Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Wolf Man: Trail of Cthulhu, Bookhounds of London

Let's talk about werewolves.

The difficulty with an established creature of myth is that most people believe they already know everything there is to know about the beast, and familiarity breeds contempt. Is a vampire really frightening any more? A zombie? Will your players groan in disappointment if a Deep One shows its fishy face? Ken Hite has tried to counteract this with his Writes About Stuff series, taking entities like Deep Ones and Shoggoths and demonstrating how they can be twisted to counteract that old bugbear, complacency.

The interesting thing about folklore is that it can be turned to almost any purpose. I highly recommend anything Sabine Baring-Gould writes, for two reasons: first, he has a wide breadth of knowledge, and second, he writes clearly, or at least as clearly as you can expect a Victorian antiquarian to write. In this instance I'm drawing heavily from The Book of Werewolves, (1865).

It is positively true that there are many to whom the sight of suffering causes genuine pleasure, and in whom the passion to kill or torture is as strong as any other passion ... Inherent cruelty may be obscured by after impressions, or may be kept under moral constraint; the person who is constitutionally a Nero may scarcely know his own nature, till by some accident the master passion becomes dominant, and sweeps all before it ... Gall tells of a violin player, who, being arrested, confessed to thirty-four murders, all of which he had committed, not from enmity or desire to rob, but solely because it afforded him an intense pleasure to kill ... I have seen an accomplished young woman of considerable refinement and of a highly strung nervous disposition, string flies with her needle on a piece of thread, and watch complacently their flutterings. Cruelty may remain latent till, by some accident, it is aroused, and then it will break forth in a devouring flame. It is the same with the passion for blood as with the passions of love and hate; we have no conception of the violence with which they can rage till circumstances occur which call them into action.

From this we get a picture of the kind of person who might become a werewolf. It isn't simply that they are bitten or somehow fall victim through some random act of chance; they are born that way, and might live their whole lives without succumbing to temptation. They were always werewolves, which means they were always sociopaths. They might be able to fake humanity, or they might be well trained enough for the wolf in them not to show. But if that inciting incident does occur, then heaven help anyone who gets in the werewolf's way.

Or, as the Duchess of Malfi has it:

One met the duke ’bout midnight in a lane        16
Behind Saint Mark’s church, with the leg of a man
Upon his shoulder; and he howl’d fearfully;
Said he was a wolf, only the difference
Was, a wolf’s skin was hairy on the outside,        20
His on the inside

There are various means in folklore by which a person is meant to be able to transform. Deals with the devil, belts made of human skin, wolf capes, ointments made of human fat; any number of totems and devices, but there is nothing in Baring-Gould that suggests werewolves are supernaturally difficult to kill. Silver bullets are an invention of the 1940s and 1950s, when Lon Chaney Jr was busy carrying off damsels and paying too much attention to wandering gypsies. Stab them, cut them, shoot them, and they die like anything else. The chief danger of a werewolf isn't some kind of physical invulnerability. The problem is, it's incredibly intelligent, and utterly without mercy or fear. It will attack regardless of odds, but it can also plan, and reason.

Baring-Gould devotes a significant portion of his book to Gilles de Rais, aka Bluebeard, and it's worth talking about him here as well. He's one of those historical villains whose crimes seem to have been so shocking that they defy fiction; Hammer Horror leapt on the story of Erzabet Bathory and her life is the subject of any number of films, but while de Rais appears in fictional tales and anime it's often thanks to his Joan of Arc connection, and not his child murders, of which there were many. Certainly Hammer Horror never tried to turn his life story into a spookshow. Christopher Lee would probably have refused the part, if offered.

De Rais, former wartime companion of the Maid of Orleans, was a Marshal of France and possibly the most prestigious noble of his time, bar the King of France himself. If the tales are to be believed he was quite insane; at his confession during his trial he claimed that his crimes were 'in accordance with his own imagination and thought, following no man's counsel, but his own, solely for his pleasure and carnal delight, with no end in view.' Though there have been attempts, at the time and since, to link his murders with witchcraft, it is unlikely de Rais was motivated by Satanic promises. He dabbled in alchemy and had a magician on the payroll, but this was more to do with his crushing debt than his personal preferences.

There is no telling exactly how many met their death at his hands. Most of the bodies were burnt and the ashes disposed of; estimates vary from 200 to 600, of both sexes, most younger than 16. The children, peasants for the most part, would be lured to one of his estates with promises of money, food, or something similar, where he would sexually assault them and cut their throats, sever their limbs or otherwise butcher them. The multitude of corpses became a significant problem, since he was forever selling off his estates and castles; frequently he had to stage an emergency exhumation, carrying off the evidence under cover of nightfall before someone discovered it.

It wasn't the butchery in the end that did for him, but his intemperate nature. Despite being the richest man in France, he persisted in throwing money away. His two obsessions were a mystery play about Joan of Arc, with him in the starring role, and a Church of the Innocents which he established, including a tame Bishop, all of which he paid for but which Rome refused to recognize. The mystery play, created in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Siege of Orleans, was the real money pit; 140 speaking parts, 500 extras, 20,000 lines of verse, with elaborate staging and costumes. Take the costumes as one example: he insisted that each be made of new material, and were only to be worn once. Even the rags were made by creating an entirely new costume, then tearing it up with a dagger.

Nobody could afford extravagances like these, not even the richest spendthrift in France. He began selling his estates and possessions, a scandalous thing to do in 15th Century society. When he ran out of his own possessions he began selling other people's, defrauding his relatives, his wife, his children, to feed his addiction. What he couldn't get by fraud, he took, capturing at least two castles by siege and promptly selling them to pay his debts. It got to a point where the King of France himself issued an edict forbidding any citizen of France to buy anything whatsoever from Gilles de Rais, an act which killed his credit rating. It was a castle that did for him in the end, when he tried to repossess by force Saint-Etienne-de-Mer-Morte, which he had only recently sold to an ally of his enemy Jean V de Brueil. The fallout from this raid eventually brought him to the ecclesiastical court.

The wolf revealed, not as some kind of hero figure, but a bandit, a raider, preying on the weak and helpless.Serial killers of this type are often referred to either as werewolves or as vampires,and cannibalism is often a theme.

Taking all of the above into consideration, and using the three Bookhounds archetypes of Technicolor, Arabesque and Sordid, we can create several different kinds of werewolf.

Technicolor: Donovan McQuaid

McQuaid, former corporal 6th Bttn Prince of Wales' Leinsters, was born in Nova Scotia, son of Sergeant Robert McQuaid, and spent his early years traveling from camp to camp along with his mother and five siblings. At age 14 he tried to bluff his way into the Regiment when the Great War started, only to be handed over to his father who gave him 'the leathering of a lifetime,' he later declared. Two years later he went in, and spent the rest of the war 'neck deep in mud and blood.' He rose to the rank of Sergeant, was demoted after an incident involving a senior officer, and worked his way back to corporal before the war ended.

He dates his 'affliction' to this period, when he began using a bibliotheque bleu edition of the Cultes des Ghoules. Repeated trips to the Front had broken his nerve, and he tried a ritual intended to give him the courage of the wolf. He uses a belt made of human skin - he obtained it from German corpses and tanned it himself - to achieve this transformation, and when under the influence he felt 'mightier than Satan, and twice as bloodthirsty.' It awoke a thirst within him, one which has proved difficult to satisfy.

After the War, when the Regiment broke up in 1922, he moved to London and worked on the docks, eventually moving up to foreman. He married Mary, and they had two children, Robert and Diedre. But despite everything, despite the passage of time and his own well-trained nature, Donovan found himself drawn to the belt again and again. He couldn't bear to throw it away, not even when it began speaking to him in his father's voice.

At first he hoped that he might get away with just becoming a wolf, and not killing anyone. Then the bloodlust took over, and he tried mightily to turn it to what he saw as good ends, using his werewolf form to punish the wealthy 'who feed on the blood of the poor.' When that didn't work as he'd hoped and he found himself unemployed, he switched to moonlighting for the local gangs. They don't know his true nature; the gangs use him as a leg breaker and occasional assassin.

He's desperate for a way out, and needs someone who understands the occult better than he to work out how the curse can be broken. Perhaps there's a book out there than can help him ...

Abilities: Athletics 9 (14), Conceal 4, Driving 8, Electrical Repair 6, Firearms 8, Fleeing 6 (12), Health 9 (12), Scuffling 14 (18), Weapons 8. All stats in ( ) are wolf form statistics; any ability not in ( ), like Weapons, cannot be used in wolf form.

Hit Threshold: 4

Alertness: +4

Weapon: +1 (bite)

Armor: -1 vs any (fur)

Stability Loss: +1

Appearance as wolf: Giant, muscular, with fur sloughing off in handfuls as if from some kind of disease, and a strange chemical stink (mustard gas, actually).

Arabesque  Lucy Ainsworth

Lucy is the second daughter of wealthy shipping magnate Peter Ainsworth. Her eldest sister is married to minor nobility, and lives in Kensington. She and her younger sister Elanor still live in the family home in Wimbledon; both parents are dead.

Since childhood, Lucy has nurtured a simmering hatred for her younger sister. Helen, the eldest, was able to escape the family home, but homely Lucy never had suitors, family fortune or no. There was something about Lucy's forbidding demeanor, passed on to her by her father, that put people off. Elanor on the other hand was pliant, pretty and cheerful, and had no difficulty attracting men. It was enough to make Lucy's blood boil.

The only thing that kept Lucy from going completely off the deep end was torture. It began with small animals, mice and such; Lucy used her taxidermy hobby as a cover for her activities, transforming her kills into elaborate and fantastic displays. She created fantasy landscapes with her mice as tiny knights, wooing damsels and challenging dragonish cats. Before long she had several large glass tanks full of her craftsmanship, decorating the ground floor of the family home. At first she confined it to her father's study, but the project grew and grew, until now there isn't a single room on the ground floor that lacks a study in quasi-medieval splendor. Pride of place is taken up by a Spanish Inquisition piece complete with purpose-built instruments of torture, using rats as the inquisitors.

It wasn't enough. More and more the men kept coming for Elanor, and Lucy would keep them away. She saw herself as the guardian of the house and its legacy. After all, if Papa was still alive, he wouldn't want the youngest married before her elder sister. There are standards of decorum. The family money is held in trust, and Helen's not foolish enough to come anywhere near Wimbledon these days. For all the outside world knows, the two sisters might be living together in secluded harmony.

Though Lucy would never admit it, taxidermy is no longer enough to keep her darker urges in check, and hasn't been for several years now. She has strange dreams in which she roams London like an avenging angel, tracking down Elanor's would-be lovers and dealing with them before they become a serious threat. This has extended to all young men who might, at some point, pay Elanor attention, from the milkman on. The mailman hasn't tried to deliver the post in some time, not that he dares tell his supervisor why. So far the black hound of Wimbledon Common hasn't attracted attention, but with each incident Lucy's restraint slips further and further.

The one thing Lucy hasn't really been paying attention to, oddly enough, is Elanor herself. Lucy's younger sister has a mind of her own, for all her pliant nature, and she's making a collar for the guard dog Lucy has become. One day she'll snap it around Lucy's hairy neck, and then things may change forever.

Abilities: Athletics 4 (12), Fleeing 4 (10), Filch 7, Health 5 (10), Scuffling 4 (12). All stats in ( ) are wolf form statistics; any ability not in ( ), like Filch, cannot be used in wolf form.

Hit Threshold: 4

Alertness: +3

Weapon: +0 (bite)

Armor: -1 vs any (fur)

Stability Loss: +0

Appearance as wolf:  Jet black hound, similar in build to an Irish Wolfhound. Sleek and well cared for, but with a savage temper.

Sordid: Barton King

Barton King is a factory owner, a tanner, whose business is in the East End, out on the Isle of Dogs. The tannery has been struggling since the War; King made a lot of money back in 1914-18, but had no real head for business, and ended up wasting most of his profits on failed investment schemes. The factory has been in the red for the last few years, and there's talk it might go under.

However badly the factory might be doing, King sees himself as a captain of industry, frustrated in his efforts by lesser men. It wasn't his fault that none of his investments worked out, it was the jealousy of his rivals who intrigued against him and tricked him out of his rightful profits. He's a wolf, and the world is full of sheep. If the concept of the alpha male existed in the 1930s he'd enthusiastically self-identify as an alpha, the dominant male lording it over his domain.

The first rape took place three years ago. She was one of his workers, a woman he'd had his eye on for some time, and he followed her home one night, assaulting her in her flat. He saw it as taking what rightfully belonged to him, and if the girl killed herself, why, that was her own silly fault.

The second time it happened the woman had a boyfriend, and that was where things got complicated. King's alpha male side refused to back down even though he was clearly outmatched. King doesn't really understand what happened after the boyfriend intervened; King just remembers coming to in an alleyway, covered from head to foot in blood. The papers said a vicious murderer had slashed the two to death, and as far as King was concerned that was as good a story as any.

It's happened four times since then, each time to women that King's had his eye on, and as he's grown older, his targets get younger and younger. The last was only twelve, a girl without parents he'd seen hanging around the factory gates, begging. Those he sees as his rightful prey, but lately he's become excited by boys as well as girls. Boys put up more of a fight, and their flesh is as tender, if caught young enough.

He has one ally within the factory who knows his secret, George Means, a foreman. He brought Means in early in his career, when he was frightened of what he was becoming and wanted someone to help him understand it. Means passes himself off as a master of the occult, but really he's a sub-Crowley dilettante who knows very little about the Mythos. Means took the job as a sinecure, figuring he'd milk King for a few paydays and then scarper. Trouble is, King's feral side scares Means silly, and the last two times Means ended up helping King get his kill for fear of what might happen if he didn't. Now Means is involved up to his neck, and the day will come when he'll have to decide whether his fear of King is greater than his terror of the hangman's noose. 

Abilities: Athletics 8 (15), Fleeing 7 (12), Electrical Repair 5, Health 8 (15), Mechanical Repair 8, Scuffling 7 (14), Weapons 5. All stats in ( ) are wolf form statistics; any ability not in ( ), like Electrical Repair, cannot be used in wolf form.

Hit Threshold: 4

Alertness: +3

Stealth: +1

Weapon: +1 (bite)

Armor: -2 vs any (fur)

Stability Loss: +1

Appearance as wolf: A shaggy hound with exaggerated sexual characteristics, and eyes that glow like hellfire.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent material, thank you! Lucy Ainsworth's taxidermy is wonderfully lurid, baroque and totally capable of envisaging! I particularly liked the way her collection outgrew to space allocated to it in her home. Bravo!