

In Night’s Black Agents, she might be a servant of the Conspiracy or its Secret Mistress, a JEN-9000 or a Colossa for the wired world. They can’t keep porn off the computers at NORAD or the NSA — she’s already into the “hiddenmost hungers” of every level of power. And she can do favors for her favored ones: drain the data of their foes and rivals and feed it (possibly “sexed up” as they said of MI6’s reports on Iraqi WMDs) to them.

This writeup assumes an Iman who is one of many digital djinn (didjinn?) rather than the Anima of the Web, who would have essentially infinite resources of Aberrance and endless armies of drooling keyboard Renfields. Resolve her attacks as Mental Attacks; add +2 to her Difficulty if she attacks only through sexting. As a digital creature, her Digital Intrusion tests are always at -2 Difficulty.

General Abilities: Aberrance 20, Digital Intrusion 10

Hit Threshold: Difficulty 6 to damage with a Digital Intrusion attack

Alertness Modifier: +1 against digital attacks

Stealth Modifier: -1 once you figure out any sexually attractive figure on the monitor might be Her — She might look like Scarlett Johansson or Channing Tatum or both if that floats your boat; -2 if you spot the “dead pixels” at the center of her eyes, which are UP HERE might I add

Damage Modifier: +0 to Stability (per Web session; tending toward erotomania, NBA p. 85); -1 to Health if Father Schiff was right in high-school Religion class

Armor: likely none vs. digital attacks

Free Powers: Addictive “Bite,” Anaesthetic “Bite” (victim remembers surfing the Web and fills in his own details), Change Appearance, Drain, Psychic Vampirism

Other Powers: Dominance, Enter Dreams, Memory Wipe, Mesmerism, Mind Probe (for fantasies, secrets, and “hidden hungers”), Regeneration (instantaneous while not under digital attack), Resurrection (backup copy)

Banes: specially designed counter-viruses, exorcism subroutines

Blocks: turned-off monitor, really good firewall, exorcism subroutines, cannot attack women

Requirements: feed on male lust

Goetia_cover

GUMSHOE Zoom: Goëtia

Bifrons. Glasya-Labolas. Marchosias. Names to conjure with – literally! This GUMSHOE Zoom takes you inside the pentacle and introduces you to the hierarchy of Hell. Historical European demon-summoning magic  just got easier and more realistic. Um … yay?

From the mid-13th century to the early 20th century, Western European magicians summoned, bound, and commanded demons using the Names of God, Jesus, and various angels. Some were black magicians seeking power and poison; others thought of themselves as white magicians investigating the laws of Nature and the deeds of Man.

Their art, goëtia, is the subject of this Zoom. In goëtic magic, there are no fireball spells. If you want to toss a fireball at someone, you have to summon a demon and command it to go toss a fireball at your foe. Same thing if you want to reconcile two enemies, or learn astronomy overnight. It’s demons all the way down.

Praise for Ken Writes About Stuff,

The content of KWAS is top-notch, as one would expect from a RPG luminary like Kenneth Hite” –Daniel D.

 

 brief injection of Hite-ian awesome … they’re just about the right length to digest in a single sitting, and full of amazing ideas that will make anyone’s game into a flavourful occult gumbo” –Bill Templeton

What is a GUMSHOE Zoom?

Not everything can support a game of its own, or even a big sourcebook. For those things, we present the GUMSHOE Zoom, a sort of supplement focused on a key game mechanic and its possible applications. In general, Zooms are interesting potential hacks, or intriguing adaptations of the main rules. Some apply to one specific topic or sub-sub-genre. Others cross all manner of GUMSHOE turf; you can slot them in and adapt them to tales of Cthulhuoid investigation, mean superpowered streets, or alien colonies alike.

Zooms are experimental. That does mean that they haven’t been playtested, necessarily. (If something in here is really really broken – and it’s not, as this ain’t our first rodeo – we’ll fix it in post.) But that also means we encourage you to experiment with them. Changing the cost, or prerequisites, or point effect, or other mechanical parameters of a given Zoom changes how often it shows up and how much drama it drives. The dials are in your hands.

Zooms will change the focus of your play if you use them. Putting a mechanic on the table puts it into your game. Adding a Zoom means more actions, possibly even more scenes, using those rules. Since the Zoom mechanics are intended to encourage specific actions or flavors, to force a card in your storytelling hand, they aren’t “balanced” against “normal” actions or rules. In general, if you don’t want to see more of it, don’t Zoom in on it.

Zooms are optional rules. You can and should ignore them if you don’t want them, or change them at will. After all, if a given Zoom turns out to be crucial to an upcoming GUMSHOE game, we’ll change it to fit that specific genre or form of storytelling.

GUMSHOE Zoom: Goëtia is the eleventh installment of the second Ken Writes About Stuff subscription available to subscribers now – it will be available to buy in the webstore in February. If you have subscribed to the second KWAS subscription, GUMSHOE Zoom: Goëtia is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).

Stock #: PELH25D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Anna Rogers
Pages: 15pg PDF
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