Eternal Lies ranks as one of the best campaigns I’ve seen for any Cthulhu-system – it’s glorious and I’m not going to SPOIL the awesome premise here. Every Keeper should check this out – it’s one magnificent beast.
And the dead were the dead; this was no time to be pitying them or asking silly questions about their outraged lives. Such sights must be taken for granted, I thought, as I gasped and slithered and stumbled with my disconsolate crew. Floating on the surface of the flooded trench was the mask of a human face which had detached itself from the skull.
- Siegfried Sassoon
This collection of adventures considers the Great War, 1914-18, from the perspective of Trail of Cthulhu. From the conflict in the air, to the depths of the sea, the home front and the different battle fronts, the Great War affects the lives of countless millions of people. It also brings humanity into conflict with elements of the Mythos, and in particular the Charnel God Mordiggian who, for the first time in centuries, may actually have more to devour than it can stomach.
The forces of the Gods do not take kindly to being disturbed, and nor do they usually play favourites; unless your players are careful, they may find themselves attacked and wiped out in an instant, caught in an otherworldly crossfire they can only hope to survive, not understand.
Dulce et Decorum Est – Great War Trail of Cthulhu contains the following scenarios:
The once-mighty Vaterland is a prisoner of politics. She is trapped in New York Harbour, as war rages in Europe. Her crew and Commodore are just as much prisoners as the ship herself, though they are making the best of their captivity by hosting concerts in support of the German relief effort. You’ve come aboard at the behest of John Rathom, editor of the Providence Journal, in hopes of uncovering a German plot.
The crew of German U-boat UC-12, is sent on a standard mission; penetrate the North Sea defensive zone, make their way to Tyneside, lay their mines and return. But nothing in the Great War is that simple. While underwater, the crew start to hear a strange, muffled booming noise, ringing like a sequence of church bells. It’s not whales. It’s not enemy forces. Something else is down here. While settled on the sea floor to get some much-needed rest, the crew starts to act suspiciously. Someone is up to no good. The ship’s cat disappears and a strange weed is found growing on board.
Then the tapping on the hull begins.
Dead Horse Corner
The protagonists discover that a trench which ought to have been occupied by their fellow soldiers has been abandoned. Twenty men vanished without a trace, food still on the table and coffee cooling in their mugs. Was it an enemy attack, or something less ordinary?
Status: Art being done
“[I often have] the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world….From the anti-Fascist angle one could write a broadly truthful history of the war, but it would be a partisan history, unreliable on every minor point. Yet, after all, some kind of history will be written, and after those who actually remember the war are dead, it will be universally accepted. So for all practical purposes the lie will have become truth.”
- George Orwell, “Looking back on the Spanish War”
The protagonists, sponsored by the Paris-based political organisation BNVS, have come to Spain to shoot a documentary on the war, and find themselves marooned in Madrid. One of their team goes missing, and their literary colleagues say it’s pointless – even dangerous – to ask what happened to him.
In a war of competing ideologies, unorthodoxy can merit the death penalty, but is this Communist oppression or something more sinister?
Status: Art being done
Playtest feedback for Dreamhounds of Paris, the upcoming Trail of Cthulhu campaign sourcebook in which you play the major figures of the surrealist movement wreaking –psychic-revolutionary havoc in Lovecraft’s eerie fantasy realm, is in. Participants should pat themselves on the bat for a collectively great job. They’ve turned in detailed, thoughtful responses that will make the book better. This must have the highest ratio of comments made to comments used of any project I’ve received playtest feedback on.
Because the campaign strongly encourages you to play real historical figures, supplied for you in the book, we can do a fun thing that doesn’t usually arise from playtest reports. We can see who the most popular of the 20 supplied characters were, and in what proportion. Here’s the breakdown for the six most chosen characters, in handy pie chart form.
Clearly, seeing to it that you have Dali or Cocteau along is the Dreamhounds version of making sure somebody’s playing the cleric.
Trail of Cthulhu was a game-changer for Pelgrane. I was very excited when Chaosium agreed to the license, and when I added Kenneth Hite to Robin Laws’ GUMSHOE system I was pretty sure we had horror gamer catnip. The analogy with 13th Age is plain. Take the two developers of the previous versions of D&D, free them to do exactly as they wish, and we get something fresh, original and idiosyncratic for fantasy gamers. If you look at my business post – you can see what happened in 2008 when Trail was released, and in 2011 when 13th Age was placed on pre-order.
For both projects, the look and art was a given – it had to be Jérome Huguenin for Trail, and Lee Moyer and Aaron McConnell for 13th Age. Ken’s interactions with Jérome’s art influenced the final Trail manuscript, and Rob riffed off Aaron and Lee’s take on the 13th Age. These weren’t artists called into illustrate a finished project – their art influenced the writers and designers, and vice versa.
The two lines have another similarity. They are both commercial and critical successes. 13th Age is rapidly catching up with Trail in terms of core book sales, and reviews of both lines are stellar. So why I am I banging on this? Well, 13th Age is at the stage where Trail of Cthulhu was in 2008, and I want to give 13th Age players an idea of the extent of support we will give 13th Age; so that if you mount the 13th Age dragon, you have some idea where the ride might take you.
Trail of Cthulhu
Since Trail launched in 2008, we’ve released 33 supplements, including music and compilations, racking up 13 ENnie awards, nominations and honourable mentions. Our most widely acknowledged contribution to Mythos gaming is in the breadth and innovation of our adventure design and 21 of these releases were adventures. The first supplement for Trail of Cthulhu was Stunning Eldritch Tales – Robin Laws establishing a benchmark for Trail adventures, which Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan followed up with Arkham Detective Tales. Here are a few more highlights:
Shadows over Filmland: this set of adventures mixes up the Mythos with the horror films of the 1930s, and includes the Backlot Gothic , the gloomy and torch-wieldling festooned setting for thos films. Each chapter has a frontispiece illustrated by Jérome in the style of a film still. So, meet the Lord of the Apes, Dracula, the invisible man, zombies and Dr Frankenstein – who has Herbert West’s lab notes.
Rough Magicks – Ken’s more detailed take of mythos spells and rituals was followed by Robin’s Armitage Files, a new take on GUMSHOE which encouraged improvised play, showing the versatility of the system (and the creator).
Graham Walmsley’s Purist adventures: featuring the sad and the soul-sapping, Graham brought a new aesthetic to Trail, where hope is lost, characters have no good choices and the Mythos is victorious. They have since been collected together in Final Revelation.
A series of PDF adventures: by authors including Jason Morningstar, Bill White and Adam Guantlett allowed those authors to play their own games in our playground of despond, giving us scenarios set in Georgian times, in the Great War, at the dawn of the Nuclear Age and in a 1930s apocalypse, now collected in Out of Time and Out of Space.
Bookhounds of London is Ken’s bravura take on a Mythos city book, which with its companion volume Paulas Dempsey’s Book of the Smoke formed part of the amazing Bookhounds of London limited edition.
Finally, I’ll mention the culmination of years of work from Will Hindmarch and Jeff Tidball, with help from many others: Eternal Lies, the world-spanning adventure inspired by Chaosium’s seminal campaigns. Combined with James Semple and his team’s music this is truly epic and the most ambitious book we have created to date.
We will continue to support Trail with vigour – it is evergreen. Coming up are Mythos Expeditions, Dreamhounds of Paris and Fearful Symmetry. Many more are in the pipeline.
Its clear that 13th Age will be bigger than Trail. We will support 13th Age just as solidly and vigourously as we have Trail of Cthulhu, bring in top writers and artists, and our own uninhibited take on fantasy roleplaying. Fire Opal Media are producing some books in-house for Pelgrane to publish (13 True Ways) – with others we are working with various degrees of collaboration mainly with Rob Heinsoo on the Fire Opal side. So what should you expect?
We will work with the best people we can find who are inspired by 13th Age. Whether that’s our staff, freelancers we respect, or third-parties taking our open game license engine and having their own take on the Archmage Engine, we are happy.
So what’s to come?
- The 13th Age Bestiary is in layout, and it combines everything we’ve learnt from monster creation in the Dying Earth, the Book of Unremitting Horror and Trail itself – that is, monsters should be entertaining and carefully constructed opponents, but also adventures in their own right with life and background – but they should not be set in stone. We want GMs to have the material they need to reimagine their creatures to fit their version of the 13th Age.
- 13 True Ways is a labour of love by the original designers at Fire Opal, and features the elements 13th Age fans have said are missing from their games – in particular a wider range of classes and creatures. Progress report here.
- Shadows in Eldolan brings an urban mystery for 1st level adventurers featuring rival wizard schools and the undead – a benchmark adventure.
- The Lair of the Stone Thief is Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s dungeon campaign featuring a living dungeon, malevolent and viscious with a similarity to a certain white whale.
- Shards of the Broken Sky is a sandbox adventure for 13th Age centering on the crash of one of the Archmage’s flying realms. As threats multiply, the flying land turns out to have been the control point for magical wards neutralizing three ancient evils. With the cone of secrecy shattered, each of the thirteen icons offers rival opportunities for glory, plunder, or heroic sacrifice.
- The Strangling Sea is Robin D Laws introductory adventure. In this 13th Age adventure for a party of 4-6 1st-level adventurers, our heroes attempt to retrieve the enigmatic engineer Inigo Sharpe from his unfortunate imprisonment in the Stranglesea. This fantastical equivalent of our world’s Sargasso Sea traps wrecked ships, strands castaways, and supports an array of dangerous animal life.
These are still at the pitch stage – let us have your comments:
A 13th Age GM’s screen which is based on The Noteboard, and a Noteboard based battlemat with the 13th Age map on one side and a whiteboard on the other.
All for Love: (1st to 10th level campaign) Every generation, the rich, beautiful, politically powerful Orlando family introduces its sons and daughters into Imperial court life in a series of balls, jousts, tournaments, and increasingly perilous quests.
Every generation, the Orlandos’ rivals (human and otherwise) try to destroy them in a series of vendettas, assassinations, and increasingly unhinged proposals of marriage. You and your fellow heroes have fallen in love with the newest generation of Orlandos — or at least with their wealth, beauty, and political power. What will you do to win their attentions, to protect the things — and perhaps even the people — you love? Everything it takes, of course.
A book on Icons and their organisations.
Kenneth Hite’s Swords and Mythos – either a straight Earth port, or set in an earlier age: both of Ken’s pitches follow:
Swords and Mythos – Terran Version
From Sarnath to Mu to Hyperborea to Cimmeria, the ancient Earth swarms with dark cults, eldritch horrors, and foul magics — and with mighty heroes who drive them back into nightmare or master inhuman lore for human gain. This sourcebook reframes 13th Age for the primal Earth of heroic dark fantasists like Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Karl Edward Wagner, and Richard Tierney — and for a surprising amount of Lovecraft! Gods and monsters of the antediluvian Earth appear, ready to topple civilization or sink a continent. Magic, Icons, Relationships, and One Unique Things get their own spin for a world where attracting something more powerful than you isn’t always the best idea … but you’ve got the steel to meet them in the shadows.
Swords and Mythos – 13th Age Version
Before the Dragon Empire, before the storms calmed in the Midland Sea, before the Elf Queen took her oaken throne, before the Orcs were formed from the corpse-meat of a forgotten species, there was an age of terror and wonder — the Zeroth Age. The oldest Icons ruled, then: the Tattered King, the Dreamer in the Deep, and the Crawling Chaos, Icons that walked the world as Avatars and selected heroes to carry steel and shape sorcery in the names of those Great Old Ones. In this “swords and Mythos” setting, the familiar 13th Age rules and Relationships get their own spin for a world where attracting something more powerful than you isn’t always the best idea … but you’ve got what it takes to meet them in the shadows.
The OGL and Third Party Publishers
We’ve presented a clear and complete SRD, and in the next week or two, expect to see compatibilty licenses for publishers similar to those used for Pathfinder (we thank Paizo for the use of their license). The following creators have added 13th Age to their project.
- Dragon Kings project: Timothy Brown, creator of Dark Sun setting is providing a PDF rules supplement, funded through his Kickstarter.
- Sasquatch Game Studio: Features Richard Baker (3rd edition, Pathfinder), Stephen Schubert (3e, 4e, D&D Miniatures), and David Noonan (3e, 4e, Pathfinder) and their Primeval Thule offers 13th Age rules alongside D&D and Pathfinder
- Vorpal Games: Brian R. James (3e, 4e, Pathfinder), Matt James (4e, Pathfinder) in their Red Aegis RPG.
- RKDN Studios: artist Chris McFann, whose work with publishers helps him bring designers such as Monte Cook, Wolfgang Baur and Ed Greenwood to projects such as the Bestiary of the Curiously Odd .
Watch out for a big announcement in the next couple of months, featuring a big RPG name.
See P. XX
A column on roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
With Kevin Kulp’s TimeWatch RPG blasting through Kickstarter as only a chronoton can, you may be asking yourself if you can put time travel in other GUMSHOE games. We at Pelgrane are not in the business of telling you not what not to do with GUMSHOE. (Unless you want to use it to light your Hibachi indoors. In which case, don’t do that.)
That caveated, here’s how you might do it in the various existing GUMSHOE settings.
The Esoterrorists/Fear Itself/Trail of Cthulhu
One of my favorite treatments of time travel comes, of all places, from an old Batman comic. And not during a cool Batman phase, but from the kooky silver age. In that story, the details of which my memory is doubtless mangling, Batman and Robin go back in time hypnotically. (In fact, now Googling “Batman time travel”, I find that I like this idea because I’m remembering it wrong.) In my memory’s mistaken version of how this works, they possess the bodies of their ancestors, who happen to be conveniently located and remarkably similar in appearance in ancient Rome, the old west, the Viking era and so on.
Lovecraft likewise treats time travel as a mental journey, making it the specialty of the Great Race of Yith. In a Trail game you need go no further than to have a series of weird murders committed by a victim of Yithian possession. When the investigators capture the first suspect, the Yithian simply jumps to someone else—perhaps a PC whose player is absent that session—and forges ahead with the mayhem. To really shut down the Yithian menace, the group must figure out what the entity is trying to accomplish, and then take action to ensure that it is no longer possible. Otherwise the body-hopping from the ancient past continues.
Scrubbing the Mythos detail from this idea for The Esoterrorists or Fear Itself allows you to reverse the direction of travel. Outer Dark Entities come from the future, when they have already breached the membrane, to create the conditions that will later allow them to breach the membrane. They can’t travel directly into this time, but possess those emotionally destabilized by Esoterror provocations. Again the problem is that stopping one meat-form merely slows them down, requiring them to find a suitably vulnerable replacement. The definitive solution depends on rendering what changes they’re trying to wreak in the timestream impossible. After the Veil-Out, the Ordo Veritatis might take temporary relief in the thought that they’ve prevented a future in which their demonic foes win. But plenty of additional ways for them to do it remain, as a fresh manifestation quickly demonstrates.
Mutant City Blues
The conceit in this mutant-powered police procedural is that all weird abilities are already well explicated by science. If you do want to invent a mutant time travel ability you have to find a spot for on the Quade Diagram. Somewhere out near sector F00, where the weirdo dream manipulation appears, might fit the bill. You also want to establish the effects of time manipulation as already measurable, if not fully understood. So perhaps a time distortion field might emit some sort of radiation that enters the bloodstream, or induce over-production of a particular preexisting hormone. As members of the Heightened Crimes Investigation Unit you can perform tests on tissue samples to determine whether victims, alive or on a morgue examination table, were exposed to time altering energies. Finding out who committed the time crime would then be a matter of finding out which local mutant miscreant has the mutation in question. That said, given the down-and-gritty reality level of Mutant City Blues superheroics I would be inclined to make time travel something that tantalizingly almost seems to exist, until the detectives get to the real truth of the matter. Perhaps false rumors of time travel could be connected to the alien beings some people in the world credit with the Sudden Mutant Event that created all weird powers.
The space opera setting of Ashen Stars seems tailor-made for timey-wimey activities. Like several sources of its inspiration, it includes godlike aliens. Or at least there used to be godlike aliens, the Vas Kra, who have devolved into the all-too-moral vas mal. And with those in the mix, even if only in the setting’s past, anything can happen. That allows you to nod to this key genre element without introducing brain-cracking paradoxes that rightly belong in TimeWatch territory. Needless to say the shift from universe with time travel to universe without would be an outcome of the Mohilar War. We might take a cue here from the current, degraded morphologies of the Vas Mal, the former godlike aliens. Now they look like classic UFO grays, which hook up to the motif of missing time. Perhaps in the Ashen Stars universe, missing time derives not from hypnosis or erased memories but from proximity to time travel and its contradictions in minds not capable of handling it. Back in the 20th century, when the Vas Kra came to earth to meddle with the human mind, those taken up into their vessels suffered gaps in understanding because they brushed too close with their transtemporal natures. This leads to the theory, oft-mooted by residents of the Bleed, that the Vas Kra ended the Mohilar War by interfering massively in the past of those forgotten beings. It explains how the war ended, how the Vas Kra lost so much energy that they had to devolve, and why no one remembers that this happened. The fear that this is so leads at least one powerful movement to oppose all efforts by the vas mal to reconstitute themselves, lest time travel come back, unleashing chaos throughout the cosmos—maybe bringing back the Mohilar, too.
Night’s Black Agents
What if the vampires are time travelers? They’re humans who, sometime in the future, discovered how to move through time. Problem: doing so warped their bodies. They became vulnerable to sunlight and had to drink the blood of humans uncontaminated by chrono-energy to survive. Their added strength and resistance to damage (except to the brain or heart) hardly counts as a fair trade. So they send agents back to the past, to prevent the chain of events that leads to their own development of time technology. Stopping those events requires a grand upsetting of the geopolitical power structure. To achieve this they must penetrate and destroy the world’s intelligence agencies. The PCs know too much about this, even if they don’t believe the truth, and hence find themselves on the run from somewhat sympathetic vampires from the future. Who still want to pulp them and take nourishment from their juices.
by Justin Farquhar
These guidelines will help you to incorporate a thoroughly conspiratorial feel into your Trail of Cthulhu campaign. They make use of conspiracy mechanics found in Night’s Black Agents, so you will need a copy of the Night’s Black Agents (NBA) core rulebook as well as your Trail of Cthulhu (ToC) rulebook. If your intention is to run a thriller – especially a modern thriller – using the Cthulhu Mythos, it is recommended that you instead use The Dunwich Sanction build for Night’s Black Agents (NBA, p195).
What is Conspiracy Horror?
In fiction of all sorts, the existence of a persistent and organised group of antagonists plotting against the interests of civilised humanity is a classic device that forms the basis of the story arc. True conspiracy fiction however, brings distrust and paranoia to the forefront – the conspiracy has infiltrated society and the protagonists don’t know who they can trust. In horror, a conspiracy can help to evoke the sense of a menacing reality that lies beneath the veneer of mundanity. Lovecraft used this device in many stories, notably The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Whisperer in Darkness, The Call of Cthulhu and The Haunter of the Dark. Examples of conspiracy horror movies include Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Man and Jacob’s Ladder.
Almost every Trail of Cthulhu and Call of Cthulhu campaign involves a plot by cultists or mythos entities. However, no matter how complex or ambitious the plot is, these don’t usually constitute conspiracy horror in the truest sense. True conspiracy horror brings the specific, features of conspiracy to the foreground – secretiveness, distrust, betrayal, disguised menace and active opposition. In a true conspiracy horror campaign for Trail of Cthulhu, there must not only be a group of antagonists working to bring about the return of the Great Old Ones (or whatever), they need to have infiltrated society, or the Investigators’ organisation, so that the Investigators don’t know who to trust. And they need to have the power to act against the Investigators. If the characteristic mood of a Lovecraftian horror campaign is cosmic horror, the mood of Lovecraftian conspiracy horror should be cosmic horror plus paranoia.
In terms of the broad structure of your campaign Trail of Cthulhu campaign, refer to The Continuing Conspiracy: Campaign design (ToC, p199). The equivalent advice in Night’s Black Agents – The Thriller Skeleton (NBA, p184) and The Campaign Story (NBA, p193) – is also well worth referring to, particularly with regard to antagonist reactions. This advice, however, is tailored for the thriller genre, and is high on action and early shocks. Unless perhaps you are running a very Pulpy game, it will need to be toned down – action should be more low-key, the horror should build more slowly and, particularly if your campaign has a strong Purist feel to it, the Endgame should confront the Investigators with a climax of cosmic horror, with undermined Drives, Pillars of Sanity or complete Anagnorisis for one or more of them.
Some campaign frames are particularly suitable for conspiracy horror:
In Pulp mode, this could be a globetrotting battle against agents of the mythos. In Purist mode, the focus might be on intrigue within the corridors of the Miskatonic University itself (how high does it go?). Agents of the mi-go are almost certainly stalking Albert Wilmarth at the University; the Witch Cult is active in Arkham and who knows what forces may be trying to seize the dark knowledge kept in the Miskatonic Library? See ToC, p206 for more details.
Bookhounds of London
Think of exclusive and secretive societies and hermetic lodges in London high society and dingy, claustrophobic, cult-dominated communities in the Severn Valley. One challenge might be motivating typically selfish and cowardly Bookhounds to tackle a larger conspiracy. See ToC, p209 for more details.
The powerlessness, alienation and paranoia of institutionalisation combined with the conspiring of the authorities and uncertainty about whether the Investigators are just crazy, give this great potential as the basis of a conspiracy campaign. This campaign frame by Robin Laws is available free here.
Having the resources and the politics of law enforcement on their side – and the possibility of its corruption – makes this an excellent choice for a conspiracy campaign. The influence of hidden hands within society’s institutions of governance, including the Investigator’s own department, would be a powerful way to create a sense of intimidation and paranoia. See Arkham Detective Tales, p6.
This is a perfect campaign frame for a conspiracy game, with the Investigators part of a secret plot within government agencies. This necessitates secrecy and gives them access to classified information and exposes them to potential corruption within their own agencies. Emphasis could be on investigations within US territory, conspiracies within US institutions or far ranging secret missions. See ToC, p207; and find the Michael Dauman expansion of this campaign frame here.
Moon Dust Men
With black helicopters, men in black, and other shadowy government forces, this is another ideal set-up for a conspiracy campaign this time with a strong X-Files feel. This is detailed in the sixth instalment of Ken Writes About Stuff.
Some organisations and mythos races lend themselves better to effective conspiracy horror than others. Whether those who dominate the conspiracy are cult members or are a group of mythos entities they will need to be capable of organisation; they will probably have some sort of hierarchy; they will need rationality of some kind (no matter how alien), a degree of understanding of human beings, lines of communication, access to money and other resources and they will need some reason to conspire against humanity in the first place. Examples include:
Black Dragon Society
This group could certainly extend covert influence through East Asia and further afield. Their secrecy and infiltration of commerce and politics would make them a good candidate for a pulp conspiracy campaign.
Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign
In The Whisperer in Darkness, Henry Akeley (who is probably being impersonated by the mi-go at the time) blames a secret organisation devoted to Hastur and the Yellow Sign responsible for hunting down the mi-go (and tampering with Wilmarth’s mail). The Repairer of Reputations by Robert Chambers describes a national conspiracy (or at least the belief in one) bearing the Yellow Sign and preparing to seize power on behalf of the King in Yellow.
Cult of Cthulhu
While this is really a number of essentially independent sects, rather than a unified organisation, they share an ancient heritage and a common interest. Probably the most organised of these groups is the sea-farer’s cult found in ports across the world, which, in The Call of Cthulhu, conspired to murder Professor Angell in Providence, because of what he had discovered. Just how far do their tentacles reach?
Esoteric Order of Dagon
The EOD controlled the town of Innsmouth for 80 years, with the raid by government agents in early 1928 being the formative event of Project Covenant (above). A pre-raid campaign could focus on initial investigation of the town’s unnatural corruption, while after the raid, the focus could be on investigation of surviving outposts, or other contaminated communities. Could other powers be conspiring to acquire artefacts captured in the raid?
The Whisperer in Darkness describes a secret network in Vermont, capable of spying and intercepting mail, and sometimes resorting to violent intimidation. Mi-go themselves can mimic human speech, may be able to transplant brains from one person to another or take a semblance of human form with prosthetic body parts or hyper-advanced surgery. In terms of a mythos conspiracy game, this is gold dust.
Humanoid reptiles that can take human appearance would be great antagonists in a conspiracy game. And the overlap with the modern ‘reptoid’ meme is compelling. What if David Icke was right and the world really was led by an elite cabal of shapeshifting reptiles?
Starry Wisdom Sect
A secretive urban cult that can attract and corrupt the rich and powerful is ideal for a conspiracy campaign. What sort of political corruption allowed this murderous cult to flee from Rhode Island when faced by an angry mob in 1877? Did the cult simply go underground under the leadership of Enoch Bowen’s daughter Asenath? In Strange Eons, Robert Bloch refers to a branch of this sect in LA in the 1920′s and 30′s with likely influential members in Hollywood, law enforcement or government.
The knowledge and technology of the Yithians is beyond human understanding. They are highly intelligent, secretive and essentially indifferent to human concerns. They are served by human agents that may be embedded in society at any level and any location. They may at times seek to influence events in ways that are antithetical to the interests of humanity. They would make good antagonists in a conspiracy game, but their motivations should be marked by cold indifference to human concerns rather than a desire for power or destruction.
ToC, p160 has more detail on many of these organisations.
Most of the advice in Conspiratorial Considerations in NBA, p156 applies equally to a mythos conspiracy.
Mythos conspiracies don’t generally seek power over humanity for its own sake – they seek to bring the return of their favourite Great Old One, to rid mankind of the scourge of reason and sanity, mineral resources found only on this planet, information about human life in the 20th century, or to alter the course of evolution or history for some alien purpose. Alternatively they might be trapped on the earth and simply be attempting to protect themselves from human interference. This requirement lies behind all other details of the conspiracy – this is why they are interacting with human society in the first place.
As in Night’s Black Agents, this consideration concerns your conspiracy’s intentions at a political level.
Parallel State: Mythos conspiracies are likely to be less dependent on humanity than vampire conspiracies, but mi-go for example might need to parasitise human societies in order to harvest brains, Yithians might need to do so in order to gather research data, the Starry Wisdom sect may do so in order to maintain a regular supply of sacrificial victims.
Replacement State: Does the conspiracy seek to overthrow the current regime and replace it? This idea doesn’t come up often in Lovecraftian literature – some cult devotees might see the return of their ‘god’ as a type of replacement state. And in The Repairer of Reputations, Hildred Castaigne seeks to do this, establishing himself as regent and representative of the King in Yellow.
Anti-State: This describes the intentions of those entities and nihilistic cults that seek to wreak madness upon the earth or bring civilisation to an end with the return of the Great Old Ones.
Indifferent: The organisation or mythos race may be indifferent to the human world, and seek to influence it only in so far as it is necessary to fulfil its Mythos Need (above) – it may be neither dependent on nor hostile to the state, as long as it doesn’t interfere with its earthly operations.
Does the conspiracy have another group or conspiracy that opposes it (as the mi-go and Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign might)? Is there rivalry or open hostility between two or more branches of the conspiracy? Investigators might try to exploit such a situation.
In order to fulfil its secret agenda, a conspiracy will have had to spread its influence through society. What methods does it use? Blackmail, bribery and threats? Assassination? Mind control? Alien parasitic infection? Prosthetic human bodies? Shapeshifting magic?
Does the conspiracy operate primarily in the higher echelons of power or ordinary farming folk or among university academics? Where is its power focussed?
Lines of communication
Communications technology in the 1930s was far slower than the modern era. How do the various components of the conspiracy communicate with one another? Letter? Telegram? Pigeon post? Where do they access these services? A cannibal cult in the Himalayas might have difficulty getting access to telegraph equipment. Do they use codes? Do they use magical means – summoned servitor races, telepathy, hyperspace gates? As always, however, avoid letting drama be trumped by pedantic details.
Conspiracy Design Tools
The Conspyramid tool (NBA, p157) is an excellent tool for defining the power structure of your conspiracy and for defining a flexible structure for the campaign itself, with a clear beginning, middle and end.
This is the players’ map of the conspiracy structure. The rules for this can be found in Night’s Black Agents, p113. Relevant spends for uncovering an adversary map in Trail of Cthulhu are Anthropology and Oral History in place of Human Terrain and Traffic Analysis.
While a different name might be more appropriate in a mythos conspiracy game (‘Reaction Pyramid’ perhaps), this is another useful tool from Night’s Black Agents (p189) that can be readily adapted. The Vampyramid suggests options for an escalating series of antagonist reactions in response to the players’ investigations and assaults, with the nature of these reactions dependent on campaign style and previous actions.
Obviously you’ll need to substitute the suggested vampiric agents with appropriate agents or alien entities from your own campaign. And some steps require a slightly different interpretation from Night’s Black Agents:
Row One – Frame Agent: The targeted Investigator might be framed for a crime or tarnished with allegations of Bolshevism or something similar. Their Credit Rating ability is reduced by 2. 1 point can be recovered if they can clear their name.
Row One – Shadow Investigator: This is a contest of Shadowing.
Row One – Shadow Source: The effect may be to prevent the Source of Stability from refreshing Stability. Restoring them to a normal state is a difficulty 4 Psychoanalysis test (Psychological Triage).
Row Two – Threaten safety: This is a threat to a location that the Investigator had considered safe, for example, they find their study ransacked. It’s possible that important possessions could be stolen. In Trail of Cthulhu there is no direct mechanical effect.
Row Four – Kill Solace: The conspiracy kills one or more of the Investigator’s Sources of Stability in front of them.
Row Five – Lure Agent: Substitute with Reveal Awful Truth – the conspiracy captures or tricks the Investigators, exposing them to one or more Awful Truth, attacking their Drives and/or Pillars of Sanity.
Row Six – Destruction: As with ‘Reveal Awful Truth’ above, and especially in a Purist campaign, this final assault may include or take the form of awful revelations that destroy Investigator sanity: Anagnorisis, or destroyed Drives or Pillars of Sanity for at least one Investigator.
As with vampire conspiracies (NBA, p159), there are certain components that most mythos Conspyramids will need:
It may not have to control a bank or launder money for organised crime, but depending on the level of influence of your conspiracy, it will need some way of funding its activities. Drugs? Smuggling? Legitimate businesses? Donations from cult members? Many mythos conspiracies have outer circles or puppet religious sects that function as shell organisations – providing a semi-legitimate face for funding and recruitment.
How does the conspiracy at large protect itself when threatened? If threats and violence are used, is this carried out by cult members, converted police officials, members of a controlling mythos race or summoned servitors? If they use blackmail, who does it and how do they get the compromising information?
‘Mythos Need’ Sources
If a cult requires a steady supply of human sacrifices or brains, where does it source them? Cultist volunteers? Abductions? If it needs to protect a colony, who defends or hides it?
Poaching Thriller Mechanics from Night’s Black Agents
Keepers running games that centre on law enforcement, government agencies or military personnel may find it appropriate to incorporate mechanics from Night’s Black Agents with an emphasis on action and gun-play. Note however, that introducing too many such options may be at the expense of the sense of Lovecraftian horror. Especially careful consideration should be given before using these options in a Purist game. If you choose to do this – unless you want a very pulpy, high-action feel – it is recommended that you limit these mechanics to:
- Thriller Chases (NBA, p53)
- Thriller Chase rules – DUST mode only (NBA, p56)
- Thriller Combat rules - DUST mode only (NBA, p70)
Infinitely plastic and ductile — slaves of suggestion, builders of cities — more and more sullen … intelligent … amphibious … and imitative!” If something can take any shape, what is its true nature? Are the shoggoths slave machines or biotech Singularity? Are they one or many? Tekeli-li!
Hideous Creatures: 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).
On the Dreams in the Lich House blog, reviewer Beedo says about the epic Eternal Lies campaign:
“After spending the past few weeks reading this 400 page monster, Pelgrane has far exceeded my expectations.”
Beedo continues, “The overarching theme of Eternal Lies is corruption, and the adventure does a fantastic job of grinding stability and sanity from the investigators and threatening them with effects that corrupt their character’s thoughts, souls, and ultimately, their physical bodies.”
Adding that “This is an excellent campaign, highly recommended, which confronts the players with a diverse series of locales and investigation types, while showing off the strengths of the Trail of Cthulhu rules set”, Eternal Lies is top of Beedo’s queue for next games to run.
You can read the full review on the Dreams in the Lich House blog here.
Over at his defective yeti blog, Matthew Baldwin has rapidly become a fan of Trail of Cthulhu. We are delighted to hear that it’s thanks to Trail of Cthulhu that Matthew can “at long last, add the title of ‘roleplayer’ to my gaming resume without resorting to exaggeration or wishful thinking.”
In great detail, Matthew examines the core Trail of Cthulhu rulebook and the elements of the game that he most appreciates, as well as referencing some of the Trail scenarios he’s played (collected in Stunning Eldritch Tales, Out of Time and The Final Revelation). He says “Chock full of ideas … the Trail of Cthulhu book will be of interest to anyone fascinated by the Mythos — even those who have no intention of ever playing the game.”
You can read Matthew’s thoughtful review on the defective yeti blog here.