A Dreamlands Location
When traveling through the Dreamlands, especially when accompanied by Luis Buñuel or Salvador Dalí, one may come upon La Abadía de los Putrefactos, an imposing structure of suffocating order. It appears as a counterforce after you move the Dreamlands too quickly toward chaos and freedom. Should you attempt to move away from it, it shifts its position, placing itself always in your way. With great effort, you can sidestep it, but if you do, it will be all the harder to avoid the next time it places itself before you. The only way to dismiss it, and then only temporarily, is to enter it and interact with its mummified inhabitants. Like the dream-structures they are, their corridors defy attempts to remember where you’re going. As you wend your way through its cyclopean hallways, you hear shuffling feet but likely see no one. Then you find yourself outside an arch, from which low murmurs emanate. Inside you may find a chamber of empty chairs arranged around a dusty table, perhaps strewn with the bones of a child or minotaur.
Or you might stumble upon the putrefactos themselves. Gaunt, whispering, coughing up clouds of dust, these dried-up liches wear the uniforms of authority, dressing as businessmen, military officers, and most of all, bishops and cardinals. They direct querulous stares in your direction. A skeletal functionary, its forefinger an ink-filled pen nib, records each command they make of you, skritching down a transcript of proceedings on an infinite vellum scroll,.
The putrefactos know many esoteric secrets, and may share them with you, in exchange for your deference. Bold dreamers may succeed in intimidating them: they fear satire, sex, and fire. Should you want to tamp down the liberties of a fellow dreamer, they’ll eagerly provide the poisons and gems of control necessary for the task. Waking visitors to the Dreamlands can take these artifacts back with them to the real world. They aid you as you perform acts reinforcing what the putrefactos call the stasis quo. But beware: keep them too long and they harden the arteries, induce arthritis, and degrade your bones.
Louis Aragon says that church and state will crumble if only a surrealist dreamer can find a way to destroy the abbey once and for all. The hopping moonbeasts of Leng, it is said, despise the putrefactos, and have developed a weapon to trap their abbey for eternity in the tear of a swan. Dare you venture there, and ask them for this gift?
In the Trail of Cthulhu campaign sourcebook Dreamhounds of Paris, you play the major figures of the surrealist movement as you discover your ability to manipulate the fantastical realm of the sleeping mind. Order it today, or the bulbheads will get you!
Dreamhounds of Paris’ sandbox structure requires players to know what they want to do as their surrealists explore and alter the Dreamlands. Knowing what you want from a sandbox roleplaying environment can be harder than it sounds. Luckily, the unconscious automatism so beloved by the historical surrealists can come to your rescue.
Just scour the net for your favorite, most horrific or darkly fantastic works of surrealist art. If you’re playing an artist, you can limit your scope to your PC’s work alone. Or you can widen the field, as the setting assumes that multiple surrealists are changing the dreamscape to more closely resemble their own paintings, and vice versa. There’s no reason you, as René Magritte, can’t stumble into a Picasso vista haunted by cubist maenads.
You might want to print them out. Or you could collect them on an image curation site like Pinterest or Dropmark.
In the first case, you can shuffle them like cards, pull a random one, and show the Keeper and rest of the group: “Hey, I want to go there.”
Or you can adopt the more narratively proactive, “Hey, look where we are.”
For the virtual version, you could number the entries and then use a random number generator to pick one of them.
Not that you have to randomize; you can scan the list and pick one that strikes you as matching the themes and images of the series so far.
If you’re lucky, some enterprising Dreamhounds readers will read this and build their own repository of suitable images, grouped by painter, for everyone’s use.
So if you’re playing Salvador Dalí, you can start the session by saying:
“We’re going to go see this guy hatch out. I’m certain that it will be delightful to discourse with him, as he will have many insights to inform my paranoiac-critical method!”
At this point a cautious other player might decide that whoever comes out of that egg will be much too dangerous. If it’s Max Ernst he might instead say:
“That can’t possibly end well. I promised Leonora we would meet her in a verdant jungle. Let us avoid danger and horror for at least one night.”
You might respond in turn that the weird idol face in the corner suggests more weirdness than your man hatching from the egg.
Whatever decision you come to, the Keeper has had time to think of what might happen in both Dreamlands locations, already vividly realized in your minds.
Don’t worry too much about the period in which the painting was made. A later painting could easily be based on an experience the artist had in the Dreamlands during the period of your game.
Want to cross over from the Spanish Civil war setting of Adam Gauntlett’s Soldiers of Pen and Ink to the Dreamlands exploration of Dreamhounds of Paris? Connections abound.
The war takes a profound toll on Salvador Dalí, whose rightward political shift can be traced to the leftist capture of his hometown, Cadaqués. Revolutionaries destroy his home and that of his father, execute thirty of his neighbors, and, it seems, rape his sister. Given the power he amasses in the Dreamlands, might he be able to send surreal dreamforms to the real Spain to exact revenge? Your Pen and Ink characters might find themselves battling stilt-legged tigers or chest-of-drawer minotaurs.
Picasso, radicalized by the war, might to do something similar to fight for the Republican cause. His minotaurs are bigger and scarier, and you don’t want to mess with his harpies.
Surrealist painter André Masson is personally present for the siege of Barcelona and experiences a metaphysical epiphany on the mountain of Montserrat a year later. With a bit of date-squishing you could play him in a Pen and Ink campaign and then carry him over to Dreamhounds, or vice versa.
For a literal portal from one series to the next, maybe the PCs get thrown into the torture chambers described here. According to Franco-era prosecution reports discovered by a historian in 2003, an anarchist named Alphonse Laurencic constructed prison cells meant to subject prisoners to “psychotechnic” torture inspired by modernist artists. Their punishing angles and off-putting visuals supposedly broke down the wills of those held there. As did, it is alleged, screenings of Salvador Dalí and Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou.
Now, as something that actually happened, I have my doubts. Claims made by fascist prosecutors have to be taken skeptically. Maybe some form of psychotechnic prison existed. However, prints of the rarely screened Un Chien Andalou would have been extraordinarily hard to get ahold of anywhere at this time, let alone during the chaos of the civil war.
Still, let’s not allow likelihood to get in the way of a good horror story. Player characters placed in Laurencic’s cells, no doubt due to the constant inter-factional struggle on the Republican side, might not only resist their mind-bending properties. The strange geometric forms painted on the walls might shatter the resistance of their fellow prisoners. But characters already exposed to the much worse resonance of the Mythos could leverage them to their own psychic ends. They might find themselves conveyed to the Dreamlands to meet the dream forms of Dalí or Buñuel. From there a little narrative hocus-pocus might lead to one or more of the PCs joining a Dreamhounds campaign, escaping from Spain to Paris.
Dreamhounds of Paris brings sandbox play to Trail of Cthulhu, as the surrealists of the 20s and 30s discover their ability to consciously reshape the realm beyond waking.
I play with a group that works best either in the completely dramatic realm of Hillfolk and DramaSystem, or in a procedural game with a strongly laid-out goal, like GUMSHOE in its default format. Their struggles with Dreamhounds proved instructive and helped me to improve the book’s GM section.
That’s not to say that they didn’t have any fun, or that nothing happened in their series. Its most memorable events include:
- A murder in Man Ray’s apartment building, with him the apparent target.
- Chasing the pulp anti-hero Fantômas through the marbled halls of Thran, while being accused of complicity in his murders and thefts.
- Dalí raising dreamscaping havoc in a Serranian tavern, striking terror into the hearts of its reticent citizens.
- The blossoming of a Dreamlands cult propitiating the dread god Buñuel.
- Giorgio de Chirico confronting his guilt for starting all of this in the first place.
- Going to the top of mount Hatheg-Kla to find the ancient gods of man, having hatched a plan with the poet Louis Aragon to extirpate them.
- Journeying to the shores of Lake Hali to open the coffin of the King in Yellow, only to find Magritte inside.
- Meeting Picasso in a Dreamlands grove, musky with corrupt fecundity. They found him and a minotaur engaged in leisurely congress with voluptuous plant women. The player characters declined Picasso’s offer to join in.
- A picnic with Nyarlathotep, who gave René Magritte a beautiful silver gun.
- A waking world raid on the chateau of a sinister Parisian occultist. There Nyarlathotep’s aforementioned beautiful silver gun took on a will of its own, massacring the servants in a spectacular fountain of gore.
- Salvador Dalí’s fateful meeting with Gala, wife of fellow surrealist Paul Éluard, at his family home in Cadaqués, Spain. His love for her cures him of his laughing fits.
- Shortly thereafter, Buñuel strangling Gala, the other pulling him off her before he kills her.
Items 11 and 12 are well-documented in the historical record. The others can be proven only by visiting the shores of dream, which still bear the scars of what the surrealists did to it ninety years ago.
Dreamhounds of Paris and its companion The Book of Ants are now available for preorder. Print copies will debut at Dragonmeet in London, on December 6th.
a column on roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
Trail of Cthulhu maven Tony Williams asks, regarding Dreamhounds of Paris:
I would be interested in Robin’s opinions of surrealist art. Does he enjoy it? What does he think of the major surrealists movers and shakers as people, having researched them so thoroughly? Are they all insufferable poseurs or do some transcend that with what they produce?
I’m glad you so ably set up a column topic for me, Tony.
First of all, I feel a deep connection to the art, film, decorative art, and fiction of the surrealist movement. This fascination started in an eighth grade classroom, when our teacher, improbably and no doubt improvidently, screened a copy of Un Chien Andalou for us. Young teenage mind blown!
I first got the idea that eventually turned into Dreamhounds of Paris visiting an exhibition of surrealist decorative art at the Art Gallery of Ontario a bunch of years back. Looking at the paintings, so many of them struck me as entrancing nerd culture fodder sealed behind the wall of high culture awareness. The works’ horror and dark fantasy imagery in particular seemed like an obvious vein to mine as a gaming influence. Looking at the imaginary landscapes of Max Ernst or Yves Tanguy, they jumped out to me as a mutant evolution of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands.
As far as I’m concerned the word poser doesn’t apply to any of the surrealists. They all believed intensely in what they were doing. They didn’t earn anything resembling widespread praise for making work that freaked people out, confronted them with disturbing images, and challenged ideas of what art was for. There was certainly no money in it for them during this period of their greatest innovation. A few became popular later, but not at this point. Posers appear when creative efforts become fashionable, lucrative, or both. Somebody today who follows in Marcel Duchamp’s footsteps by making art installations might or might not be a poser. But these guys (and a select few gals) were the real thing, on which later posers would model themselves.
If poser simply means an intellectual interested in ideas and art, well, that describes me, too.
Many argue that Dalí wound up bastardizing his art by milking his celebrity. That starts at the end of the Dreamhounds period but becomes truly egregious decades afterwards. Even at that, by making his own persona more important than his art, and the media his canvas, Dalí was doing something that summed up contemporary life way more than any abstract expressionist ever did. When he did it, it wasn’t a cliché, it was a thing he invented. To work his magic the trickster must also be a charlatan.
That said, other surrealists, like the movement’s autocratic “pope” André Breton, would be the first to deny him that slack. Breton called Dalí by the anagram Avida Dollars, and decried the chattering Spaniard’s commercialization of his psychic revolution. Breton genuinely thought his movement would change the world, literally altering human psychology.
It’s the utmost seriousness with which Breton regarded himself that sets him up as an inviting target for satire. Other members of his circle certainly mocked him when they fell out of favor with him, Dalí most effectively of all. (See the book for his famous night of many sweaters.)
His bullying makes Breton the hardest of the bunch to like. The book treats him as an antagonist figure, and tweaks him by describing him as lacking the imagination to enter the Dreamlands. I certainly can’t admire Breton’s habit of launching physical attacks against his aesthetic adversaries. On the redeeming side, however, Breton earns props for being the first major French leftist intellectual to see through on Stalinism, at the time of the 1936 show trials. With the benefit of historical hindsight that might not seem like a perceptive breakthrough but in the context of the era and milieu it’s a big deal. By contrast, many top names in the French art scene remained hardcore Stalinists well into the 40s and 50s.
As far as the rest of the Dreamhounds cast goes, I view them as richly complicated people. They led messy, interwoven lives, over which a year or so of research makes me no kind of judge. They’re certainly realer, as you would expect, than the fictional characters we’re used to playing in RPGs, most of whom bend toward wish fulfillment. I’d even stick up for the figures art historians vilify.
Many accounts treat Gala Dalí, previously Gala Éluard, as a lascivious, money-hungry monster. Yes, she absolutely was hunting for a meal ticket, which she found in Dalí. But then her brother died of starvation during the Russian revolution, so it doesn’t take deep Jungian analysis to see what was going on there. And Dalí, a brilliant man-child barely capable of crossing the Paris street on his own, benefited from her hardheadedness. Slut-shaming pervades so much of the writing about her, but she treated men the way figures like Picasso and Ernst treated women. Granted, she didn’t paint Guernica, but neither do most of us.
Likewise Jean Cocteau gets a lot of stick in the various biographies as a preening climber. For a climber he left behind a crazy large legacy of creative work in forms from theater to illustration to film to the novel. When he made a fool of himself seeking acceptance he was wearing his heart on his sleeve. We need a new biography for him that doesn’t feel the need to treat his sexuality as a matter for nudging and winking. He was the original out gay icon, a heroic role to adopt at the time.
The Dreamhounds PC most like me would be René Magritte: quiet, composed, happily married, uninterested in the drama Breton constantly generated. Players may gravitate to him for that reason, as he makes for a solid contrast with the others. But if the surrealist circle was made up only of unassuming, reasonable people, there would be no point writing a sourcebook about them. Or playing them when they go off to surreally transform Celephaïs and later deal with the repercussions.
When the stunning photographs taken by Harry Burton of the Carter expedition’s discovery of Tutankhamun in 1922 were recently exhibited at Oxford’s Ashmolean museum, one print was conspicuously not considered for display.
Those of you with high Cthulhu Mythos ratings know that Nitocris, possible last pharaoh of the 6th dynasty, became a ghoul after her death. So perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that Burton, a Metropolitan Museum of Art photographer on loan to Carter, took an image of in which her blurry outline can clearly be seen. She intruded into Burton’s picture of guardian statues in an outer funerary chamber. Burton, engrossed in his composition, saw her only after he developed the picture. His lack of alarm likely saved him from a gruesome fate.
Why was Nitocris prowling around in Tutankhamun’s tomb, you ask. Who do you think administers the ancient curses of the pharaohs against the plunderers of their grave, anyway?
The photograph, the first ever taken of this particularly numinous ghoul, captured a sliver of her spirit essence. Those who gaze too long on the image form an unwitting bond with Nitocris. No matter where they are in the world, the ghoul queen sends her minions. Individuals judged to be valuable to the ghoul community are devoured and excreted as freshly reborn ghouls. (Yes, that’s how the process works. Your other Lovecraftian sources have been too genteel to tell you this.) The rest are marked for later consumption, after they die.
Flash back to the time of your series, in the 1930s. Renegade NYU Egyptology professor Nathaniel Stonebridge has stumbled onto the secret of the photograph. Driven by a heedless thirst for knowledge, he wants to be the first mortal to witness and document the hideous rebirthing ceremony by which Nitocris brings new ghouls into her flock. To this end he gained access to the suppressed Burton image, normally housed in the Metropolitan’s securest vault. By threatening Metropolitan archivist Norman Lanning with the revelation of certain details of his unsavory private life, Stonebridge got him to strike new prints of the negative. These Stonebridge has been circulating to his many enemies in occult academia, in hopes that Nitocris will choose one of them, and he can watch it all happen.
Since letting Stonebridge strike new prints from the negative, Lanning has vanished. His superiors, afraid that the Nitocris image has fallen into the wrong hands, approach the investigators to find out just what has happened to him.
Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu and its many supplements and adventures in the Pelgrane Shop.
With the release of Robin’s wonderful new story-explorer The Gaean Reach RPG, GUMSHOE extends its tendrils into one of the oldest and most reliable of dramatic forms: the revenge story. In that game, the player characters unite to destroy the indescribably vile Quandos Vorn in revenge for his prior cruelties to them. And just beforehand, the players (this is the really great bit) collaboratively describe Quandos Vorn’s vileness and determine his prior cruelties. The result? A fresh, involving take on a tale as old as Orestes, if not always quite so damp and naked. From Dumas’ Gothy Edmond Dantes to TV’s dreamy Oliver Queen, doughty heroes have sought revenge on Him (or Her, for Orestes) Who Done Them Wrong for millennia — and if Jack Vance’s SF is anything to go by (and indeed it should be) will continue to do so for millennia hence. So what about our own millennium right here? Why not adapt the brilliant story focus of The Gaean Reach RPG to another of your already beloved if not-quite-so-brilliantly-focused GUMSHOE RPGs? Why not, indeed?
Each possibility here introduces your game’s Quandos Vorn and gives a possible reason you want to get him, although the GM should begin with the good old “Why do you hate …?” and only prime the pump if player creativity seems temporarily throttled. Further possible Terrible Deeds appear, followed by the Quarry’s Masks (how he hides from you, possibly in plain sight) and Obstacles (what he can put between you and him) and then the game’s potential Taglines (things you do or say in play to get Tokens which you spend to pierce Masks and overcome Obstacles).
Night’s Black Agents: Chandler Vaughn
Chandler Vaughn is the guy who burned you. Or that’s one of his cover names. You aren’t actually sure he’s with the Agency any more. If he ever was. Maybe he was a double agent. You’re not even sure what he looks like now. Or looked like, then. But you know one thing: he burned you, and you’re going to bring him down.
Terrible Deeds: killed your partner, aided al-Qaeda in a (lot of) terrorist action, smuggled nukes, killed your family, perverted the Agency’s once-proud ideals into the Orwellian sham they are today, released the vampire virus, vampirized your partner, betrayed your country
Masks: cover identities, plastic surgery, can shapeshift, deniable dead drops, is a hive parasite that lives in many minds, cut-outs, brain-hacking, literal masks you know neat face-mask technology like in Mission: Impossible
Obstacles: billions of embezzled drug dollars for bribes, Russian mobsters, Iranian snipers, North Korean mentats with telekinesis, lots of pull with the corrupt helicopter-gunship-and-SWAT-team parts of the Agency, Renfields, secure immunity in isolated country, total surveillance of all computers
Taglines: Use the Night’s Black Agents Achievements, which are ideal for this sort of thing, as the source of Tokens, not of refreshes (except refreshes with Tokens, of course).
Mutant City Blues: “Quantum Born”
Not the least of “Quantum Born”‘s sins is to have a really lame pseudonym on the Internet. But he’s a mutant (“born of the quantum apocalypse that is ending your corrupt world system so-called”) and a terrorist and a murderer. At least.
Terrible Deeds: set off a bomb in the subway, killed your partner, leaked your case files all over the Internet and got a jillion hardened criminals set free on technicalities, killed your family, bio-engineered a worse version of the Quade virus for the most destructive possible power combos, provides foolproof schemes to other criminals and terrorists, hacked into a candy company’s mainframe and poisoned several thousand kids by altering its ingredient ordering software, is a serial killer among his other hangups
Masks: anonymous Internet existence with the Tor and the onion and such, hoodie and sunglasses, army of easily-gulled hipster anarchist wannabes to claim his identity, is blackmailing members of the force to cover his trail and feed him clues, shape-changing mutant power, is actually an AI given a computer analog of the Quade virus, surveillance-obscuring software, could literally be anyone at all
Obstacles: insanely devoted online love cult, not actually in your home country to say nothing of your actual jurisdiction, police red tape that says “it’s too personal with you and him,” super-powered goons paid big Bitcoin to hit you a lot, your own online history/credit report/everything ever, previous criminals you put away broken out (or legally freed!) by him, is protected from on high by government or corporations or a big seemingly cool charitable or progressive foundation, army of computer-controlled drones and makerbots
Taglines: Use Achievements, as above, or Taglines, as in Gaean Reach, or both, but sourced from either “gritty” comics dialogue or from police procedural TV shows.
Trail of Cthulhu: Kwan-Ho Wong
Or, sure, if you’d rather be torn apart by peculiarly intelligent wolves than poisoned by enormous purple centipedes, Gennadiy Voronin. He is a dealer in antiquities of a repellent aspect, and the lord of a criminal empire extending from Limehouse to Leningrad to Lhassa. He possesses perhaps the finest mind you’ve ever encountered, all the more terrifying because it is his brilliance that has led him to the Mythos …
Terrible Deeds: unleashed a shoggoth, killed your mentor horribly, stole your research and left you floundering and bankrupt, drove you mad and had you institutionalized in some charming colonial hellhole, denounced you to Stalin/Hitler, assassinated FDR, found the Ark of the Covenant first, raised a god or titan once and didn’t have the courtesy to die or go mad
Masks: master of an ancient serpent-man cannibal shapeshifting technique, is an identical twin, has never been photographed, wears an all-enveloping hooded robe at all times, mind-swapped or drug-enslaved pawns, plastic surgery, is (or commands) an ambulatory shoggoth, yellow mask
Obstacles: hideous and hideously-strong enforcer, Ahnenerbe or Black Ocean or NKVD favors, lives in an immense ruined temple to a Mythos entity, hyperspace gates for escapes, bribed or addicted officials in all countries, byakhee flocks, fanatical cultist followers, cannot die
Taglines: Gain a Token by suitable, effective, in character use of a properly Lovecraftian adjective.
During the American occupation of 1915-1934, a wave of Protestant conversions spread through Haiti. Possibly as a result, Vodou congregations began to burn their drums, flags, instruments, and charmed objects, in order to “reject superstition.” The Catholic Church in Haiti saw these rejetes as the opening for a proper Catholic conversion wave, a campagne anti-superstitieuse: the Anti-Superstition Campaign. (The common voodoo practice of using the Eucharistic Host as a “magic item” contributed to the Church’s fervor.) Beginning in 1939, priests and lay brothers moved throughout the countryside where rejete movements had begun, converting peasants and local elites alike to orthodox Catholicism and urging the destruction and dissolution of Vodou temples, or houmforts. Medical missions provided drugs and treatment to the sick, showing up failed or empty houngan rituals. Priests carried the cross ahead of crowds shouting “Down with the Loa!” to bonfires of ritual objects in the houmfort’s peristyle. Those houngans who had lorded their status and power over the peasants found themselves powerless against priests with the peasants and the police at their back.
Initially, the authoritarian government of President Elie Lescot supported the Anti-Superstition Campaign, lending the Garde (the Haitian military police) to still more robust missions. “Superstitious practices” had been illegal since 1935, so the Garde’s destruction of houmforts (often also family houses) and seizure of land (the better to sell to United Fruit or the Haitian government rubber monopoly, SHADA) were just Haitian law enforcement at work. But in February 1942, the Church extended its campaign into Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, stirring up mass unrest where Lescot desired it least. Worse still, the apostolic nuncio Msgr. Silvani gave a fawning interview in the Dominican Republic explaining the campaign as an attempt to rationalize Haiti with the dictatorial (but devout) regime of Rafael Trujillo there. Rightly suspicious of Trujillo’s intentions to convert Haiti to a Dominican puppet state, the Haitian press turned on the Church and its campaigners. In March, Lescot ended government support for the campaign, and it fizzled out shortly thereafter.
So where is the Mythos? It lurks somewhere in Haiti, among the sects rouges or zobop societies of sorcerers and murderers. Or perhaps it is a new bauble for Trujillo or some eminence grise in his cabinet to toy with unwittingly. Or it gnaws at the bosom of the Church, as priestly despair in a sea of poverty turns to Hasturist nihilism. But it’s somewhere – and when people burn magic items in a remote jungle temple, so is the action. Herewith a number of possible Trail of Cthulhu campaigns, likely (but not lightly) seasoned with Voodoo.
- The Investigators are American or European outsiders, missionaries or other do-gooders trying to “better the lot” of the natives, or possibly mercenaries or hired cops training the Garde. The Keeper might use the anti-superstition campaign as background at first, but later force the heroes to decide: join a misguided, even cruel, effort in order to stop the Mythos, or stay true to their human standards?
- The Investigators are part of the Catholic Church hierarchy. They may be a globe-trotting team of demon-busting exorcists with Haiti the most recent stop, or they may be Haitian priests who have discovered Something in the deep jungles and wild mountains of the country. In either case, they might bring along a few NPC (or one or two player-character) members of the Garde for combat abilities and some broader skill bases.
- The Investigators might be using the anti-superstition campaign as cover for their own anti-Mythos campaign, or they might believe that the local Vodou communities are inseparably contaminated by the Mythos. One particularly interesting arc might start the Investigators off with the latter assumption – but as they travel deeper into the mystery, they slowly discover that the Vodou communities are the only things keeping the Mythos cults and zobop societies at bay.
- The Investigators are specifically part of the National Bureau of Ethnology, an alliance of Haitian, French, and American intellectuals headed by Jacques Romain, a well-connected Haitian poet, novelist, Communist, and ethnographer. They begin as staunch foes of the Church and its works, and as defenders of Vodou as “nationalist folk expression” – but when the unnamable enters their world through a Petro sect, what happens to their ideology? As a side note, Jacques Romain dies in 1944 of unknown causes at age 37, for Keepers of a conspiratorial mindset.
- The Investigators are part of a Vodou sect – possibly even a cell of a secret society in their own right – who begin the game square in the sights of the anti-superstition campaign, possibly with their houmfort burned down around them. They must still hunt down the Mythos and stop it, all the while dodging the Garde, Catholic priests, and perhaps agents of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo.
Here is a pot pourri of previews from current projects.
The Book of Loot
Gareth’s tome of magical treasures with a 13th Age spin. Somewhere there is a forum where all these magic items are posting their opinionated diatribes and whining about their owners.
I once knew this barbarian. Eight feet tall he was, and nearly as broad across the shoulders, eyes like smoldering coals. He comes out of the north, as barbarians do, and does all the things you’d expect a barbarian of that sort to do. He loots dungeons, slays monsters, sacks cities, seduces princes. The Emperor gives him a castle to keep him quiet, and a noble title to go with it. So, now that he’s a respectable noble, our barbarian goes and gets himself a suit of magic plate armor, and a magic shield to go with it.
The shield-maker asks him what the heraldic symbol of his house is, and the barbarian doesn’t know. He thinks about it, and picks the most impressive beast he’s ever seen.
KORU! he says, in this deep booming voice like an earthquake.
So the shield-maker paints a behemoth on the magic shield.
Next time a demon shows up, the barbarian girds his loins, and the rest of him too, and rides out to meet it in battle. He invokes the power of his shield and calls on his heraldic spirit…
You can still see the crater. It’s in the shape of a behemoth footprint. Squished him and the demon flat as two pancakes.
That’s why, if they ever make me a baron, I’m going to rule under the sigil of something small and very safe. I’m thinking goldfish. You?
- Stormcrow Jacen, “Merchant”
Glorious Gladiator’s Blade (standard action – recharge 16+): This weapon is a trophy of the arenas of Axis, handed down from champion to champion. To activate it, the escalation die must be 3+ and you must spend a round showboating for the crowd (even if you don’t have an audience.) While showboating, you may not attack and take a -2 penalty to all Defenses. Furthermore, the other players (and anyone else in the room) must chant your character’s name.
The first attack you make in the round after showboating is enhanced by the sword – you may double the to-hit bonus from the escalation die, and add the value of the escalation die to your crit range. So, if the escalation die is 4, you get a +8 bonus to hit and have your crit range increased by +4. Quirk: Craves the adulation of the crowd.
The Eyes of the Stone Thief
Amazing cartography from Herwin Wielink for Gareth’s epic 13th Age campaign.
“…the Maw is a churning pit of stones that swallows whole buildings. Any adventurer taking the quick route through the Maw by jumping into the pit is unlikely to survive. The safer route is to enter the warren of caves and small chambers that wind around the pit. The Maw is infamously treacherous and unstable. Earthquakes, cave-ins and rockfalls can cut an expedition off before they reach the dungeon itself. Most of the Maw’s denizens are scavengers, parasites and sewer monsters who ride along in the Stone Thief’s jaws, hoping to catch some scraps for themselves.”
Getting Started With Tabletop Roleplaying Games
An excerpt from a new book by Robin D Laws.
Roleplaying games more resemble movies or fiction in that different audience members gain different subjective pleasures from them. You might like a movie for its performances and pacing, where friend A liked all the references to an established continuity, and friend B wants to rave about its themes and nods to cinema history. You maybe responded to all of those elements as well, but you wouldn’t rank them as more noteworthy than the ones you singled out.
In a roleplaying game, you are creating the experience just as much as you are enjoying it. Your preferences come through in the choices you make.
Let’s call these the various facets of roleplaying.
Every player gravitates more to certain of these than to others. On any given evening, you might emphasize one cool sliver of the roleplaying experience over others. One session you might dig into a sense of triumph over the bad guys, and the next the exploration of the imaginary world. But overall, as the other players and GM get used to having you at the table, they’ll start to see that you care about some facets more than others. These might change over time as you grow more familiar with the hobby, or become clearer versions of what you liked from the very first.
By noting the facets of play that you respond to, your GM can tailor what she presents you with to bring these to the forefront.
Ken Hite’s Introduction to the forthcoming Russian version of Trail of Cthulhu
About This Game
Trail of Cthulhu is a roleplaying game using the GUMSHOE engine, in which you investigate and explore occult mysteries in the horrific world of H.P. Lovecraft. With the GUMSHOE engine, you never fail to uncover a clue; you always move forward deeper into the story. In Lovecraft’s world, all the clues you uncover point to mankind’s inevitable destruction and the story you enter is a tale of madness and horror.
GUMSHOE divides your abilities into two groups: Investigative abilities and General abilities. Your Investigative abilities never fail. You never roll the dice for them. Just like the heroes of mystery fiction and procedural TV series, if you have the right ability and the clue exists, you will find enough information to move into the next scene and look for the next clue. Discovering what the clues mean, however, recognizing the hideous portrait they slowly paint – that’s still up to you. You can spend Investigative points to get even more information: some new data will add color or background details to the portrait, some extra clues will get you to the horror faster or more confidently – and some of each might save your life.
Whether or not you deduce what cosmic horror or human insanity lies behind the mystery, you will find it – and it will find you. That’s when your General abilities come into play. You can spend points from them to boost your die rolls – if you have enough, you can even guarantee success! But make sure you really need it that time, because your General ability pools won’t last forever, down there in the dark.
Who Is My Character?
Your character is an Investigator of occult mysteries, a seeker after horror in the dark decade of the 1930s. You might be:
- A professor uncovering ancient secrets — at the obscure Miskatonic University in Massachusetts, or the prestigious Moscow State University.
- A journalist looking behind the story – for Time or for TASS.
- A police detective solving horrific crimes – for the Chicago Police or the Leningrad Militsiya.
- A painter or author dreaming of inhuman worlds – in Paris or Sokol.
- An archaeologist digging up primordial ruins – in Yucatan or the Ukraine.
- A parapsychologist exploring things nobody believes – for the Society for Psychical Research in London, or the Institute for Brain Research in Leningrad.
- A doctor tracking unseen dangers – in Florida or in Georgia.
- A scientist exploring the fringes of understanding – in Los Angeles or Novosibirsk.
What Do We Do?
Whoever your character is, you have stumbled onto the fringes of a horrible truth: the Cthulhu Mythos. The world is older than humanity, and we are not the first species to explore it. Those ancient species are not all dead, and those who will come after are beginning to arrive.
Above them all loom the figures of mighty beings whose very existence violate natural law and threaten to overwhelm our understanding of science. These are the beings whispered of in forbidden grimoires and desolate swamps: Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath. They might as well be gods, and there are living cults who worship Them as such, and try to restore Their reign now, when the stars have almost come right.
You and your fellow Investigators discover traces of Mythos activity in your own lives or the lives of your associates. You track down rumors of Mythos manifestations in newspapers and antiquarian journals. You might:
- Investigate a haunted house once owned by a possible cultist.
- Try to find the last copy of a forbidden grimoire before it can be used to summon one of the Old Ones.
- Fight it out with a race of horrifying alien beings lurking beneath an innocent town.
- Be drawn into a film that drives its viewers insane, and try to trace its unknown director.
- Battle a globe-spanning cult by picking up tiny clues to its activities all over the world.
Wherever the clues lead, you seek out those monstrous beings and their cults and you try to stop them in time. You may travel to strange far places or dig deep into the mysteries of your own home city: the Mythos is everywhere.
You’ve heard its call, and now you must follow its Trail or see the world end in madness and frenzy.
In all GUMSHOE games, there’s a benefit for having 8 rating points in Athletics – your Hit Threshold rises by 1. Night’s Black Agents expanded this to all General Abilities – if you invest eight of your precious build points in a particular ability, you get a cherry, a special ability that shows off your mastery in that field.
So, for your high-octane Pulp games, here’s a bunch of Cthulhuoid cherries that don’t overlap with the various occupation special abilities.
Conceal: Trap Sense
You may spend Conceal when making a Sense Trouble test if the potential threat is a concealed trap or other hidden environmental peril, like an overgrown pit or impending cave-in.
Disguise: Alternate Identity
You’ve established a whole other life for yourself, complete with friends, possessions, documentation – possibly even a home and family. This alternate persona must have a lower Credit Rating than your main identity (unless you’ve been masquerading as someone else since the start of the campaign). A Disguise rating of 8+ gets you one alternate identity; you can purchase more for 4 experience points each).
Driving: Drive-By Shootout
You’re adept at lining up shots for your passengers when they’re shooting out the window. (We won’t ask which mob outfit you were working for when you learned that trick). You may transfer up to 4 Driving points to your passenger’s Firearms pools at the start of a car chase. Unspent points are lost when the chase ends.
Electrical Repair: Alien Insight
Your intuitive understanding of electricity and magnetism gives you an insight into devices far beyond the paltry technology of humanity. You may spend 4 Electrical Repair to activate an alien device, like a Mi-Go brain cylinder or Yithian lightning gun. You only guess at how to turn the thing on, not what it does or how to properly control it.
Explosives: One Last Stick
You can spend Explosive points on Preparedness tests to obtain dynamite or similar explosives.
Filch: Here’s One I Stole Earlier
With a Filch rating of 8+, once per investigation, you may declare you stole something retroactively from a previous scene. You need to get into the mansion’s boathouse to flee the rampaging shoggoth? Well, it just so happens that you picked the groundkeeper’s pockets earlier on, and here’s the very key you need. You still need to make a Filch test to actually acquire whatever you want to unexpectedly produce.
Firearms: Nerves of Steel
Difficulty numbers for your Firearms tests aren’t affected by being Shaken.
First Aid: Sawbones
A First Aid Rating of 8 or more gives 1 free point in either Medicine or Pharmacy, player’s choice.
Once per adventure, when you fail a Fleeing test or are about to be consumed by some other horror, you may declare that you black out. When you wake up, you’re somewhere safe. You have no idea how you escaped or where you are now, and may have dropped items or abandoned fellow investigators to some horrible fate. But you’re alive, and that’s something.
You may attempt to use hypnotism on subjects who aren’t actively willing to be hypnotized. Your subject must still be somewhat open to your influence – you could hypnotize someone that you’re in conversation with, or the doorman at a club, but you couldn’t hypnotize the mugger who’s about to rob you, or the cultist who’s intent on sacrificing you to some alien god. Increase the Difficulty of any hypnotism tests using this ability by +2 (so, putting someone into a trance without their co-operation is Difficulty 5; planting false memories is Difficulty 7).
Mechanical Repair: Give It A Kick
Once per adventure, you may make a Mechanical Repair roll instantly. You could kick a plane’s engine back to life as it falls from the sky, or unjam a machine gun with one solid whack.
Piloting: There’s Always A Plane
Once per adventure, you may ask the Keeper to introduce an aircraft of some description that you can fly with this ability. Maybe it’s your own plane, and you’ve flew out or had it shipped out. Maybe it’s someone else’s aircraft you can borrow, or a crashed plane that’s repairable. Maybe the cultists have a zeppelin-temple. In any event, there’s always a plane nearby that you can use/borrow/steal over the course of the adventure.
Preparedness: Expedition Planning
If you have time to prepare and pack for any sort of expedition, then you bring enough for everyone. When you succeed at a Preparedness test to obtain an item, you may spend one extra point to have one of those items for everyone in the group. For example, if you use Preparedness to declare you’ve got an electric lamp, then you can spend an extra point to give everyone else a similar lamp too.
A Psychoanalysis Rating of 8 or more gives one free point in Reassurance or Assess Honesty (player’s choice).
Riding: Ride the Flying Polyp
You can ride anything, including Mythos mounts like shantaks. Even better, if a creature is introduced to you as a mount and you only use it for riding, then any Stablility losses for seeing the creature are reduced by 2.
Scuffling: The Old One Two
You may make an extra Scuffling attack per round, as long as you hit with your first attack. Your extra attack costs a number of Scuffling points equal to the result of the damage die (so, if you roll a 2, that’s 2 Scuffling points for another swing).
Sense Trouble: Quick Reflexes
If you overspend on a successful Sense Trouble test, you get those points back as a pool that can only be spent on Athletics, Fleeing, Firearms, Scuffling or Weapons tests in the first round of combat or in tests immediately related to the trouble you sensed. The maximum size of this pool is equal to the number of Sense Trouble points spent. For example, say the Difficulty to sense a lurking Deep One is 5. You spend 3 Sense Trouble and roll a 4, for a total of 7, beating the Difficulty by 2. You get 2 points back that you must spend immediately on attacking or escaping the monster.
If you’d rolled a 6, you’d have beaten the Difficulty by 4, but you’d still only get 3 points back.
Shadowing: In Over Your Head
Whenever you have to make a Sense Trouble roll while shadowing someone, you gain 2 points in a pool that can be spent on Evidence Collection, Locksmith, Disguise, Filch or Stealth. You lose any unspent points in this pool when you stop shadowing the target and turn back, or are discovered.
Stealth: Stay Here
As long as someone follows your explicit instructions, they can piggyback (as per the rules on page 57) on your Stealth tests even when you’re not present. So, if you tell a fellow investigator to hide in the undergrowth and keep crawling until they reach the road, they can piggyback on your Stealth tests if they do exactly what you told them to do.
Weapons: Favorite Weapon
Pick your favorite melee weapon. You draw strength and courage from its familiar heft in your hand. Once per adventure, you may gain 4 Stability from drawing or brandishing your weapon. With this sword by your side, there’s nothing you can’t handle.
Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu and its many supplements and adventures in the Pelgrane Shop.