Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Buried with a Bishop (Night's Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Trail of Cthulhu)

No doubt many of you will already have heard of the baby found in the bishop's coffin, but for those who have not, Swedish archaeologists recently made a fascinating discovery in the tomb of Bishop Peder Winstrup. Expecting only to find out more about living conditions in 17th Century Sweden, the archaeologists discovered the remains of a six to seven month old fetus, carefully hidden at Winstrup's feet, under the Bishop's vestments. It's not known how the child got there. The probability is that someone in the burial party, and therefore presumably one of the Bishop's staff, hid the child there before interment. This was probably done because the fetus could not be baptized; but in Winstrup's august company, the child's soul had at least a chance of getting to heaven.

In a horror game, what else might be found buried in someone else's coffin?

Given the sanctity of the deceased, in Night's Black Agents an event of this type is best used with a Satanic or Supernatural vampire conspiracy, but really it could apply to any of the conspiracy types. The only question is, what's in the coffin, and how did it get discovered? If it's some kind of vampire bane - perhaps it's the only thing that can kill Dracula for good and all - then presumably it was put there by vampire hunters, wanting to hide it from their enemies. If it's something else, then it might have been salted away there by the Conspiracy, perhaps centuries ago, and its untimely discovery sparks off a sudden crisis in one or more of the Conspyramid's nodes. Was its existence uncovered by archaeologists, or are tomb robbers involved? One twist could have the protagonists themselves hired to disinter the remains and find the loot, but if so, who hired them, and what role does this third party have to play in the undead's Great Game?

In a spy genre story, the burial doesn't have to be ancient. Say you were to mix this with the Spanish Civil War, and posit that one of the Bishops of Madrid - probably Leopoldo Eijo y Garay, since he lived through the entire Civil War, eventually dying in 1963 - has some extremely damaging intel, on microfilm say, buried with him in his coffin. You could have Francoist sympathizers dogging the protagonists' every move, desperate to prevent them from digging further into the mystery. In this instance it would have to be grave robbers, or something similar; archaeologists probably wouldn't be interested in so recent a burial. However, say something happened to the place Leopoldo is buried - an earthquake damages it, or a fire - and there have to be emergency repair works, which uncover something the Conspiracy would prefer remain buried forever. What would it do to ensure that the secret remains hidden? Shades of Opus Dei here, the organization so beloved of conspiracy theorists, particularly since it was founded by a Spanish priest in Madrid, back in 1922.

In Trail, there's a definite M.R. Jamesian feel to secrets buried in the coffin. In that kind of Purist setting, whatever's in the coffin does not sleep easily, and if disturbed will wreak a terrible vengeance on whoever was foolish enough to wake it. In that kind of story, the item buried in the coffin is probably the only thing that can lay the unclean spirit to rest, but in order to work out how it can be done the characters will have to resort to occult, Mythos knowledge. Something out of the Tractate Middoth, no doubt. How did the grave get disturbed? Grave robbery is, again, likely, but it could also have come about thanks to church renovations. Possibly someone was in search of clues to buried treasure, and went a little too far in their excavations.

As for Esoterrorists, all kinds of stories could result from finding something in a bishop's coffin. Say the Esoterrorists took the story of the unbaptised baby and turned it into an Antichrist legend. Perhaps it escaped from the coffin that had been its prison for hundreds of years, and now stalks the laboratory where it was discovered. Are gullible souls gathering at the lab to pray for its soul, or to conduct occult, Satanic rituals? Perhaps there's been a series of unfortunate accidents among the lab's staff. Or perhaps the lead archaeologist, long childless, is suddenly and mysteriously pregnant, with no real explanation as to how it could have happened. What strange and terrible force could result from such a birth?

That's it for now! Enjoy.

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