Xenoarchaeology!_cover_400“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.

Xeno-Archaeology! is the fifth installment of the second Ken Writes About Stuff subscription available to subscribers now – it will be available to buy in the webstore in August. If you have subscribed to the second KWAS subscription, Hideous Creatures: Serpent Folk 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 #: PELH19D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Emilien Francois Pages: 11pg PDF

350_mountainEvery now and again, I allude jokingly to my “patented one hour per paragraph production model.” This joke has the advantage of making Simon squirm and laugh hollowly, and the disadvantage of sometimes being true. Those little ability clues that I so thoughtlessly made standard in Hideous Creatures? Some of them, especially for the harder sciences, take — well, not an hour necessarily, but they take a good deal longer than just writing “Aunt Sandra thought she saw a bear but it smelled like a frog” or whatever. Visceral goo, easy; virtual science, hard.

Well, anyhow, I recently set what I hope to goodness is my all-time record for research-to-paragraph production, when I wrote up the “Calimani” paragraph in the “Castle Dracula” section of The Dracula Dossier. We can’t make it too easy to just “skip to the boss fight at the end,” after all, so I put in nine or so possible sites for Castle Dracula, of which the Calimani Mountains (a.k.a. the Kelemen Alps) in the eastern Carpathians are one. Why those Mountains (or Alps) in particular? Because they’ve been fingered by the wonderfully obsessive Dutch Dracula scholar Hans Corneel de Roos in his essay “The Dracula Maps” which is available only as an introductory section in his has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed photographically illustrated (and surprisingly minimally annotated) oversized book The Ultimate Dracula. (The cover, for those who disdain following clicky links, shows Dracula riding his coffin (complete with headlamps) through the skies over Transylvania.) So I (of course) bought it and when it showed up, pored over the FIFTY PAGE essay and carefully studied the SEVENTEEN main maps (the crucial ones being blown-up images of Austro-Hungarian military charts oh Thoth-Dionysos I love this book so much) and looked at the spot Corneel de Roos found in GoogleEarth then spent a bit of extra time tracing the “Mozile Draculi” label from one of those Austro-Hungarian military charts on a nearby hill, which turns out to actually read “Morile Draculi” meaning “Devil’s Mill” … or, of course, “Dracula’s Mill.” There’s also a nearby mountain called Dragusul, which doesn’t come from the same root at all but seems suggestive nonetheless.

If you’re curious, the key insight in de Roos’ essay is that Stoker gives a (mistakenly swapped) latitude and longitude for the nearest border crossing in his Notes, and mentions a nearby location called “Izvorul” which might well be the mountain Izvorul Calimanii or “Heart of the Kelemen” which might well have been the random desolate peak Stoker picked to use as Dracula’s mountain home. And yes I have Stoker’s Notes too.

And then I boiled the whole megillah down to the “Calimani” description but in my defense I think that turned into a little more like two or even three paragraphs.

But wait! There’s more! On an entirely unrelated search — well, not entirely unrelated, as it’s still about Dracula — I found another essay by the indefatigable Corneel de Roos. This one deals with the 1901 Icelandic translation of Dracula (titled Makt Myrkranna, meaning “Powers of Darkness”), which sent Dracula scholarship into a tizzy in 1986 when Stoker’s preface to it was rediscovered, said tizzy emanating from Stoker’s clear reference in that preface to Jack the Ripper. What’s the connection? asked any number of Dracula critics and at least two novels (one with a great title) and one very silly book of ostensible nonfiction which of course I own why would you even ask such a question it’s like you don’t even know me.

So anyhow that Icelandic translation, by one Valdimar Ásmundsson (who died in 1902, the year after it came out, no that’s not suspicious at all) was recently republished in 2011 — and only our redoubtable Dutchman has bothered to translate it or Googlefish it at least to find out if Jack the Ripper shows up in the book. So in his 2014 essay “Makt Myrkranna: Mother of All Dracula Modifications?” C. de Roos reveals that Ásmundsson — possibly with Stoker’s assistance and nigh-certainly with his permission — radically changed the plot! Dracula is now head of an evil conspiracy of rich bastards, financial-conspirator-Satanists who carried out the Thames Torso Murders among other outrages (and likely committed the Ripper killings after Dracula left the scene in a cloud of dust).

Reading this essay gave me: some possible names for the Brides of Dracula, lots more creepy Europeans, a new detective (Barrington, to go with Stoker’s un-used Cotford) and best of all, a lovely extra thread to spin out as a potential conspiracy. I barely prevented myself from adding Iceland as a new location.

All that, I confidently suspect, will nurture many new paragraphs indeed. So as long as I can keep Hans Corneel de Roos from publishing any more ground-breaking essays, we should be able to wrap this thing up (only a bit bloated with extra Satanism and keen Romanian mountains) by Halloween.

HC Serpent Folk cover_350“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: Serpent Folk is the fourth installment of the second Ken Writes About Stuff subscription (if you are a previous subscriber, you will need to buy a new subscription to see this), or it is now available to buy in the webstore.

HC Serpent Folk cover_350“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: Serpent Folk is the fourth installment of the second Ken Writes About Stuff subscription (if you are a previous subscriber, you will need to buy a new subscription to see this), or it is available to buy in the webstore.

If you have subscribed to the second KWAS subscription, Hideous Creatures: Serpent Folk 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 #: PELH18D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Melissa Gay Pages: 13pg PDF

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Voodoo_2_The_Invisibles cover_350The 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 2 – The Invisibles is the third installment of the second Ken Writes About Stuff subscription (if you are a previous subscriber, you will need to buy a new subscription to see this), or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store.

If you have subscribed to the second KWAS subscription, GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo 2 – The Invisibles 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 #: PELH17D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Melissa Gay Pages: 16pg PDF

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Voodoo_1_Magic_350The 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 1 – Magic is the second installment of the second Ken Writes About Stuff subscription (if you are a previous subscriber, you will need to buy a new subscription to see this), or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store.

If you have subscribed to the second KWAS subscription, GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo 1 – Magic 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 #: PELH16D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Melissa Gay Pages: 16pg PDF

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KWAS Cover_350KWAS v1 is a collection of 13 supplements written by master Lovecraftian writer and GUMSHOE guru Kenneth Hite. Discover hideous creatures, uncover an occult Nazi bell or join the men in black with this baker’s dozen of fear and fun!

It features:

  • Hideous Creatures: Deep Ones, an in-depth look at everyone’s favourite underwater creatures.
  • Ken’s take on martial arts, in the GUMSHOE Zoom: Martial Arts, intended to model the sorts of stories (usually movies) in which martial arts combat takes center stage in at least one scene.
  • Hideous Creatures: Hounds of Tindalos, in which Frank Belknap Long’s greatest creations emerge from the angles of time, slavering and frumious.
  • Die Glocke, about a mysterious bell-shaped device built deep in a Silesian mine shaft by the SS.
  • Hideous Creatures: Mi-Go, about 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.
  • Moon Dust Men – employees of the program President Eisenhower established in 1953 to locate, contain, and coordinate everything known about the alien presence on Earth.
  • Hideous Creatures: Ghouls – 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!
  • Looking Glass: Mumbai – 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.
  • Hideous Creatures: Shoggoth. 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!kwas1cover
  • GUMSHOE Zoom: Mind Control. 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.
  • Hideous Creatures: Star Vampires. “The human blood on which it had fed revealed the hitherto invisible outlines of the feaster.” Invisible outlines that shall be expanded upon, extended even, into all sorts of dimensions. Are they summoned demons or feral predators? Are they kindred or competitors to Colin Wilson’s Space Vampires? Herein we trace the Shambler From the Stars, with bonus Night’s Black Agents statistics and a scenario seed.
  • Lilith. “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.
  • There is also a bonus edition, available only with this collection: Foul Congeries. This issue opens the books on Lovecraftian monsters that have never taken stat-block form before in any game, including the Ultraviolet Devourer, Vampirish Vapour and Worm-Cultist.

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

Stock #: PELH01D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Various Pages: 10pg PDF per edition

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Horror in the Museum_FinalI didn’t take any advanced statistics courses in college, so that title may not be precisely accurate.

Survey, survey. Oh, yes. Simon sent out a survey to all the current subscribers of Ken Writes About Stuff, upon whom may blessings shower without sensible restraint. We got about 180 responses back, which is a pretty good percentage, I’m told. Almost all of the respondents play both Night’s Black Agents and Trail of Cthulhu, which is very gratifying to me — and we have a good spread of all the other Pelgrane games as well. (About half of them are playing TimeWatch … perhaps it may not just be a game!!) In short, you guys seem to be pretty devoted Pelgrane players, which makes me feel much better about doing GUMSHOE Zooms going forward.

That said, only a third of the respondents rated the GUMSHOE Zooms so far a ’4′ on a scale of 1 to 4 for enjoyment and usability, although another 40% or so gave them a ’3′. So we need to tweak them a bit, apparently.

In happier news, better than 77% of the respondents rated my Mythos monster series Hideous Creatures a ’4′ on a scale of 1 to 4 for enjoyment and usability. (Almost everyone else rated it a ’3′.) So that’s golden.

See how this works? You respond, I carve this block of electronic marble in front of me a little closer to the PDF elephant you truly want. That’s how this works.

Of the eight mostly random suggestions Simon offered, we got the strongest response for more Looking Glass pieces (top four answers!), although each of them could also be read as “campaign frame” settings. (The settings got about 60% of you up to ’4′; a little stronger than the pure Looking Glass: Mumbai did.) So you like campaign ideas, probably in cities. It’s not a perfect science, and did I mention I only took basic stat?

And we got some lovely responses and specific requests — I only wish I could fulfill them all! Lots of people wanting settings, which tends to reinforce my previous deduction. One really good suggestion for a new “Ken’s Time Machine” type issue, about possible counterfactuals, what-ifs, or historical enigmas — once TimeWatch gets up to speed, I may try to construct something along those lines. The first of those might happen later this year. We had a number of completely fair and understandable requests for more SF-focused KWAS material to support Ashen Stars and Gaean Reach games.

And my favorite response, which I saw a gratifying number of times: “Whatever Ken wants.” As the man says in Joe vs. the Volcano, “Sir, may you live to be a thousand.”

So taking all of those responses — including the last one, ho ho — into account, here’s what the first half of Ken Writes About Stuff, Volume 2, is shaping up to look like:

 

April 2014: 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.

May 2014: GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo. 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 one examines sympathetic magic and zombies, and Zooms in on the Afro-Caribbean magical-religious complex encompassing Vodoun, Candomble, Santeria, Obeah, and Hoodoo. The loa ride in May!

June 2014: 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.

July 2014: Exo-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.

August 2014: 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.

September 2014: 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.

 

As always, every Ken Writes About Stuff issue will be available as a single-PDF purchase — but you save more when you subscribe for the year! Shakespeare and Shub-Niggurath, Baron Cimetière and barren planets, serpents and … er, ghosty uncaring cancerous serpents — they’re all waiting to play with you!

 

HC Dark Young_cover“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: Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath is the first installment of the second Ken Writes About Stuff subscription (if you are a previous subscriber, you will need to buy a new subscription to see this), or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store.

If you have subscribed to the second KWAS subscription, Hideous Creatures: Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath 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 #: PELH15D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Jeff Porter Pages: 10pg PDF

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ChemistryAnd so the time has begun for teases of Dracula Dossier content. Not least because the time is being taken up writing Dracula Dossier content instead of “Call of Chicago” content for See p. XX, but be that as it may. (If you’re wondering what The Dracula Dossier might be with all this content of a sudden, here’s the link.) Those of you fortunate ones who remember The Armitage Files will recognize this as a close variant of its “Artifact and Tome” format, in which a device might turn up in any one of many ontological states.

So why an Earthquake Device? Because there is a weird sub-theme in Stoker’s novel concerning volcanism, earthquakes, and other sorts of tectonic Gothic mayhem … including a full-on volcanic eruption that Stoker cut from the final version of the novel. For some reason. And when I started researching this book, I uncovered huge earthquakes in Romania — in the Carpathians, even — in 1893, 1940, and 1977. Exactly and specifically the earlier time frames the campaign refers to. There’s a lot more that I found out, but you’ll have to wait for the Big One to see it thrust up to the surface.

For now, I give you …

The Earthquake Device

Appearance: This object resembles a set of pistons held together by a ring around a central shaft. It rests on a set of splayed feet, allowing the central shaft to rise and fall when fed electrical power. Leads for a truck battery are visible in a recess on the side of the ring. On the ring and the bottom of the central shaft appear tiny symbols and words in another language: Serbo-Croatian, perhaps? An Investigative use of Mechanics can tell that this device was not mass-produced, but it may not be unique.

Supposed History: Agents with Occult Studies (or Fringe Science, if the campaign uses that possible version of the ability) or a 1-point Mechanics spend recognize this device as a version of Nikola Tesla’s oscillator. In 1893, Tesla patented a machine intended as a steam-driven electrical generator, but soon realized that its regular oscillations actually tuned themselves to the resonant frequency of the building – or country – it operated within. During one test in 1898, so the story goes, he accidentally triggered an earthquake centered on his laboratory, and had to demolish the prototype with a sledgehammer before the whole building came down around his ears.

Major Item: This device, as Tesla feared, can actually trigger earthquakes. Edom bought or stole a prototype from Tesla’s laboratory (or Morris brought one over from America) and used it to awaken Dracula in 1893 – and to trigger the volcano that put him back to sleep a year later. This specific device was issued to the 1940 Edom team in Romania; Edom (or Dracula’s mole within Edom) may also have used it (or another like it) to awaken Dracula (or leave a false seismic trail) in 1977. By now, the British government has far more sophisticated truck-mounted (or satellite-mounted) earthquake machines, which explains why the agents can misappropriate this one.

To operate the earthquake machine requires a continuous supply of electricity for three days (three truck batteries is sufficient) and a successful Difficulty 6 Mechanics test each day. The severity of the earthquake that results depends on the tectonic instability of the machine’s location. Getting out of the earthquake zone with the machine may be a bigger challenge than starting the earthquake in the first place!

[[DA]] In a campaign emphasizing the sorcerous, necromantic aspects of Dracula, the device is actually a Seal of Agares, a demon given power over earthquakes. The tiny symbols are the Name of Agares and certain geomantic emblems; the strange words UUSUR and ITAR channel Agares’ power into an earthquake. A 1-point Occult Studies spend (or a 1-point Research spend in a well-stocked occult library; or a 2-point Research spend and a good Internet connection; or a 0-point spend of Occult Studies while consulting Le Dragon Noir) recognizes all of the above.

To activate the earthquake device requires a simple battery discharge (Difficulty 3 Mechanics test, replacing the traditional lightning-strike), a supply of blood (at least 4 Health) decanted into the “pistons” each night, a specialized pentacle containing the Seal and the caster, three nights of spell casting, and a successful Difficulty 7 Stability test each night. The severity of the earthquake that results depends on the amount of blood sacrificed, and perhaps on the tectonic instability of the Seal’s location. Dracula can cast the spell more rapidly, if he needs to.

The specific spell is not available online; discovering it requires a week’s Research (3 point spend) or two days’ Occult Studies (2 point spend) in a well-stocked occult library, or access to Le Dragon Noir. With a 1-point Occult Studies spend, an agent knows that the spell is in Le Dragon Noir. The Director may well rule that only Le Dragon Noir (and possibly an Edom field manual somewhere) has the spell, and no amount of research outside the Scholomance can uncover it.

Minor Item: The device is actually a field seismometer dating back to 1893, used by the Harker team to find Castle Dracula by triangulating on temblors. Its design is more rugged and portable than a standard Milne seismograph. The central shaft holds the heavy pendulum; the other “pistons” hold mercury bubbles (viewed through a glass underneath the piston cap) and a battery: the “battery leads” are actually intended to connect to a telegraph key and line. A 1-point Geology spend recognizes it for what it is, and can even “read” it, although without a telegraph hookup, its output is less useful.

Fraudulent: The object is a fake “Tesla” device built by the mole to send Edom on a wild goose chase through the worlds of seismology: there is no direct connection between Dracula and earthquakes, except for the coincidence of his awakening and the 1893 quakes, and perhaps of the 1940 quake knocking Harker’s Kukri loose from his chest.

If the Director would like to keep the Dracula-earthquake connection alive, the device might still be authentic, but was left out in the Romanian countryside long enough to get broken and rusted beyond repair.

Connections: The Former Gehlen Org and Van Sloan  know of the device’s existence, as does the Old Seismologist. The object itself might be in Van Sloan’s house, or in a neglected corner of the HMS Proserpine, Ring, or the Citta della Scienza Museum.

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