Can’t find the specific issue of Ken Writes About Stuff you’re looking for, or keen to make sure you’ve got all the GUMSHOE Zooms? Here’s the complete list of all the individual issues, which you can buy in the webstore.

  • Alchemy. (Volume 3) Chemistry or magic? Madness or miracles? Poison or power? Blend all those elements — and more — with Alchemy, the latest Zoom in on a historical magic system for GUMSHOE gaming. Operating at every level from the base dungeon-crawl to the Awakened Working, this magic system gives you the secrets of matter — and maybe a touch of mercury poisoning. Add to basket
  • Bast. (Volume 3) “What fully civilised soul but would eagerly serve as high priest of Bast?” She Who Scratches, the Lady of the Ointment Jar, the great cat-goddess of nighted Khem comes alive in all her varied forms: as a Trail of Cthulhu titan (complete with her monstrous Brood of Bubastis), mysterious Ashen Stars entity, TimeWatch cult leader, and 13th Age Icon. Good kitty!
  • Die Glocke. (Volume 1) According to the legend, in 1944 the SS built a mysterious device deep in a Silesian mine shaft. Its bell-like shape gave it the nickname “die Glocke,” or “the Bell,” but the purpose of “Project Lantern-Bearer” remains a mystery to this day. Was it a time machine? A zero-point energy generator? A gateway to another world? Die Glocke cuts through the legend to the truth — and then piles on a bunch more legend. Plus, a look at “die Glocke” as a Night’s Black Agents node, a Trail of Cthulhu seed, or an Esoterrorist black site.
  • GUMSHOE Zoom: Goëtia. (Volume 2Bifrons. 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?
  • GUMSHOE Zoom: Martial Arts. (Volume 1) From Muay Thai’s ruthless “eight-point” technique, to swift and deadly Aikido, or plain-old pugilism, this Zoom features new rules and options for any GUMSHOE setting. This Zoom includes nine styles of martial arts, both armed and unarmed, rules for customization, and The Way Of The GUMSHOE.
  • GUMSHOE Zoom: Mind Control. (Volume 1) You are growing very interested. This is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful GUMSHOE Zoom I’ve ever known in my life. Presenting detailed rules for brainwashing, memetics, telecontrol, and brain hacking, and for gear from the Microwave Auditory Effect gun to subliminal flashers to tinfoil hats, it brings the fight inside your head
  • GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo 1: Magic. (Volume 2The 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!
  • GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo 2: The Invisibles. (Volume 2) 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.
  • Hideous Creatures: Byakhee. (Volume 2)“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!
  • Hideous Creatures: Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath. (Volume 2“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.
  • Hideous Creatures: Deep Ones. (Volume 1) This dives deep into the myth of the batrachian denizens of Innsmouth. Are they human hybrids, or alien implants? Telepaths or psychopaths? Mermaids or monstrosities? From the legends of the Japanese kappa to the “kulullu” carved on the walls of Babylon, the spoor of the Deep Ones lingers everywhere.
  • Hideous Creatures: Ghouls. (Volume 1) “These figures were seldom completely human, but often approached humanity in varying degree.” Charnel predators, or changeling denizens of Dream? Follow their tunnels from the sands of Arabia to the catacombs of Paris — or just stay in Boston for some fine New England cuisine!
  • Hideous Creatures: Great Race of Yith. (Volume 3)“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: Hounds of Tindalos. (Volume 1) They are lean and athirst! Frank Belknap Long’s greatest creations emerge from the angles of time, slavering and frumious. Are they hell-hounds, haunts, or cold equations? Track the Tindlosi spoor through prehistory and posthumanity, from the Wild Hunt to Cerberus and the howl of Garm.
  • Hideous Creatures: Hunting Horror. (Volume 3) “I see it—coming here—hell-wind—titan blur—black wings—Yog-Sothoth save me—the three-lobed burning eye. . . .” Avatar or servitor, this winged and coiling horror haunts the dark and hunts those who seek it out. Shine a little light on this most shadowy of creatures!
  • Hideous Creatures: Lloigor. (Volume 2)“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.
  • Hideous Creatures: Mi-Go. (Volume 1) “As to what the things were — explanations naturally varied.” So are described the fungi from Yuggoth, the half-crustacean haunters of the hillside, the malevolent alien miners … are also opponents of the Yellow Sign and tireless questers for science. And that’s just one story! Are they servants of Nyarlathotep or fellow sentients trapped in a hellish cosmos? Listen for their whispers in tales of kobolds and kallikanzarai, look for their traces in Himalayan snows and heartland crop circles.
  • Hideous Creatures: Rat-Things. (Volume 2)“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.
  • Hideous Creatures: Serpent Folk. (Volume 2“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.
  • Hideous Creatures: Shoggoth. (Volume 1) Infinitely plastic and ductile — slaves of suggestion, builders of cities — more and more sullen … intelligent … amphibious … and imitative! If something can take any shape, what is its true nature? Are the shoggoths slave machines or biotech Singularity? Are they one or many? Tekeli-li!
  • Hideous Creatures: Star Vampires. (Volume 1) “The human blood on which it had fed revealed the hitAre they summoned demons or feral predators? Are they kindred or competitors to Colin Wilson’s Space Vampires? Herein we therto invisible outlines of the feaster.” Invisible outlines that shall be expanded upon, extended even, into all sorts of dimensions. race the Shambler From the Stars, with bonus Night’s Black Agents statistics and a scenario seed.
  • Hideous Creatures: Tcho-Tcho. (Volume 3) “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: Wendigo. (Volume 3)” In spite of his exceeding mental perturbation, Simpson struggled hard to detect its nature, and define it …” Cannibal spirit or arctic ogre? Wind-walking demigod or folie a faim? Hunt the Wendigo down — or up into the skies, where mad auroras roll.
  • Las Vegas: 1968. (Volume 3) takes you to Sin City in the heyday of Howard Hughes and the Rat Pack, the mob and the Mormons, the fear and the loathing. Everything’s for sale and nothing’s for certain, except the house wins. Featuring happening hooks for vampire conspiracies, esoterrorism, and FALL OF DELTA GREEN Mythos machinations!
  • Lilith. (Volume 1) “Satan here held his Babylonish court, and in the blood of stainless childhood the leprous limbs of phosphorescent Lilith were laved.” Lilith as Queen of the Vampires, Lady of the Night — or as First Rebel and First Heroine? We look at the many faces of Lilith, as a Trail of Cthulhu titan (Elder Goddess or Great Old One), Night’s Black Agents vampire queen, Mutant City Blues super-Typhoid Mary, and at her role in the center of the First Esoterror Operation.
  • Looking Glass: Mumbai. (Volume 1) We look at India’s mightiest metropolis, from its legendary crime syndicates to its glamorous movie colony — and we look beneath it, for vampires and conspiracies and Mythos maneuverings. A “Low and Slow” city setting for many possible GUMSHOE games.
  • Moon Dust Men. (Volume 1) President Eisenhower established Project Moon Dust in 1953 to locate, contain, and coordinate everything known about the alien presence on Earth. The public-relations and open-source arm of Moon Dust was called Project Blue Book. Blue Book ended its work in 1970. It is 1978. Your work never ends. This GUMSHOE campaign frame can be a sci-fi, conspiracy, or horror game – it’s up to you to find the truth.
  • Moon Dust Men: Galileo Uplift. (Volume 3) To fight aliens, one must use the alien. Take it apart, reverse-engineer it, rebuild it, turn it into armor and sensors and weapons and aircraft good enough to win a war against an enemy from the stars. Tech and gear for your high-powered MOON DUST MEN game, powered by a new GUMSHOE “tech tree” subystem for bootstrapping invention and development.
  • Moon Dust Men: MAJESTIC Overwatch. (Volume 3) The Moon Dust Men are the tip of the spear. MAJESTIC-12 aims it. Manage the global war against the aliens with this new GUMSHOE subsystem. Do you build retro-engineered Aurora craft, or bioroids to fight on the Moon? Do you launch satellite screens or dig in anti-saucer lasers? You decide where the black budget goes — and who it goes after.
  • Mutant City Spies. (Volume 3) Ten years after the ghost flu hit, the world is changed — but the secret world stays the same. Enemies of your country still plot, terrorists still scheme — but now they might have superpowers. An espionage-specops frame for Mutant City Blues takes the super fights into the shadows.
  • The School of Night. (Volume 2)“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.
  • The Spear of Destiny. (Volume 3) 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.
  • Tomb-Hounds of Egypt. (Volume 2) “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!
  • Unspeakable Cult: The Starry Wisdom. (Volume 3) We give the Hideous Creatures treatment not to one beast but to a whole cult — the “disliked and unorthodox Starry Wisdom sect.” Vile rites and terrifying symbolism unfold to shadow your Trail of Cthulhu game, along with alternate takes, investigative leads, possible echoes, and sinister scenario seeds.
  • Vendetta Run. (Volume 2You’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.
  • Xeno-Archaeology! (Volume 2“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.

Bast_350“What fully civilised soul but would eagerly serve as high priest of Bast?” She Who Scratches, the Lady of the Ointment Jar, the great cat-goddess of nighted Khem comes alive in all her varied forms: as a Trail of Cthulhu titan (complete with her monstrous Brood of Bubastis), mysterious Ashen Stars entity, TimeWatch cult leader, and 13th Age Icon. Good kitty!

Bast is the eleventh 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 February. If you have subscribed to the third KWAS subscription, Bast is now on the Subscriptions tab of your bookshelf.

Stock #: PELH38D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Melissa Gay
Pages: 12pg PDF

rockape

“Knowledge was knowledge a hundred thousand years ago, when our especial forbears were shambling about Asia as speechless semi-apes!”

— H.P. Lovecraft, “The Last Test”

It’s a new year, and time for the “Call of Chicago” column to seamlessly shift from endless iterations of Stuff We Left Out of The Dracula Dossier to endless iterations of Stuff We’re Probably Not Going To Have Room For in The Fall of Delta Green. You won’t even notice the difference!

The various peoples of Indochina tell national origin myths in which a hero displaces inhuman rulers – and inhabitants – of the land. The kings of Funan in Cambodia and Champa in central Vietnam both succeeded (and intermarried with) naga rulers, multi-headed snake beings. In northern Vietnam, their hero overthrew the Hung Kings, descendants of dragons and “mountain fairies.” In Laos, hideous giants laid down the Plain of Jars before being driven out. But what if some of these monstrous inhabitants remained for thousands of years, only to be started from their jungles by the new warrior heroes from Hanoi, Hue, and Houston? Might they not leave tracks in the historical record? Might they not leave … footprints?

Of the Reptile Kind

Or perhaps they leave trails … serpentine trails. We’ve already covered the ophidian naga and the almost as telling “dragon” of the Hung Kingdoms. These might refer to Cthulhu spawn of one or another kind, or to the Valusian serpent-people. The latter seems more likely when we read about a 1970 encounter about 30 miles south of the DMZ. A US squad on patrol discovers ruins of Cyclopean architecture (“stacked large stones and boulders”) near the entrance to a cave that seems artificially cut into the rock. A foul odor and opaque mist flood out, and the patrol waits until the serpent folk emerge:

“As it stood up from a crouch it stood at least 7 foot high and started to look in our direction. At that time, another similar-looking creature was moving out of the cave. They were making hellish ‘hissing’ sounds and looking directly at us.

The only way I can describe these beings is that they looked like upright lizards. The scaly, shiny skin was very dark – almost black. Snake-like faces with forward set eyes that were very large. They had arms and legs like a human but with scaly skin. I didn’t notice a tail – though they wore long one-piece dark green robes along with a dark cap-like covering on their heads.”

During the ensuing firefight, the two Reptoids vanish, perhaps turning invisible, rotating into another dimension, or rapidly eating and shapeshifting into two of the men. Eventually, the patrol close the cave entrance with explosives and return to base.

Explorers of Vietnam’s Son Doòng Cave (discovered in 1991 and opened to tourism in 2013) also report sighting reptilian humanoids (or humanoid reptiles) and similar “devil creatures.” One person has vanished in the cave, perhaps abducted by the things. Or perhaps just lost on the way to red-litten Yoth: Son Doòng is one of the largest cave systems in the world.

Furry Pre-Humans

US forces encounter “rock apes” numerous times in country, with varying results. Rock apes are reddish-brown, furry, upright humanoids, between three and five feet tall. They make “a noise that sounded just like dogs barking.” Some cryptozoologists believe they are gibbons, snub-nosed monkeys, langurs, or even (very lost) orangutangs; they may in fact be ghouls, voormis, or some unknown breed of Tcho-Tcho.

Some prime rock ape encounters include:

  • Near Chu Lai, June 1966: Marines ordered not to fire and expose their positions engage in a rock-throwing contest with “hairy, bipedal humanoids.”
  • A Shau Valley, 1967: Repeated attacks by rock apes emerging from caves on Firebase Rockpile.
  • Dong Den near Da Nang, May 1968: Marines and rock apes battle hand-to-hand after gunfire doesn’t stop the furry attackers. (Date also given as “early 1966.”)
  • Nui Mo Tau ridge, 1969: Hundreds of rock apes (“ghostly images swooshing around in bush and trees”) attack a 101st Airborne patrol. After the Airborne open fire and drive the rock apes off, “I searched the site and but found not a drop of blood, which totally amazed me given the amount of firing that had gone on.”
  • Quang Nam province, 1970: Another rock fight breaks out between a Marine Force Recon unit and at least 20 rock apes. “Those Apes started to come at us and we ran as fast as we could and we didn’t stop until we were out of the jungle.”

The rock apes’ more elusive cousins, the nguòi rùng (“forest men”) may be Lemurians, voormis, or just bigger ghouls. Their brown fur tends toward gray or black, not red; they are much taller (6’-8’) and generally less aggressive. Significant sightings occurred in 1947 and 1969, a Special Forces patrol in 1968 find one cut in half, and two sets of nguòi rùng footprints (11 inches and 18 inches) appear in 1970. In 1971, tribesmen from Dak Lak province capture a batutut, as they are also called. They haunt Vu Quang Forest in North Vietnam.

The Shining Ones

Another cluster of sightings seemingly has nothing in common – except that the bogeys all glow. They may be mi-go or mi-go constructs, servitors of the Shining Trapezohedron or the Shining Moon-Thing of Muria and Chau-te-leur, shoggoth extrusions, or imagos out of space or out of Dream.

The most salient Shining One sightings include:

  • Mekong Valley, December 1964: A squad of Special Forces on river patrol encounter three large (7-8 feet tall), yellow, glowing apelike beings “with flat faces, slits for noses and snake-like eyes.” The creatures have three clawed fingers and three clawed toes. The unit fire on the beings with weapons up to a Browning Automatic Rifle, with no effect except “twitching.” The US team retreat to their boat, but “before leaving they saw a strong powerful glow on the riverbank as if dozens of the creatures had gathered to watch them leave.” (The report no doubt mistakenly gives the year as “1974,” the year after US forces withdrew from Vietnam.)
  • Near the DMZ, late 1966: During a Viet Cong ambush of helicopter landing, an 8-foot tall giant “dressed perfectly” and wearing a sort of helmet kills a VC guerrilla, saving a US crewman. It has “an aura,” and speaks to the crewman in English (or telepathically).
  • Near the DMZ, October 1967: A six-man Long-Range Recon Patrol encounters a being with a long face and black eyes, emitting an eerie glow. One soldier fires a burst into its head, and “a brilliant blue syrupy fluid splattered the trees.” Using a Starlight scope, the patrol spots three lights in the sky. All the witnesses but two died in Vietnam.
  • Near Da Nang, summer 1969: Three soldiers on a bunker see a mysterious apparition above them:

“It looked like a woman. A naked woman. She was black. Her skin was black, her body was black, the wings were black, everything was black. But it glowed. It glowed in the night—kind of a greenish cast to it.

There was a glow on her and around her. Everything glowed. Looked like she glowed and threw off a radiance. We saw her arms toward the wings and they looked like regular molded arms, each with a hand, and, fingers and everything, but they had skin from the wings going over them. And when she flapped her wings, there was no noise at first. It looked like her arms didn’t have any bones in them, because they were limber just like a bat.”

The glowing moth-woman buzzes the team, as low as seven feet overhead, and then flies off after three minutes.

 

Alchemy_cover_350Chemistry or magic? Madness or miracles? Poison or power? Blend all those elements — and more — with Alchemy, the latest Zoom in on a historical magic system for GUMSHOE gaming. Operating at every level from the base dungeon-crawl to the Awakened Working, this magic system gives you the secrets of matter — and maybe a touch of mercury poisoning.

Alchemy is the tenth 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 January. If you have subscribed to the third KWAS subscription, Alchemy 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 #: PELH37D Author: Kenneth Hite
Release date: January 2016
Pages: 12pg PDF

“Behold a great Mystery which I reveal to you without an enigma; this is the secret of the two Mercuries which contain the two tinctures. Keep them separately, and do not confound their species, for fear they should beget a monstrous Lineage.”

— The Six Keys of Eudoxus (date unknown, first known publication 1689)

red_mercuryThe modern conspiracy-tale qua urban legend that is red mercury was born, most likely, in the hothouse world of smuggling and corruption that sustained the Brezhnevite Soviet Union. Although the “orthodox” version of red mercury was a sort of hyper-accelerant for nuclear explosives, or possibly an ultra-catalyst for implosive fusion, a 1993 Pravda exposé on the topic depicted red mercury as also (or alternatively) a key ingredient in Stealth technology or perhaps missile guidance systems. Supposedly a lattice-shaped isomer of mercury antimony oxide (Hg2Sb2O7), enhanced with or somehow containing radioactives (lutetium, or perhaps plutonium) and then bombarded with a particle beam, becomes capable of immense energy storage: “a bullet can sink a battleship, a baseball can destroy a city.” The “red” refers to its color, or its Soviet origin, or abbreviates “redistilled.” Although Samuel T. Cohen (among other things, the co-inventor of the neutron bomb) vouched for its existence, the general consensus is that “red mercury” was invented not as a super-weapon but as a super-scam, a means to separate desperate would-be nuclear nations and terror groups from their slush funds. One particularly recherché theory holds that it was deliberate disinformation jointly concocted by the CIA and KGB as a nonproliferation measure: get nuclear smugglers chasing a myth, and they wouldn’t chase plutonium.

Red mercury had a brief heyday in the early 1990s, when it appeared at the center of at least five murders associated with an Iraqi attempt to buy nuclear material from South Africa. (Fun fact: The South African Defense Forces shell company created to thwart (?) this ring was called “Delta G Scientific.” Really.) Osama bin Laden bought a cylinder of red mercury from a Sudanese general in 1993, for instance. Every year since then, one or two arms dealers, Russian Mafiya entrepreneurs, or needy dictatorships tries to buy red mercury (the going rate was $300,000 per kilo in 1997, up to $1.8 million in 2013) and usually gets scammed, which means someone usually gets dead. Where Iraq and al-Qaeda went in the 1990s, of course, ISIS goes today.

In a zingy read in the New York Times Magazine, C.J. Chivers follows the trail of red mercury through Syrian and Turkish middlemen, illuminating the contemporary form of this modern myth. Chivers re-tells the delightfully wild story from the late 2000s that Soviet engineers (during the “American occupation”) smuggled red mercury out of the country in Singer sewing machines, though doesn’t mention the Egyptian conspiracy tale that red mercury can be obtained by cutting the throats of mummies. The story also gives a few new details that should prick the thumbs of any Night’s Black Agents Director worth her salt. For example, Chivers quotes a smuggler named Safi al-Safi: “The most expensive type [of red mercury] is called Blood of the Slaves, which is the darkest type. Magicians use it to summon jinni.” Another smuggler, Faysal, says that red mercury or “spiritual mercury” can be found “in Roman graves.” And finally, the smugglers’ consensus is that “real red mercury is attracted to gold but repelled by garlic.”

Red Mercury Cylinder

“The most sharp Vinegar is the Red Mercury; but the better to determine these two mercuries, feed them with flesh of their own species — the blood of innocents whose throats are cut.”

— The Six Keys of Eudoxus

Which leads us not to a Thing We Left Out of the Dracula Dossier per se, but rather to one of the many many areas of modern mythology that the Dracula Dossier can comprise. Here, then, broken down as a proper Director’s Handbook Object, is that postmodern philosopher’s stone, Red Mercury.

Appearance

A dull gray cylinder about 30 cm long and 10 cm thick, marked with a radiation symbol. Cyrillic lettering on it reads Obrazets Noly — “Sample Zero.” When opened, it contains about 30 mL of radioactive material resembling thick red ink that flows and separates into drops like liquid mercury. Its density is 20.20 grams per cubic centimeter. Without testing the material, an Agent with Chemistry believes the substance could be mercury antimony oxide.

Supposed History

This is “hot” red mercury, the good stuff, straight from a Russian nuclear weapons lab. It might even be taken from the original 1965 test in the Dubna cyclotron, or just the “calibration batch” (easy to abstract, hard to miss) from a new program spun up under Putin. And there’s more where that came from. Tradecraft provides the information in the above paragraphs, and a 1-point Research spend leads the Agents to the New York Times Magazine story linked above and its intriguing garlic-related information. A 1-point Occult Studies spend leads to the Six Keys of Eudoxus, and to alchemy in general if that helps in your game.

Major Item

This is indeed red mercury, and the secret ingredient is Dracula’s blood, infused with mercury during his own lifetime as an alchemist. The Russian vampire program (DH, p. 76) figured out how to use particle beams to cibate the blood of Dracula into a mercury-antimony matrix (in KWAS: Alchemy terms, this is an Awakened Working of Vermilion + Sulfur), and the amazing effects of red mercury all follow from that:

  • Immense Explosive Power: The demonic strength of Dracula infuses red mercury: a Class 3 explosive requires only 3 g; a Class 4 explosive only 6 g; a Class 5 explosive only 12 g. Hand-loading red mercury into hollow-point rounds (~1 g per bullet) either increases bullet damage by +3 (and makes the bullet a bane to all lesser vampires) or (unmodified roll of 1) blows the gun up in your hand when fired (Class 2 explosion, +4 damage in debris range). Using red mercury requires a Difficulty 7 Explosive Devices test.
  • Chemical Weapon: A drop of red mercury added to chlorine creates a deadly cloud of vapor: if inhaled or exposed to an open wound, treat as injected tetrodotoxin (DH, p. 87). Garlic oil acts as an antidote.
  • Lifebane Bomb: Samuel Cohen believed that the Soviets built dozens of baseball-sized red mercury “neutron bombs” that required no fissile material to fuse their core of heavy water. With 150 g of red mercury (and either a very detailed schematic or a 2-point Physics spend), an explosives expert can make a lifebane bomb that acts as a Class 6 explosive. Dracula can command those killed by this bomb. Those protected from vampires (surrounded by garlic, inside holy ground, etc.) within the debris range are immune to the bomb.
  • Stealth Sheathing: Atomized and used to paint a surface, red mercury renders it invisible to all imagery, just like Dracula! Any vampire is at -4 Difficulty to track anything coated with red mercury. High-tech automotive paint requires about 15 g per square meter, but a Chemistry spend might reduce that even further.
  • Missile Targeting: Dracula’s blood knows its own. The user must separate one drop of red mercury into two drops. A missile, artillery shell, or anything else in free flight homes in on a drop of red mercury if the missile has the matching drop inside it. Vampiric Blocks that affect Dracula block the targeting signal.
  • Summoning Demons or Djinn: Dracula’s demonic pact connects his blood to Hell. Burning red mercury in the correct sigil (2-point Occult Studies spend, at least, plus an incantation from Le Dragon Noir (DH, p. 273)) summons a demon or djinn. Every gram of red mercury burnt equals 1 point of Aberrance or Hand-to-Hand the demon or djinn possesses; its damage equals +1 per 1o points in Hand-to-Hand, its Health equals its Aberrance. It has the same banes, weaknesses, etc. as Dracula. Dracula can command it.
  • Key to Further Dracula Research: Reverse-analyzing the substance provides clues to Dracula’s powers, to the Soviet vampire program, and likely to plenty of other big campaign questions.

The blood of Lilith (DH, p. 69) or Queen Tera (DH, p. 71) might also be the active ingredient in red mercury. Or the Director could vary the effects of the red mercury depending on the donor vampire. “Telluric” red mercury has the same effects, mostly explained by the conversion of telluric bacteria to telluric mutant bacteria by Russian radiation.

Minor Item

This is indeed red mercury, but it only has one of the powers above, as well as being a key to further Dracula research. Unlike the red mercury above, it’s also highly radioactive: treat exposure as anthrax (NBA, p. 81) except the victim only heals half her lost Health after treatment. Her Health rating lowers to the new level, from which she can rebuild using experience points.

Fraudulent

This is one of the many types of phony red mercury floating around the arms-trader underground: liquefied cinnabar (mercury sulfide), “red oil” (tri-n-butyl phosphate, highly exothermic), waste metallic nuclear coolant, mercury tinted with cochineal or lipstick, depleted uranium powder in an oil suspension, chloride of mercury, mercuric iodide, mercuric oxide, or mercuric cyanate (also highly explosive and flammable).

Connections

Al-Qaeda in Rûm (DH, p. 148) wants red mercury very much, and the Romanian mafia (DH, p. 157) might well be dealing it, perhaps through the Arms Runner (DH, p. 102) or the Syrian General (DH, p. 133). The SRI (DH, p. 156) may have seized a sample from which more could be traced, as might the Slovakian Border and Alien Police (DH, p. 164). The Retired KGB Agent (DH, p. 97) might know about the original experiments, and the Seismologist (DH, p. 100) might be obsessed with replicating them. Red mercury might power the Earthquake Device (DH, p. 266) or the Radu weapon (DH, p. 276). If authentic, Edom would very much kill to get this cylinder, and Pearl (DH, p. 52) may well run one or both parties to the transaction. Edom might have set up this transaction even if the cylinder is fraudulent, as a means of drawing out shadowy players in the vampire-alchemical underground.

Las Vegas_cover_350Las Vegas: 1968 takes you to Sin City in the heyday of Howard Hughes and the Rat Pack, the mob and the Mormons, the fear and the loathing. Everything’s for sale and nothing’s for certain, except the house wins. Featuring happening hooks for vampire conspiracies, esoterrorism, and THE FALL OF DELTA GREEN Mythos machinations!

Las Vegas: 1968 is the ninth 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 December. If you have subscribed to the third KWAS subscription, Las Vegas: 1968 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 #: PELH36D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Jesús Blones
Pages: 11pg PDF

HandofGlory“Look! It burns clear, but with the air around,
Its dead ingredients mingle deathliness.”

— Robert Southey, Thalaba the Destroyer, a.k.a. “The Other Other Romantic Vampire Poem, You Know, The One That Gets No Respect”

From Gerard de Nerval to Harry Potter to the pub-rockin’ Smithereens, the Hand of Glory knocks so sneakily at our culture that of course I had to let it in. Also, unkind and waspish sorts might suggest that this is yet another Thing We Left Out of the Dracula Dossier, when in fact it is of course great fun for all games of horror and creeperie but yes okay fine there’s a Hand of Glory in the Whitby Museum (DH, p. 177) so it might indeed be handy to have written up as a Director’s Handbook-style Object. But you can also use it in a properly occult Trail of Cthulhu game — the Minor Artifact version below fits right into the skeevy world of Bookhounds of London, for instance. And since it began as a cool-sounding mistranslation, it’s clearly ready for the Esoterrorists, to boot.

Quick Esoterroristic Diversion: Early modern magicians, caught in a game of one-upmanship with competing rogues and cunning-men, had to deploy ever more outré magicks to keep their clients happy. Digging through a grimoire one day (probably) in the mid-16th century, such a warlock stumbled over the Greek word mandragora, meaning mandrake-root, which brings sleep (because it’s actually the same thing as opium poppies) and grows beneath the gallows (because eww, which is to say, cool) and shines at night (see opium poppies, supra). He transliterated it into his native French as main-de-gloire, or “hand of glory.” Since that’s obviously not the same thing as a root, it had to be something else: the hand of a hanged murderer (gallows!) that you burn like a candle (shines!) to put people in a house to sleep (!) to rob them. And once warlocks started offering such things for sale, inquisitors started asking witches about them under torture and hey presto genuine occult legend is born. So thus in our early postmodern era, an eager-adopter Esoterrorist with only broken English reads about the Hand of Glory on the Internet. He (it’s always a he) decides it’s actually Hangloria, the possessed demon hand of someone who dies of autoerotic asphyxiation that glows like a computer monitor and puts your chosen stalker target into a trance. And then he tells all his Esoterrorist creepster buddies and sure enough Hanglorias come crawling out of closets all over Bangkok and Macao and Sochi.

Okay, now back to the Hand of Glory in the Whitby Museum.

Hand of Glory

Appearance: Blackish-gray mummified human right hand. Forensic Pathology types it as severed after death, likely from a working-class man given the degree and type of bone deformation and callusing. Occult Studies might twig to the weirdness of a right hand being used as a Hand of Glory when traditionally the left, or sinister, hand was preferred. Of course, other traditions considered the handedness of the hanged murderer more important: the right hand of a dextral killer would be the “murder hand,” and thus more imbued with occult evil.

Supposed History: Research can trace this Hand of Glory back to 1935, when one Joseph Ford donated it to the Whitby Museum. Ford, a local antiquary, supposedly found it inside the wall of a cottage in Castleton in Yorkshire while repairing the stonework. More generally, a Hand of Glory (Occult Studies) is a magical thieves’ tool. Cut from the wrist of a hanged murderer (or thief, ideally at midnight in total silence) the hand is pickled with niter, salt, peppers, lime or borax, and an ingredient called zimat (possibly verdigris or iron sulfate) then sun-dried or oven-dried with vervain and fern. In some traditions, the Hand is potent enough now; in others you need a candle made from the fat of a hanged man, wax, and ponie (possibly one or all of: soap, horse dung, or sesame) to activate its magic. If you have the correct ingredients and a workable recipe, you can make a Hand of Glory in 28 days (17 if making the Hand during the dog-days of July-August) and a Candle in the night of the new moon. (2-point spend for all the ingredients, etc.)

Major Artifact: When the fingers of the Hand close around the Candle and the Candle is lit, the Hand has the following powers:

  • Any locked door, gate, portal, safe, etc. in the Candle light unlocks itself when the wielder spends 1 point (or 2 points for clearly impossible or advanced locks) of Stability.
  • When the wielder utters an incantation (usually given as “Let all those who are asleep be asleep, and let those who are awake be awake.”) everyone asleep in the building remains completely asleep regardless of noise or even attack. A Hand more suited to the world of 24-hour security might force a Difficulty 8 Stability (or Athletics) test to remain awake, or at least allow a +3 bonus to all surprise tests against those inside.
  • The Candle flares up blue in the presence of secret doors, buried treasure, etc. and its light reveals the invisible, including vampires. Vampires with Magic or Necromancy may of course be able to animate or otherwise control the Hand.

Seeing a Hand of Glory work inspires a 3-point Stability test in all witnesses, including the thieves. The Hand must be held in the wielder’s hand to activate the first two powers, although it can be set down upright and continue keeping sleepers somnolent, revealing the invisible, etc.

The Candle burns for 4-6 hours, and can only be extinguished by blood; the Hand lasts until destroyed.

Minor Artifact: To use the Hand, soak the fingertips in unguent or lighter fluid and light it up. When lit, the Hand has the following powers, depending on the number of Fingers (F; fingers including the thumb) it has remaining:

  • Adds +F to all the wielder’s tests of Mechanics, Infiltration, etc. to open a lock or door. Grants the Open Sesame cherry (NBA, p. 31) regardless of wielder’s Infiltration rating. (In Trail of Cthulhu, grants +F points of Locksmith.) The exception: doors warded with owls’ blood.
  • After the wielder utters the incantation, those asleep in the house remain asleep unless attacked. If someone is awake in the house, one finger goes out for each wakeful person. This does not diminish F unless the Director is feeling cruel.
  • Adds +F to the wielder’s (or anyone else watching) tests of Sense Trouble, Conceal, etc. for the purpose of finding hidden treasure, secret doors, the invisible, etc. Counteracts invisibility, e.g.: an invisible vampire adds +6 to the Hit Threshold to shoot her, but with a three-fingered Hand burning, that advantage is down to +3 to Hit Threshold.

Seeing a Hand of Glory work inspires a 3-point Stability test in all witnesses, including the thieves. The Hand must be held in the wielder’s hand to activate the first two powers, although it can be set down upright and continue keeping sleepers somnolent, revealing the invisible, etc.

The Hand burns for 30 minutes per Finger remaining on the Hand, including itself. So a Hand down to one Finger burns for 30 minutes. It can be extinguished by milk or blood; when it goes out it cannot be relit. After each use, one Finger no longer lights, so each Hand has only five uses.

Telluric Artifact: The Hand must be cut from the body of someone infected by the telluric bacteria, like a vampire. (Using the hand of a Renfield is only half as effective; use half F rounded up.)  The pickling, drying, etc. feeds the bacteria while (partially) shielding the wielder from infection. Until you light the Hand and inhale activated bacterial ash, of course. Its powers are the same as the Minor Artifact version, with a few tweaks:

  • The bacteria heighten the wielder’s hand-eye coordination and senses of touch and hearing, improving lockpicking, etc. tests by +F but also similar abilities such as Explosive Devices at the Director’s discretion.
  • The carbonized bacterial-zimat cloud puts everyone who inhales it to sleep except the quasi-infected wielder. If she has friends, they need gas masks or the equivalent to avoid the Difficulty 4+F Health test to stay awake in the same room as a burning Hand.
  • The bacteria also heighten the wielder’s predatory pattern-matching skills and awareness, adding +F to her Sense Trouble, Conceal, etc., and counteracting invisible (including tellurically invisible) targets as a Minor Artifact. Add F points of Notice to the wielder’s pool.
  • The bacteria also imbue the wielder with a rush of self-confidence bordering on the sociopathic. He must make an F-point Stability test to withdraw from the room, avoid touching the valuables, or generally not act like he owns the place.

Using a Hand of Glory requires an immediate 4-point Stability test.

It can be extinguished by anything that might normally put out a fire except milk or blood (or other high-protein or iron-rich fluids), which feed the bacteria and increase its effect on the wielder. (Wielder can now spend Health or Stability on any test improved by the Hand; the Stability test to resist its predator confidence is now Difficulty 4+F and costs F+2 Stability if failed.)

Fraudulent: The hand may have been mummified by actual thieves, or by a homeowner superstitiously trying to guard his cottage from thieves, or by a local antiquary who wanted his name in the paper, but it doesn’t have magic powers.

Connections: The formula for a true Hand of Glory might appear in Le Dragon Noir (DH, p. 273), or in another grimoire owned or coveted by the Bookseller (DH, p. 106). A true Hand makes an ideal target (or resource) for the Caldwell Foundation (DH, p. 160), Extraordinary Objects Department (DH, p. 161), or for the Psychic (DH, p. 96), Enigmatic Monsignor (DH, p. 114), or Online Mystic (DH, p. 126). As an early modern magician, Elizabeth Báthory (DH, p. 63) or her assets (DH, p. 135) may make use of the things. If the Sniper (DH, p. 131) has one, that could explain her ability to come and go from her hits; if Edom has one, it’s part of Pearl’s (DH, p. 52) kit. If Edom uses Minor Artifact Hands as standard field issue, that might put an intriguing spin on the origin of the term Lamplighter (DH, p. 123). In the latter case, if Pearl doesn’t keep tight hold of the stock, a Hand may turn up at Carfax (DH, p. 185) or buried inside the wall at the thieves’ target Coldfall House (DH, p. 188).

 

Horror of Dracula (1958)

horrordracDirector: Terence Fisher

Dracula: Christopher Lee

Consider this film (just called Dracula in the UK) the anti-Coppola Dracula. Relentlessly modern (it was the first Technicolor vampire film) and breathlessly paced yet luridly Gothic to the core, carving to the heart of Stoker’s novel while discarding its plot almost entirely, it would be a great Dracula movie for those reasons alone. But it has in addition three advantages that no production has had before or since: Christopher Lee as Dracula, Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, and Terence Fisher’s sure, bold direction. Fisher’s sincere Christian vision, of Dracula as a fundamental story of good vs. evil, permeates the film. Lee’s Dracula both tempts and terrifies, fully animal and entirely demonic — all in only 7 minutes of screen time. Cushing brings Stoker’s multi-dimensional Van Helsing more than alive as well: pious scientist and plague-fighting philosopher, faith and reason joined. Cushing also depicts Van Helsing’s human tenderness and innate leadership qualities with economy and confidence, throwing into stark contrast his more-than-surgical strain of violence. To Fisher, the best of men can still be a beast; the worst of demons is all too attractive. But throughout, Van Helsing and Dracula remain almost polar opposites and their war is a war — is the War — for all humanity.

The film is not perfect, of course. The now-primitive day-for-night shots make exteriors chancy, the comic relief at the border hangs an unfortunate lantern on the claustrophobic setting (instead of countries across a continent from each other, civilization and Hell are in neighboring postal codes), and Hammer’s idiosyncratic love-hate relationship with the British class system mars the narrative of middle-class heroes reducing an undead aristocrat to dust. The third-act turn (taken from the cursed Deane-Balderston play), in which Dracula’s hiding place turns out to be the Holmwoods’ cellar, works thematically but not narratively. But across all that, Fisher shoots a realistic nightmare, building shots from parallel rising action, and filling the frames with color and natural motion — the wind effects in this movie alone should be mandatory viewing. Like Cushing’s Van Helsing, Fisher’s lens combines realism and even irony with faith and violence, that latter quality incidentally unleashing Christopher Lee to become a great actor and a generation’s dream of Dracula. Horror of Dracula, I submit to you, is the greatest Dracula movie ever made.

The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a “first cut” essay on a cinematic Dracula. Here to catalogue books (and  your comments and responses) and kill vampires, it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order the glorious sunlight that is hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!

Galileo Uplift cover_350To fight aliens, one must use the alien. Take it apart, reverse-engineer it, rebuild it, turn it into armor and sensors and weapons and aircraft good enough to win a war against an enemy from the stars. Tech and gear for your high-powered MOON DUST MEN game, powered by a new GUMSHOE “tech tree” subystem for bootstrapping invention and development.

Moon Dust Men: Galileo Uplift is the eighth 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 November. If you have subscribed to the third KWAS subscription, Moon Dust Men: Galileo Uplift 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 #: PELH35D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Alicia Vogel
Pages: 10pg PDF

In October 2015, Kenneth Hite created the 30 Days of Dractober – taking you on a tour through the cinema de Dracula! Every day he looked at one film version of the legendary story, from the classic NOSFERATU to the, um, less than immortal DRACULA 3000. Hit the Hammer highlights, the Lugosi limelights, and more — with suggestions on adapting any or all of them for your own vampire games – in advance of  The Thrill of Dracula, where Ken shows you how to build new yet mythic stories about the King of the Vampires or about your own creatures of the night, tuned for thriller adventure, cosmic horror, or even intense personal drama. Here are the links to the full 31 DAYS OF #DRACTOBER:

Taste_the_blood_of_dracula

Count Dracula (1970)

Drácula (1931)

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1973)

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)

Drakula Istanbul’da (1953)

Dracula (1938)

Count Dracula (1977)

Blade: Trinity (2004)

Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

The Return of Dracula (1958)

Dracula (1979)

Scars of Dracula (1970)

Buffy vs. Dracula (2000) 

Dracula (1968)

Dracula’s Curse (2002)

House of Frankenstein (1944)Draculaprinceofdarkness

Nosferatu (1979)

The Batman vs. Dracula (2005)

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968)

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Dracula (2006)

Dracula 3D (2012)

Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966)

Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966)

Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary (2002)

Dracula (1931)

Dracula 3000 (2004)

Nosferatu (1922)

Dracula Untold (2014)

Horror of Dracula (1958)

 

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