Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Argh! Boat Promises Something For Everyone (Night's Black Agents)

You may have noticed that zombie hordes are about to overrun a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, the Pearl. It's all part of a Walking Dead theme event run by Walker Stalker Con, and the Pearl will leave Miami packed to the gills with ravening undead in January next year. Which begs a question: in a cruise liner packed with fake undead, how would you tell if real ones were on board too?

Unless you've been aboard a modern liner, you really don't know what to expect. The Pearl boasts a 'chic bowling alley, sicteen delicious dining options, thirteen bars and lounges, dazzling casino, tranquil spa, and spacious Garden Villas ... just a few things that make this Jewel Class cruise ship a destination of her own.' But really, if your expectations have been tempered by old films of the Titanic and the other luxury liners of the so-called golden age - roughly 1900 to 1945 - you wouldn't recognize ships like the Pearl as a liner at all. It's a floating entertainment complex, a Busch Gardens on the ocean. Can a bowling alley ever be considered chic? Who cares! What matters is the twenty-four-hour service, the booming soundtrack on the dance floor, the piles of glittering stuff for you to buy, or be distracted by. You never even have to get off the boat and interact with those tacky locals; heck, you never have to see the ocean, if you don't want to.

Though there have been scenarios set aboard luxury liners, they tend to be the old-school glitter palaces. I've written two, Millionaire's Special and Vaterland, and there's at least one Call of Cthulhu scenario, The Mauretania. That's not counting any of the campaigns which might, as a side adventure, have the characters travel aboard luxury ships on their way to the next scenario destination. To my knowledge nobody has ever tried to set a horror scenario aboard a modern ship. With that in mind, let's discuss the cruise liner, and its possible uses in Night's Black Agents.

Since NBA is more of a European-focus setting, and since we started this talking about NCL's liners, let's look at NCL's Epic class ships, which travel to Italy, Spain and the Med. These things are massive, capable of transporting 4,100 guests, never mind the crew, and like pretty much every other luxury liner out there, NCL tries to persuade its guests to spend time, and thus money, on its facilities. Want an adults-only private beach party? Done. Aqua Park? Done. Sake Bar? Done. Ice Bar? Done. Live theatre? Done. Luxury spa? Done and done. It's loud, it's youth-oriented, and you've got money to burn. Time to set it on fire!

Generally speaking, the crew aren't supposed to fraternize with the guests, but that rule often gets overlooked. However there's often significant staff churn; it's a hard life, without many breaks, and the staff aren't encouraged to linger in the passenger areas. There are separate recreational facilities for staff; wouldn't do to see your deck steward gambling away his paycheck in the ship's casino, after all. This means that Disguise checks for protagonists passing themselves off as crew may be easier than expected; even fellow crew can't keep track of all these new faces, coming and going at every port. So long as you're not trying to pass yourself off as the captain or senior staff, it should be simple to slip on a staff jacket and go unnoticed.

From a Digital Intrusion point of view, the ship's main systems will be reasonably well protected, but anything else will be crackable. There's just too many possible points of infiltration; nobody could hope to protect the entire system. Plus there are all those o-so-tempting security cameras, keeping watch on every corridor and public area. How could you resist them?

Chase scenes can run the gamut. You could be on deck one minute, dodging through the water park, and running through a casino in the next chase increment. Chase scenes aboard a liner favor the Athletic, and anyone who can do parkour will have a field day. However due to the number of people and things littering the landscape, most chase increments should be considered Cramped. Normal is the best you can hope for; try not to trip over someone's toddler while making your escape through the bowling alley!

Remember too that we came to all this through the Walking Dead. Suppose this is a theme cruise, based on some popular vampire TV show, or perhaps it's a Halloween voyage. The Chase scene was already pretty convoluted; now you're doing the exact same thing, except through a horde of maybe-maybe-not undead. Is that fake blood, or the real thing? Is the nosferatu you just bumped into on the dance floor the genuine article? Who can say?

High Society types, especially those with Flirting, are going to get on very well in this type of scenario. It's a target-rich environment, and you can meet anyone here, from minor celebrities on down. It's also a target-rich environment for the criminal element, so expect to meet some of the smoothest con artists and pickpockets in the trade. 

So why is the Conspiracy involved? Well, there are several options:

  1. Smuggling. The cruise lines don't like to talk about it, but smuggling is a real problem. A liner is a massive operation, traveling from port to port; very difficult to police. Smaller items, like narcotics, are the easiest to transport, particularly since, in this era of GPS, the simple solution is to dump the cargo in a watertight container, before you ever reach port, and let the locals pick it up. This works best with small packages but more substantial cargo could be offloaded, under the right circumstances.
  2. Transport. Cruise liners go from port to port under relatively lax surveillance. Nobody wants to be the one to upset the goose that's laying the golden egg, after all, and these ships are very big business. Someone who wants to skip the country without passing through those surveillance-heavy airports can do so aboard a liner without as much fear of capture.
  3. Clandestine meetings. A secret meeting held in plain sight can be very useful; who would suspect that innocent-seeming tourist is actually a bioweapons expert, trying to sell his latest product to the highest bidder?
  4. Assassination. People die on cruise liners all the time, but the line generally prefers not to advertise this fact. Most cruise crime cases go unreported, and often when you see mention of a crew member who's gone missing, that means suicide. Perhaps that Norovirus outbreak is cover for something more sinister ...
That's it for now. Enjoy!

Friday, 26 June 2015

Why Do We Own This? (Night's Black Agents)

As the Dracula Dossier nears completion, I thought it would be interesting to talk about the Conspiracy, and the assets it possesses. From the jets to the private islands, the abandoned castles and the private paramilitary force: why does the Conspiracy want these things?

Of course, the first answer is going to be, 'because it's cool,' which is perfectly acceptable. But the Director is probably going to need to know a little more than that, because the players are going to be asking questions at some point, and the Director needs to have a plausible answer. That answer could be one or more of the following:

1) Tax reasons. Yes, it's boring, but death and taxes are the two constants, and while vampires may have overcome one of those obstacles, they still have problems with the other. Whether it's a shell company that exists only to funnel money through the Caymans, or a team of forensic accountants working out of New York, there are going to be assets that exist solely to hide the Conspiracy's vast cash reserves. This doesn't have to be dull; people have bought property, art, wine cellars and other exotic assets because they hold value, or can be expected to increase in value. Possible abilities: Accounting, Art History, Bureaucracy, Criminology.

2) Citizenship. Many countries insist that, in order to do business there, you have to have local ties. China is one such country, determined to ensure that its economy is controlled by Chinese companies, and not obstreperous foreigners. Also, there may be times when it's handy to have diplomatic immunity, and for those special occasions when only the protection of the Vienna Convention will do, it's handy to have a foothold in some forgettable dictatorship. Even the Joker was once ambassador to Libya, so vampire diplomats is hardly a stretch. Possible abilities: High Society, Law

3) Plausible ownership. If your Conspiracy needs to get something done under the radar, and that something requires considerable effort, it's useful to have a front company that can get the job done. Say you need to transport delicate equipment, or coffins, from Italy to France, or to ship items from China to the US. In that case you might find it handy to already own a shipping company, an air transit service, or a meat packing plant. The ships, planes and trucks those companies own can then go wherever the Conspiracy wants, carrying whatever it wants. Given the nature of the Conspiracy, one plausible ownership asset that is likely to occur again and again is the funeral director, crematorium, cemetery, or other corpse disposal medium. After all, how else is a self-respecting vampire supposed to get hold of a bespoke, luxury coffin? Possible abilities: Traffic Analysis, Forgery (when those manifests just won't add up), Bureaucracy.

4)  Legacy item. The Conspiracy's been around for a while, and has done many things in its blood-drenched career. Who knows what it found useful to own, during the War - which war? - or before it. Forgotten caches of weapons, looted art, and terrorist groups are as likely here as drafty old castles and sinister, abandoned monasteries. Say the Conspiracy backed the Red Army Faction back in the day, when it was expedient to have a fingerhold in the far-left groups attacking the established elite. Some of those greying baby boomer bombers and assassins might still be floating about today, waiting to be reactivated. Perhaps they have some very dangerous intel locked away in their heads, or worse yet, a safety deposit box. Possible abilities: Criminology, Art History, History, Research.

5) Long Term Goal. The Conspiracy is working towards something, and in order to achieve that goal it may have its hooks in all kinds of assets. Say it intends to build a technologically advanced item, like an interstellar space ship. That means it will need technical experts, as well as copious amounts of raw materials. Those raw materials are often found in places where governments are less than stable, or there is no settled government at all. Thus a Conspiracy might find it expedient to have puppets highly placed in, say, France, so its controlled diplomats can exert political pressure through the UN and the EU, on those unstable governments. It's probably more expedient to do it that way than to control the unstable government direct, since, as the West has discovered more than once, the dictator you back today may be out on his ass tomorrow. The same Conspiracy may also find it useful to own construction companies, engineering firms, and ecological think tanks. The construction companies and engineering firms, naturally, are to extract the raw materials, but it's bound to happen that some bleeding heart save-the-fluffy-creatures protest movement will spring up when the jungle gets carved up; when that happens, it's handy to have your own ecologically minded public opinion moulder in place, to deflect criticism. Possible abilities:Bureaucracy, any of the sciences depending on the nature of the goal, Law.

6) Expediency. Sometimes you just have to break a few eggs to make that omelet, and when that unfortunate circumstance arises, it's useful to own assets that can make omelets easily. This doesn't just apply to leg breakers and gunmen, though naturally there will be plenty of those. It also applies to sneak thieves, hackers, people smugglers, narcotics dealers, forgers, and pretty much any other criminal type you can think of. It also applies to former and active terrorist groups, paramilitary organizations, and PMCs. Sandline isn't the only mercenary group which took the Wild Geese as its inspiration, after all.  Finally, it also applies to lawyers. After the dust settles, the Conspiracy will need a Kobayashi or two, to smooth over the cracks. Possible abilities: Criminology, Cop Talk, Tradecraft, Military Science.

That's it for now! Enjoy.

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.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Patreon! Less of the hmmmm

Well, I bit the bullet. After musing for a while - mainly about PayPal and its relative uselessness to me - I decided to start that Patreon I've been thinking about. For more information on that topic, head over here!

In other news, the Plot Points folks posted the second half of their Pen and Ink interview, and if you haven't already found it, go over here.


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Forgotten London: Madame Tussaud's (Esoterrorists, Night's Black Agents, Bookhounds)

When last I discussed forgotten London, it concerned a part of the city that no longer exists, the Crystal Palace. Now I want to turn my attention to something that does still stand, if not at its original location: the famous wax figure museum, Madame Tussaud's. Or Tussauds, as it now prefers to be called. Nowadays it has branches all over the globe, but from a Trail point of view there is only one: the central London attraction, currently housed in the former London planetarium.

Its eponymous founder was born Marie Grosholtz in 1761, her mother a servant in the household of Doctor Philippe Curtius, her soldier father having died before she was born. Dr Curtius was an established, and moderately famous, modeller of wax figures, which he displayed in what was known at the time as Salons de Cire, or Houses of Wax. The Prince de Conti was Curtius' sponsor, and with that noble patron he enjoyed significant social and economic success. Marie learned the art from Curtius, who acted as her unofficial uncle, and later went on to become tutor of art in the household of Louis XIV's sister Elizabeth.

The Salons were much as you'd expect, designed mainly for edification with a dash of titillation. Royalty and commoner alike went there for their entertainment, and the establishments were popular enough to survive the Revolution, remaining open, and adding new subjects, even as human heads were piling up by the dozens in the tumbril. Curtius was astute enough to keep his new Revolutionary patrons happy with pro-revolutionary tableaux, even as he had, years earlier, kept his Royal patrons entertained with flattering portrayals. Marie's autobiography covers this period; to my knowledge there is no free ebook, but there are versions available via Amazon and similar sites.

However post-Revolutionary France was no place for an entertainer, so after Curtius' death in 1794 Marie packed up her belongings, including a collection of severed heads, and made the trip to England, with her two sons. For the next three decades Marie, now in her forties and with no English to speak of, toured England with her collection, displaying them in every town and city she could reach. Meanwhile her husband Francois Tussaud, who turned out to be a useless businessman and a spendthrift, managed what was left of the Parisian end of the business. This failure, and his indiscretions, led to their permanent estrangement, and though there was no such thing as divorce at that time, Madame was on her own.

Marie was a remarkable person, more than capable of running a business, but now she had to set one up, single-handed. Her Baker Street salon, established in 1835, became the first Madame Tussaud's, and she became a permanent fixture outside it, collecting the entrance fee. What we know as its Chamber of Horrors was known then as the Separate Room, where those severed heads in wax, along with the many murderers and felons to come, paraded in all their gory horror. Madame made sure her props and properties were as original as she could make them, sourcing her gallows from a demolished prison, using the actual weapons the killers used, and getting her murderers' faces from their death masks. But most people claimed to go to Madame's for its historical tableaux, which in the Victorian and Edwardian period became ever more elaborate, illustrating famous moments from English history, both modern and ancient.

Madame lived to the ripe old age of eighty nine, dying in 1850. Her children, and their children, carried on the tradition. However money became a serious concern and, after moving from Baker Street to Marylebone, the family formed a limited company in hope of raising capital through sale of shares. However they fought like cats over it, and in the end lack of funds resulted in sale of the business in 1889 to outside investors. Even then, the Tussaud family was still intimately involved in the business, up until 1960.

In 1925, a terrible fire burnt the collection and gutted the Marylebone establishment. The collection remained closed until 1928, when it re-opened. By that point any interest it may have held as a monument to history was dead; people only went there for the horrors and murderers. This would remain the case until the 1960s, when people began becoming interested in the 19th century again.

Other interesting side notes: a bomb was allegedly sent to the Tussaud family in 1889, by an artist infuriated at being fired. In addition to the 1928 fire, the collection was also bombed during the Blitz, but despite all this a few models created by Madame herself still survive. The Hitler model, first created in 1933, has been continuously vandalized ever since it was first built; the most recent incident took place in 2008, when someone decapitated it on a bet. Though there is no freely available ebook, Gutenberg has a play by someone named Anstey, which has a scene set at the museum. The scene describes a Regent Street Tussauds, established by a great grandson of Marie, Louis. That museum burnt down in 1891, and Louis took his museum on the road before settling in Blackpool. Louis' museum has been described as the worst wax museum in the world.

Now all that's been said, what can be done with Tussauds in an RPG setting?

In Trail, and particularly Bookhounds, Tussauds seems a natural fit for Sordid London. Its lifelike collection of murderers, villains and psychopaths would suit a campaign in which human life is held cheap, particularly one in which crimes and those who commit them are idolized by the masses. Tussauds is always on the lookout for original props, and people like the Bookhounds - forgers, thieves and other unsavory types - could earn an honest (?) shilling or two by servicing this need. Those who practice idiosyncratic magic may find that regular visits to the Chamber of Horrors are very useful, particularly if they want to bump up weapons, scuffling, or stealth pools. As for crazy artists and their wax masterpieces, Vincent Price has already shown what a story involving them can do.

In theory, if a character commits a crime and is sentenced to death, one final blowout scenario before the end could involve that character's visit by representatives of Madame Tussauds. Would sir like to be immortalized forever in wax? Alternatively, if the artists at Madame's are more than they seem, would sir like to be immortal, as some kind of waxen mummy? It's one way to cheat the hangman ...

A Night's Black Agents chase scene in Madame Tussauds could be spectacular. It wouldn't be the balls-out high octane chase you'd expect to see in a Bourne movie; more a subtle, cerebral pursuit through the crowds, as the pursuer or pursued tries to give whoever's tailing them the slip. Alternatively the museum could house some Conspyracy asset, or perhaps its owners are secretly immortal bloodsuckers. As with the Crystal Palace, since Tussauds has been in London for a very long time, it could show up again and again in a century-spanning chronicle. Or perhaps one of its more spectacular murderers was actually a vampire hunter, and the weapon that person used is still on display, with its wax figure, at the museum.

Here's a question: how long can vampires stand still? Many's the time a guard or staff member has surprised a visitor by turning out to be really real, not a wax dummy, just by pretending to be immobile. But humans eventually have to shift their weight, blink, or breathe. Do vampires? Or will you be lured closer, ever closer, by that figure in the Chamber of Horrors that looks just a little too real ...

The Esoterrorists could have all kinds of fun with a tourist attraction build around illusion and horror. Perhaps they already have; after all, that 1925 fire might not have been an accident. What if a journalist or academic's research, as part of a book that person is planning to write, comes close to exposing a veil-out performed decades ago?

Stories about wax figures that move around at night make excellent fodder for Esoterrorist schemes. Perhaps, in the wake of some science fiction show featuring moving wax figures, rumor flies around that one of the feature attractions at Tussauds really does what science fiction pretends to do, and someone ends up dead after having sneaked around after hours. The Curse of Tussauds, anyone? And what kind of ODE might find a wax museum at night appealing?

That's it for me for now. Enjoy!

Friday, 12 June 2015

Knights of the Air: Trail and the Great War

If you're looking for a video series to absorb hours of your time, I highly recommend The Great War, a YouTube channel that focuses on the events and personalities of that world-shattering conflict. The production team has chosen to focus on some of the undeservedly obscure elements of the war, like South Africa's role in the conflict, which makes it invaluable for Keepers wanting to set a scenario somewhere unusual.

All of which brings me back to Dulce et Decorum Est, and the air war. I've talked previously about mixing game types, linking several different Trail concepts in a single, overarching narrative. This time let's consider what it would mean to mix the air war rules found in Flying Coffins as well as Dulce, and the survival rules found in Mythos Expeditions.

The Middle Eastern theatre of operations is one of the least studied, unless you happen to be a fan of Lawrence of Arabia. However from an air war perspective it is very interesting. Germany began sending the Turks aircraft very early on, and by the end the Turks had the benefit of some of Germany's best fighter designs, such as the Albatros and Halberstadt. Even as the original Eindecker was making mincemeat of allied aircraft over the Western Front, the Germans were sending its latest designs to the Ottomans. They were opposed by the British and Australians, operating out of Egypt as part of the Expeditionary Force. From a Keeper's point of view, possibly the best time to stage a scenario in this conflict is early 1917, as Allenby is forming the Palestinian Brigade in a desperate attempt to stave off air defeat by a superior German-backed air force.

The Arab Revolt is already well under way at this point, Lawrence is busy blowing up train tracks, and the Ottomans are beginning to feel the pressure. The British are poised to take the Sinai Peninsula, and are looking hungrily at Rafa, an important military stronghold. Number 1 Squadron AFC is moved closer to the scene of the action to support ground assaults. The protagonists, it can be assumed, are part of Number 1 Squadron. They need to be able to establish and hold air superiority, which is going to be next to impossible since the Germans have very strong air combat capability. During the battle, German air raids are going to be a very difficult challenge for the allied attackers.

The Keeper might consider a few prelude scenes before the main action, perhaps set in Cairo, as these dashing young pilots arrive in the Middle East and begin training. Here they learn about Mordiggian for the first time, and discover that there is a small group of quasi-cultists within the Palestinian Brigade, blessing bullets, as they have been taught to do by home-grown Mordiggian cultists, possibly even agents of the Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh. These bullets require blood sacrifice to make, but if they are used against the enemy then their effectiveness is greatly increased. The protagonists may be intrigued by this, and even be tempted to use them, so long as the blood sacrifice is limited; goats, say, or other small animals. Of course, the most effective bullets require human sacrifice ...

Then battle begins, and the pilots are tested, perhaps even found wanting. German air operations are taking their toll, and allied command  is not happy at the losses suffered as a result of successful German bombardment. A big push is on to take Rafa; the protagonists had better up their game. At this point the Keeper ought to throw in several fierce air engagements near the scene of the battle, as troops begin to deploy. Personalize these defending German aircraft; perhaps one or two of them become nemeses for the attacking Australian pilots.

Close this scene with a demand from the cultists: perform a blood sacrifice, and all will be well; we can ensure you defeat your enemies. But if you don't, our curse be upon you! A personal appearance from an avatar of Mordiggian, or a particularly dangerous creature, would be very useful at this point. This is the entity that has to be fed. The protagonists don't have to find their own victims. The cult is happy to provide the sacrifices, but it has to be the protagonists who decide whether or not to carry out the ritual.

Then they take to the air, fighting over Rafa. If they chose to carry out the ritual, then they enjoy tremendous success, as their new bullets seemingly cannot miss, and do great damage. Perhaps those German nemeses go down in flames very quickly, now that the protagonists have access to these magic bullets. If they didn't, then the German forces are all but overwhelming. Attack after attack leaves the Australian planes in shreds, low on ammo, smoking and about to crash.

The scene should end with the aircraft forced down. If they didn't carry out the ritual then this shouldn't be difficult to arrange. If they did, then the pilots are horrified to discover that their own aircraft are turning against them, becoming monstrous things, demanding blood. If the protagonists don't immediately land and abandon ship, then these vampiric entities will drain them dry. This is definitely worth a Stability check.

Now the pilots are on the ground in Palestine, somewhere near the fighting. They don't have psychic powers, so there's no way to know who's in control of Rafa; they need to get somewhere safe, and eventually back to their squadron. They also need to avoid Ottoman patrols.

This is where the Survival Pool needs to be established, and I would base it on the number of pilots, on the assumption of 2 points per pilot, representing any charts, navigation equipment, and water that they may possess. Naturally they ought to destroy anything that the enemy might find useful, like documents which show current Allied positions, but since those are also the charts that they might be using to find their way back, they may be reluctant to do this. If they do, then feel free to reduce Survival by 2. The area around Rafa is best described as hot semi-arid, which means Survival tests are either Hostile (in the area immediately around Rafa) or Very Hostile (everywhere else).

Now the pilots have to make their way back. Possible challenges include desert Arabs (are they on our side, or in the pay of the Ottomans?), attacking enemy aircraft, dust storms, leaking water bottles, and mine fields. If the Keeper feels that the protagonists might be about to snuff it, perhaps those Arabs turn out to be friendly, or perhaps the protagonists find an unexpected source of water; say, from dead soldiers' canteens, which would mean a Stability test.

On their way they spot a landmark that isn't on the map. It is an abandoned fort, possibly dating all the way back to the crusaders. Nobody would establish a fort without ensuring it had a water supply, would they?

Here is where they have their final encounter with the forces of Mordiggian. Of course the fort isn't truly abandoned; this is one of the Old One's fanes, where it is worshiped in nightmarish, bloody ritual. Did the protagonists make sacrifice and get those magic bullets? Then they are welcomed with open arms, and the scenario may end with them descending into madness as they embrace the blood rites, and become one with Mordiggian's worshipers. If they did not, or if they choose to avoid the fort altogether, then they are pursued across the desert by the creatures that live within, and spend the final scenes of the scenario on a knife edge, low on Survival, throats dry, water out, no way of knowing how far away safety is, and pursued relentlessly by things they cannot, dare not, comprehend.

That's it for now! Enjoy. 

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Sounds from the Stone Age (Trail of Cthulhu, Esoterrorists, Nights Black Agents)

Way back in the misty reaches of 2001, Channel Four broadcast a fascinating documentary called Secrets of the Dead: Sounds from the Stone Age. It was followed by a book on the subject by Paul Devereux, Stone Age Soundtracks, which I highly recommend. As this is all about dolmens and stone tombs, and as I've just written a scenario on a related topic now in playtest, I thought I'd talk about these prehistoric monuments, and their potential relevance to an RPG setting.

Devereaux's work explores the theory of archaeoacoustics, which takes as its premise that certain archaeological sites may have been designed specifically for their acoustic properties. Devereux posits that, at some point in the very distant past, prehistoric peoples discovered cave sites with natural acoustic properties, and became fascinated by them. These people may have also discovered the strange effect that infrasound can have on human biology, causing feelings of fear, dread, and possibly inspiring quasi-supernatural events, which they would have interpreted as divine intervention. These explorers established religious sites at these caves, but of course, they were few and far between. Therefore they set out to create more, by establishing stone circles, chamber tombs and other man-made monuments, each with their own special acoustic qualities.

The documentary's well worth watching, but now the concept's been established, let's talk about what it might mean for Trail, Esoterrorists and Night's Black Agents.

In Trail, it could become a fairly conventional horror scenario with an interesting twist: the cultists, misguided archaeologists, or other bunch of interfering busybodies, manage to wake up something that they can't control, by singing at the wrong set of stones at the wrong time of year. It could as easily be a scientific expedition as a bunch of neo-pagans, since the basic theory of archaeoacoustics is already being talked about in the early 1900s.

There is a branch of archaeocoustics that theorizes specific sounds can be replayed from objects under the right circumstances, which TV shows like CSI and X-Files have gone on to claim means that voices from the past can be recorded in stone, and replayed. It wouldn't necessarily have to be stone; one researcher, Richard G. Woodbridge III, thought he could manage a similar effect with oil paintings. Under those circumstances it might be possible to encode a specific item with specific data; a ritual, say, that could be reactivated, and completed, without the person activating it truly knowing what's going on. Nigel Kneale plays with a very similar idea in his television play, The Stone Tape. In this instance the item causing the effect could be anywhere; in a house, on the Underground, in an art gallery or a bus terminal.

In Esoterrorists, the idea of a sound that can be used to evoke something from Beyond fits in very nicely with the concept of the Outer Dark. This time the Esoterrorists have stumbled on a method of evoking ODEs first used millenia ago by prehistoric man, and, in imitation of their forbears, the Esoterrorists are creating new, artificial sound temples. Perhaps Esoterror assets in the local municipal department are planning new public buildings with these sounds encoded, or artists are creating public art installations intended to evoke the Outer Dark. Big cities like London usually have several large scale events happening every year, whether it's an architectural display in one of the parks, or an exhibit at the British Museum; any one, or more, of those could be targeted by Esoterror. The initial threat, of course, could be detected in its early stages at some barrow mound or stone circle elsewhere, say, Ireland. Then through clues at that site the protagonists go on to discover the Esoterrorists' true scheme.

Night's Black Agents has at least two potential Vampire conspiracy types that might be interested in pagan sound temples: the aliens, and the Satanic. The alien race could have established these sound temples long ago, as part of a plan to subjugate the native species. Or perhaps sound is their means of transmitting a sonic vampire entity into a human host, or the means by which primitive humans long ago developed an effective vampire bane. The Satanic vampires might have used the temples as places of worship, a means of getting in touch with their otherworldly masters; a kind of two-way radio set, for the vampire entities trapped here on earth. In any case, the conspiracy would want to preserve the sites that still exist, and create new ones where possible. Why, the characters might wonder, are the vampires so interested in historic preservation societies, and why did that developer trying to build an access road past that old standing stone wind up so spectacularly murdered? 

That's it for now! Enjoy.

Plot Points!

In case you haven't already found it, the Plot Points podcasters interviewed me a short while ago, and are putting it out on their feed. The first episode posted last week, and the second will post later this week. Enjoy!