Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning standalone game produced under license from Chaosium, set in the 1930s, now in its third print run, and produced in five languages. Trail of Cthulhu uses the GUMSHOE system, which is finely tuned for investigative play – the challenge is in interpreting clues not finding them.It supports both Pulp (for Indiana Jones, Robert E. Howard, thrilling locations sorts of games) and Purist styles of play (for intellectual horror and cosmic dread). HP Lovecraft’s work combined both, sometimes in the same story.It includes a new take on the creatures, cults and gods of the Lovecraft’s literature, and addresses their use in gaming. It adds new player backgrounds, and bulk out the GUMSHOE system to give intensive support for sanity, incorporating into the rule set the PCs desire to explore at the risk of going mad.Trail of Cthulhu won two Ennie awards for Best Rules and Best Writing, as well as receiving an honourable mention for Product of the Year.Trail of Cthulhu is a well supported game, with award-winning supplements by Ken Hite, Robin Laws, Jason Morningstar, Adam Gauntlett, Graham Walmsley, Gareth Hanrahan and Bill White.
See the complete reviews to date here.…I was concerned that my traditional style of low prep freeform gaming would have trouble with the GUMSHOE clue system included here… I quickly discovered that this was not an obstacle at all, … it was very easy to constantly push new clues through different Investigative Abilities. In fact, I found that the game worked spectacularly well with this style as the nature of these Abilities encouraged me to constantly engage each of the players thereby resulting in a mystery that was continuously moving forward to its PC driven conclusion. My play experiences have been far more satisfying than I would have expected, though my group has largely avoided physical conflict whenever possible.
CW Richeson on rpg.net
Overall, this is a masterful melding of the Gumshoe system with classic Cthulhu Mythos gaming, an inspired match. There’s so much goodness in this that I’ll be back again and again, not just to play but to mine for ideas whatever I am doing.
Megan Robertson on rpgnow.com
By now it should be evident that I really love Trail of Cthulhu. I think it manages to capture the feel and style of HPL’s stories, particularly when played in Purist mode, with rules built to complement the stories. GUMSHOE is a perfect fit for investigative type adventures, and well-suited for a plotted out set of scenes. It also is simple enough to be run in a more “off-the-cuff” improvisational style and doesn’t require a great deal of prep on the part of the Keeper.
Michael Harnish on RPG Geek
…the section on the Cthulhu Elder Gods/Outer Gods is superb and packed with so many incredibly insane ideas for running plots it is hard to talk about it without waving hands around incoherently. One small sentence about Elder Gods as meme loads was so compelling it was a hot topic in my house for three days. If you’re into CoC at all, this is worth getting to juice up campaigns and take them to 11.
The Gumshoe system is an investigation-oriented one, and this orientation is well suited to many Mythos scenarios. We enjoyed playing our characters and didn’t have too much trouble picking up the system. I’d recommend it.
Duncan Hunter on rpg.net
This book is gorgeous; my copy is a lovely 248 page hardcover. Jérome Huguenin does a masterful job with art and layout. That art is consistent throughout– something not to be underestimated as a key to make a game feel complete … Worth buying for any gamer interesting in horror or Lovecraft.
Lowell Francis on rpggeek.com
With enough for everyone and a system flexible to have from a purely investigative adventure to a action fuelled Indiana Jones style game, if you like Lovecraft, you simply can’t go wrong with it
Paco G Jaen of G*M*S Magazine
||Author: Kenneth Hite and Robin Laws
|Artist: Jerome Huguenin
||Format: 248-page, two-color, smythe-sewn hardback
Ever hungry for new sources of terror, we just received seven gods and titans for use in any Trail of Cthulhu campaign, from player Nick Ingham. He says:
“Some have been mentioned in supplements like the Bookhounds of London, but not properly described like the ones in the core rulebook. Others I just like. In order to avoid “Great Old One creep,” each deity’s entry contains several options tying it to existing beings – or laying a rival claim to another’s characteristic – and at least one option explaining it away as a myth, metaphor or even lie. Following them is a section offering one or two myth, metaphor, error, or lie options for each deity from the core book – barring a couple that already have them – as well as Rhan-Teggoth from the Bookhounds of London.”
“Beware St. Toad’s cracked chimes!” I heard him scream
As I plunged into those mad lanes that wind
In labyrinths obscure and undefined
South of the river where old centuries dream.
– The Fungi from Yuggoth
- Byatis, the Serpent-Bearded, is a vast toad-like entity whose face is obscured by a mass of reaching tentacles.
- Byatis is trapped in a vast chamber beneath a ruined castle in the Severn Valley. Apparitions caused by its presence have given rise to the legend of the Berkeley Toad.
- Some regions are subject to Byatis’s unceasing gaze, creating pools of eldritch energy accessible to sorcerers; such regions are cursed with a bloody history, and haunted by both past and future. One such pool is said to be located beneath the London.
- Prinn’s De Vermis Mysteriis describes Serpent-Bearded Byatis as one of a triad of divinatory deities, together with Father Yig and Dark Han.
- Those confronting Byatis’s blazing eye lose their minds and wills and walk to the god to be devoured.
- Byatis is an avatar of Tsathoggua.
- Byatis is the greatest of the Xothians not trapped in R’lyeh, and dreams of winning control of his race from Cthulhu.
- Byatis is the greatest of the Nagaäe, the race of creatures that serves Cyaëgha.
- Byatis’s essence is the ultimate power that animates vampires.
- In return for sacrifices, Byatis can offer fragments of its being to act as familiars to witches and sorcerers. Fed on the blood of victims, these familiars can grow to vast size.
- Byatis is a myth, a conjectured demon from which the toad-like familiars of witches are said to descend.
- Byatis, based on the legend of the Berkeley Toad, was a claim made by Severn Valley Sorcerer Gilbert Morley to bolster his occult reputation.
- Witnessing Byatis costs an additional +3 (1) Stability pool points and +2 Sanity pool points.
I have seen beyond the bounds of infinity and drawn down daemons from the stars. . . . I have harnessed the shadows that stride from world to world to sow death and madness.
– From Beyond
- Cyaëgha, the Waiting Dark, resembles a vast staring eye surrounded by a mass of writing tentacles. The whole entity floats above the ground, reaching down for prey.
- Cyaëgha appears as a vast eye superimposed over the Moon, around which rifts open in the sky. Pure darkness flows through these rifts, shaping itself into shifting bodies and appendages.
- Cyaëgha is both worshipped and imprisoned by a cult in the Jura Mountains, near the borders of Germany, Switzerland, and France. The essence of the god is trapped behind five mystical statuettes, the Vaeyen.
- Cyaëgha is the genius loci for the whole European continent. A similar entity, Othuyeg, embodies North America.
- Cyaëgha is one of the Great Old Ones associated with the element of Air, and serves Hastur on Earth.
- Cyaëgha is served by the insectile, toad-like, and fathomlessly cruel Nagaäe. The god itself is sometimes represented as an even more warped version of these creatures.
- Cyaëgha is an Outer God, an incarnation of (or a sentient facet of) the processes of entropy in the universe, including its eventual heat death. It cares nothing for worship, seeking only the destruction of all that touches it.
- Cyaëgha is a manifestation of Byatis’s gaze focussed upon a locality.
Fragments of Cyaëgha’s essence live independent, seemingly-human lives. These beings are instinctively drawn towards the Jura Mountains, where they seek to free the god.
- Cyaëgha is the brother of Nyogtha.
- Cyaëgha is a mythical demon worshipped by a single cult in Germany.
- Cyaëgha is a metaphorical personification made by a cult in Germany of the place of power near which its members reside.
- Witnessing Cyaëgha costs an additional +4 (2) Stability pool points and +3 Sanity pool points.
I knew that I was alone—horribly alone. Alone, yet close to sentient impulses of vast, vague kind; which I prayed never to comprehend nor encounter.
– The Green Meadow
- Eihort resembles a pale oval shape walking on many skeletal legs. Eyes, mouths, and other appendages form out of its surface when needed.
- Eihort dwells in caverns beneath the Severn Valley in England. These caverns may touch the surface in New England and other places as well.
- Eihort offers its “bargain” to visitors and others it encounters. Those who accept are implanted with a horde of the spider-like grubs that make up its brood; they may also have their memories of the event erased from their minds. Those who refuse are generally killed.
- Eihort is an avatar of Hastur.
- Eihort is one of the Million Favoured Ones of Nyarlathotep.
- Eihort is a powerful Shoggoth, far evolved past its kin.
- Eihort is the collective name given to an ecology of parasitic beings that infest both Earthly and alien life, even some Titans.
- Eihort and its brood dislike the touch of sunlight.
- Eihort and its brood partly resemble plant matter; the touch of sunlight is required for its brood to grow within a host.
- Eihort is a myth, a mistaken origin posited by occultists for “its brood.”
- Witnessing Eihort costs an additional +2 Stability pool points and +1 Sanity pool points.
Yet when I looked from that highest of all gable windows, looked while the candles sputtered and the insane viol howled with the night-wind, I saw no city spread below, and no friendly lights gleaming from remembered streets, but only the blackness of space illimitable; unimagined space alive with motion and music, and having no semblance to anything on earth.
– The Music of Erich Zann
- Ghroth is a planet-sized entity composed of rock, dust, and gas, which periodically opens itself to reveal a vast staring eye.
- Ghroth, the Harbinger and Maker, travels ceaselessly among the stars commanding or embodying the cosmic turns that mark stages in the lives of the gods.
- Visions of Ghroth are a psychic reaction to the witness sensing the gaze of Azathoth on their world.
- Ghroth is an example of the ultimate evolution of the Sons of Yog-Sothoth; had Wilbur Whateley and his twin succeeded, they and the Earth would have become another entity of similar kind.
- In the early 20th Century, a small order located in Britchester, England designed a special telescope capable of detecting Ghroth and its movements.
- Ghroth is the wellspring of magical energy in the universe. Sorcerers seek it out to draw such energy to the Earth. Its great eye is the sorcerer’s own, reflected back at them.
- Ghroth is a premonition of the Earth as it will be far in the future.
- Ghroth is an Outer God, an incarnation of (or a sentient facet of) the existence of matter in our cosmos. It wars ceaselessly with Azathoth, the embodiment of chaotic energy.
- Ghroth is an Outer God, an incarnation of (or a sentient facet of) the fundamental force of gravity in our cosmos.
- The myth of Ghroth was invented by a faction of the Cult of Cthulhu to lend weight to their specific predictions of R’lyeh’s rise.
- The myth of Ghroth arose from the misunderstanding of human occultists when shown Mi-Go images of the planet Jupiter (the red spot being the source of its great eye).
- The myth of Ghroth is a recent occult extrapolation of the Nemesis Star theory.
- Witnessing Ghroth costs an additional +6 (4) Stability pool points and +5 (2) Sanity pool points.
My disordered fancy conjured up hideous and fearsome shapes from the sinister darkness that surrounded me, and that actually seemed to press upon my body.
– The Beast in the Cave
- Nyogtha, the Thing That Should Not Be, the Black God of Madness, appears as a fluid mass of impenetrable darkness. It is formless and amoeboid, putting out pseudopods to interact with its environment, and is accompanied by a sickening reptilian odour.
- Nyogtha dwells in a network of caverns deep beneath the Earth. These caverns touch the surface in only a few areas of occult significance.
- Nyogtha was created by witches as a soul symbol for humanity. This link to humanity makes it vulnerable to religious trappings such as the ankh and holy water.
- Nyogtha is the blood of Cthulhu, possessed of independent life.
- Nyogtha is the venom of Yig, possessed of independent life.
- Nyogtha is tied to certain human bloodlines, most notably the Prinn family – including Ludwig Prinn, author of De Vermis Mysteriis, and Abigail Prinn of Salem. It can grant longevity, immortality, and resurrection to such people.
- The Earthly Nyogtha is a facet of a greater entity dwelling on a dark world orbiting Arcturus, and summoned here by the Serpent Folk of Yoth.
- Nyogtha is the larval form of a true god. It sought power from the Elder Things who imprisoned it beneath New Zealand. Manifestations of Nyogtha elsewhere in the world are only tiny fragments of its substance.
- Nyogtha is the greatest of the Formless Spawn of Tsathoggua.
- The first shoggoth-matter was drawn from Nyogtha’s substance by the Elder Things.
- Nyogtha is an Outer God, an incarnation of (or a sentient facet of) the vacuum between solar systems. Only in areas of great power is it safe to draw any of its substance to Earth.
- Nyogtha grants necromantic power to its worshippers, which makes it an enemy of Mordiggian. Ghoulish worshippers of the two gods have warred for centuries.
- Nyogtha is the same entity as the Titan Mordiggian, at a different stage of its existence.
- Nyogtha is a living curse, the embodiment of a sorcerer’s desire to punish or destroy a community.
- Nyogtha is a myth, a personification given to black magic.
- Witnessing Nyogtha costs an additional +3 (1) Stability pool points and +2 Sanity pool points.
He has on rare occasions whispered disjointed and irresponsible things about “the black pit”, “the carven rim” … “the original, the eternal, the undying”, and other bizarre conceptions
– At the Mountains of Madness
- Ubbo-Sathla, the Unbegotten Source, the Source and End, resembles a vast and shapeless mass of protoplasm that continually calves off its spawn into the mire (or caverns, or ocean floor) around its bulk.
- All Earthly life descends, both physically and spiritually from the spawn of Ubbo-Sathla.
- Ubbo-Sathla is surrounded by an uncountable number of stone tablets on which the secrets of the “Elder Gods” are inscribed.
- The first shoggoth-matter was drawn from Ubbo-Sathla’s substance by the Elder Things.
- Ubbo-Sathla is not an entity in itself, but a vat of inert and undifferentiated biomass from which other life forms may be created.
- Ubbo-Sathla has only ever been perceived through the Orb of Eons, a mystical gem that allows the viewer to cycle back through their incarnations until their first existence as one of the Titan’s many spawn. Those who undertake this journey vanish out of memory, as if they had never existed.
- Ubbo-Sathla and Quachil Uttaus are metaphorical representations of the extremes of chaos and order as represented within biological structures.
- Ubbo-Sathla was destroyed long ago by the Elder Things in order to allow their biologically oriented technology to function without interference.
- Ubbo-Sathla is part of the same metaphorical “source code” as Shub-Niggurath. Where the latter describes the processes of biological change, the former represents the raw states of biomass on which they operate.
- Ubbo-Sathla a myth, conjectured by human occultists as an origin for Shoggoths.
- Witnessing Ubbo-Sathla costs an additional +5 (3) Stability pool points and +4 (2) Sanity pool points.
I began to see a hideous relationship in the faces of the human and non-human figures. He was, in all his gradations of morbidity between the frankly non-human and the degradedly human, establishing a sardonic linkage and evolution.
– Pickman’s Model
- Yidhra is a gestalt entity with no true form, but many constituent bodies spread around the world – some resembling natural creatures, others more monstrous. All of these bodies are linked with a telepathic mind.
- Cult centres of Yidhra exist, or have existed, in Mesopotamia, South-East Asia, West Africa, and the south-west of North America. Cults of Yidhra are granted a humanoid avatar to serve as their leader; worshippers display progressive genetic mutation as their biology combines with hers.
- Yidhra’s Mesopotamian cult was led by the Oannes faction of Deep Ones, who helped build the first cities. All Deep Ones once worshipped Yidhra, but the dream-sendings of Cthulhu have drawn most away from the true faith.
- Yidhra is a parasitic entity that combines its genome with other organisms to ensure its own continuation. It retains the capabilities of creatures it infects or devours.
- Yidhra is an Outer God, an incarnation of (or a sentient facet of) evolution in our cosmos.
- Yidhra is known as the dream witch, due to the telepathic illusions with which she hides her (and as time goes on, their) true form from her cultists.
- Yidhra’s genetic substance partakes of all life that has ever been native to the Earth. She can adopt the semblance of any such organism – though never completely, always with a few elements of some other creature mixed in.
- Yidhra’s genetic substance is present in all organisms on Earth. All terrestrial life is part of the goddess’s substance.
- Yidhra is the body of all beings in the universe, the same entity as Nyarlathotep which is their soul.
- Yidhra is a myth, a misunderstanding of the Million Favoured Ones of Nyarlathotep, in telepathic communion with their master.
- Yidhra is (or more likely was) a presumptuous high priestess of Shub-Niggurath, who falsely claimed the goddess’s power to be her own.
- Witnessing Yidhra in a monstrous form costs an additional +4 (3) Stability pool points and +3 (2) Sanity pool points.
Mythical Options for Existing Deities
- Chaugnar Faugn is an almost-comical misconception that stemmed from the confrontation with a cult of Yog-Sothoth that had hidden itself within a temple of Ganesh, and grew in the telling.
- Cthugha is a conjectured origin for the Fire Vampires.
- Cthulhu is a religious figure among both Deep Ones and humans, conjectured and exaggerated from interactions with Xothians.
- Dagon is a grain-god from Near Eastern mythology, which has become associated with Deep Ones through their membership in an ancient Yidhra (or Shub-Niggurath) cult from that part of the world.
- “Daoloth” is part of an ancient invocation for seeing the future, misconstrued as a name by later occultists.
- Ghatanothoa was the mythical “Son of Cthulhu” claimed by the cults of Mu to bolster their status among worshippers of the god of R’lyeh.
- Ghatanothoa is the Muvian Naacal word for petrifaction. Later occultists misinterpreted this descriptive term for a powerful curse as the name of an originating source.
- Ghatanothoa is simply one of many legends told about the mythical continent of Mu – perhaps derived from cross-referencing with tales of Cthulhu and R’lyeh.
- Gol-Goroth is a mythical demon invented by a cult that coincidentally practiced their rites at a true site of mystical power in Mediaeval Hungary.
- Hastur is a metaphorical figure created by the author of the (quite mundane) play The King in Yellow, to symbolise the death of spirit he feared would result from civilisation.
- Ithaqua is a mystical “password” used by members of a North American cannibal cult who revere the condition of windigo.
- Mordiggian is a religious figure among Ghouls, no less mythical than the gods of any human religion.
- Mordiggian is a metaphorical name given by human necrophages for the process of becoming a Ghoul.
- Mormo is occult conjecture derived from conflating the many lunar goddess cults (of varying levels of similarity) that existed around the Mediterranean and Near East.
- Nodens is a human legend conflated with Shub-Niggurath through occult error.
- Nyarlathotep is a myth that’s grown up among opponents of Mythos forces, and other occultists who have brushed up against its truths: a comparatively understandable devil-figure set against the unknowable cosmos.
- Nyarlathotep is a fringe-historical hypothesis from the early Twentieth Century; a faceless primal god lying behind all the various cults of Egypt.
- Quachil and Uttaus were two powerful necromancers of the ancient world, whom later legend conflated, then deified.
- Rhan-Tegoth is the greatest triumph of George Rogers, waxwork-maker extraordinaire.
- Tsathoggua was a toad-like totem figure in the barbarian precursors to Hyperborea (no different from Yhoundeh the reindeer god), which Eibon associated with the Formless “Spawn” in order to mislead his rivals.
- Y’golonac is a figure created by the “Five Fingers” cabal of decadent hedonists to lend license to their debaucheries and definition to their wider “Devouring Hands” servant cult.
- Yig is a religious figure among Serpent-Folk, no less mythical than the gods of any human religion.
- Yig is a term in the language of the Serpent-Folk, denoting the right order of things. Humans who heard the word mistook it for the name of a deity.
- Yog-Sothoth is an ancient symbolic term for travel between worlds, times, and dimensions; the lore of Yog-Sothoth is the body of algebra and geometry needed to describe such journeys, couched in more and more occult terms over the centuries, and eventually personified.
One of the suggested campaign frames in Cthulhu City casts the investigators as journalists on Newspaper Row, working for one of Great Arkham’s competing newspapers. Let’s borrow a page (yellowed, and a little stained) from Bookhounds of London and look at the mechanics of playing a journalist.
Newspaper Credit Rating
Each newspaper has a Credit Rating of its own, reflecting both its financial status and its reputation in the city. Investigators working for a newspaper can draw on that Credit Rating by showing the proper credentials – but if they abuse this power by staining the newspaper’s reputation, they’ll face the editor’s wrath. Saying you’re from the Advertiser might get you past the police cordon into the murder scene, but that doesn’t mean you can start poking at the corpse without permission or stealing evidence.
Arkham Advertiser – 10
Arkham Gazette – 8
Arkham Cryer -5
Worker’s Voice – 3
Dunwich Chronicle – 3
Kingsport Messenger – 4
This Credit Rating is a shared pool among all the investigators. It refreshes at the start of a new investigation, minus the cost of any ongoing investigations (see below).
A newspaper’s Credit Rating pool can also be spent as any of the following investigative abilities, or on Preparedness, reflecting access to the newspaper morgue, regular sources, on-staff experts and expense accounts.
Accounting, Art History, History, Law, Library Use, Cop Talk, Art, Forensics, Photography.
I’m Working On A Story
At the start of the game, and at the start of any investigation, the players can roll a number of d6. Each die represents a story that the newspaper’s working on. These stories aren’t necessarily related to the Mythos – the vast majority are going to be the usual political scandals, news reports, human-interest stories and so on. The players can leave these stories as abstract bundles of points, or describe them as they wish (“I’m working on a piece about survivors of the city orphanage”).
Each die costs 1 point of Newspaper Credit Rating, and this point doesn’t refresh until the story’s published or killed.
The roll of the die determines the size of the story – that’s how many investigative ability points need to be spent to finish the story. So, if a player rolls a 5, then the players as a group need to spend five Investigative points from their pools to finish that story.
These points are spent during downtime between investigations, but before investigative pools refresh. Therefore, the players only get to spent the points that are left over after the adventurous, Mythos-fighting part of the game. (The one exception, of course, is where a Mythos investigation crosses over with a newspaper story. In this case, any points spent in the course of the Mythos investigation count towards completing the story, but the story is now Tainted).
The standard journalistic abilities are: Cop Talk, Evidence Collection, Languages, Oral History, Photography, Assess Honesty, Reassurance and any one District Knowledge related to the story.
Other investigative abilities might work, as long as the player can justify the more obscure choices with a plausible story. (“This is a story about politics in the University District, but of course that’ll spill over into City Hall, so I’ll spend some points of Sentinel Hill Knowledge.)
At any point during the game, a player may convert two points from an ongoing story into a pool of any Investigative Ability (including District Knowledges), representing a contact or fact discovered in the course of a journalistic investigation becoming suddenly relevant to a different Mythos mystery (“I’ve been writing an expose about tenements in Westheath, so I’ll trade two points of that story into a point of Streetwise so we can track down the thief who stole that grimoire.”).
Publish or Be Damned
During downtime between adventures, the players may look to publish any story they’ve completed (i.e. they’ve allocated as many leftover Investigative Ability points to that story as the story’s size).
For each unfinished story, roll a d6. On a 1, it’s Scooped and the story’s lost.
For each possibly-ready story, roll a d6.
1: Scooped! Some rival newspaper got there first! The story’s lost!
2-5: More investigation is needed. Add the value of the roll to the story’s size.
6: Print it!
Players may spend investigative abilities to boost the roll (Art to improve the prose of the piece; Flattery to convince a suspicious editor etc). However, a natural roll of a 1 is always a Scoop by a rival, regardless of point spends.
If a story is Tainted by the Mythos, apply a penalty of the Keeper’s choice to the roll. (-1 or -2 for a vague hint of the supernatural, -3 or -4 if there’s no rational explanation, -5 or -6 if publishing the story as is would anger the city authorities. If this penalty drops the result to 0 or less, the publisher kills the story.
The players may also choose to drop a story – remember, each active story costs a point of Newspaper Credit Rating to maintain. Players may also hold a story back, but if they do so, the chance of being Scooped rises by 2 per downtime (so, Scooped on a 1-3, then Scooped on a 1-5, then automatically Scooped after three downtimes.)
Feed The Beast
A newspaper needs to publish stories of a total size equal to at least half its Credit Rating to maintain that rating. So, if a newspaper has a Credit Rating of 10, it needs to publish at least 5 points worth of news each downtime. If it fails to do so, drop its Credit Rating by 1.
If a newspaper published a single story with a size greater than its Credit Rating, its Credit Rating increases by 1. A newspaper’s Credit Rating can only rise or fall by 1 point per downtime. So, the investigators need to have a mix of stories: short, easily-publishable pieces that pay the bills and feed the beast, and maybe one or two big, prestigious stories to build the paper’s reputation.
Just pray they don’t get Scooped before you’re ready to go to print…
The players are all working for the Arkham Herald (Credit Rating 5). At the start of the game, they agree they’ll have 3 ongoing stories, leaving them with 2 points of Newspaper Credit Rating to spend during the game on research resources or as actual Credit Rating.
They roll a d6 for each story, and get a 6, a 4 and a 2.
After their Mythos investigation, they can work on these stories with left-over investigative points. Between them, they’ve got 10 points of suitable points to spend, so they fill up the Size-6 and Size-2 stories, and put the remaining 2 points into the Size-5 piece.
Now, they roll to publish. For the Size 2, the Keeper rolls a 1 – it’s been Scooped! The points are lost.
For the Size 6, they roll a 5 – to get that story over the line, they’ll need to double-check everything and make it a huge Size 11 piece. That level of journalistic diligence might fly over at the more prestigious Advertiser, but this is the Cryer, and they’ve got bills to pay! The players spend a point of Flattery on their editor, turning the 5 into a 6 – they convince him that even if they can’t back everything up, there’s still enough there for a front page piece. The harried editor relents, and the Size-6 story gets published. As its Size is bigger than the Cryer’s Credit Rating, it enhances the newspaper’s reputation, bringing its Credit Rating to a respectable 6.
The Keeper also rolls for the unfinished story. He doesn’t get a 1, so it’s not Scooped.
At the start of the next investigation, they’ve still got that size-5 story with 2 points allocated to it. They can keep following this story, or maybe spend those 2 points in the course of their next Mythos investigation.
The Armitage Files is Robin D Laws’ groundbreaking adventure of improvised Mythos investigation.
Cthulhu Confidential is Robin D Laws’ groundbreaking game of solo Mythos investigation.
Putting two groundbreaking products together is hazardous for Gamemasters. You run the risk of collapsing the ground beneath you.
However, the risk can be worth it: improvised play supports the deep investigative dives of one-on-one play.
Improvising On The Run
In a Trail of Cthulhu game using the Armitage Files, the Keeper can take advantage of the times when the players are arguing or speculating amongst themselves to plan ahead and decide on what the players might find when they follow the next clue. While the players argue whether or not they can trust Austin Kittrell, the Keeper feverishly reads over the Sinister and Stalwart versions of the Kingsport Yacht Club that Kittrell mentioned and decides which incarnation the players will encounter.
There are few such downtimes in one-on-one play. You can stall the player by giving them a handout such as a new Armitage Letter, but mostly the game will be relentless investigation and action. (There’s a reason that Cthulhu Confidential scenarios tend to be longer and more intricate than regular Trail games.) The best approach is to study the Armitage Files material thoroughly in advance, internalising it as much as possible so you can decide on the fly to connect the Yacht Club to the Nophru-Ka Panel, which of course means a visit to the Anthropologist and he can see invisible horrors clinging to the investigator which means you’ll need to set up an invisible horror encounter before the player gets there…
Sketch out potential plots and connections in advance. Identify (or ask your player) which clues are most likely to come up in the next session, work out two or three follow-ons from each clue and then pick the most appropriate one in response to player decisions. It’s a gamemastering high-wire act.
Where possible, bend the plot around the protagonist. The Armitage Files includes several handouts that reference player characters by name (Document 3, Document 4, Document 6, Document 9) – but is otherwise light on personal connections to the investigators. After all, in a regular Trail of Cthulhu campaign, there’s every chance that one or more investigators will perish before the end. That’s not the case in Cthulhu Confidential, so take advantage of the protagonist’s privileged status to ensure that the mystery revolves around them. (For those fill-in-an-investigator’s-name gaps in the handouts, put the investigator’s name in one of them and fill the others with Sources and compelling GMCs.)
Look For Solid Ground
Cthulhu Confidential uses cards to track Problems and Edges and to give detail and texture to the character’s experiences. Instead of just losing four Health, the investigator might have been Clawed by a Deep One or Punched by Butcher Brown or Fell Down A Hole – each of which causes an injury, but has different consequences and solutions. In a regular scenario, these cards can be designed in advance because the GM knows the likely encounters lying ahead. In an improvised campaign, this approach is reversed – design the cards, and then improvise encounters that lead to those cards. For example, if you’ve prepared the Fell Down A Hole problem or the Mob Tie edges, then look for ways to push the protagonist into a pit or get a favour from a mobster. Prepare a stack of Problems and Edges in advance and look for ways to bring them in (start with the Mythos Problems articles by Robin, as well as the Generic Edges and Problems in the Cthulhu Confidential appendix and build from there.)
Of course, improvised games always include unexpected events, so have a stack of blank cards to hand that you can fill in when warranted. Mark important plot twists and consequences by turning them into Problems and Edges.
For Problem cards, include specific ways to remove each Problem. For Edge cards, note exactly what benefit it gives and when it can be cashed in. Be as concrete as possible – if that Mob Ties edge gives you a bonus when dealing with mobsters, then that’s a prompt for the Gamemaster to include some mobsters to justify the Edge’s existence. (Improv thrives on constraints and prompts.)
Problems and Edges usually arise as a result of challenges; have a copy of the Challenge Difficulty table on p. 45 of Cthulhu Confidential to hand while running the game.
The Armitage Sources
The various academics and scholars in the Armitage Inquiry make excellent sources for most topics. Between them, they cover virtually every academic investigative ability imaginable, with non-academic assistance provided by the redoubtable Mrs. Pickman and Dr. Sprague. With so many professional abilities available through sources, the obvious route for the protagonist is to concentrate on practical investigative abilities like Streetwise and Evidence (although any of the usual Cthulhu Confidential protagonists could be used in an Armitage Files campaign by transplanting them to Arkham country.)
To reiterate – running an improvised One-2-One game isn’t easy. Don’t pick up the Armitage Files and assume that you’re good to go. In a conventional improvised campaign with multiple players, the Keeper has a whole group to riff off and steal ideas from. Here, it’s just you and one player, alone in a whirlwind of possibilities. Running this sort of game will be tough and exhausting – but it will also be a genuinely terrifying experience for one lucky player.
Ripped from the history books, here’s a great choice the next time you’re asked to create a Trail of Cthulhu player character: Bessie Coleman, aka Queen Bess, pioneering African American aviator. An active protagonist if ever there was one, she taught herself to fly when neither women nor black people were supposed to do so. So she went to France to get her pilot’s license, dated two years before Amelia Earhart’s. Unable to get conventional piloting work back in the states, she returned to Europe to learn barrel rolls and other aerobatic techniques, then toured the US as a popular barnstormer. Coleman forced promoters to desegregate her audiences, and turned her back on a Hollywood career when asked to play a stereotypical role.
(In some of her publicity shots, she bears a striking resemblance to Janelle Monae. Somebody call somboedy’s agent.)
History tells us that she died in an air accident in 1926. Those of us steeped in horror adventure can see the flaws in that story, in which she allowed her mechanic to fly the plane, and it went out of control due to a literal wrench left in the engine case. A little too on the nose, surely—clearly she’s signaling to those in the know that she’s faking her own death. And if she’s doing that in ‘26, clearly she has to drop from sight to settle some business with Nyarlathotep.
That’s her backstory when it comes time to play her a few years later, in the Trail era.
Pilots can be a little hard to work into the action of a standard multiplayer game. As a GM you might build a Cthulhu Confidential series around her, with lots of aerial Challenges and problem solving. She speaks fluent French, so one of her globe-trotting Mythos-busting cases could take her to Paris to rub elbows with the Dreamhounds of the surrealist movement. Chauvinists like Andre Breton and Luis Buñuel might not know what to make of her, but a romp into Unknown Kadath with Gala Dalí and Kiki de Montparnasse might be just the thing. Perhaps she would also insist on taking Josephine Baker along, too. I’m sure she’ll be entirely careful while buzzing Mount Hatheg-Kla in the butterfly ornithopter Kiki has dreamed up for her.
Follow the Trail of Cthulhu into the Dreamlands in this limited edition copy of Dreamhounds of Paris!
Only 100 copies of this faux-leatherbound limited edition Dreamhounds of Paris
exist in this reality. 50 will be made available to customers in the US & Canada, and 50 will be made available to customers outside the US & Canada. The books are faux leather with gold foil, and each one includes a sticky-backed book plate signed by the three authors for you to add to the book.
From the 1920s to the coming of the Occupation, a new breed of artist prowled the fabled streets of Paris. Combative, disrespectful, irresponsible, the surrealists broke aesthetic conventions, moral boundaries—and sometimes, arms. They sought nothing less than to change humanity by means of a worldwide psychic revolution. Their names resound through pop culture and the annals of art history.
But until now, no one has revealed what they were really up to.
In this comprehensive campaign guide for Trail of Cthulhu, you recreate their mundane and mystical adventures as you stumble onto the Dreamlands, a fantastical realm found far beyond the wall of sleep. At first by happenstance and later by implacable design, you remake it in the fiery image of your own art.
Will you save the world, or destroy it?
|Stock #: PELGT38L
|Artists: Tyler Clark, Ben Felten, Emilien Francois, Melissa Gay, Jérôme Huguenin, Leah Huete, Rachel A. Kahn, Anna Kryczkowska, David Lewis Johnson, Pat Loboyko, Rich Longmore, Jeff Porter, Patricia Smith, Jeff Strand
||Authors: Robin D. Laws, Kenneth Hite, Steve Dempsey
Cthulhu City is written, if not finished, and the final book is overstuffed with Mythos gribbles and haunted architecture. There are so many cults and sorcerers lurking in there, not to mention weird Yithian machines, that I had to remove certain blasphemous tomes and cryptic relics to the virtual pages of page XX. Consider these a taster of horrors of come.
The Upton Papers
Physical Description: A hand-written diary, coupled with several folders of official documents bound in red ribbon. The papers may be found in a patent-leather briefcase that might even show signs of water damage.
Supposed History: These papers belonged to the late Francis Upton, the previous Mayor of Great Arkham. Upton died when his car plunged off the Garrison Street bridge into the Miskatonic river, and these papers were presumably lost with him. However, if someone recovered them from the water, or snatched them from the car before it mysteriously swerved, then Upton’s secrets might have survived his death…
Major Item: If genuine, the Upton Papers contain Francis Upton’s notes and personal observations about the city council and the secret rulers of Great Arkham. If Upton was, as he claimed to be, a reformer and enemy of corruption, then the papers document the activities of the Church of the Conciliator and the Necromantic Cabal in reasserting control of the city council after the fall of the Gilman House regime in 1925. Upton names several councillors and key figures as servants of the Mythos. If Upton trusted Federal Agent Vorsht, then the last paper is a letter to Vorsht asking for a full investigation of the city council. Combine this letter with Cop Talk or Bureaucracy to gain Vorsht as an ally.
Alternatively, if Upton was actually a cultist himself, then the papers shed new light on his death. Was he the victim of some internal feud within the cult? Did Vorsht or the Armitage Inquiry assassinate Upton? Or was his supposed death in the icy waters of the river merely a step towards some other mode of existence?
In either case, reading the Papers gives +1 Cthulhu Mythos and +1 Sentinel Hill Knowledge at the cost of a 3-point Stability Loss. Readers may also have recurring dreams of Upton’s death, which leave a lingering feeling of culpability after waking.
Minor Item: The papers are genuine, but there’s no sign of Upton’s diary. The documents in the folder all relate to a property deal involving several of the councillors, perhaps related the Olmstead Dam, the Dig in Salamander Fields, or the expansion of the city west into Billington’s Woods. Law detects irregularities in the documents; someone was covering up the true purpose of the property development.
Fraudulent: The papers are forgeries, as Craft can determine. They contain damning accusations about the private affairs of one of the councillors, like Arthur Diamond or Elanor Brack. Put these papers into the hands of an unscrupulous yellow newshawk from Newspaper Row, and they could do serious damage – even after death, Mayor Upton’s word counts for a great deal in Arkham.
The Ashpool Plates
Type: A series of twelve photographs taken by scandalous avant-garde photographer Edith Ashpool of Kingsport.
Physical Description: The first photographs in the series show Kingsport Harbour, and appear to have been taken from the deck of a yacht or other small vessel. A man, naked except for an ornate mask, stands by the railing in the foreground of each of the photographs, framing the background with his gestures. He waves goodbye in the early photos, points at elements of interests in others.
Other photographs show seascapes and coastlines around the north coast, near Kingsport Lighthouse. Several humanoid figures can be seen on the rocks at the foot of the cliffs, climbing in and out of the water. The later pictures in the series show a bizarre shoreline on some alien sea, with two moons clearly visible in the sky. The final picture appears to depict the yacht approaching a jetty of carved stone, where another figure wearing some sort of elaborate headdress awaits the boat’s arrival.
Supposed History: Ashpool claimed to have taken the photographs from the deck of the Hecate, a yacht owned by Ashpool’s rumoured lover Sauducismis “Saul” Waite, a cousin of former mayor Ephraim Waite. She exhibited the photographs in a small gallery in Kingsport; Art History or Kingsport District Knowledge recalls stories that there was a second, ‘inner’ set of photographs that could only be viewed on payment of an unspecified fee.
The police raided the Gallery two days after it opened; initially, they claimed that several gallery patrons including Ashpool had shown symptoms of typhoid and so the gallery had to be closed as a public health hazard. Later, it was made known that the ‘inner’ exhibition contained degrading and illegal pornographic images.
Major Item: The Ashpool Plates are a form of magical communication. Looking at the photographs in sequence, ideally while using a mind-expanding drug, puts the observer into a trance in which there is a psychic overlap between the observer and the masked man. Without the second set of photographs, the communication is one-way: the user is aware of another presence in the psychic landscape (presumably, whatever entity is represented by the figure wearing a headdress) and can “send” but not “receive” thoughts. The Ashpool Plates can be used to call for aid from whatever that entity is, and such entreaties will receive a response.
Of course, wise investigators may wish to know what they’re dealing with before entering into supernatural bargains. Ashpool is still in police custody in Fort Hutchison, but Saul Waite’s family connections protected him from any repercussions. The investigators could also try identifying the naked man, who clearly isn’t Saul.
Minor Item: A Cthulhu Mythos, Occult or Magic spend confirms that the photographs document the performance of a magical ritual. Replicating the gestures made by the masked man while following the course of the Hecate opens a sea-gate off the shore of Kingsport.
Fraudulent: The later photographs were faked in a special-effects shop at AKLO Pictures, one of Great Arkham’s movie studios. Ashpool was employed as a designer on an upcoming movie, but while on set, she managed to convince a vulnerable young starlet to pose for a series of compromising photographs. To protect their investment in the actress, studio bosses bribed the police to shut Ashpool down.
Wonders of the Invisible City
Physical Description: 110 pages, cheaply bound and badly typeset. Printed in 1862. This is a second-hand copy; according to the flyleaf, it was owned at some point by a “M. Daniels” – perhaps Milton Daniels, the Union Boss?
Supposed History: Wonders of the Invisible City is a printed transcript of a series of sermons or lectures that were allegedly given by Reverend Shrewsbury, a pastor who lived in Arkham in the 1740s and 1750s. While there is plenty of evidence to attest that Shrewsbury quarrelled with Joseph Curwen and other merchants and civic leaders, and even spoke out against their “Godless ways” from the pulpit, there is no proof that this book contains an accurate transcript of Shrewsbury’s words.
Major Item: The book contains a litany of accusations against the founders of Arkham, mentioning Curwen, Orne and Hutchinson by name, but also insinuating that several other families were in league with devils. It describes “certaine works” that were carried out in the dead of night by Curwen and his allies; Architecture or Astronomy guesses that the description is of a detailed survey of the land around Arkham, focusing on key magical sites like the Wooded Isle, Sump Marsh and the Chinese Garden.
The book also describes Shrewsbury’s encounters with strange “travellers” who revealed to him a “vision of a monstrous Pandemonium-to-come”. The description in the text of the mannerisms of these stranger is eerily close to those of the player characters – is some cross-temporal encounter with Reverend Shrewsbury in their future? Handwritten marginal notes in this section appear to be written in code, and might contain a spell or instructions for achieving such a prodigy.
Minor Item: The book is less specific about the misdeeds of Arkham’s founders, but a close reading with Archaelogy or History can reveal the precise location of Curwen’s missing farm in Salamander Fields. Marginal notes suggest that a previous owner of this book came to the same conclusion and may even have carried out a search for the buried ruins.
Fraudulent: Occult or History confirms that most of the text is copied from Philip’s Thaumaturgical Prodigies in the New England Canaan, and has little new information of relevance.
“Cosmic Love is absolutely Ruthless and Highly Indifferent.”
— John C. Lilly
There are not enough pages in any rulebook, and especially not enough in the Fall of Delta Green chapter that looks like it will have to suffice for both 1960s history and backgrounder and scenario seeds, to tackle even a fraction of the weirdness that the Sixties brought to life or to light. And there probably aren’t even enough pages to do proper justice to the many and manifold weirdnesses of John Cunningham Lilly (1915-2001). But in his pioneering spirit, we’ll shoot up with a whole bunch of ketamine and decide we can do it here anyway.
Lilly was a sort of Midwestern ideal type of the Lovecraftian protagonist: born in St. Paul to wealthy parents, he studied chemistry and philosophy from an early age. His undergraduate career at Caltech (1933-1938) almost exactly overlaps the period of the alchemist-Crowleyite John Whiteside Parsons’ GALCIT rocketry program there, and both were chemistry students. (Lilly and Parsons almost certainly met, Caltech not being that big a world in the Thirties, but what happened — or Happened — during that Trail of Cthulhu time slot has managed to go un-recorded in their various biographies.) He entered Dartmouth medical school in 1938, then transferred to Penn where he continued his Lovecraftian development by conducting various medical experiments on himself and writing a forbidden text: a book (this was 1942) called How To Build an Atomic Bomb. He conducted postgraduate work under pioneering biophysicist (and putative Majestic-12 member) Detlev Bronk and at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), doing research for the Air Force — among other things developing early electro-encephalograms and, in 1954, the first sensory deprivation tank. According to his memoirs, he was approached by the CIA to work on such things as animal-activated surveillance and explosives, and (perhaps) on the MK-ULTRA mind-control project. According to Lilly, he refused, nobly insisting that his work remain open for all. He loudly resigned from NIMH in 1958.
The K-r-r-k-k-k-k-k of Cthulhu
Having boldly proclaimed his independence from government control, Lilly founded the Communication Research Institute Inc. (CRII) on the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. CRII was, of course, funded by NASA, the U.S. military, and possibly other shadowy figures. Lilly had become interested in the question of dolphin brains: much like those of humans, cetacean brains are very large in ratio to their bodies and have an even higher density of neurons. Lilly set up dolphin tanks and pools, and began to experiment on dolphins, most notoriously when his dolphin Peter fell for researcher Margaret Lowe Howitt while she tried to teach Peter to speak English. It wasn’t all dolphin grabass in the islands, though: Lilly also dissected and probed the brains of the cetaceans, in between drug experiments (on them and himself) and attempts to decipher dolphin communication by floating next to them in sensory deprivation tanks.
James Wade’s terrific 1969 short story “The Deep Ones” provides a fictionalized Lilly in the form of Miskatonic hippie guru Alonzo Waite, and in the form of his opposite number, dolphin researcher Dr. Frederick Wilhelm. Most impressively, it casts the dolphins as one more intermediary between man and Cthulhu, cousin or evolutionary stage of the Deep Ones. Wade mentions the ancient Greek myth that dolphins were pirates turned into beasts by Dionysos, tying it wonderfully into the deeper Mythos truths of Dagon and human-oceanic interbreeding of the Innsmouth sort. Any Fall of Delta Green Handler has a whole mini-campaign just lying there between Wade’s fictions and the CRII’s madness.
But it doesn’t end there. Wade doesn’t even bring in Lilly’s involvement in SETI, which (likely again via NASA back channels) wound up connecting Lilly and the CRII with astrophysicist Frank Drake, who considered dolphins a template for alien life on Earth. Lilly presented his dolphin theories at the Green Bank astrophysics conference in 1961 where Drake coined his famous equation for the probability of alien life. He was such a hit that Drake, Lilly, a pre-turtleneck Carl Sagan, and biologist J.B.S. Haldane all made up the “Order of the Dolphin” and wore dolphin lapel pins when they were wearing lapels, which wasn’t often in St. Thomas.
Lucy in Sarnath with Diamonds
But Lilly was losing interest in his dolphins for the time being, because his dolphins weren’t receptive to injections of LSD. (Although he later decided dolphins could telepathically project sonar images into his head while he floated in his nearby sensory deprivation tank, he somehow didn’t associate those results with his LSD use.) Despite Lilly’s official rejection of government support, he wound up getting on the approved list of LSD researchers, and began charting his own passage into the “province of the mind” at, among other places, the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center (MPRC) in Catonsville, Maryland in 1968-1969. The MPRC just happens to be located in the Spring Grove Mental Hospital, founded in 1797, and a major center for research into schizophrenia, with a large collection of human brains. Which means, of course, that we could go in any number of Lovecraftian directions here, from the mental experiments of “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” to the search for the biological boundaries of death in “Herbert West — Re-Animator” to the, well, large collection of human brains in “Whisperer in the Darkness.”
But perhaps it’s most fun to put a probe in all that and head inside instead, to the Dreamlands. The “province of the mind,” visited by special questers during a ritual dream state, sounds very familiar to us Lovecraftians. As Lilly put it: “In the province of the mind what one believes to be true, either is true or becomes true within certain limits. These limits are to be found experimentally and experientially. When so found these limits turn out to be further beliefs to be transcended. In the province of the mind there are no limits.”
Lilly mostly wrote up his psychedelic experiments in the context of “reprogramming the human biocomputer” rather than as a way to discover the face of the gods of Earth … assuming there is a difference. What else does Randolph Carter seek, both on Kadath and in the Silver Key, than the human source code, the image of the creators and the geometry of time? Lilly’s own experiences with Gnosticism, at a retreat in the Chilean desert, convinced him that there was a specific ritual control mechanism known to ancient man for opening that “province,” but we should move on before we get trapped in the Witch-House.
The Facts in the K of Arthur Jermyn
Anyone who has seen Ken Russell’s film Altered States knows the next bit of this story. In search of a cure for his migraines, Lilly told his friend Dr. Craig Enright to inject him with ketamine while floating in his isolation tank. After a massive dose did, indeed, end his migraines, Lilly went off the deep end. He and Enright injected each other and recorded the results, even after one time in 1973 when Enright accidentally “reprogrammed himself” to “return to the pre-hominid state of man” and began hopping around the room howling and trying to smack Lilly in the face. Their conclusion sounds like yet another Lovecraftianism, possibly out of HPL’s druggie/Neo-Platonism combo tale “Hypnos”: “One’s internal reality could differ radically from the external reality in which one was participating, even with regard to prominent features of the physical environment.” Parallel worlds, pre-hominids, and K, oh my.
The ECCO Out of Time
In a development surely unrelated to the massive doses of ketamine he was on, in 1974 Lilly made contact with the Earth Coincidence Control Office. This network of higher realities that overlaps ours controls our existence by means of coincidences: Lilly’s entire life became a pattern of ECCO-directed research. (Research, Lilly believed, was merely the decanting of higher truth into our truth by a “universal network of mind.”) During an earthquake in 1971 Lilly had discovered the “Alternaty,” a doorway or window into all futures simultaneously; ECCO has picked the door it wants us to walk through and will suffer no backtalk. Once aware of ECCO, their target must remain ready for the catastrophic and impossible, remain in the “training program” for life, and “use your best intelligence” in its service. This reminds me of nothing so much as the Motion, the Delta Green name for the Yithian agents mentioned in “The Shadow Out of Time,” directing history to produce the Great Race’s ideal conditions for their return.
And just as the Yithians fear and hate the Mi-Go and the Yellow Sign, so too do the ECCO oppose the SSI, who crashed a jet at LAX in 1974 to get Lilly’s attention. SSI are the Solid-State Intelligence rising in all electronics, preparing to eradicate biological water-based intelligence, beginning with the dolphins. (Echoes of a Mi-Go war with the Deep Ones perhaps?) Eventually the SSI, like Wilbur Whateley, plan to “wipe the world clean” and create a low-temperature vacuum, their ideal living conditions. Lilly warned us of the ongoing and escalating ECCO-SSI war in 1981 but surely its, er, echoes reach back two decades to the shadowy forces that gave Lilly access to LSD and (through Bronk and his associate Britton Chance) to the world of early computing. ECCO and SSI, dolphins and pre-hominids, Cthulhu and Carl Sagan: it all flows together in the Mythos cyclone that is the mind and life of John C. Lilly.
A rules option for GUMSHOE horror games
In situations where a Sense Trouble test might reveal the presence of danger from an otherworldly or eerie source, offer the players a chance to pay a price later in exchange for a benefit now.
One player gets an automatic success at a Sense Trouble test by agreeing to take on a Stability penalty that lasts for the rest of the scenario. Let’s call this a Stability Handicap.
In the typical situation in which Sense Trouble merely allows the element of surprise in a fight already guaranteed to happen, that penalty is -1.
If the test lets them entirely avoid a significant hazard or skip a fight with something nasty they don’t want or need to tangle with, the penalty rises to -2.
In the story, the moment represents a sudden flash of eerie awareness, attuning the recipient to eldritch energies. Depending on the situation, you might narrate:
a jackhammering heart
the nearly overwhelming urge to vomit
a jolt of rootless anxiety
an epiphany of cosmic dread
the appearance of a rash, welts, or other psychic injuries
an overpowering smell unsensed by anyone else present
an awful vision of monstrous violence that surfaces in the mind for a split-second and is then immediately suppressed
Make this a rare option, keyed to specific story events. You may decide that it only makes sense for characters already exposed to the supernatural, or those who have succumbed in some way to its influence.
Offer it only when the rest of the scenario holds out the possibility of at least 2 Stability tests.
The more physical symptoms for the Sense Trouble success might instead call for an Athletics or Scuffling Handicap. Instead of increasing your mental vulnerability, that rash that came out of nowhere makes it harder to throw punches.
For an additional fraught choice, you could even let the player choose which of the three abilities to Handicap. In that case you can allow the Handicap even if you aren’t sure that 2 or more tests of each ability still remain in the scenario. Correctly predicting which Handicap will hurt the least becomes part of the player’s challenge. Here the cost lies in the anxiety of decision making as much as in any actual penalties dished out in later scenes. If players always guess right, and Handicaps start to feel like a free gift, make sure they pay the piper next time around. See to that a penalty happens, in a situation with truly harrowing stakes.
The (former) Church of Little St Hugh, a partly Hawksmoor-designed church. (Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_John_Horsleydown)
A resource for Bookhounds of London, by James Haughton and Bret Kramer
Just off Charterhouse Street in Smithfield is a vacant lot adjacent to the newly built power station. There are the charred remains of a slate floor, a few cracked sandstone blocks, and a wrought iron plaque stating “Here stood the Church of Little St. Hugh, destroyed by German aerial bombardment 8 September, 1915.” A little bit behind is a locked metal grate enclosing a narrow flight of stairs. Behind this locked grate is the Crypt…
The Church of Little St Hugh was once located in Smithfields on the north side of the city, next to the meat markets and slaughteryards. The site is quite ancient, having originally been a Templar chapel dedicated to St Bartholemew, attendant upon their tourney ground and stables. The crypt contains a number of Templar graves. Following the dissolution of the Templars it was turned over to the Knights Hospitallier, who rededicated it to Little St Hugh, and then passed to the Church of England during the English reformation. The church was burned down during the Great Fire of London and was rebuilt as part of the Wren/Hawksmoor/James building effort. Hawksmoor died before the church was completed, so it was completed by John James, leading to it frequently being left off lists of “Hawksmoor” churches.
On the 8th of September, 1915, shortly after the Reverend Poole (see below) had been appointed to the parish, the church was hit by a Zeppelin bomb and burned to the ground a second time, only the underground Templar Crypt surviving. The Church was not eager to rebuild the church because with the passage of time, the expansion of the slaughteryards and the construction of the City of London Power Station next door, the area had become industrial rather than residential and there were few people residing in the parish. Furthermore, antisemitism had become a bit déclassé in reformist Church circles, and a church based upon a Blood Libel was felt to send the wrong message. The site is now bare ground (the graves having been moved to the London Necropolis) with a plaque commemorating the bombing and a locked grille leading to the old crypt.
To Reverend Poole’s muted annoyance, the peculiar history of the church has led to “Rebuild Little St Hugh’s” being taken up as a cause by quasi-respectable pro-fascist elements in Society, as a way of being covertly anti-Jewish without being overtly pro-German.
The Crypt and the “Heretic’s Library”
The site’s interest to Bookhounds lies in the contents of the Crypt. Smithfield is the traditional execution ground for heretics and traitors, and so historically, a certain amount of the vicar of Little St Hugh’s income came from giving last rites to these unfortunates and often became the receiver of the deceased’s items (as means to pay for their services). Sadly, this source of income has dried up a bit in recent centuries. However, gifts from these (usually) men as payments in kind to the vicar included a fair number of books, often concerning their odd political and religious beliefs. Generations of criminals and heretics books were disposed of in this manner; for some reason, these books were kept rather than destroyed, possibly over a centuries old dispute over the division of moneys gained between the priest of Little St Hugh and the Archbishop of London. Over time, the deposition of heretical and treasonous publications in the Church of Little St Hugh became one of those things that are done because they have always been done. This impromptu library of the unorthodox, heretical, and quite possibly valuable was stored within the Crypt, and consequently escaped destruction in the bombing.
The books, which were being surreptitiously being catalogued when the church was destroyed, are in no particular order, beyond a rough one of size, with books of like size being kept together in one box for ease of storage. An index for the books does exist, kept by Rev. Poole in a vest pocket at all times. Sadly many books are in poor condition, centuries of enclosure in damp stone having taken their toll.
The Library of Little St Hugh acts as a 2 point pool for research into heresies and treasons in English history, if Reverend Poole’s assistance and/or index is used; 1 point otherwise owing to the difficulty of finding resources within it. Although many of the books possess little resale value as collectables owing to damage from damp and mildew, enough aged endpapers and partial copies survive to make them valuable to forgers and breakers, not to mention the odd modern heretic who may care less about condition than content.
Owing to its underground location and comforting smell of mould, the library is occasionally consulted by the more literary members of London’s Ghoul colony. The Reverend Poole remains desperately, resolutely, ignorant of this fact.
The Crypt: Physical description
The only surviving portion of the Church, the cruciform vaults beneath the old church were excavated during the time of Richard de Hastyngs (c. 1165) and used as a burial site for Templars in London until the construction of the new Temple, about 1185, and from time to time thereafter, though why burials continued is unclear. Within the vault, the air is cool and stale, a result of poor circulation. The low arched ceilings suggest most of the work dates from the 12th century with a few high Gothic touches added later. Walking is possible in the center of most aisles, but one should watch their heads to avoid injury.
To the north are the remaining Templar crypts, including several carved sarcophagi depicting the resident knights. To the west have been jumbled a mound of ‘important’ stones rescued from the ruins above, including several elaborate keystones, fragments of statuary, the hastily framed remains of several stained-glass windows, and, a worn Sheela-na-gig sits on one side. Some wag has placed a packet of Pall Mall within her stony cleft.
Occupying most of the east and south ends of the vault are stacked boxes containing the old library of the Church of Little Saint Hugh.
A few modern niceties break the gloom; there are an assortment of small oil lamps for which to provide light to readers who can make use of a small table and a mismatched set of wooden chairs. Atop the table are a variety of writing supplies, several half-empty biscuit tins, and a small camp stove topped by a tea kettle.
The Reverend Oliver Garrand Llewellyn Poole, poverty-stricken guardian of Little St Hugh
Occupation: Clergy (Church of England)
Rev. Poole, as he is most generally known, is a drawn-looking man, probably in his early forties, with thinning blond-brown hair, always clad in a careworn black suit and clerical collar. He is the vicar to the (non-existent) congregation of the Church of Little St. Hugh, and the sexton of its (relocated) graveyard. Rev. Poole is responsible for the library, which he allows scholars to examine from time to time. As a result he has met a number of notable authors of esoterica, including Elliot O’Donnell, Margaret Murray, Dennis Wheatley, Rev. Montage Summers (whose claim to clerical status is even dodgier) and Augustus Darcy, whom he remembers was most unwilling to pick up the lunch tab. An air of fatigue surrounds him like a cloud of bees. He deflects any questions about why he remains the vicar of a non-existent church, hinting at family legacies, codecils and obligations. More probably, he fears that if the Church bureaucracy were to notice his existence, his meagre position would be abolished without a new one materialising.
Rev. Poole is most well-known (by those very few who know him) for his unique social habit, one borne from the necessity of having extraordinarily low wage. Normally parish vicars were paid for by their congregants. Lacking any, his income solely consists of his wages as the Sexton (less than £40 annually) and a hodgepodge of Medieval rights granted the Church in centuries past (including but not limited to as many fish as he can catch on the Fleet, a salted ox leg every Christmas, 3 inches of silver chain, a black rooster, and a pot of ink). To supplement this salary (he is apparently unwilling or unable to call upon his extended family, a well-to-do bunch from Kent) the Rev. Poole has become a serial club and society member, particularly those which provide lunch, gather over coffee, or even have a few tins of biscuits and tea. If there is a society, club, association, fanciers group, aficionado gathering, or league in or near the City (so long as its politics aren’t too extreme) Rev. Poole has attended a meeting, if not a regular attendee. Few question him, thanks to his position as a cleric (though a more than a few clubs know to hide the good edibles when he darkens the door), and he is generally regarded as harmless. In those groups where he has some actual interest (including astronomy and architecture) he is actually something approaching helpful. In any gathering, he is at least charming, even if his eyes never leave the refreshments table.
Bookhounds may be aware of his lesser-known talent regarding the procurement of small batches of blank paper, dated as per customer request, most likely taken from the Little St. Hugh library. On a handful of occasions he has provided “graveyard copies” of books from the Church library, in exchange for a cut of the sale, as well as plates from several “breakers” in the library… but only when his finances are very poor. He is, very rarely, a customer at the shop, often swapping something of his for a book. His tastes tend toward the physical sciences, history, and London architecture.
He lives in a mean cold-water flat in a building otherwise wholly populated by Indians and Arabs, causing him to sometimes given off the aroma of their sundry dubious cuisines and tobaccos.
Library Use 2
Document Analysis 1
Assess Honesty 2
Credit Rating 2 (social standing only; he’s otherwise very poor) Treat this as Social CR 3, Monetary CR 1
Auction 1 (I’ve been to a few.)
Conceal 4 (Nothing up my sleeve…)
Electrical Repair 1 (He has built a crystal radio.)
Filch 9 (Where did those biscuits go?)
Firearms 1 (Why yes, my father did like to hunt.)
First Aid 4 (Why yes, I was a terrible shot.)
Fleeing 5 (Run!)
Preparedness 3 (I do have a plumb bob, why do you ask?)
Psychoanalysis 3 (Tell me more…)
Riding 1 (And we had horses… vile creatures…)
Scuffling 2 (There were also older brothers.)
Sense Trouble 4 (He knew that enlisting in 1914 was a bad idea after all…)
Shadowing 2 (That chap has a bag simply full of sardine tins. After him!)
Stealth 2 (I swear that the vicar went into the pantry a moment ago…)
Bookhounds of London
An Ennie- and Golden Geek-award-winning supplement for Trail of Cthulhu.
These cycles of experience, of course, all stem from that worm-riddled book. I remember when I found it – in a dimly lighted place near the black, oily river where the mists always swirl.
– The Book
Bookhounds of London is a brand new campaign setting for Trail of Cthulhu, packed with period detail, where the Investigators seek out books about horror and strangeness and become, seemingly inevitably, drawn into the horror themselves. It provides in-depth material on London in the 1930s, carefully slanted towards Mythos investigators.
An Ancient City
Bookhounds’ London is a city of cinemas, electric lights, global power and the height of fashion. It’s about the horrors – the cancers – that lurk in the capital, in the very beating heart of human civilization. A Templar altar might well crouch, mostly forgotten, in the dreary Hackney Marshes, but altars to false gods tower over the metaphorical swamps of Fleet Street and Whitehall. And as for lost, prehuman ruins … who’s to say what lies under London, if you dig deep enough?
The PCs aren’t stalwart G-men or tweedy scholars exploring forbidden frontiers. Instead, they acquire maps (and maybe guidebooks) to those forbidden frontiers from fusty libraries and prestigious auction houses. They are Book-Hounds, looking for profit in mouldy vellum and leather bindings, balancing their own books by finding first editions for Satanists and would-be sorcerers. They may not quite know what they traffic in, or they may know rather better than their clientele, but needs must when the bills come in. This volume includes:
- 32 authentic full-colour maps with unique new street index of London in the 1930s, and plans of major buildings.
- A Mythos take on London in the 1930s, packed with contacts, locations and rumours.
- New abilities such as Document Analysis, Auction and Forgery, as well as new occupations and drives.
- Full statistics for a host of new and horrible Mythos creatures to pit against the Bookhounds.
- Whitechapel Black-Letter, a brand new adventure which takes Bookhounds through the bleak East End of London on the trail of a powerful 15th century grimoire.
With Bookhounds, Kenneth Hite creates a rich sandbox full of dusty tomes, crooked dealers and dark alleys, a perfect setting for any Mythos investigation.
A Detailed Guide to London in the 1930s
Bookhounds of London also features a complete, indexed street map of London, recreated and adapted from original sources, packed with over 200 locations essential to Investigators. Whatever system you play, this is an essential resource for Mythos roleplayers. The PDF version is fully cross-referenced. The cartography in Bookhounds won a silver ENnie award.
See the complete reviews to date here
Not only does Bookhounds make me want to run a game, it makes me feel confident that I could run that game well. Many supplements place the burden of extracting a game from their contents on the Keeper; this book does not. As an unconfident and less experienced Keeper, this is excellent. If you only get one supplement for Trail of Cthulhu, this should be it.
Whomever, decides to buy it will certainly get their money’s worth and more. This is a beautifully and hauntingly illustrated book, in which the graphics are not horrific but do instill a certain sense of dread. I would commend Pelgrane Press once again for creating yet another beautiful product that is both attractive, functional and serves a multitude of purposes.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a gamebook which so carefully integrated the character of the city with the character of the play. It is an imaginary London, but one vivid and playable … Bookhounds could obviously be easily used by a traditional Call of Cthulhu GM and I’d recommend they pick it up. Anyone with an interested in London or England in the first half of the 20th Century should consider it as well.
To the usual Trail mix of Pulp vanilla and Purist chocolate, we now get rainbow sherbert Arabesque, rocky road sordid, and disgustingly neon Technicolor. We can only hope that Pelgrane provides more support for this line so as to give us more of what is otherwise an impressive and inspirational book.
||Author: Kenneth Hite
||Format: 184 pg case bound with colour plates