Two powerful figures square up for a final debate certain to spell defeat for one – and recent media attention seems to have swung hard one way. The investigators have a chance to uncover the truth, but they have precious little time to do it and an immovable deadline looming.
I’ve been a fan of Nathan Hill since I picked up a copy of his excellent sci-fi game Foreign Element – and then ran an adventure on a suspiciously orange planet. Nathan has chosen a particularly apposite moment to release Debate Night in America, an adventure he’s written for The Cthulhu Hack, but suited to any game of conspiracy-fuelled, supernaturally-steeped investigation.
The adventure invites a sense of impending doom in a very strict, tight timeline – and I might even suggest you could swing something close to an actual countdown by running it at a pace of 15 or 20 minutes real time equals 60 minutes game time. An actual clock on the table that you advance, with the absolute certainty that the televised debate goes ahead at 7PM – that should have the players focused and increasingly frantic.
Entirely viable as a one-shot for an evening or a convention game. I also found that a reference at the start of the final paragraph on page 18 had me thinking that you might have a cross-over with Thro’ Centuries Fixed – and my inference yesterday that I see a campaign potential in the mix. You’ll get it if you’ve read both adventure and the source story for Thro’.
Nathan has made Debate Night in America available as a Pay What You Want and I ask you to donate a fancy coffee’s worth for his effort!
Since I wrote The Haunter in the Dark, my appreciation of Lovecraft’s stories has changed considerably. I find myself unable to simply read one of these tales; I have to take a mental scalpel to them to slice them into gameable slivers and chunks. I still enjoy the stories; I actually feel like I’m getting more enjoyment out of reading each one because of the extra layer of activity. As The Cthulhu Hack: The Haunter of the Dark suggests, I find I now read each story a couple of times and come away the second time with a wealth of ideas, potential gameable material and a lot of questions.
When I prepared Thro’ Centuries Fixed for publication, I presented it in a format with a wide margin on one side. While I’m not 100% committed at the moment to the idea of this being a physical print product, I am 100% certain it isn’t quite finished yet. I have the need to fill that margin with notes.
I’m re-reading the source story for the third time.
I have thoughts. I’m certain to find facets that warrant dwelling on, extrapolating from, and expanding along new lines. While this modern adventure has one-shot written all over it on first read-through, I think it also has the potential to kick off a campaign. The weird thing about the campaign angle for me is that this could be a campaign with the characters – or it could be a campaign that follows on from the premise and purposes established, but using other characters.
As I explain in Haunter, you should always keep notes when you’re reading or have a highlighter handy. I have two copies of this adventure printed out and plan to have it looking like my copy of Lovecraft’s The Haunter of the Dark in no time at all. I try to scatter pens around the house specifically to facilitate and accommodate my need to annotate – else I fear I’m going to forget something before I have time to take note.
I think it might be too fresh to start citing ideas here – because I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone playing it. Instead, the campaign ideas and possible cross-reading / viewing will get themselves a place in those margin notes I haven’t finished writing yet.
Now you know. When you print it out at home and wonder why I’ve left all that white space, you can be assured that it won’t all remain open and airy forever. I have marginalia incoming.
And, for that matter, by leaving those wide margins I’m empowering you to fill them.
UPDATE: The current version of Thro’ Centuries Fixed includes extensive new margin notes, a map of the adventure site, and tweaks to the text.
You wake groggy; your body stiff, your sight obscured. You stir; vigour oozing slowly back into your muscles like you’ve slept for an age. As your vision clears, you find your surroundings unfamiliar, the colours and light queer. You struggle to call out for help, but cannot find the words; You struggle to remember much of anything – were you drunk? Drugged? Sick?
Perhaps, with hindsight, you were better not knowing…
Thro’ Centuries Fixed is a new adventure for The Cthulhu Hack or your Mythos-based horror investigation game of choice. A modern era adventure, flexible enough for a one-shot or a short series of sessions.
I’m currently considering submissions (and commissions) for The Cthulhu Hack adventures to fill out the release schedule for next year.
I have half a dozen things already mapped out – including an optional rules supplement, a campaign book, and a GM screen – but, I would like to have something new released every month.
Adventures will be between 4,000 – 8,000 words, would see release as a PDF (with the possibility of physical compilation at a later date), and compensation would come as an agreed percentage over the first year of release.
If you have an interest, I’m looking for brief proposals – no more than a hundred words. I’m not setting down any commitments or making any promises. I will take note and get back to you when the time comes.
Actual rates for any commission will come as part of our individual discussion – and as a small self-publisher, I absolutely reserve the right not to pursue anything that won’t benefit both parties. Long term financial security and fame does not lie at the other end of this email address (for either of us!).
Understanding the mechanics and approach of the game will help a lot – as any proposal provided that needs considerable work in editing will attract less favourable return!
I’m seeking submissions of classic Lovecraftian investigation in any period or setting not tied to any other publisher – so, it’s possible if I like what you’re suggesting we might need to wrangle the subject matter firmly into the public domain.
If that sounds of interest, send your proposal to commissions AT cthulhuhack.com – and I’ll confirm my receipt in due course. Then, I’d suggest you settle back into the humdrum of the real world while I work through the possibilities.
It seemed appropriate to have an adventure out in time for Halloween. I didn’t want to constrain myself to a Halloween specific theme – I just wanted to write something suitable for a session of play to serve as quick horror fodder or an introduction to The Cthulhu Hack.
Save Innsmouth is that adventure – to be released at Spiel tomorrow and RPGNow / DriveThruRPG from Friday, 14 October.
You’re all students at Arkham’s renowned Miskatonic University. Between terms, you’re taking the opportunity to go hiking. You’ve taken an interest in the newspaper and local TV reports of construction in the north-east, along the coast, that will see a piece of history, a town preserved since Prohibition times, bulldozed to make way for a luxury health spa resort. This will be the last chance to see the place intact before The Man clears away another chunk of America’s heritage in the name of progress.
This Cthulhu Hack adventure is designed as a stand-alone scenario and can be run as a one-shot adventure over a single sitting from three to four hours of real time.
And… It’s just Chapter 0 of an adventure campaign coming out in 2017.
For the second weekend in a row, I ran a game of The Wood at Cobbler’s Nob, set in the Convicts & Cthulhu setting. The first time, at Go Play Leeds, the adventure ran a lot differently to this weekend, at Concrete Cow in Milton Keynes.
This Cthulhu Hack adventure starts with character generation, during which I explain that by the start of the adventure the players need to have chosen who will be the guards and who the convicts, with numbers favouring the latter.
At both events, the sessions showed that character generation slips by smoothly with a minimum of fuss – and in the Cow session I managed to run a second character generation midway through in a couple of minutes, when one convict died and we needed a replacement.
In both adventures, the investigation has led to the characters seeking out expert advice and then coming face-to-face with the horror behind the threat. In the former case, the group took the gung-ho approach; in the latter, the considered one, taking a proposal to the locals that perhaps they should back off.
Interestingly, the events in the second adventure wouldn’t have panned out the way they did if the convict hadn’t died. The player played a free colonist as their second character, a resident of Cobbler’s Nob, and they mirrored the feelings of the settlement well. When the truth started to become clear, they agreed with the guards that the way ahead might be to step back. However, it took some thoughtful words and careful planning to get the job done.
The system held up well, with less sanity-shattering moments in the second session. The first group really did take the rollercoaster approach – and only one survived. They both found a way to avert the threat of the horror, but just took it in completely different directions.
I will try to gather up some notes on the adventure – which came about through reading various source materials, including some aboriginal myths and stories. In the analysis, the horror might be Mythos driven, but could just be something supernatural – I think it might be something left to the individuals playing the adventure to decide.
I would ask, if you have good experiences reading, running or playing The Cthulhu Hack: Convicts & Cthulhu, that you pay what you think it’s worth – as I’ll say openly that 85% of purchasers, thus far, have taken the option to pay nothing. This has affected my plans to convert and release The Keepers of the Woods, which I would also make available PWYW. The effort involved in putting these books together is no different to any of the other Cthulhu Hack books, with fixed prices and the artists have been paid regardless.
Again – to be open – in both cases, the product has been released PWYW because of the complexities in the licensing, not because of a particular gimmick or wish to experiment. I love the C&C setting and the Keepers adventure – and they have both figured heavily in my testing of the system. Keepers will likely come later in 2017, rather than last quarter 2016. Under any other circumstances, C&C would have been a $2.50 PDF with a physical copy comparable to The Cthulhu Hack in price.
You can go back and purchase a second copy of Convicts & Cthulhu at a higher price than the original – and that will make all the difference. It means I continue to support great art for the covers and spend time writing new material. I can also start looking into interior art for future releases and re-releases. I also appreciate your reviews and taking the time to rate or review any Cthulhu Hack product helps other gamers make their decisions to buy into the game.
The physical copy of TCH: Convicts & Cthulhu is also Pay What You Want, but with a minimum set at my cost to get the product printed. You’re paying for the layout, printing, the physical product, and the transit – anything else I leave to you. I expect to have it available, initially, only in the boxed sets on All Rolled Up and on the stall at events, including Furnace, Spiel, and Dragonmeet.
I like the use of Improvised damage as the reduced harm to the essentially immaterial Fire Vampires from gear that smothers. Nice use of the available mechanics.
I also posted a brief overview of my first session of The Derelict, Chaosium’s special release for Free RPG Day, that you can now pick up as a physical book through Lulu.
Finally, I liked the use of old book covers in Mark’s horrors article – so, I recommend digging through a few old pulpy covers when coming up with ideas or imagery for your sessions. While some of the covers don’t exactly inspire, the more psychedelic efforts are great.
Gary Cole, a UK artist who posts his work on Deviant Art under the name Cisticola, has been labouring for some time on several exquisite hand-outs suitable for someone running the classic Cthulhu adventure ‘The Haunting‘.
For those who have yet to indulge in my porting of this stalwart classic over to The Cthulhu Hack, these will surely help with the immersion of your game and players into the world of esoteric realty management.
As well as various news articles from The Boston Globe on the varied fates of occupants at the troubled address, Gary has created versions of articles never published, postcards from Roxbury Sanitarium, pictures from the newspaper morgue and more besides – scattered across various sites, including his blog.
Well worth the time to seek out all the elements, as I have found The Haunting a worth way to introduce new gamers and entertain old hands alike.
While created to generate quick horrors of the unknown for games like The Cthulhu Hack, there’s nothing stopping you from using From Unformed Realms as a way to kickstart monsters for other games.
Throw a few six-sided dice (different colours help, deciding in advance which come first, second and third – but you could just read them left to right as they fall) or use an online randomizer, and you can set down the skeletal potentials of a new opponent.
As a basic guide, for Hack games, add a Hit Dice for each ability or characteristic generated or – conversely – decide the power level of the horror and roll as many times as it has Hit Dice.
So, I rolled three times, aiming for something 3HD – then rolled another die for form, which I didn’t count for hit dice.
The entity shimmers and gleams with sweat (+1HD)
Sharp and dark prickles cluster across its horny hide (+1AV, +1HD)
Thorns can fire like projectiles
– fluid scalds with an extreme temperature (+1HD)
Out of that I get:
Ss’nda (3HD, +1 AV; when damaged, DEX Save or inflict 1d4 damage)
Commonly mistaken for the salamander in folktale, the Ss’nda admittedly have much in common with the toxic amphibian, but little in common physically. The Ss’nda sleep in forges, furnaces and kitchen fires, where the heart of the flame glows white hot, soaking up the heat with the contented attitude of a spoilt cat. Out of the fire, their skin has a crystalline shimmer, like shards of desert glass, rough with spines and prickles. They appear like a writhing rope of coloured gas, licked by dancing flames and shimmering heat.
When enraged, the hissing internal pressure of the ophidian beast makes it dangerous to strike with any weapon; any wound releases a gout of scalding liquid and gritty shards of sharp glass, that sear and tear exposed flesh.
Lore suggests that only intense cold, not water, can calm a Ss’nda – indeed, water generates the same threat as striking it with a plume of gritty steam.
In certain quarters, rumour suggests the Ss’nda were creations of the Serpent People, kept by alchemists and sorcerers as pets and a ready source of heat with sufficient intensity to boil or burn almost instantly.
While clearly named The Cthulhu Hack, in honour of the dread Old One, the nature of the Hack means you can handle any investigation using the system’s associated mechanics. Both Smokes and Flashlights serve as a medium for a little luck, a bit of insight and a knack for finding the half-hidden or forgotten.
Like the investigators in a US procedural or a British Christie-style murder mystery, the Cthulhu Hack‘s investigation rules give essential clues mixed with the tension of a dwindling pool. In a non-Mythos game, you could swap out Sanity for Fatigue or Stress – they all stem from the same source, but Sanity has a strong connection with certain types of game.
There’s also nothing stopping you from folding the idea back into The Black Hack or one of the other derivatives – or using The Cthulhu Hack system with fantasy or sci-fi trappings. The Career Paths might need a tweak and you’ll need to improvise the equipment list a bit – but you could also just co-opt that sort of thing from a favoured setting.
Blood and Lumber
Take the Shadow of the Demon Lord, for example. The recently released adventure Blood Will Run involves the characters investigating the disappearance of twin boys in a small village. Stereotypical genre tropes can get the investigators on board, with a letter from their uncle, a newspaper cutting or some other tenuous association with the settlement.
Before running the session, the GM needs to read through the adventure – and I would recommend printing it out and have two colours of highlighter to hand. Three if you can manage.
As you read through, highlight any sentence where the investigators might:
Spot, uncover, trip over, research, stumble, recall or otherwise discover something – that’s a FLASHLIGHT.
Overhear, carouse, interrogate, coerce, fast talk, bribe, claim common kinship or otherwise extract information through social connection – that’s a SMOKE.
If you have that third highlighter in hand – mark any instance where the adventure either threatens direct harm or would cause pain, damage, distress or similar. That sounds like either a SAVE or a test of SANITY – in either case, the player will need to roll.
Reading from the beginning, I started making notes, some of which I include below. In reading, if you get any sense of a piece of information, a find, a muttered word or a threat of danger – highlight it!
FLASHLIGHT The village of Cheqwood has a long history in the lumber trade, providing highly prized wood to craftspeople and artists far and wide. The limited supply makes for fierce, even violent, competition.
FLASHLIGHT An ancient charter, signed centuries ago, limits the quantity of lumber the village can take from the wood, backed by royal decree. The inhabitants have never tested these limits and the settlement has never really grown much as a result.
FLASHLIGHT One of the glass panes in the windows bears the slightly greasy, smudged handprints of a child; it appears as if one pressed close to the window to spy any activity within.
SMOKES Someone has been disturbing graves of the departed in a disused private ground near the old manor. When the village turned out to find the missing boys they found several graves dug up and desecrated.
SMOKES Clyde, something of a spokesperson for the community, had a raging argument with the local blacksmith, out in the street in front of The Black and Staff pub. The ‘smith claims Clyde’s children stole from him, but absolutely denies any responsibility for their disappearance.
CHA SAVE Speaking with Clyde runs the risk of pulling too many chains and turning his stress into outright rage. A thumper by nature with the physique to match, failure to make the Save will shift him to hostile reactions until calmed by a local or restrained.
And so on… I don’t want to spoil the adventure, but you’ll have opportunities to test Sanity and a possible fight or two to keep the Bruisers entertained.
The adventure in this example needs some tweaking to remove fantasy elements – like elves – but the core of an abduction and a stressed out community stands. With little more effort than reading the adventure – and a few highlighters or similar in hand – you have a fresh adventure to add to the stable.
Today’s random pull from the Storey Publishing Backlist deck of cards – “Around the Corner Crochet Borders“, a collection of 150 colourful crochet frames, each with detailed instructions for working around a corner. While an absolute must for intermediate crotchet enthusiasts in its own right, also the creative nudge for today’s random table of disputed and protected territorial lines.
The scattered kingdoms, principalities and provinces of the world have very different views on maintaining border controls.
Roll d6, twice:
1: A twisted borderland of monstrous briar, tended by (1-2: anxiously attentive animists; 3-4: societally dysfunctional druids; 5-6: begrudgingly belligerent briar elementals)
2: A shredded landscape of lines and cables, (1-2: a witch’s effort to hold off ten thousand years of geological movement and scant frayed threads away from a cataclysmic release; 3-4: a diplomatic minefield of fragmented zones under contractual discussion through long distance magical protocol demanding delicate negotiations to traverse by way of phantasmal civil servants; 5-6: an alchemist’s government-funded experiment, which extracts essences from those crossing the border and carries them back, underground, to his not too distant lab for cataloguing)
3: An imposing range of mountainous (1-2: golem, quested to remain here by a forgotten emperor for an act of war, record of which only exists on the scraps of vellum secured in their cranium ; 3-4: dragon scales, extending from the back of a hibernating behemoth known to nestle upon an ancient hoard said to contain some of the most legendary, near mythical, riches; 5-6: waste dumped here through a magical portal – itself now quite soundly buried under nauseating layers of semi-fossilised garbage)
4: A dancing wall of (1-2: will-o-wisps constantly leading travellers off the safe path across a miles wide swamp of bubbling, decayed mulch; 3-4: metallic dust, the enchanted waste product of an ancient army of flying swords, now wasted away to almost nothing, but far more deadly than the worst possible sandstorm; 5-6: fur clad, bear-riding warriors, protesting for several generations about poor working conditions for a leader long dead, a conflict long forgotten, but a principle worthy of persistence)
5: A wilderness of (1-2: sentient trees standing guard over the carefully tended lines and patches of rare and beautiful blooms – and woe betide any who put a petal out of place; 3-4: shanty dwelling, twisted like a maze and layered like a quarry, filled with the poor, the desperate, the wanted, the forgotten, and the down-at-heal – but perhaps also home to someone known to those passing; 5-6: hills and gullies, haunted by hungry trolls, wily bandit gangs, and the ghosts of unlucky travellers)
6: A mist-wreathed wasteland of crooked tombstones, (1-2: occupied by the restless and jobs-worthy carcasses of one-time border guards laid off during a previous administration; 3-4: the surface manifestation of a upturned granite-skinned monstrous caterpillar, frustrated by immobility and hungry; 5-6: surveillance zone of an other dimensional security firm, providing round-the-clock services to the inconceivably wealthy)
1: Intellect – local scholar seeks to teach chickens rudimentary language skills to serve as a resource for his studies and field trips – much to the chagrin of local farmers 2: Awareness – wily street-monger trains chickens to harass customers into his pitch, swarming hapless travellers and passersby 3: Capital – beggars stealing chickens from local peasants and farmers to raise money 4: Family – a wild eyed woman, spattered with feathers and guano, seeks to adopt chickens into her extended household 5: Fuss – conniving hookman* scattered food around front doors to excite chickens as a means to draw attention away from his back window thievery 6: Questions – long-toothed street philosopher compares everything to the acts and wants of chickens, but much of his advice rings true and his reputation draws numerous onlookers 7: Rumpus – circus performer juggles and does seemingly impossible magical tricks with chickens 8: Expectations – aspiring champion of the people appears to owe his performance to a chicken he keeps in stately and pampered fashion in his chambers 9: Our Hands – diplomats discuss terms in distant arid lands under threat of terrible conflict, but the terms of agreement demands chickens and someone must wrest them from the holdings of a local monster 10: To Divinity – a settlement of ordinary, hard-working people rise each day at dawn to seek the wisdom and guidance of the holy chicken, who seems to have turned their fortunes around 11: Voices – local clans within a wider territory come to loggerheads after chickens from one break into the fields of the other and eat corn, though no one can account for the hole in the fence 12: The Dead – aspiring kotamancer** seeks to harness the destructive potential of a hoard of zombie fowl to wreak havoc on an agrarian kingdom
* a thief who uses a long hook to steal things; ** a magic user who specialises in the enchantment and manipulation of chickens
As I’m currently in the (long term) process of putting together a game system – called 214 – it seems very likely I’ll use some of my own material to put the crunch through it’s paces.
My adventure The Blessing of St Agnes puts the player characters in the situation of seeking out the fate of a kidnapped girl. Faced with a pleading, tearful (and wealthy) patron, the characters investigate about the potential fate of the girl and track clues across the village and local countryside attempting to track her down.
While the adventure has a dungeon aspect to it, various alternate plots and antagonists mean that no two versions of St Agnes will be the same. The ploys and questionable intentions of those responsible for the girls disappearance will alter the way the PCs have to deal with the situation and (hopefully) return her safely.
In addition to details of the Chapel of St Agnes and various individuals of significance, the adventure features an appendix with additional content to include, generic monster details, and – in this physical form – several handouts scattered around the book.
Given the suspicion and distrust surrounding the situation, from the PCs towards the locals and vice versa, the adventure will run well with 214. I may add further new material to the adventure – available to all – to support this use. With some thought, focus and a little pruning, I dare-say I can use this as a convention game next year (or perhaps for Hangout sessions, when I get around to running some!).
I have been tinkering with the idea of creating geomorph dungeon cards to a design that would allow you to use them when running a game of The Blessing of St Agnes. Once you’ve finished using them for the game, you can carry on using them as a random method of creating other dungeons and structures, but the core of the set would support laying out a map for the players as a point of reference to the adventure.
I like the whole (mildly therapeutic) process of creating the geomorph cards. I used a blank playing card stock for the geomorphs and draw on them directly with a Rotring Tikki Graphic 0.4 and a medium Staedtler whiteboard marker. The therapy comes from adding all the hashing that surrounds each element of the map. You add several of them in one direction, then turn the angle of the card and apply more, then turn and again. Eventually, you just start to fill in the gaps inbetween.
I have also been working on some additional content for the UK Games Expo edition of the Blessing adventure. You can get the Lulu-printed edition via Amazon at the moment, fulfilled by myself. It might seem odd doing it that way, but it means that I can include the special edition elements in the product that you get sent out to you, while Amazon processes the payments and such. What you get is a one-of-a-kind edition of the adventure, as all the extra bits get cut out and applied by hand. If I can sort out a way of printing the hand-drawn geomorphs on-masse, I will look to offering them as an extra – though I have no clue on the prices of availability. Something for me to consider and work on.
Martyred somewhere around the end of the 3rd century, St. Agnes of Rome was only a young girl – around 12 or 13 years old – when she died for her belief that her heart belonged to just one suitor, and he was not a common mortal. Alas, Procop, the Governor’s son, did not take kindly to her stance and the Governor attempted to coax, sully and torture her, before finally putting her to death.
Today is St. Agnes’ Day.
Her story, in some measure, inspired the poet Keats to write The Eve of St. Agnes, a beautiful and romantic poem published in 1820. A brilliant narrative poem, completed in 42 stanzas in the Spenserian style, it tells of a young man seeking to revive his love from an enchanted sleep, only for her waking expectations not to meet her dreaming desires… but it all works out in the end in a raging storm and a couple of incidental deaths.
Keats has gone on to inspire me to write a short system-free fantasy/historical role playing adventure, The Blessing of St. Agnes, available now on RPGNow. The young daughter of a wealthy merchant has vanished, leaving him distraught and pleading for assistance. In the depths of the dark woods beyond the bounds of the town, the ruinous remains of a chapel to St Agnes hide more than a few secrets of a forgotten sisterhood and hope for the helpless.