Sunday, 1 October 2023

Nodes, Glorious Nodes, Even More Glorious (Night's Black Agents)

The last time I touched on this topic I said:

a Node should be treated no differently from a Villain, for the purposes of campaign design. A Node should have power to affect the plot. A Node has things it wants, things it's in charge of, things it's prepared to kill for. A Node has personality, and it's up to the Director what that personality ought to be.

When discussing Facilities I went on to say:


  • Manufacture,
  • Collect,
  • Distribute, or
  • Analyze.

A manufacturing facility makes something, a collection facility stores it, a distribution hub delivers it, and an analyzing facility investigates.

What do all these facilities have in common? They need:

  •  Security, and,
  •  Monitoring.

Someone has to keep the facility maintained and safe from prying eyes. This may mean a simple padlock on an important door, or a full-fledged electronic surveillance system. Also, someone has to monitor what's going on, whether the facility is doing as it should.

How do these concepts work together? 

In Night's Black Agents a Node is an enemy power center. It can work on the local level, affecting only a small area. It can control a city, a country, a continent.

It can control more than one facility, or only one. As a general rule it's a good idea if all facilities controlled by one Node have the same Security and Monitoring statistics, so you as Director don't have to keep track of too many numbers. It also makes sense from a worldbuilding POV. The Node will want to maintain a standard. 

It may even have the same security firm for each Facility, providing you a chance to drop some handy clues. 'Cerebrus Security? Again? You know what that means ...' Or 'the cybersecurity protocols here are exactly the same as those we encountered at that corporate headquarters, and you remember who was in charge of that ...' As for Monitoring, 'didn't we see that middle manager before? Don't tell me ...'

However, it's reasonable to suppose that one Node might have several different facility types. It might have Manufacture and Distribution facilities working together, or Collect and Analyze. 

Let's go a step further and ask four questions:

  1. What is this Node supposed to do?
  2. What does it actually do?
  3. What are its resources?
  4. What are its methods?
I want to talk a little bit about 1 and 2, which seem contradictory. However, if you think about it, just because the bosses up top said 'do this' doesn't mean the Node is only doing this. It has personality, goals and the means to achieve them. If the bosses aren't paying close attention to the Node it might drift from its stated goals.

Think of this as a long-term project. If ever you've worked with a team you know from personal experience that, just because Bob is assigned to X within the overall project structure, does not mean that Bob is actually doing X. Bob might be ambitious and is plotting for his own advancement. Bob might be lazy. Bob might have misunderstood his role in the team, or be quiet quitting, or be doing any number of things that are not X.

Or Bob might actually be doing X but you, as project lead or fellow team member, misunderstood the true nature of X. Oops. Maybe Bob should have your job.

OK, so how does all this work in practice?

Let's take an example from Dracula Dossier: Billington & Sons, Solicitors, Whitby.
A small law firm, mostly handling wills and other property deals for local clients. The firm’s musty offices occupies the bottom two floors of a house on Flowergate Street in the heart of Whitby; their archives, dating back to old Samuel F.’s era in the 1890s, are crammed into the attic on the top floor. Dracula employed them as his local agents to receive and convey his fifty boxes of earth to Carfax.

I'm assuming for the sake of this example that Billington is a Level One node, with assets local to Whitby. It doesn't matter what kind of Conspiracy this is. 

Its function is to Collect. Dracula picks up all kinds of odd things, documents, grimoires, title deeds - you name it, Dracula keeps it. However, often what happens is, Dracula picks up, say, an occult tome and has no need of it right away, so he shoves it at Billington for safe keeping until such time as he remembers to take it back. 

The Collection process is handled by outside forces, couriers (a different, Distribution Node), who deliver the items to Billington. The job of the firm is to make sure they're securely held.

However, old Tom Billington, the traditionalist head of the firm, is the only one who believes in the mission. His sons John and Michael are taking it on themselves to Analyze what they have. The sons have noticed that nobody ever comes to get any of the many, many documents in their keeping. Nobody would ever know if they studied some. Not take - they're too cautious. But if they follow the rituals or chase up on some of the clues, they could get themselves some real power. 

If Tom found out, he'd be devastated. The kids have managed to keep him out of the loop - so far.

I'm assigning Low Security and Medium Monitoring, which applies to all Facilities held by this Node. So, what Facilities does it have?

Billington & Sons, of course, which is where the critical documents are kept. What else?

  • A lock-up garage (for immediate storage or low-priority items).
  • A couple of bribed cops whose job is to provide extra security.
  • A ritual chamber under the Star Inn. It used to be a smuggler's haven; now it hosts darker rituals.
  • A safe in the storage area of the Whitby Museum, and a curator who's been persuaded to keep an eye on it. (this is for the valuable stuff).
  • A special grave in the Church of Saint Mary, for visiting dignitaries.
  • Robin Hood's Bay Books & Curiosities. This one's for John and Michael. This is where they conduct their studies. They don't want to be caught by dear old dad looking at the company books. The owner, Sam Carmichael, has a private arrangement with the Billingtons; they pay a high rent and get the back room, undisturbed. The Billingtons don't realize Sam is also studying the papers they bring here.
That should be enough. You could make it more complicated, of course. This is a level one, and I chose it specifically because level ones aren't usually that complex. A National level Node will probably have dozens of Facilities. 

Point being that a Node, like a Villain, has power to affect the plot, personality, goals. Its Facilities will reflect those aspects of the Node. This is a low-level Collection Node; it's not going to have elaborate safes or many assets. It's going to have a few Network Contacts (eg. the local council members, members of Tom's Masonic Lodge, criminals that owe Tom a favor) but none of them are going to be Special Forces or talented necromancers. 

Of course, if you as Director discover that the agents are making a bee-line for the Museum, no problem. You already know that it's Low (difficulty 3) security and Medum (difficulty 4) monitoring. The agents should be able to break in without too much effort but will have to keep an eye out for that meddling curator. The meddling curator in turn can call up those cops on the Billington payroll if things get complicated. Or as a conspiramid reaction Tom Billington can call in a Network favor from some of his low-level criminal clients. 

As for Resources and Methods, Billington probably doesn't have too many Resources and its Methods aren't going to be gung-ho, release the hounds sort of thing. They can't afford hit men. They can afford to have someone Intimidated or rough someone up.

This is the sort of place Dracula would never visit, except out of a sense of nostalgia. However, the auditors - or what passes for Conspiracy auditors - may drop in at any time to look at the Node's policies and practices. Which could cause all kinds of complications ...

Why go through all this trouble?

Because you want to scatter clues. Any Node has to be a clue-rich environment, to give the agents a direction to follow. Remember, all clues lead to Rome and you want them to get to Rome at some point. The vampire temporarily staying in that grave at Saint Mary, the documents in Books & Curiosities, the contents of the safe at the Whitby Museum, they all contain clues and those clues lead further into the narrative. That way if the agents miss out on the actual clue that you intended they find at (wherever it may be) there's no reason to panic; they can find it again at (wherever they actually go).

That's it for this week. Enjoy!

Sunday, 24 September 2023

The Collector (Trail)

Sourced from Wikipedia

This piece is loosely based on a project I'm working on.

A bit of background about toys circa 1900.

The best toymakers by far could be found in Nuremburg. The firms Marklin and Gerbruder Bing were renowned, and every boy wanted one of their magnificent liners. Other countries attempted to capture a portion of the market – Ives of Connecticut, Radiguet the French manufacturer, to name two – but the Germans reigned supreme. Of course, such workmanship cost money. Marklin’s 98 cm ocean liner for example, produced in 1900, with a choice of clockwork motor (twenty minutes propulsion), steam engine (one hour) or electric (six hour) with all the accessories, cost 200 gold francs.

Motivating power could be had in many ways. Bing favoured clockwork engines, but electric motors and steam engines were also available. The clockwork toys were wound with keys, which sometimes doubled as ‘clouds’, so the key appeared to be steam coming from the ship’s funnel.  The steam engines were delicate; if they overheated the engine could blow, perhaps damaging the model. Many models came with interchangeable parts; separate engines and accessories could be bought, as desired. In those models the superstructure could be lifted right off, to allow clear access to the working parts.

Founder of the company Theodor Friedrich Wilhelm Märklin released Märklin's first wind-up train with carriages that ran on standardised track in 1891, noting that railway toys had the potential to follow the common practice of doll's houses, in which the initial purchase would be enhanced and expanded with more accessories for years after the initial purchase. To this end, Märklin offered additional rolling stock and track with which to expand its boxed sets. 

With all that in mind:

The Collector

The investigators are asked to inventory the library of bibliophile and Golden Dawn affiliate Edward St. John Dandridge, Sinjun to his friends. The library contains many lesser (but valuable) occult tomes, and it's their expertise as occultists that got them the job.

The investigators may think they're working for relatives of Sinjun Dandridge, but his only surviving relative, a widowed sister who lives in Brighton, has no money and won't see any until the estate is settled, which is complicated as Sinjun had no will. Probate will take months, possibly more than a year. In fact (1 point Interpersonal spend) the investigators were hired by members of the Golden Dawn acting through the widow and providing her the cash. They think that Sinjun was hiding valuable stuff in his library and want first dibs.

Sinjun's house, not far from fashionable Chelsea Park, is remarkable for two things. First, the library, which doubled as Sinjun's ritual chamber. It is very well stocked but missing a few key texts. Sinjun's notebooks, where he kept records of all his purchases, show he bought [insert mythos text here] about six months before he died. His notes of his magical experiments also show he used that same book intensively right up to the day of his death. 

The other is Sinjun's collection of clockwork toys, particularly trains and ships. Almost every room in the house is occupied by cleverly designed model landscapes through which his trains and ships travel. One room is devoted to ships in particular and Sinjun built what amounts to an indoor pool in one of the extra bedrooms, complete with a little port and an island in the middle. Most of them are quality German make and the investigators can (0 point) tell that it must have cost him several fortunes to buy all this stuff, not counting the items Sinjun must have made himself. A further 1 point (Appraise or similar) sees that even some of the model ships and trains are self-built. 

Checking into Sinjun's death shows that (0 point) he died of a heart attack which (1 point) is very unusual in a man of his age and health. However, his heart was overtaxed by some kind of repetitive strain. Occult (1 point) or Mythos (0 point) shows that his magical experiments might have caused the strain. 


  • The Secret Room. What Sinjun was trying to do was establish a little Utopia, a magical secret room. The island holds the key; the model house on the middle of the island is where Sinjun spent a lot of his time, miniaturized. He could play with his toys as if they were real-sized. That's where the missing books are. However, his magical alterations proved too much for his heart. If the investigators minaturize themselves following Sinjun's experiments they may discover what was chasing him, down there amongst the clockwork toys.
  • The Model Catastrophe. Sinjun was following in the footsteps of Koschei the Deathless and wanted to hide his soul away in a model train. It exploded, and his heart exploded at the same time. Why? Because one of his magical rivals planned it that way. This same rival is bankrolling the investigators because the most valuable books aren't in the collection, and he wants to know where they are. He doesn't realize that Sinjun hid them away in a special bookshelf in his library, built into one of the overstuffed leather chairs.
  • The Self-Built Assassin. Sinjun used some of his creations as killer toys. He'd build, say, a car or a train and use that model, together with other magical ingredients, to kill off his enemies. The model car served as a totem; the victim would die in a car crash. However, what Sinjun didn't realize was that each time he did that the essence of the dead person would become part of the model car. Do that enough times, and you have a collection of ghostly killers with one thought in mind: kill their creator. Except, with Sinjun dead, the killer toys are trapped in his house. Waiting for someone to play with them ...
That's it for this week. Enjoy!

Sunday, 17 September 2023

Not Quite Review Corner: Never Going Home (Wet Ink)

The setting is the real Earth and the characters are all humans. A terrible new element has been added to the war, but the true horrors of the real war are part of the story as well. The game is set in the years between when the Veil was torn in 1916 and when the war really ended in 1918. The focus is on the front-line soldiers who are fighting and experiencing the worst of the magic and monsters. There is some mention made of, but little exploration of, the “home fronts” of any of the belligerents and civilians only appear in passing

Wet Ink Games

First published via Kickstarter this has since become a multi-volume horror RPG setting. I never knew about the KS; I picked up some (but not all) of the books via DTRPG.

This is a folk horror setting that presumes the belligerents all discover – whether by accident or design – occult powers which they instantly weaponize, shortly after (during?) the battle of the Somme. Their continuing abuse of those powers causes catastrophe, as those occult powers start taking over the armies of the world. Your allies become your enemies. Your officers are now leading the forces of the abyss. There’s still a war on; you’re just not sure who you’re fighting for.

The only thing you know for certain is you’re never going home …

The idea intrigued the hell out of me when I saw it on a friend’s bookshelf but I wasn’t that keen on picking up physical when .pdf would do nicely, please and thank you. Having read, I’m still intrigued, but a little more puzzled than intrigued.

It’s a strong idea. It just doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

The main book lays out the basic premise and then gives you three scenarios, presumably meant to be an introduction to the setting: the Belly of the Beast, the Lamps, and Sword Quest.

Sword Quest?

Sword Quest.

The whole thing’s only about a hundred pages so it can’t cover everything, which is a pity because the war alone could eat up several thousand pages. About 28 pages go on background material – no man’s land, allies, central powers, world at war – and another 30-ish pages go on rules stuff. The rest is adversaries and scenarios. The other books go into more detail (I particularly like Tears in the Sea, which focuses on U-Boat adventures) but in the main book much of the war is sketched in. There isn’t much attention paid to the air war, for instance. Tanks are essentially a McGuffin in one scenario but don’t otherwise affect the narrative. There’s almost no mention of any location other than France; this is all about the Western Front. (the Japanese appear to be missing in action). There are other sourcebooks; I’m focusing on the main book.

Want to shoot something? Roll 1D6 per dot of training in Ranged; two dots, say, equal 2 dice. If you roll 5 or 6 on a die, that’s a success. If your number of successes meets or exceeds the Target Number (the system’s way of designating Difficulty) yay! If not, boo. 

You can adjust your result by manipulating the roll, using a relevant attribute (Guts, Smarts, Brawn). Add extra dice, push a failure to a success, reroll dice. Pray you have sufficient attribute to make a difference when the chips are down.

What will you be shooting at?

Oh, dear. Whatever it is, it can probably tear your face off with consummate ease.

This is where the game really starts to shine: superlative antagonist design. Hideous, nightmarish Silent Hill types which stagger out of the Veil to do harm. Everything from mischievous little trench Gremlins to the shambling Skin Thieves and Cackling Horrors, these long-leggedy beasties will have your players wishing they were anywhere but here.

All of which seems very Purist, to borrow a Trail of Cthulhu term. This isn’t one of those games where your characters turn up, mow down fools with their machine guns, then retire for tea and biscuits. This is a game where even if you win, you probably die. Or become part of the cults and groups of madmen who want to take over the battlefield and, by extension, the world.   

Then there’s the scenarios, and I can feel the wheels beginning to fall off the wagon.

Belly of the Beast is interesting. It introduces the main dilemma of the ongoing narrative – the occult is creeping in, and our superiors are embracing it – and reinforces it when the characters’ officer orders them to do something unspeakable. So far, so in keeping with the central idea.

Then there’s the Lamps, where cultists gather victims to power a ritual to summon a giant bat.

Hm. Giant Bat, eh? It’s certainly .. monstrous … but I can’t help but wonder if we’ve lost focus. The other scenario was tied directly to the war. This one could be taking place anywhere in any system or setting; I can picture it in any standard D&D scenario book, and you wouldn’t need to change much, if anything. Put it in Baldur’s Gate and the only variable would be which character decides to seduce the bat.

Then we have Sword Quest, where Merlyn entices a PC to pull a magic sword from a something-or-other to become the King of all Blah-blah. Which is where the wagon loses its last remaining wheel. 

It looked Purist. Then Ash Williams showed up and Purist went out the window.


The Bunker

Up to this point I’ve been picturing this as a kind of creepy Deathwatch, Bunker, R-Point, Dog Soldiers kind of setting. Horror with a strong dose of noir. The setting is by definition larger than the characters; if they fail, it’s usually because they were crushed and beaten by the situation. That’s still the case; the characters are going to be crushed and beaten by the situation.

What is the situation? 

This is the first mechanized war, the first modern total war. The flowering of the propaganda machine. Motorized transport brings millions to the lines. This is a war where cruise liners were repainted and armed for conflict; where the German liner Cap Trafalgar engaged the British liner Carmania in a gun battle near Trindade and Martim Vaz archipelago, and the remains of Cap Trafalgar with all its finery, crystal and sun gardens is at the bottom of the ocean even today as a reminder. A war where giant gasbags floated over London and dropped bombs in the heart of the city. Where Paris woke and went to bed with artillery fire ringing in its ears. Where troops from all over the world were brought to a place they’d never heard of, to die. Where the Newfoundland Regiment was wiped out in 15 minutes at the Somme, almost to a man.

It makes perfect sense that all the belligerents would adopt occult methods to attain their war aims if they were proven even somewhat effective. After all, they used flamethrowers and poison gas, trench guns and mortars. They took the Wright Brothers’ gift to mankind and turned it into an engine of death. What difference do a few demons make to that bubbling cauldron?

Sometimes this works. The Disfigured, Trench Gremlins, Blightworms, Carrier Pigeons, Flaming Aces, Hellfighter Tanks – these work with the setting and design intent.  Others … well, they could be in any horror game. 

I’m just not sure were the giant bat fits in. Or the Arthurian quest for Welsh magic swords. (Arthurian? Really? Why? We’re not even in Brittany.) There’s a strong central concept here bursting with horror, but I wonder if everyone involved in the project got the memo. Where’s the war? The grinding, mechanized, bloody-teeth war? Is it hiding under the bed?

It feels at times as if the war is just an excuse for gribbly beasties to slaver a bit so the characters can shoot at them. Not so much horror. A little D&D-ish. The mission design doesn’t help. The characters are given a mission: go here, do this. They go there and do that. As a result there is another mission: go here, do another thing. And so on and on. There’s not much investigation, not much input from the players at all, really; they go there, do that.

All that aside: I do like the idea, and I like the setting. Some of the antagonist design is the best I’ve seen in a horror product. I would definitely run this as a one-shot. 

There’s just not as much there there as I would like.

Sunday, 10 September 2023

Rome (RPG all)

So, every chance you get, hammer that home. The cultist, the innocent victim, the peculiar item - all those roads lead to one Rome. Make sure that is forefront in everyone's mind.

Where is Rome?

Bearing in mind you need to design this before the first session of the campaign, how much detail does Rome need?

That will depend on the nature of the campaign. I’m going to use Bookhounds in this example, but you can use the same design principles in any RPG setting. 

First, you need to have a clear idea what the end point looks like. Any Cthulhu setting has an advantage, in that there are Old Ones with distinct personalities that can act as the end point. A setting like Ravenloft has a defined endpoint provided in the campaign narrative: the Darklords. Whether it’s Strahd, Mordent’s ghostly Lord Godefroy or one of the many other Darklords, that entity, its plans, and its assets are the endpoint. Cyberpunk has Corporations, the obvious target, but the endpoint could as easily be a corrupt police force, a boostergang, or something else. Vampire’s endpoint could be a particular entity, a group like the Sabbat, the Second Inquisition, or something else. 

Point being every ruleset, every campaign setting, has at least one entity, group or problem that can be used as the end point. Or you could make your own.

Say this is Cyberpunk. Say you want the game to be about a group of scrappy Punks who want to open a comedy club on the edge of Little China and the Hot Zone (hey, rent is cheap). In that case Rome is the finished version of that club, whether finished means ‘the new hotness’ or ‘burnt to a crisp.’ The setting didn’t come up with that; you did.

Once you have that clear idea, you need to flesh it out a little. What does it mean to face off against Arasaka, or to build a new comedy club amid the rubble of a nuclear explosion? If Rome is Strahd, what is it like in a land ruled by a vampire overlord?

To begin, you need to pick some keywords.

You’ll notice in the Bookhounds example below that I pick out specific keywords from the text and expand on each of those, using those keywords as a jumping-off point to describe some campaign-relevant situations. I also divide the situations up by Arabesque, Sordid and Technicolor because those are the possibilities available in Bookhounds and I don’t know, at the start, which of the three the group will prefer. 

Remember when I talked about four things

Whether the players are dodging horrors in Cairo or arguing the finer points of literature and history with Shakespeare, it's all vampires, all the time. In the Four Things parlance, vampires are the Fourth Thing.

Using this example as a template then whenever I describe an event, location or NPC going forward, the end point, the Rome, is going to be the Fourth Thing, just as Vampires were the Fourth Thing in the Cauldron. 

So if the keyword is Thus-And-So, and the event/location/NPC fits within that keyword, then that event/location/NPC as Rome in its Fourth Thing slot.

Enough preamble. Let’s look at the example:

What is Rome?


“For this shape was nothing less than that which all the world has feared since Lomar rose out of the sea, and the Children of the Fire Mist came to Earth to teach the Elder Lore to man.”

Through the Gates of the Silver Key

From the Trail main text: Cthugha is a neutral force, a repository of energetic information. The race known as “fire vampires” established their own caches of Cthugha on many worlds, including Earth. Under the guise of the Magi, the ancient fire-priests of the Aryan Persians, they created the Elder Lore of fire-magic, the infrastructure to access Cthugha on our world.

Additional Stability +3  Additional Sanity +1

Keywords: energetic information; Magi, the ancient fire-priests; Elder Lore of fire-magic.


From Bookhounds main text: “Baghdad on the Thames.” In an Arabesque London, anything might happen around any corner … Strange conspiracies claim unutterable lineages and vanish with the sunrise; sentient dreams and plausible strangers shake the Investigators’ hands and lives. Arabesque London has mighty temples inside shabby warehouses, underground civilizations, hypnotic detectives, and immortal hidden races.

energetic information: the electric hum of telephone wires carry with it the whispers of the dead; gas lamps can be asked three questions and will reveal three secrets; television, in its infancy, shows a window to another reality.

Magi, the ancient fire-priests: monomaniacal engineers work to create the 1670 airship design invented by Jesuit Father Francesco Lana de Terzi, with the objective of flying beyond the atmosphere, to the stars; bartenders in certain clubs serve cocktails that open the drinkers’ third eye; hidden souls in earthly disguise remain incognito until triggered. 

Elder Lore of fire-magic: the ABC Rail-Guide hides secrets on every page and only the worthy can find them; Daniel Defoe’s Daily Post is still being published, but only for a select audience; there is a 25th book of the children’s 24-volume encyclopedia The Book of Knowledge, which contains peculiar truths.


From Bookhounds main text:  London, as Watson says at the beginning of Study in Scarlet, is “that great cesspool, into which the idlers and loungers of Empire irresistibly drain …” The Sordid London is the London of prostitution, drugs, poverty, desperation, extortion, and cruelty. Gross villains whore children to grosser clients; old women die by inches in the gutter while those who step on them curse the inconvenience; self-congratulatory cliques of the “best people” justify their neglect with cant about inevitability.

energetic information: Jack the Ripper is worshipped as a Charon-figure by some policemen, who claim that the worthy are vision-priests of the damned; photographs taken in certain parts of London show more than they ought; drowned men have proven very useful to students of optography.

Magi, the ancient fire-priests: a small group of homeless veterans of the Great War create new butcheries in pursuit of a truth they saw on the battlefield; the wreck of the SS Princess Alice near London’s sewage pumping network spawned a peculiar legend of one who drank the tainted waters but did not die; among students of optography the medical student Arthur Notwood is supposed to be the most knowledgeable. 

Elder Lore of fire-magic: those who go to the gravesites of the passengers of the Princess Alice hear whispers that, when pieced together, have hidden knowledge; the daily log at some police stations – the right log – reveals ghastly truths; opium fiends who take their dose at the site of a recent murder see things that ought not be seen.


From Bookhounds main text: There is another London, garish and glorious. This is the Technicolour world of Hammer Films, in vibrant colour – and the colour is always bright red or lurid green … Technicolour London has more than the eye can encompass: overstuffed bookcases, opulent drawing rooms, rat-infested labyrinthine attics, dripping tunnels of slime-coated stone. Pentacles – and manacles – are lined in silver or some shining metal … 

energetic information: there is a song that echoes through time, which can be heard through stone tape reading; a particular blend of tobacco from an East Indies island nobody has ever heard of gives prophetic dreams; some telephone boxes do not exist entirely in our reality and can be recognized by a peculiar hum.

Magi, the ancient fire-priests: a clutch of cultists who follow a vampire-priest claim to have the secret to reality; military scientists experiment to find a death ray; a group of businessmen wish to harness the powers of creation in their own commercial projects.

Elder Lore of fire-magic: tarot cards owned by dead occultists retain peculiar powers for up to a week after the deaths of their owners; blood can be set aflame and the secrets that the flaming blood tells are not to be spoken aloud; certain tobacconists are not of this reality and one should be very wary of any deal they offer.


From Bookhounds main text: A Tainted character is one that has come into contact, wittingly or unwittingly, with the Cthulhu Mythos.

Arabesque: The ones who know are fascinated by technology but it never works as it ought, in their presence.

Sordid: The ones who know sweat blood, in the presence of Mythos items and creatures.

Technicolor: The ones who know prize youth above all things and cannot be apart from youth for long; life is too painful for the old.

OK, let's review. 

I divided into Arabesque, Sordid and Technicolor because that's in the text. I expect that, in session zero, after discussion with the players, one of those three options will have been chosen. In other RPG settings where there is only one option, I don't have to do that. Or there may be different options; Ravenloft, for instance, has several different kinds of horror, and just as with Bookhounds I expect to offer these options to the players in session zero and have them choose which they'd rather have.

Always remember that this is a collaboration; you can't expect the players not to experiment with the main concept. Or anything else, really.

The one thing I haven't touched on so far is the Fourth Thing. The part of the narrative that all roads are leading to. 

Well, we already know that the ultimate destination is Cthugha. Whatever that Fourth Thing is, it has to be related to Cthugha in some way. It seems only fitting that the Fourth Thing be fire. Fire-related, perhaps. The dancing light of blue flame; the way that every spot tainted by Cthugha mysteriously burns to the ground, or how every book written about Cthugha can never burn or be touched by the elements in any way.

Arabesque: Those patterns may look like scorch marks, but they move in a peculiar, hypnotic way. Stare at them too long and you may learn truths; or you may feel your mind detach and float into the never-know-where.

Sordid: Those orphans play with fire not because they enjoy it but because they are compelled to. Every firebug has seen something in the flames. Those arson attacks may not be arson at all.

Technicolor: Every place touched by this evil has a shrine of some kind. That sign of the god with the great green eye might be painted onto the side of a building, hidden in some secret room or tattooed onto the corpse of a sacrificial victim but it is always there. Always.

That's it for this week. Enjoy!

Sunday, 3 September 2023

A Pleasant Day At The Spa (Night's Black Agents)

I've spoken about Thrilling Interrogations before. 

Under the rules as written:

[Use Thrilling Interrogation] when the Agents have captured a tougher-than-average bad guy who doesn’t give everything up to a simple Interrogation spend, or for scenes where one Agent has been captured by the police or some other mostly legal entity (domestic intelligence, corporate security) and you want to play out the cat-and-mouse game between interrogator and suspect. 

Which is fine so far as it goes but it's always fun to play with the idea.

Last time I went off the beaten path I talked about dangles, those are-they-or-are-they-not people who walk in off the street claiming to have valuable intel.

This time let's consider another possibility. 

Let's say that the agents know that the target has information because they know that the target is a member of, or associated with, the Conspiracy. An employee of a high-level node, let's say. Even a supernatural-level target of some importance, like a dhampir or lamia. Or at least someone who rates supernatural-level bodyguards. A Renfield, for instance, who doubles as the boyfriend/girlfriend. 

Let's further say that the agents need to get this information without the target realizing that information is being extracted. Often this means Digital Intrusion or searching their offices, but not this time. This time the information is in the target's head. The agents need to get the information without the target realizing that the information was the goal.

They need to get the target to say something careless in polite conversation. 

They need to Interrogate the target without the target realizing that they're being interrogated.

A Spa Date

(borrowed from the Guardian)

The Scarlet, Cornwall

An adults-only sanctuary set on the clifftop above Mawgan Porth beach, where the sea is a big part of the treatment package, with every room facing the shimmering Atlantic – including the glass-walled, bromine-filtered indoor pool. The spa focuses on Ayurvedic principles, with tailor-made therapies, all taken along to the natural soundtrack of the waves crashing on the shore below. There are alfresco hot tubs for post-massage soaks and dinners offer locally sourced fish and seafood, along with slow-aged wines. There are also excellent vegan options.

Relatively isolated; the closest town is Magwan Porth which isn't exactly a bustling metropolis. Though there is an iron age village if you want a little archaeology next door.

The agents learn (by whichever means suit) that the target will be at the facility for a long weekend, to relax. Their job is to come up with a suitable Cover, (or Covers), perhaps cultivate a Network contact, get into the spa and somehow get close enough to the target to indulge in small talk.

For the purpose of this example I'm going to borrow from the Dracula Dossier and say that the target is the Hungarian (p34 DD). In this example he's a minion whose money and connections are slowly being siphoned off. The McGuffin this time out is the name of his Conspiracy contact - the Human Trafficker. His paramour, who is on this spa date with him, is infected with an Azdeh who is particularly fond of coconut water cocktails. 

The Azdeh is a new development. The Conspiracy doesn't trust the Hungarian to behave, so it's keeping his beloved on ice. This can't last forever, but the Conspiracy reasons it should last long enough.

For rules purposes the Hungarian is Desperate (+1) but not otherwise conditioned or controlled. He's considered to be on the Faster side (Lead up by 2) and the Interrogation is Open. In fact, the whole point is that this not seem like an Interrogation at all, which means the Director is within rights to call for a check on that Cover identity - at least once. 

Further rules effect - if the Azdeh is in the scene then the Hungarian's Maneuver increases by +1. If the Azdeh is not in the scene for whatever reason - perhaps another agent lured the Azdeh to the day spa - then this modifier does not apply. Getting the Azdeh blitzed on coconut water cocktails also counts.

The agents can't take the easy way out and kill the Azdeh. If they do, then the Hungarian will get very upset and that will end the interrogation. If they go this route, then they must somehow manage it so that the Hungarian never finds out. This probably shortens the time allotted to a day at most, since the Hungarian will notice when their paramour doesn't show up for the restaurant reservation.

Exactly how the agents obtain the intel is up to them. The line of questioning needs to be innocuous but at the same time, fruitful. If they know, for example, that the Human Trafficker likes a particular Berlin sex club, and they get the Hungarian to admit he is also a member, score. If you want to get creative, assign a three point win condition: get the agents to obtain three bits of intel and they can triangulate the result.

Think of it like a detective story. The agents, like murderous Miss Marples, must ask seemingly innocuous questions and, from the answers, unravel the plot. Simples! 

If the agents win then they get the intel. If they don't win then either they don't get it, or they get bad intel.

There is a time limit. If the Hungarian's spa weekend runs out before the agents get their intel then the attempt is a failure. That means they have three ddssdays in a luxury spa in Cornwall to get what they want.

Don't feel that you have to reduce this to one quick scene. This is a three day trip at a spa on the Cornish coast. That gives them all kinds of opportunities - first to insert themselves as bona fide fellow holidaymakers (or whatever the cover story is) then to get a little closer, a little closer, ask some pertinent questions ...

Then get away clean.


That's it for this week!

Sunday, 27 August 2023

Holy Ground (Cthulhu City)

From the Guardian:

As they clamber up cathedral walls wearing vacuum cleaner backpacks, the researchers look more like ghostbusters than planetary scientists. But for the team at the University of Kent, the equipment is crucial for collecting cosmic dust that becomes stranded on the ancient roofs after falling to Earth from space

All of which leads me to:


A peculiar group of masked investigators have been seen crawling over the rooftop of the Cathedral. After attracting comment, there was a press release in the Arkham Advertiser. The masked investigators are actually University professors, collecting cosmic dust from the rooftop in order to carry out their experiments. After becoming a nine-day’s wonder, speculation about the roof-crawling group dies. Until one of them takes a tumble from the roof and lands in a heap on the paving stones below. “I see them,” the broken man whispers, just before the medicos load him up in an ambulance and whisks him away.

Option 1:

The investigators are actually part of the Armitage Group, that notorious collection of radicals. The others involved in this experiment have fled to their safe houses, but the one who took the fall, student Morey Amsterdam (p90) was looking for materials to be used in paint pigments. According to Morey’s notes/diaries/friends the art student believed that the artists of old had a peculiar means of mixing cosmic dust with paint to create unearthly effects in their art. However, Morey’s gone missing, and the medicos are very, very anxious to find him or anyone who might know where he is.

Option 2:

The one who fell is a Stalwart Transport Police, Malone. It’s not clear who the others were; checking at the University reveals that the names given were aliases. The medicos refuse access to the patient and say he’s at death’s door, hanging by a thread. His family plead with whoever will listen: let us see Malone. At least, they do right up to the day when all of them mysteriously disappear, never to be seen again … As for Malone it’s not clear what he went up there to find but these days the roof of the Cathedral has a peculiar ambient glow. 

Option 3:

The investigation was actually sponsored by the Church of the Conciliator, who wanted to be kept at arm’s length from the whole affair. That’s why they hired academics from the University rather than go up themselves. The leader of this Stalwart group, Holly Kerr, was following up on Mythos clues that suggested the roof of the Cathedral was somehow coated with alien material. Kerr visited the unfortunate accident victim before he died and came away terrified by what he had to say. Meanwhile the other academics are back at the University planning their next jaunt on the Cathedral roof; what they saw up there has them hungry for knowledge.

What's on that roof?

Option 1:

Witch Keziah Mason is lost in space and time but that doesn't mean she's untraceable. Either her constituent parts or the trail of the things following on her heels can be found in the high places, where they won't be disturbed by people or vehicles. Those brave enough to scrape this dust from the high places can work out, approximately, where the witch is headed next, or going, or is. Problem being, people who get too much of this dust in their eyes start seeing things - hence the masks. But those masks don't provide perfect protection. Too much time up there and even the masks won't help ...

Option 2: 

The far-flung heavens contain secrets man ought not seek out, but by a strange mercy the low-hanging clouds over Cthulhu city protect the citizens from seeing what's really up there. The pilot of that light plane out in Dunwich (p100) might know more about it, but the average citizen can get a similar effect by climbing very high and waiting for a gap in the clouds. Even better if that average citizen has a good telescope. Of course, the adventurous might not like what they see ...

Option 3:

Residual pollution from the Gardner Company out in Westheath taints the rooftops of every tall building in Arkham City; it just so happens that the Cathedral's roof is better protected than the rest which means the pollutant Colour isn't disturbed. It lies thick on the slates. That allows those keen to know more about this strange substance, and who want to trace its origin, have their best chance of collecting it up there. It also means that those who go in seach of it on the Cathedral roof are most likely to be changed by their exposure to the dust ...

That's it for this week. Enjoy!

Sunday, 20 August 2023

Les Babouains (Cthulhu City)


You can get inspiration from anywhere.

This is an annual festival event in Guernsey. There’s the walking trail with its scattered hordes of straw men, all designed to parody local and international events. Next door is the church with a big wide field for other events & tents. Exactly the sort of thing you’re probably thinking of; ice cream, bring & buy, local produce, that sort of thing. Bring the kids. Make a day of it. 

What if that were transposed somewhere else?

What if that event were taking place in Cthulhu City?

Well, you’d need somewhere with an agricultural history. Somewhere with a church. Maybe a field, though that’s optional; you could do the same thing in a parking lot. 

In a Cthulhu City context you’re looking at locations like Dunwich or Salamander Fields. Places with an active farming community or a former agricultural history. Dunwich is probably the better option with its connection to the Church of the Conciliator, but the Esoteric Order – encountered in Salamander Fields – works just as well. 

Somewhere with lots of narrow little lanes for the walking tour. Dark alleys. Twisting corridors. Maybe some of the houses or tenements have scarecrows hanging out of the windows, that sort of thing. You don’t even have to change the name. There’s plenty of French speakers in New England. Probably worth mentioning that the literal translation isn’t scarecrow; it’s monkey, or baboon. Except in Guernésiais, which apparently includes an extra letter in its Norman French version of the language.

In the actual world by 1919 the state government, following Federal guidelines, would have instituted programs designed to discourage multilingual education as part of its Americanization program. However, Cthulhu City isn’t the actual world. It’s something altogether other. 

Cthulhu City:

There is – by certain unreliable and maddening accounts, and now by your own dreadful experience – a city on the eastern seaboard of the United States, in northern Massachusetts. You do not recall seeing it on maps when you were growing up, and no-one of your acquaintance ever admitted coming from that place until you found yourself living within its eerie confines

Under the rules:

Masked: The Masked take on a location describes it as relatively untouched by the strangeness of the 
city – or at least, its horrors are hidden beneath a mundane mask.

Unmasked: The sinister, Mythos-tainted version of the location, where the horrors wear no mask.

Cast: NPCs who might be encountered there.

Clues: Clues leading on from this location, pointing to other locations, individuals, or deeper mysteries ...

With all that in mind:

Les Babouains


A yearly festival where visitors are invited to take a tour round a series of vignettes, all of which are made up of scarecrows arranged in comic poses. Here’s one dressed like a politician everyone hates! Here’s one based on a local event or scandal! The tour trail is along a series of dark alleyways or overgrown, rocky paths; take care not to injure yourself. Once you have had enough of those, feel free to wander over to the food & drink tents, shop at the bring & buy, drop a few coins in the collection box. The Church appreciates your support! 

Children and adults giggle, at first, when they set off down the scarecrow trail. It soon becomes quiet; fear, ever-growing, stops tongues. Did that one move? Are they all … moving? Why is it so dark down here? It seemed sunny before. The displays are supposedly built by locals but you can never be sure who made what, and after a while the displays aren’t even named. They’re just … there. Did you make a wrong turn? What does the map say? Oh, you needed to retrace your steps after number 16 and never did – but was that number 16? Well, at least there’s the bring & buy, though some of those second-hand items have peculiar stains. Is that an atlas? Did this come from Dr. Armitage’s library? Let’s go over to the food tent and have some of that local brew. I’m sure no harm can come from it. After all, Prohibition’s long in the past, ha-ha!


Careful not to take a wrong turn on the scarecrow path. Some of these trails are deliberately arranged to lure the unwary into a situation they can’t easily get out of. Cultists use these as a means of snatching up victims for their sacrifices. That fellow in the doctor’s outfit is actually from the Sanitarium, as are the burly ‘nurses’ with him. It seems there’s always an incident or two each year that require the Sanitarium’s tender ministrations. Those with Mythos realize that the scarecrow path has its own peculiar significance; participants are actually wandering the holy maze of Theseus, and each step on the path powers the ritual. As the ritual comes closer and closer to its denouement, the sensitive may notice sounds of a large beast, padding after them on the trail. Perhaps the Priest knows more about this; the sweat on his gleaming brow increases as the day wears on, as if he’s waiting for something. Of course, each year at least one person on the Trail never comes out again but nobody likes to talk about that ...


This is the kind of event that attracts people looking for a good time, as well as those looking to see and be seen. Artists, Gadabouts, Servants, Students, as well as at least one Priest, possibly a Mystic or Grifter. There’s a decent chance one of the Afflicted can be found out on the trail, howling at the unknown or petrified by the scarecrows.


Some of the items in the bring & buy did come from dubious sources and may contain information on the Occult or Theology. A chance encounter with the Sanatarium staff (Oral History, Flattery) may lead to further information about that dubious institution, or perhaps even allow the player to develop a Contact there. Outdoorsman may allow the character to turn the tables on whoever-it-was who arranged the scarecrow trail, perhaps even leading to a means of sabotaging the ritual. Medicine or Pharmacy allows the character to make an unpleasant realization about the food on offer - in turn leading to a plot by one of the cults or local gangs. Possibly a Cloned Tyrone moment ...

That's it for this week. Enjoy!