Lilith

Lilith_400“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.

Lilith is the twelfth installment of the Ken Writes About Stuff subscription, or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store. If you have subscribed to KWAS, Lilith 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 #: PELH13D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Anna Kryczkowska Pages: 9pg PDF

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Mind_controlBy now, if you have a Ken Writes About Stuff subscription, you’ve opened and perhaps even read this month’s installment, the GUMSHOE Zoom on Mind Control. And if so, you may have noticed that it doesn’t quite match the blurb for that installment, which I wrote way back in May or June of last year:

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.

That first sentence looks accurate enough, but what about all this other stuff? My plan was to create a Zoom much like the Martial Arts Zoom, with the generic rules up front and the specific examples afterward. What happened was this, which happens every so often in the game design biz: the rules took more space than I thought they would. In order to provide a good broad set of rules that covered every sort of mind control contest, especially including the Inception-style Mental Battlefield rules, I wound up using the entire length of the Zoom (and a good bit more, if you do the word count). This left no room for all those built examples, which will have to go into their own Mind Control 2  installment of KWAS next year, perhaps. Or into a setting, if I wind up doing one outside KWAS. Or into a setting inside KWAS. I don’t actually know. I didn’t know back in May or June of last year, either, which is how we wound up in this mess in the first place.

And believe you me, nobody feels worse about that than I. Except possibly Cat, Simon, Wade, and that one reader who went out and got both of the Scanners sequels on DVD to prep for a big 1980s corporate-raider mind-control secret-government campaign that it turns out I haven’t written yet.

So here’s what I’ll do. I’ll make good on that blurb at least, right here. Presenting, detailed rules for …

Brainwashing

In the North Korean (or CIA black site) “toss him in the hole and disorient him until he identifies with his captors” sense, brainwashing is mostly just a factor of time. In that sense, it’s best handled as a montage of hoods and cold water and bright lights. For NPCs, brainwashing takes as many months as they have Stability, minus one per point of Interrogation spent by a supervising PC. (That means it usually takes more than one adventure to brainwash someone, as you wait for those Interrogation points to refresh.) For PCs, treat getting brainwashed as a Full Contest of Mind Control (Mind Control, p. 5) with one contest per week or month (depending on the degree of realism desired — a psi-tech Treatment Chair or Parallax Screen might speed this up to one contest a day) between the NPC interrogator’s Shrink or Psychoanalysis ability and the PC’s Stability. (A failure by the NPC means the brainwashers have to start the contest over, not that they release you.) You could, if you wished, chalk off the Stability damage you receive in specific zones using Quick and Dirty Mental Battle Damage (MC, pp. 9-10).

Memetics

This is the science-fictional ability to alter a listener’s beliefs by seeding your speech, writing, advertising, etc. with viral memes, not the simple study of the semiotic content of cultural belief systems. Memetics is a Special Ability, bought either with a premium (MC, p. 4) or as part of a potential pool (MC, p. 4). To propagate a memetic virus, spend 2 points of an Investigative ability corresponding to the thrust of your meme: “Don’t trust Freemasons” uses Occult Studies or Human Terrain, while “Resistance is futile” might require Intimidation. Then spend Memetics and roll against the Difficulty the GM sets, depending on how precise, powerful, and pervasive you want the meme to be. (Difficulty 4 being a “standard” memeplex for the setting.)  The meme effects its audience (getting the audience may be a whole different operation involving a break-in to the radio station or performing a play) until countered by another Interpersonal ability spend, or until a month has passed and regular social input has resumed dominance. PCs resist a meme using Sense Trouble (if they know to suspect memetic warfare) or Stability (if not), against a Difficulty equal to the GM’s die roll (+2 if an enemy memeticist is targeting them or their subgroup specifically). A failed roll means they should roleplay believing the meme until it wears off or another PC counteracts it with an Interpersonal or Memetics spend.

Telecontrol

This is just mind control at a distance. Use the Range parameters (MC, p. 6), modified by +2 for contagion (using a voodoo doll with some of the target’s hair), similarity (using an actual puppet as the voodoo doll), etc. in the case of magical mind control. Chips, implants, and other gadgetry may amount to the same thing, or eliminate the range factor altogether. In some cases, those modifiers may also apply to the Mind Control roll itself.

Brain Hacking

Using special software, electrodes, and creepy invasive needles stuck in someone’s brain to “reprogram” their mind over a period of hours (Difficulty +3 for “rush jobs”). This is just mind control like any other, using Digital Intrusion (and that special software, of course) as the Mind Control ability. It’s a great way to set up Mental Battlefield scenarios. In Matrix style games, it might even be able to “reprogram” skills, but that’s a can of worms the GM may not want to open. But here goes: The brain hacker’s Digital Intrusion equals the total number of ability points that can be rearranged in a target’s psyche per adventure. If outside abilities like Archaeology are implanted in the target, an equal number of the target’s ability points must be suppressed.

Microwave Auditory Effect

Technicians on WWII radar stations reported “hearing voices” but it wasn’t until 1962 that neuroscientist Allen Frey demonstrated that microwaves could trigger an auditory response. An MAE transmitter can convince someone who doesn’t know about MAE that they’re “hearing voices” and even implant specific suggestions. This is a 5-point Stability test if you’re on the receiving end; PCs using MAE weapons make a Shooting or Mechanics test (depending on the specific gear) to operate it. More sophisticated mind control masers (MCMs) use subliminals to trigger specific brain areas and emotional reactions, tied to phrases and suggestions. Treat this as one-scene Emotion Control rather than long-term mind control, using a Player-Facing Mind Control test (MC, pp. 4-5). At the GM’s discretion, PCs using MCMs must make a Digital Intrusion (to specifically program the MCM for that target), Shrink (to specifically formulate the MCM attack), or just a point-and-shoot Shooting or Surveillance (if the beam must be held in place for minutes instead of one trigger-squeeze) test.

Subliminal Flasher

This device might either just snap a target into a hypnagogic state (-4 to Hypnosis or Mind Control test Difficulties), or actually erase a few minutes of memory a la Men in Black. Either way it just takes a Shooting test to flash it in the target’s eyes. The target must be looking at the shooter, and have his eyes open. Treat it as a Player-Facing Mind Control test (MC, pp. 4-5). PCs resist at Difficulty 6 (or higher, if the GM wants the tech to be mature or powerful or both); NPCs resist at the total of the player’s roll plus her Shooting spend.

Tin Foil Hat

Increases the Difficulty of any mind control method depending on electronic signals (whether organically generated by a psionic brain, or transmitted by an NSA satellite) by 2.

Kenneth Hite2With the dying of the year, it’s time to read “The Festival” and to think of 2014. In this space, specifically, about the next year’s Ken Writes About Stuff installments. To get the good, or rather the known, stuff out of the way:

  • January 2014: 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.
  • February 2014: 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.
  • March 2014: 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.
  • 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.
  • Bonus Stuff: Hideous Creatures: The Un-Numbered Ones. For subscribers only, this free issue of Ken Writes About Stuff opens the books on Lovecraftian monsters that have never taken stat-block form before in any game!

For any Ken Writes About Stuff installments you may have missed, go back to the main KWAS page.

You may note that the last two regular Hideous Creatures — and indeed the whole series — followed the results of our Esteemed Reader Poll on the topic fairly closely. The monsters in the Bonus Stuff will likewise track our Esteemed Reader Poll on that subject. (Although rather than do a whole HC workup on one of these essentially unattested monsters, I’m more likely to include a few creatures in more like normal Trail of Cthulhu creature writeup style.) It’s as though we care about what you want!

And so we do! Should the Gods of the Copybook Headings smile upon us and KWAS return for another year, what would you like to see us cover? By now, I think I’ve mapped out most of the possible things I can do in the format, although I’m always open to new suggestions.

Hideous Creatures: This category will definitely continue, as I’m hardly out of the Lovecraftian woods yet. Headliner monsters left to do include the Colour Out of Space, the Great Race of Yith, the Hunting Horror, and the Serpent Folk — but I could easily be persuaded to change things up with a few flavorful B-listers like the Dimensional Shambler, the Lloigor, the Rat-Thing, and the good old bad old Tcho-Tcho. Or maybe you have some favorite I haven’t mentioned here. We’ve already got a request in for the Elder Things, for example, to accompany the shoggoths.

GUMSHOE Zoom: Are there specific rules thickets you’d like to see me dive into? With physical and mental combat out of the way, what strikes you as rich in story possibility, and thus worth zooming in on? I promise, no vehicle building systems.

Campaign Frames: I’m still possibly happiest (or perhaps slap-happiest) with Moon Dust Men of all the issues of KWAS so far, so I’d love to do another campaign frame. I’m still trying to crack the “sitting” mechanism for a Carnacki campaign frame, so we’ll probably get that in 2014/15. I’ve also had a couple of requests for an Elizabethan setting, which might just be adapting Night’s Black Agents to the age of Walsingham and Marlowe, or it might be a full-on “School of Night” occult adventure frame. But what else cries out for GUMSHOE besides wide-lapel UFOs and steampunk ghost-breaking?

Looking Glass: Our city-in-a-PDF framework format got off to a rousing start with Mumbai, don’t you think? In the next year, I’m most likely to try and tackle a 1930s city to show how it can be done, but I’m happy to change planes on your whim.

Nighted Tomes: With monsters under the microscope, how logical is an “expanded look” at one of the major Mythos tomes? Expect to see a Necronomicon piece next year — but should it replace a Hideous Creatures entry or not? How much Cthulhu is too much Cthulhu? Shriek your answer to the stars, below.

Special Subjects: This is the “everything else” sort of category, but it boils down to one subject, so far mythical or folkloric or eliptonic, that can be spun for multiple GUMSHOE games. Lilith will go here, as does Die Glocke — what other mysteries should we plumb with our Investigative pools a-quiver? We already have one request for the Axe Man of New Orleans, so famous crimes might make another topic to plunder.

In short, fill up the comments below with what Stuff you’d like to see Ken Write About. And then I shall fill up your in-boxes with that very Stuff, or Stuff very much like it.

HC_Shoggoth_cover_400Infinitely 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: Shoggoth is the ninth installment of the Ken Writes About Stuff subscription, or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store. If you have subscribed to KWAS, Hideous Creatures: Shoggoth 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 #: PELH10D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Jeff Porter Pages: 11pg PDF

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Mumbai_cover_400We 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.

Looking Glass: Mumbai is the eighth installment of the Ken Writes About Stuff subscription, or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store. If you have subscribed to KWAS, Looking Glass: Mumbai 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).

You can read a review of Looking Glass: Mumbai on RPG Geek here.

 

Stock #: PELH09D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Jeff Porter Pages: 11pg PDF

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HC Ghouls cover_400“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: Ghouls is the seventh installment of the Ken Writes About Stuff subscription, or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store. If you have subscribed to KWAS, Hideous Creatures: Ghouls 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 #: PELH08D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Stefano Azzalin Pages: 12pg PDF

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MDM Cover_300

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 is the sixth installment of the Ken Writes About Stuff subscription, or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store. If you have subscribed to KWAS, Moon Dust Men is now on your order receipt, 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 #: PELH07D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: David Winship, Jeff Porter Pages: 11pg PDF

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Mi-Go_Final_300

In this series, Kenneth Hite looks at the creatures, species, and monsters of the Cthulhu Mythos from every non-Euclidean angle. Alternate versions and new explanations provide the same jolt of mythic bisociation that the gods and titans receive in the TRAIL OF CTHULHU corebook. Hite traces these foul things through their legendary history, and provides further clues for any Investigator to follow. Horrific scenario seeds burst and bloom, story spines protrude and deform, in a blasphemous garden any Keeper can harvest.

“As to what the things were — explanations naturally varied.” So are described the Mi-Go, 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: MI-GO is the fifth installment of the Ken Writes About Stuff subscription (if you’re a KWAS subscriber, it’s now on your existing order page) or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store.

 

Stock #: PELH06D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artists: Ian Schofield, Stefano Azzalin Pages: 11pg PDF

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Die Glocke cover_400 pixel

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 a ESOTERRORIST black site

Die Glocke is the fourth installment of the Ken Writes About Stuff subscription, or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store. If you have subscribed to KWAS, Die Glocke is now on your order receipt, 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 #: PELH05D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: David Winship Pages: 10pg PDF

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HC Hounds cover thumbnail

In this series, Kenneth Hite looks at the creatures, species, and monsters of the Cthulhu Mythos from every non-Euclidean angle. Alternate versions and new explanations provide the same jolt of mythic bisociation that the gods and titans receive in the TRAIL OF CTHULHU corebook. Hite traces these foul things through their legendary history, and provides further clues for any Investigator to follow. Horrific scenario seeds burst and bloom, story spines protrude and deform, in a blasphemous garden any Keeper can harvest.

HIDEOUS CREATURES: HOUNDS OF TINDALOS 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.

Hounds of Tindalos is the third installment of the Ken Writes About Stuff subscription (if you’re a KWAS subscriber, it’s now on your existing order page) or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store.

Stock #: PELH04D Author: Kenneth Hite
Cover: Kyle Strahm Artwork: Stefano Azzalin
Claude Bernier-Tremblay
Pages: 10pg PDF

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