Trail of Cthulhu

Trail Cover

Mythos Investigation and Horror in the 1930s

You have to keep the doors to the Outside from swinging open – no matter what the cost in life or sanity. You have to piece together clues from books bound in human skin, from eviscerated corpses covered in ichor, and from inscriptions carved on walls built before humanity evolved. You have to go wherever the answers are, and do what needs to be done to protect humanity. But do you dare to follow… the trail of Cthulhu?

Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning roleplaying game of investigative horror, powered by the GUMSHOE system and produced under license from Chaosium. Acclaimed expert on the eldritch Kenneth Hite weds his encylopaedic knowledge of vivid historical detail to his mastery of H. P. Lovecraft’s classic horror tales to bring their cosmic malignity forward into the 1930s—a time when the creeping madness of the Great Old Ones intermingles with the sweeping cruelty of global totalitarianism.

Trail of Cthulhu is designed for investigative play: the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. The game also offers:

  • Two modes of play: Pulp (for the “desperate action” feel of Robert E. Howard or Indiana Jones) and Purist (full of philosophical horror and cosmic dread)
  • A new take on Lovecraft’s creatures and cults that makes even the most familiar Mythos elements surprising and scary at the gaming table
  • Innovative rules for sanity and stability
  • A Drives mechanic that addresses the perennial horror RPG question, “Why don’t we just forget we saw anything, and go home where it’s safe?”
  • GM advice on how to run a horror adventure
  • Detailed notes on designing an enthralling, cohesive investigative adventure using the GUMSHOE system’s clue structure.

Buy the standard print edition

Buy the Starter Kit print bundle

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. It’s now in its third print run, and currently available in five languages.

Support for Trail of Cthulhu includes award-winning adventures, supplements, and campaigns from designers such as Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws, Jason Morningstar, Will Hindmarch, Jeff Tidball, Adam Gauntlett, Graham Walmsley, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and Bill White.

You are among the few who suspect the truth about the mad gods at the center of the universe, about the Great Old Ones who dream of clearing off the Earth, about the extra-terrestrials who use mankind in their experiments, about the ancient legends of undying evil that are all coming true. You have to make sure nobody else ever finds out — or the world will wake up screaming…

Review Highlights

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.

Emily Dresner

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

Related Links

Stock #:PELGT01D Author: Kenneth Hite and Robin Laws
Artist: Jerome Huguenin Format: 248-page, two-color, smythe-sewn hardback

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by Adam Gauntlett

The Vampire

The opening of a new Odeon cinema sparks a vampire craze, and presents the Bookhounds with an unusual opportunity for profit.

This is nominally set in 1936, the year Dracula’s Daughter is released, but could be restaged at the Keeper’s convenience.

Odeon

The Odeon chain of cinemas get their start in 1928, when founder Oscar Deutsch opens his first cinema in Brierly Hill, West Midlands. Deutsch’s empire accelerates rapidly when he joins forces with architect Harry Weedon, and together they designed and built 257 Art Deco picture houses, becoming the dominant face of cinema in the United Kingdom. New builds sprang up like weeds. In 1936 alone, Odeon opened 33 cinemas across the country.

Hook

It has been a quiet month for the store. People just aren’t buying, because building works have thoroughly gummed up the whole street. The noise and dirt killed walk-in trade. However the worst is over, and the new Odeon cinema a few doors down, gleaming and modern, is about to have a gala opening night. Universal Pictures’ Dracula’s Daughter shall be the first big show, and already crowds of eager teens flock to the place like a shrine. It doesn’t matter that the film’s got an A certificate, which means under sixteens need a parent or guardian; the cinema doesn’t care who it lets in, so long as they pay. The whole street’s going to be swarming with non-book buyers, and all any of them will be interested in are vampires. The queue to get in the Odeon snakes right past the Bookhounds’ front door.

Do the Bookhounds lean into it and become expert in all things Vampire, or do they buck the trend?

No Sale

The Bookhounds can ignore the Odeon. If so, the store suffers a Reverse. Old friends are put off by the queues of people, and none of the vampire crowd spend more than a few minutes in the “musty old mausoleum.”

Shenanigans!

The Bookhounds might try to interfere with the Odeon somehow. Exactly how is up to them; pranks, complaints to the Council, summoning supernatural allies, or anything in between.

However the Bookhounds may not realize that architect Harry Weedon has innate megapolisomantic ability; this is discoverable on a 2 point spend, Architecture and/or Occult, and anyone who makes this spend knows the cinema must have megapolisomantic significance. This is why the Odeon chain has been so successful; the characteristic Art Deco design, use of faience (tin-glazed pottery), rounded corners, vertical feature for adverts, all contribute to create a kind of megapolisomantic engine, a new lever. Weedon’s innate talent, in combination with Deutsch’s enormous drive, create these minor places of power. Each cinema is a magical shrine, and the audience are its worshippers. If Weedon and Deutsch realized this and played upon it, they might achieve miracles. As this is an accidental partnership, and since Deutsch’s premature death in 1941 ends their collaboration, what could have been a significant change in the city’s landscape becomes a brief fad, soon forgotten.

However when a cinema is first built its power is at its strongest, and it creates a megapolisomantic guardian to keep it safe. The guardian only lasts a few years, and is always based on the first film showed at that cinema – in this case, Countess Marya Zaleska, Dracula’s daughter.

Attempting shenanegans brings the Bookhounds in direct conflict with the paramental entity.

The ‘Vampire’: Abilities: Athletics 10, Health 8, Scuffling 6; Hit Threshold 4; Alertness Modifier +0; Stealth Modifier +2; Weapon: ‘bite’ attack, +1; Special Attack: Mesmerism holds enemies in place, helpless, at a cost of 2 Health per target. Helpless enemies are automatically hit, if attacked; Armor: non-silver physical weapons do minimum damage, and it can re-form 1 Health point per round. If reduced to 0 Health it dematerializes for 20 minutes. Only magic can kill it; Stability Loss -1. Weakness: any arrow shot from a bow affects this paramental as if the arrow was made of silver. Appearance: pale, black-clad.

New Blood

The Bookhounds might try to engage with the Vampire crowd by bringing in vampire related merchandise, making standees to draw people into the store, or some other clever stunt.

This has a chance of bringing in a Windfall. The sudden interest in vampires is a temporary thing; eventually the Odeon will go on to different films and the magic will fade. This means the Windfall is unsustainable, but even as a temporary benefit it still raises the Credit Rating of the store by 1 so long as it is active.

Exactly what triggers this Windfall is up to the Keeper, and player initiative. The more involved the players get, the more likely a Windfall should be; half-hearted attempts shouldn’t be rewarded. Any spend from the Bookshop Stock pool definitely gets the Windfall, as customers flock to the shop that has just the right stock. This represents the Bookhounds coming up with Genuine – or ‘genuine’ – vampire related merchandise. Potential high-priced items include:

  • A complete set of the periodical The Dark Blue in which Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla first saw print.
  • Copies of the Boy’s Standard 1886 Victorian penny dreadful Spring Heeled Jack.
  • Le Capitaine Vampire (1879) by Belgian writer Marie Nizet. As it’s not in translation this will be difficult to sell to casual buyers, but collectors love obscure material. The bragging rights are greater.
  • Pulp magazines like Weird Tales often feature vampire stories, and cover art.
  • Illegal copies of the 1922 silent film Nosferatu, or stills from same.
  • Copies of the latest pulp fiction, Vampires Overhead (1935) by West Indian Alan Hyder.

Most of this stuff is cheap to get, but given the spike in demand can fetch double or triple the usual price. It probably isn’t the Bookhounds’ usual stock in trade; it’s more modern, pulpy, fare. However it gets the cinema goers through the door, and that’s the main thing – particularly if they buy.  Illegal items, like the Nosferatu stills or any forged item, might provoke police interference.

The Collector

The Keeper should introduce this antagonist while the characters are deeply involved in their own machinations.

The megapolisomantic nature of the Odeon design wasn’t lost on Doris Bidwell. Bidwell is an amateur megapolisomancer with ambition, looking for something to use as a power base. Recent squabbles within the magical community have put Bidwell on the defensive, with an urgent need to strike back.

The Odeon looks to Bidwell like a chance at salvation – but for that to work Bidwell needs to avoid the attentions of the Vampire while at the same time getting close enough to the Odeon to start the working.

As it happens there’s a bookshop conveniently placed close by.

Bidwell poses as a customer, a moneyed collector, always poking around the shop, never buying. Bidwell’s after something special, and seems to have good Credit Rating in spite of her peculiarities. To look at, Bidwell’s the sort of person Scrooge might dream up after a bad bit of cheese: always dresses in black, down-at-heel, Bohemian without the charm. Bidwell clearly knows a lot about books, and can talk intelligently on public affairs and international relations, which makes Bidwell seem like a Radical. Bidwell does have Radical friends, and is often seen in Soho and North London fleshpots, but his real allegiance is to Crowleyite wannabe black magicians and offshoots of the occult group Ordo Templi Orientis. It’s thanks to arguments with this fraternity that Bidwell’s looking for a new power base.

Bidwell’s plan is to get enough material from the Bookhounds – bits of clothing, hair, even blood if possible – and make that into a lure, which Bidwell will hide inside the shop. That lure, Bidwell thinks, should be enough to draw the Vampire away. It doesn’t have to be distracted long; a few hours is enough. Or so Bidwell thinks; if Bidwell had any real intellectual acuity she wouldn’t be sniffing round the Odeon looking for a power base.

Bidwell has two problems. One is the Bookhounds, and the other is her former friends who now oppose her schemes. These Occultists have no love for the Bookhounds, but they may interfere, to frustrate Bidwell.

If Bidwell succeeds then her next step is to take revenge on her enemies, which may or may not include the Bookhounds. She sets up shop in the Odeon, going to the cinema night after night, sometimes in the company of a pale woman dressed in black.


Bookhounds of London is an award-winning setting for 1930s horror roleplaying game Trail of Cthulhu by Kenneth Hite. Bookhounds’ London is a city of cinemas, electric lights, global power and the height of fashion, as well as the horrors – the cancers – that lurk in the capital, in the very beating heart of human civilization. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Bookhounds of London in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Trail Cover

The Trail of Cthulhu Keeper’s bundle is a quick and affordable way to get into our award-winning Mythos RPG. It features the core book, an adventure collection and a Keeper’s screen and resource book: everything you need to run the game at a tasty 15% discount from the retail price. Buy the Keeper’s Bundle in print   Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning roleplaying game of investigative horror, powered by the GUMSHOE system and produced under license from Chaosium. Acclaimed expert on the eldritch Kenneth Hite weds his encyclopedic knowledge of vivid historical detail to his mastery of H. P. Lovecraft’s classic horror tales to bring their cosmic malignity forward into the 1930s—a time when the creeping madness of the Great Old Ones intermingles with the sweeping cruelty of global totalitarianism. Two modes of play: Pulp (for the “desperate action” feel of Robert E. Howard or Indiana Jones) and Purist (full of philosophical horror and cosmic dread) A new take on Mythos creatures and cults that makes even the most familiar Mythos elements surprising and scary at the gaming table A Drives mechanic that addresses the perennial horror RPG question, “Why don’t we just forget we saw anything, and go home where it’s safe?” […]

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This quick Trail of Cthulhu adventure first appeared in the Dragonmeet 2018 program book, and is based on genuine historical events that took place within a few minute’s walk of the convention centre. 

The Window on Standish Road

  1. What was reputed to be the appearance of the mischievous person?
  2. In white sometimes, and sometimes in the skin of a beast; a calf skin, or something of that sort.

In 1804, Francis Smith was convicted of the murder of a bricklayer named Thomas Millwood, having shot him on Black Lion Lane in Hammersmith, only a few minute’s walk from this very convention centre.

Smith offered a novel defence, arguing that he had not intended to kill Millwood, but that his real target was the ‘Hammersmith Ghost’, a phantom that haunted the churchyard. He mistook Millwood for the supposed ghost and shot him in the face.

Several accounts describe the ghost, which was said to be the spectre of a butcher who committed suicide several years earlier. For example, Thomas Grove testified that: “I was going through the church yard between eight and nine o’clock, with my jacket under my arm, and my hands in my pocket, when some person came from behind a tomb-stone, which there are four square in the yard, behind me, and caught me fast by the throat with both hands, and held me fast.” Some described the ghost as a figure in white; others claimed it had eyes of glass and an animal’s head.

Two days after the shooting, a local shoemaker, John Graham, came forward and admitted that he was the ghost; he’d dressed up as the phantom to scare his apprentice. Smith was initially declared guilty of murder and sentenced to hang, but in light of the intense public interest in the affair, the case was referred to King George III, who mercifully spared Smith’s life and sentenced him instead to a year’s hard labour.

The Hammersmith Ghost was consigned to the history books and to the legal texts, where it remained as a precedent regarding the consequences of mistaken action for 180 years. Case closed… or is it? For Gamemasters who want to bring the horror out of the past and into their game, we present this quick scenario for Trail of Cthulhu.

The Horrible Truth

Sorcerer and necromancer Jerominus Cornel still haunts London, more than a hundred years after his death in 1802. He hid himself away into a mirror dimension using a magical lens, emerging infrequently to steal occult knowledge from other scholars, using books and intimidation to drag them into the mirror world.

The Hook

Scene Type: Intro

Leads-Out: The Graveyard, Background Research

1937. In an obscure second-hand bookstore, the investigators find an incredible prize – a battered copy of Balfour’s Cultes de Goules, a 1703 work describing the ghoul cult throughout Europe. Such a rare occult book is worth a considerable sum to the right collector.

Tucked in the back of the book are a handful of loose pages, covered with almost illegible handwriting. Close examination with Languages reveals that it’s the confession of one John Graham of Hammersmith, written in 1810.

  • Graham talks about his neighbour, an eccentric chemist called Jerominus Cornel, who lived on Standish Street. He often saw Cornel visiting a nearby butcher’s shop, buying jars of blood from freshly slaughtered cattle.
    • Library Use/History/Occult: It might be worth looking into any records of this ‘Cornel’. See Background Research.
  • Cornel complained bitterly that there was too much to learn, that one lifetime was not enough to encompass the knowledge of the universe.
  • The butcher committed suicide in 1802; Cornel vanished the same year.
  • The tales of ghosts and spectral figures began after that. People saw pale figures at night, out of the corner of their eyes. One coachman nearly killed himself and his passengers when the ghost attacked him as he drove past the Black Lion inn.
  • In 1804, after the murder of Thomas Grove, Graham himself encountered the ghost of Cornel. The spectre appeared in his window and told Graham that if he did not allay suspicion, Cornel would devour Graham’s children. Terrified, Graham went to the magistrates and confessed; soon afterwards, the King interceded and put the whole matter to rest. Everyone thinks that Graham was the ghost; but it was Cornel. Cornel haunted Standish Street.
  • Graham dares not tell anyone, except this confession, but he’s buried proof of his claims in St. Paul’s churchyard. He gives the location – twelve paces south, forty east of the main gate. See The Churchyard.

There’s one other clue – Flattery or Bargain (for a small bribe) gets the bookseller to recall who sold him the copy of Cultes de Goules. He recalls the seller was a young man, very pale and sickly, who seemed nervous – he kept looking over his shoulder, as if someone was watching him through the glass window of the bookshop.

 

Background Research

Scene Type:Alternate

Leads-In: The Book

Leads-Out: The Churchyard

History or Oral History gets accounts of the Hammersmith Ghost.

Library Use digs up a few scant records on Cornel:

  • He was originally Dutch, but lived in Paris for some time before fleeing to England in 1784.
  • He was a chemist and glassblower; he made tools and equipment for chemists and doctors.
  • Oddly, one diary by the physician Francis Willis describes how Cornel offered to treat King George III’s madness in 1788; as a price, Cornel demanded access to “certain books in the possession of the King’s Library that were previously owned by Doctor John Dee”.
  • A later entry in the same diary talks about how Willis was called to the King’s Library to treat one of the clerks, who fell out of a window in Buckingham Palace.
  • The next page of the diary is missing, as if erased.

 

The Churchyard

Scene Type: Core

Leads-In: The Book, Background Research

Leads-Out: The Survivor, the Face in the Glass, Image of the Sorcerer

The old churchyard isn’t the same graveyard where the Hammersmith ghost was seen all those years ago – that graveyard is long since gone. The gardens of St. Paul’s, though, are still much as they were in King George’s day. Searching, the investigators quickly discover the right spot.

  • Archaeology:This is odd – there’s something buried here, all right, but it was recently This ground was dug up in the last few months.

As the investigators dig, they hear a disturbance on the road nearby. Shouting, and the breaking of glass – and then a gunshot rings out across. There’s a man, his features hidden by a white sheet, shouting wildly at the investigators. He’s got a gun in his hand – and he’s aiming it at them! “Don’t look at it!” he shrieks, “don’t let him see you!”

If they pursue, the man runs, firing wildly in the air. He never shoots directly at the investigators, just in their direction. A bigger danger, though, is the risk of being run-over by a car that swerves to avoid the gunshots (just like the coachman spooked by the Hammersmith ghost). If the investigators chase down the attacker, see The Survivor.

The Buried Cache

Buried in the churchyard is a bundle of pale, rotten leather attached to a mask made from the skull of a calf. Embedded in one of the calf’s eye-sockets is a curious glass sphere.

  • Chemistry:It’s not glass at all, but something much harder. It’s indestructible according to any test or tool available.
  • Astronomy:There are tiny symbols carved into the sphere – although how they were made is a mystery, given the sphere’s apparently harder than diamond. They include Arabic symbols for various stars, most prominently the Hyades.
  • Evidence Collection: The sphere seems to have some sort of image embedded in it, too small and faint to be discerned with the naked eye. Some sort of strange optical phenomenon, no doubt.
    • Craft orPhotography (Core Clue): Maybe a sufficiently bright light and the right arrangement of lens could project the image. If the investigators try this, see The Image of the Sorcerer.
  • Underneath the bundle are several more occult tomes, of roughly the same age and condition as Cultes de Goules, and likely from the same collection. They mostly deal with optics and alchemy.

After exposure to the sphere, the investigators are in danger from The Face in the Glass.

The Survivor

Scene Type: Alternate

Leads-In: The Churchyard

Leads-Out: The Face in the Glass, The Image of the Sorcerer

The attacker flees through a maze of alleyways. En route, he drops the white sheet he was using as a disguise. Finally, the investigators corner him in the yard behind a furniture shop. He raises the gun and attempts to shoot himself in the face. The nearest investigator can make a Scuffling test (Difficulty 5) to grab the gun before the man kills himself.

If successful, the investigators can Interrogate their prisoner.

  • The attacker is Edgar Smith, formerly a student at Imperial College.
  • He had a friend, Philip Black, who dabbled in the occult. Philip found an old book with a weird diary tucked in the back, and convinced Edgar to help him break into this very churchyard by night.
  • They found that awful mask – and when exposed to starlight, the eyes glowed and Philip vanished.
  • Terrified and confused, Edgar fled. He feared he’d be blamed for Philip’s disappearance, so he hid, renting a room nearby.
  • Since then, he’s seen a strange man watching him from the windows. Sometimes, he saw Philip in the windows, too.
  • A few weeks ago, he saw Philip on Kensington High Street, posting a parcel. His former friend looked bloodless and old, as though years had passed for him. When Edgar tried to speak to Philip, his friend vanished again in broad daylight, like an image from a movie projector that was suddenly switched off.
  • He has no idea what’s happening, but it all started with that damned mask with eyes of glass. Philip must have reburied the mask afterwards.

 

The Face in the Glass

Scene Type: Antagonist Reaction

Leads-In: The Churchyard

After exposure to the glass-eyed mask, the investigators start seeing the face of an old man reflected in windows, mirrors and other glassy surfaces. He might be watching them from an upstairs window or leering at them from a bathroom mirror.

If any of the investigators are ever alonenear a glass, then Cornel acts.

  • If the investigator has a high rating in any Academic ability, then Cornel might attempt to abduct the investigator, emerging from his mirror-lair to abduct the investigator by dragging him back through the mirror. (Scuffling or Fleeing contest against Cornel’s Scuffling). Captured investigators can be seen in The Image of the Sorcerer.
  • If the investigator is no use to Cornel’s studies, then Cornel threatens the investigator, saying that he must bring “men of learning” and show them the sphere so Cornel can devour them (or, if Cornel’s predations have attracted too much attention, that the investigator must bury the mask in St. Paul’s Churchyard again, to await the next generation of scholars).

Cornel

Abilities: Athletics 6, Health 12, Scuffling 10

Hit Threshold: 3

Alertness Modifier: +2

Stealth Modifier: +2

Weapon: Ghoulish claws +1

Armour: -2 vs. any (skin)

Stability Loss: +0

 

The Image of the Sorcerer

Scene Type: Core

Leads-In: The Churchyard

With Craft, Physics and Photography, the investigators can assemble a contraption that magnifies and projects the image in the sphere. Impossibly, it’s moving –it’s like watching a film recording of an old, old man in a small room. There’s no door, just a single flickering window that seems to look out over all of London, the viewpoint jumping from place to place as if the room were flickering across the city. The room’s crammed with books, occult paraphernalia and pages of crabbed notes; there’s also a large stack of human bones, licked clean and cracked open for marrow, in one corner. Hanging upside down from hooks is the corpse of Philip Black; the old man’s drained Black of blood and is slowly, slowly eating the man’s flesh.

  • If any of the investigators were captured by Cornel in The Face in the Glass, they’re visible in the image, hanging from hooks next to Black, but still alive.

As the investigators watch, the window behind him changes, becoming a window or glass surface in whatever room the investigators are in. The man looks up at them and smiles.

Cornel knows they’re watching.

And he’s coming for them.

  • Physics: There’s a clock on the wall behind the old man, but it’s moving incredibly slowly. If this is a window or image of some pocket dimension, time moves differently there. Maybe that’s why Cornel used Philip Black to run errands in our world – if he stays outside his room for too long, maybe Cornel will age to death.
  • Anthropology:Some of the notes on the table look like interview transcripts – the old man’s abducting scholars, questioning them, and then eating them.
  • Cryptography:The sorcerer’s notes can be read through the projection, although they’re reversed mirror-writing. They include a list of names of prominent scientists and occultists – did Cornel make Black send other lures to them? Does Cornel intend to abduct, interrogate and devour them too?

Defeating Cornel

The finale is a cat-and-mouse contest between the investigators and Cornel. The sorcerer is immortal, inhumanly patient, and can emerge from any mirror or glass. The investigators can spy on him, and know what he wants – knowledge. Can they set a trap for him? Might illuminating the mask with starlight from the Hyades create a physical portal? Or should the investigators bury the sphere somewhere it can never be found, stay away from all windows and mirrors, and pray that the Hammersmith Ghost never finds them again?

 

 

“Like all decadents he was exquisitely sensitive to the color and atmosphere and names of things …”

— H.P. Lovecraft, “Medusa’s Coil”

Much of the ironic entertainment of playing in Lovecraft’s universe comes from playing, well, in Lovecraft’s universe, or at least his Earth. Specifically, from playing with his names. And not just the Big Names like Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth, but the human-scale names in his world. Meeting a supporting character named Waite, spotting a gunshot-riddled sign for the turnoff to Dunwich, discovering a slim volume in violet buckram by Randolph Carter — these very specific joys come from the very specific associations we formed with those names as readers of Lovecraft’s fiction over years or decades. Crack open your copy of The Lovecraft Lexicon by Anthony Pearsall and salt your campaign with those joys to taste.

The downside is that in order to enjoy them, the players must recognize those names as fictions within your fiction, the equivalent of seeing the “clue glow” in a video game. This endangers immersion, and mitigates against suspension of disbelief. If, as Lovecraft wrote to Clark Ashton Smith, “no weird story can truly produce terror unless it is devised with all the care and verisimilitude of an actual hoax,” then you damage terror and verisimilitude by introducing people and place names taken straight from fiction, and from increasingly familiar fiction at that.

In a classic Call or Trail game set in the 1920s or 1930s, players tend to adopt an ironic detachment from the running boards and candlestick telephones of the setting even without guest appearances by glittery-eyed weirdos named Tillinghast or Curwen. The past is another country, one that might very well have a seaside town named Kingsport in it.

But in a 1960s Fall of DELTA GREEN game, and even moreso a Cthulhu adventure set in the present day, players’ sense of the game world begins to bleed into the “real” and away from the stage set of the past. Thus, the unreal breaks harder when it breaks: if you know in your heart that Googling “Henry Armitage” gets you a “Fictional Librarians” tag on Wikipedia, it’s harder to play along when your Investigator Googles “Henry Armitage” and gets “Head Librarian, Miskatonic University 1924-1936.” To say nothing of the knowledge that Miskatonic University itself is just a cooler Hogwarts with a slightly better Defense Against the Dark Arts program.

Compare to the national name brand!

“The story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

Dragnet, opening narration

Alan Moore, as is his wont, has limned another approach, one that pays increasing dividends the closer your campaign gets to the present. Moore pointed the way out of this box in his comics series Providence (and before that, in The Courtyard and Neonomicon). Moore presents a Cthulhoid world with H.P. Lovecraft in it, a jetée we’ve danced before. Lovecraft’s stories, it transpires, actually happened in that world (which also has Chambers-style suicide temples in them as well) but Lovecraft, one assumes, changes the names, dates, and details when he fictionalizes them for his weird tales.

Elspeth Wade becomes Asenath Waite; the Boggs family of Salem becomes the Marsh family of Innsmouth; Ronald Underwood Pitman becomes Richard Upton Pickman. Moore interweaves real places and people as well: Manchester, New Hampshire becomes Arkham; the (historical) alchemist and Caliph’s son Khalid ibn Yazid becomes Abdul Alhazred (and also, as he did in actual early modern Latin manuscripts, “Hali”); the (historical) werewolf Jacques Roulet takes on a more important role than he did in Lovecraft’s “The Shunned House.” Moore’s “true names” (and lots of spoilers for the Moorecraftian tales) appear here, for the curious.

Presenting various names and places (especially real-world versions) as lightly coded (or de-coded, depending on which direction your epistemology polarizes) versions of Lovecraft’s names and places doesn’t break immersion because the players’ action of de-coding the game names mirrors their Investigators’ action of, well, investigating them. The player deduction that “Weldon Wycherley” is “actually” Wilbur Whateley reinforces and recuperates their character’s realization that the Weldon Wycherley in this picture seems awfully big for an eight-year-old boy. Players become alert for twins and mysterious hills and standing stones, mirroring their Investigator’s discovery of a hidden twin and a strange ruin on Sepulcher Hill. Thus, following Moore and making the various changes transparent ones helps the story and the drama along.

Or start with Earth, but even moreso! Real names and careers of Salem witches, for example, can provide an interesting warp for the Lovecraftian weft: did John Alden, Jr. traffick in other things than guns with the Abenaki? Did his ships bring in mummies and corpses? Or did the remarkably long-lived Jonathan Curwin escape accusation (unlike his mother-in-law) thanks not to his high position but to his necromantically-obtained blackmail material? With a little effort, I bet you can find real-life electrical experimenters and disgraced surgeons who died mysteriously somewhere in New England at some time between 1914 and 1922 — and if they didn’t die mysteriously, that’s where the coverup (or the weird effect of the Mythos on memory and testimony) comes in. Pick your favorite missing U-boat and say it’s the one from “The Temple.” Lovecraft already used real floods and storms for “The Whisperer in Darkness” and “The Haunter of the Dark,” and a real earthquake for the rising of R’lyeh; shift places and dates until something gameable clicks into being.

Use the same approach for real locations of Lovecraftian towns and hills: if your “Kingsport” is actually Marblehead, maybe the Old Pirate House is the house of the Terrible Old Man.  Feel free to scatter them around, too. Perhaps Lovecraft re-used Arkham to further snarl the trail: the meteorite fell near Oakham, Massachusetts; the witch Ann Foster hyperspatially disappeared from Salem rather than dying (as the records were altered to indicate); and the university with the arcane ambit is actually St. Anselm College in Manchester, or Brown University in Providence, or Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. If you can’t find a real legend or ghost or crime that fits Lovecraft’s story, make one up — and finding out who kept it out of the history books (and off Google) can be another layer of the onion for your Investigators to peel back.

 

 

There appeared certain odd stories of things found floating in some of the swollen rivers

– The Whisperer in Darkness

Some of the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos are composed of ultraterrene matter, or hail from dimensions or angles beyond the ones we know, or cannot die in any way we can comprehend. Others, though, can be destroyed or at least inconveniencedby physical force. Strange things were swept down by the floods from the forested hills beyond Brattleboro, or washed up on the beaches of Massachusetts after the destruction of Devil’s Reef – or were found dead on the floor of the library at Miskatonic.

A maddening of alien horrors march across the pages of Hideous Creaturesbut what might they leave behind if destroyed? What remains… remain? What might the investigators find mounted on the wall of the famous big game hunter who killed himself with his own elephant gun? What relic might they steal from the Thibetan monastery? What tattered robe of hide does the cult priest wear when he capers and howls prayers to the Old Ones?

If the investigators do find a trophy or other preserved remnant of a Mythos creature, examining it might yield vital clues. It’s better to learn, for example, that hunting horrors are rejuvenated by electricity by subjecting a small piece of hunting horror tissue to an electrical current, rather than desperately using the last charge of your stolen Yithian lightning gun on the monster as it pursues you…

 

A Feejee Mermaid: The creature was of substance similar to ours – it dies when you shoot it, and the body doesn’t vanish or sublime or turn to slime. The creature might be mistaken for an especially grotesque example of fanciful taxidermy, a chimera made by sewing together bits of different animals; the wings of some Patagonian bat, the head of a malformed goat, crocodile teeth…

Likely candidates: Bat-Thing (obviously some sort of bat), Byakhee (a pterosaur, clearly), Serpent Folk (a genuine Feejee Mermaid)

The Bones Might Be Human: There are physical abnormalities, of course. Take the care of John Merrick, the famous elephant man of London! Or those suffering from certain extreme skin conditions, worse than leprosy. These remains are bizarre, yes, likely mangled post-mortem by some accident, butthey’re clearly human. Maybe some animal bones mixed in, but they’re human. What else could they be?

Likely candidates: Deep Ones, Ghouls, Medusa, Rat-Thing (the bones of children, I fear, mixed with the rats who ate the remains), Raktijiva (the head’s been destroyed, obviously), Spawn of Yog-Sothoth (Human Son), Tcho-Tcho (the poor stunted creature!), Wendigo (some sort of primitive throwback or degenerate, I’ll wager) Y’m-Bhi (my god! It’s a mass grave!)

A Patch of Hide: Keeping the entire carcass is impossible, unless you happen to own a convenient aircraft hangar or refrigerated warehouse. The investigators might find a small patch of leather carved from a vast huge, a single impossibly huge claw, or a pickled eyeball the size of a man’s head.

Likely candidates: Bhole (impossibly tough worm-leather), Dark Young (clearly some sort of wooden sculpture), Hunting Horror (a rare breed of elephant or hippo, perhaps)

 It All Evaporated: The remains decay almost instantly into foul-smelling liquids or noxious gases, leaving nothing behind. With extensive experimentation, a knowledgable chemist might hit on the right conditions and mix of chemicals needed to preserve the remains.

Likely Candidates: Flying Polyp (explodes into cloud of cancerous cells), Gaseous Wraiths (deflates under pressure), Mi-Go (alien matter dissolves), Moon-Beasts (dissolve into star-jelly; contact with decaying remains is agonisingly painful), Vampirish Vapour (rapid deliquescence into rot and slime)

Mysterious Stains – and Echoes: The creature’s remain vanish, but they don’t just dissolve into slime or sublime into mist. Something of the entity remains in the place where it died. Not a haunting, exactly, but a stain upon the land. An unhealing scar, a place that echoes the horror over and over.

Likely Candidates: Black Winged One (hauntings, sick building syndrome), Colour Out Of Space (blasted heath), Great Race of Yith (remains drawn back through time-gate; temporal distortions persist), Hounds of Tindalos, Lloigor (dreams and nightmares), Night-Gaunts (hideous tittering from no discernible source) Ultraviolet Devourer (‘thin place’ where higher dimensions can be seen) 

That Is Not Dead…: Some creatures do not die so easily. The Elder Things dug up by the Miskatonic Expedition revived after millennia buried in the ice caves; shoggoths are virtually indestructible. These ‘remains’ might revive under the right conditions.

Likely Candidates: Elder Things (preternatural resilience), Hounds of Tindalos (what is an ending to an entity who moves through time?), Shoggoth (every shoggoth cell is a shoggoth), Star Vampire (still exists in a dimension we can’t perceive, can be called up by blood), Worm-Cultist (every worm recalls the totality…)


Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos is a collection of thirty-one of Lovecraft’s most celebrated – and most cryptic, some of which have never taken stat form in an RPG – creatures, written up with full stats, clues, mythic echoes, adventure seeds, and in-world documents for Trail of Cthulhu. Purchase Hideous Creatures in print at the Pelgrane Shop.

 

Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos expands on Mythos-monster issues from Ken Writes About Stuff, summoning a fetid host of new horrors and adding new facets to existing creatures. One section that’s especially close to my heart are the in-character documents, which present an oblique look at a particular monster in the form of a handout – diaries, official reports, letters and newspaper cuttings. Here are two cuttings that got, well, cut…

 

From The Empty Half: Travels in Western Australia

spent the morning with an old prospector, who told me of his encounter with a pair of Aboriginal hunters he encountered some years previously on the fringes of the Great Sandy Desert. According to his account, he traded with them and shared his campfire. The two spoke a little English, having learned it from the trading post at Marble Bar. When the prospector mentioned his intention to explore the region to the south-east, the two expressed alarm and told him that there was a monster living underground in that part of the desert, and that it was forbidden to go there.

During the night, the miner woke to hear the two hunters arguing in their native tongue. One of the pair grew so angry he walked off into the night, and the other in broken English offered to show the miner a place where he could find a great deal of gold. The miner agreed, and the next morning the second hunter brought the miner to a place in the desert where they found a huge formation of black rock ‘like a chimney’. The desert wind whistled across the mouth of the chimney in a manner the miner found disturbing, but he refused to show fear in front of the Aborigine, so he bravely stepped forward and led the climb down the shaft.

At the bottom of the chimney he found a large chamber, and the floor of it was littered with strange lumps of gold. They were, he said, twisted filaments of pure gold, wires as thick as a man’s thumb. They resembled driftwood, or the castings of worms, and their purity was evident to the naked eye. The miner eagerly began scooping these into a sack, while the Aborigine began to climb down the rope.

Suddenly, a huge wind rushed down the chimney, pulling the unfortunate hunter off his perch on the chimney wall and dashing him against the rocky floor. His legs broke with the force of his impact, and his scream chilled the miner’s blood. Then the wind changed direction, and lifted the hunter, whisking him away into the dark recess of the cave.

Another wind struck the miner, knocking him off his feet, and he feared he would meet the same nameless fate as his poor guide. At the last moment, he heard a voice singing from the top of the shaft. It was the first hunter, the one who had left them in anger during the night.

Impossibly, the wind changed direction in response to the Aborigine’s song, and reversed to hurl the miner up and out of the chimney like a scrap of waste paper caught on an updraft. The fall knocked him unconscious, and he woke again next to the ashes of his campfire, with no marvelous gold or Aboriginal savior in sight. Of course, he could never find the black chimney again.

When I asked for proof of his tall tale, he scowled, then turned his tin mug upside-town on the table. He proceeded to sing in an curious high-pitched fashion while staring intently at the cup. After a moment, he stopped and knocked the cup over in frustration. ‘I can make it move sometimes,’ he insisted, ‘when the wind is right, and I remember how he sang me out.’

 

A Letter from Newport

Orleans County Sheriff’s Office

Newport, Vermont,

November 3rd.

Dear Mr. Conwell,

I write in connection with your late uncle’s home on Dupuis Road, which according to Mr. Tatler of the Irasburg General Store was rented by you to a Mr. Noyes from June of this year. I wish to inform you that your tenant has disappeared in what can only be termed unusual circumstances, and that you are obliged to take charge of the property forthwith or appoint an agent to do same.

The situation, as far as can be determined presently, is as follows: Mr. Noyes took up residence of the property in June. His origin, profession and business in Irasburg was the subject of much speculation among the townsfolk, including some suggestions that he was a treasure hunter, inventor or even a foreign spy, and none of those I spoke to was able to provide any evidence for their suspicions. His only known associate was a Mr. Brown, who can no longer be questioned, having drowned last month in a sudden flood.

Other than purchasing general groceries and receiving a number of parcels at the Irasburg Post Office, Mr. Noyes appeared largely self-contained. It was evident that he had ready access to money (if you would be so kind as to make available to us details of any rental or other payments he made to you, it would be very beneficial.) Some witnesses report seeing unknown strangers visiting the farm, or Noyes driving off in the middle of the night, but these only elicited mild curiosity and did not warrant alarm or investigation.

On the 21st of September, gunshots were heard from the direction of the farm on Dupuis Road. The next morning, neighbors investigated and found no trace of Mr. Noyes; after several days of continued absence, Mr. Tatler contacted the sheriff and we entered the farmhouse. (Mr. Noyes is still missing, as is his automobile.)

Inside, we discovered the house to be in disarray. Furniture and other belongings were strewn around, and the hearth was overflowing with ash and partially burnt debris, suggesting that Mr. Noyes attempted to incinerate a large amount of material. We found several broken electronic devices and other items we cannot readily identify. The deputies who handled these items are now seriously ill, and have developed alarming skin lesions. The doctor here in Newport is baffled, and finding out precisely what chemicals or other substances Noyes possessed may be key to their recovery.

A possibly related matter is the heavy metal case that I discovered in the paddock out back of the house. It was partially buried in the earth, as if it fell from a height. I do not know if this case belongs to you, or Mr. Noyes, or some other individual, and am wary of opening it until I can ascertain its provenance. I enclose a photograph of the case, which now rests in the storeroom of the Orleans County Sheriff’s Office.

If there is any information you can share regarding Mr. Noyes and his acitivites on your uncle’s property, we would welcome this assistance with our investigations. As I wrote earlier, you are obliged to come and take charge of the property immediately, or dispatch an agent to do same.

If you have any questions or information, please telephone me at the Newport Office.

Yours,

Deputy Sheriff Adams

 

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Over on the Google+ Pelgrane Press RPGs community, Johan Lundström voiced concerns about the order in which his players would tackle the locations of Eternal Lies, our world-spanning Trail of Cthulhu campaign, and the impact that might have on plot and pacing of the campaign. Eternal Lies writer Will Hindmarch responds as follows (***CAUTION*** Contains spoilers for Eternal Lies below the image—for Eternal Lies Keepers only!)

 

 

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Great questions. These concerns are totally valid! Fortunately, the game and the campaign have features built in to help you pace and adapt the campaign to suit your needs.

First, be careful to lay out the options for Act Two such that the players and their characters are choosing from multiple options with a bit of intel to go on. Their patron in the campaign can buy them all the boat trips and plane rides they need to take on the chapters in the order of their choosing. If Malta or Bangkok catch their interest, the logistics of travel don’t have to play a part in their decision. If Ms. Winston-Rogers summons the Investigators back east for a meeting to discuss what they’ve uncovered so far, you can emphasize how easy it is to travel in this campaign in Ms. Winston-Rogers’ own words.

The episodic format of Act Two is intentionally designed to give the long-running campaign a bit of a familiar, recurring structure in the middle. That serialized feeling can be a feature, rather than a bug! Given how long it might take to play out a given locale, the ability to recenter and quickly understand the format of the investigation between locales can be helpful. Use scenes set at home, between chapters, to adjust and modulate the pacing, especially if the PCs are moving quicker than they seem to like. This isn’t meant to slow them down, but to add variation to the kind of challenges put before them.

How you pace and portray the big choices is important, too. It is fair game to play up the danger and mystery of the Yucatán expedition to help the players and their characters question if they really are ready to go there yet. If they attempt the Yucatán expedition early in the campaign, that’s their choice. Let them enjoy the benefits of that—and experience the consequences. It is an undeniably big encounter, at the end of that locale, but whether it’s climactic or not is a matter of structure and storytelling, right? Consider how the campaign goes forward differently as a result of their choice, including how to introduce new Investigators, if necessary.

They have made great progress in battling their foe, and earned an edge against it, but can they trust the words of a spiteful alien god-monster? Is it even accurate? Knowing how to cast the spell isn’t enough! Other locales have clues that tell them where and when to cast the spell. And if they somehow press on without gathering sufficient clues, the Investigators live or die by that choice, too.

To carry the campaign forward after any locale that feels highly climactic, maybe treat that as something akin to a season finale, and treat the next session as the premiere of the next season. This also signals you, as the Keeper, to portray choices and consequences in later locales so that they are climactic, too; maybe by being more personally consequential than epically climactic.

The structure of Eternal Lies is designed to help Keepers and other players modulate the experience, and to keep the story going even if the Investigators cannot keep going. The premise picks up the threads of an investigation that met with disaster. If new Investigators meet with trouble, more Investigators can pick up the threads too, carried forward by the players already. Each locale is a jumping-on point and a seam for the Keeper to use to reorient the players and new characters. The feeling of setting out for locale #3 (whichever one that is) can echo or allude to the Investigators’ previous trip. That can be comforting or foreboding, depending on how the last trip went.

The flip side of it? If the Investigators are doing very well, making smart choices and getting great results, they get to enjoy the benefits of that for a little while.

But remember: they don’t know what the next locale holds. They don’t know how far, how vast, how perilous their future might be. The fear of what happens next is greater for those who haven’t read the book. Use that. They might find a later locale easier than an earlier one… but they can’t rely on that feeling. You have the power to keep them wary, but enticed to press forward despite their fears. The menace and the mystery of the experience is in your voice, Keeper.

by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

Love is eternal… if you’re an alien monstrosity from beyond all sane conceptions of space and time, an undying horror that seethes and defies our pitiful understandings of entropy and existence. For the rest of us, love’s a brief candle, a momentary delusion to distract us from the horror of existence, our cells blindly pushing towards pointless self-replication, perpetuating the cosmic torture upon a million future generations until humanity is mercifully extinguished and there’s nothing left upon the Earth but dust and coleopterans.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Here are three love-themed mythos seeds.

 

Roses are red/Violets are blue

(or so they are seeming)

In his house in Rlyeh/Great Cthulhu

(lies dreaming)

A dilettante investigator from a wealthy or influential meets an alluring young woman. She’s charming, eerily beautiful, erudite, and apparently of considerable independent means. Also, she proves to be remarkably well-informed about the Mythos, and is ready to aid the investigators in their struggle against cosmic horrors. All she asks is that the investigator come home with her to Innsmouth to meet her family…

The investigator is in no danger; he’s welcome in Innsmouth. After all, the elders want him to be part of the family. He doesn’t have to stay – in fact, they encourage him to take his bride-to-be home with him. The elders of Dagon intend to establish a second enclave of Cthulhu-worshipping Deep One hybrids, and have chosen the investigator to be the human progenitor of a new line.

How can he refuse? Can the other investigators interrupt the wedding in time?

 

Roses are red/Violets are blue

Yithians in your time-stream want to date you.

One of the investigators suffers a mysterious period of amnesia, during which she acted in a bizarre fashion, travelling to various occult sites and trafficking with ghastly entities. Afterwards, the investigator discovers bizarre messages left for her across the aeons – an archaeological dig in Cyprus finds a statue that’s the image of her, her name crops up in the secret oaths of cults, there are prophecies about her recorded in cryptic passages of the Necronomicon. Eventually, she find a Yithian library buried under the sands of Australia, and there she discovers the truth. She was abducted by the Great Race, and while imprisoned in prehistory, she fell in love with a mighty sorcerer of Hyperborea. Her starcrossed lover swore that he would find his way back to her once they both returned to their home time periods – even though he lived thousands of years before the present day.

All the hints and clues in the various occult tradition suggest that the sorcerer still exists in some form. Maybe he’s travelling forward in time through arcane rituals, or prolonging his life through vampirism, or he’s reduced himself to his essential salts so he can be resurrected by the cult he founded in ancient days. In any case, he’s unlikely to be the cone she fell in love with fifty million years ago – what eldritch horror, sustained by mad obsession, now shambles towards the investigator out of the aeons?

 

Roses are red/Violets are blue

Yellow, though, is the unhealthiest of hues.

In a gallery in Paris, the investigators glimpse a painting of a young woman. In the image, she strolls by a strange, misty lake, glancing over her shoulder as if daring the viewer to follow her.

Over the course of the next few weeks, all the investigators are beset by memories or dreams of the woman. In each case, they remember having a torrid, passionate romance with her at some point in their pasts. Some details are common to all their recollections – in every case, her name was Camilla; in every case, she abruptly ended the affair and fled, saying only that she had to find “truth, not its phantom”. Other details vary – in some cases, she was a student the investigator met at university, or a shepherdess in the village where the investigator grew up, or an artist’s model, or a friend of a friend. She appears ageless – some investigators remember her from their distant youth, for others, they recall her so vividly that they can still smell her perfume in their rooms, but she is always the same, always young and beautiful.

The memories become more intense, more alluring – and more detailed as the investigators dwell on them. Spend time thinking about Camilla, and you’ll recall how you picnicked on the banks of the Seine, or how she led you up the steps of a crumbling Roman ruin in the woods, or how she taught you the secret speech of ghouls. Memories of Camilla are suffused with a warm yellowish glow, and it is far more pleasant to dwell in melancholic remembrances of lost love than it is to exist in the harsh light of the present day. Spend enough time with her in the past, and she reveals more hidden truths, even hinting that the investigator can find her again in the present if he or she ensures that their love is the only true one – by killing the other player characters…

Is Camilla a curse conjured by the mysterious artist who painted the portrait, hired by some rival to destroy the investigators? Is she some Carcosan phantom, a memetic horror that’s colonising their histories? Is she a creature of possibility, trying to fix her own ever-shifting history by attaching herself to the timeline of one of the investigators? Or is she an innocent who became trapped in Carcosa, and is now trying to escape as best she can?

It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden; where also they had commanded their sons to keep festival once every century, that the memory of primal secrets might not be forgotten.

– The Festival

Of course, they celebrate Christmas in Great Arkham. It’s a normal city, a god-fearing city, and they have more reason to chase away the midwinter gloom than most. Every year, the city council raises a great tree in Independence Square, and decorate the streets with electric lights. Bands play down in the Wooded Island, and there are fabulous balls and parties in Kingsport and the Hotel Miskatonic. For a little while, maybe, it seems as if the oppressive darkness of the city retreats.

Look closer.

Sentinel Hill: The Church of the Conciliator, Great Arkham’s dominant religious sect, celebrates Christmas. It’s the birth of our Lord, a time of joy and hope! On this day, long long ago, God filtered down from the stars and took on human (well, material) form, to bring the good news of the Old Ones to the world.

  • Theology: The nativity readings in the Arkham City Cathedral are oddly sympathetic to Herod, of all people. There’s the unsettling implication that the birth of the saviour somehow required the sacrifice of many, many other children.
  • Streetwise: Attendance at mass over Christmas is obligatory, even if one doesn’t regularity visit church. The priests take note of those who refuse to celebrate this holiest of days. Why, ungrateful people who can’t even go to mass at Christmas don’t deserve to see the New Year…

Old Arkham: The wealthy families of Old Arkham host elabourate banquets and feasts, bringing the whole family back together for one night at least. Christmas is a time for renewing old vows and bonds of loyalty, and for bringing wayward scions back home.

  • Bargain: There’s a little shop on Go-by Street that sells the most marvellous Christmas decorations, handmade twists of glass and silver in the shape of stars and branches. Hang them from your tree, and your home will be protected for the season at least. They’re expensive, though, and there’s a waiting list as certain wealthy families buy a new one of these… charms every year. Maybe if you’re lucky, you can still get one – or borrow one with Filch…
  • Medicine: No-one dies in St. Mary’s Hospital at Christmas. It’s not some seasonal miracle, though – it’s something older and darker. Those who succumb to illness or injury on the 25th of December linger on in defiance of all medical science, and mutter in strange tongues as if some other force speaks through them.

University District: The university closes for the holidays, of course, so the storied halls and lecture theatres of Miskatonic are deserted. Most staff and students go home, leaving only a few lonely souls or bachelor professors to haunt the campus.

  • Library Use: There’s a book related to Ithaqua the Wind-Walker in the Orne Collection. Well, there’s sometimes a book on Ithaqua there. The tome only manifests on the coldest of nights around Midwinter. Read it if you dare, but each page you turn drops your internal body temperature by a degree or so.
  • Oral History: All the students go skating on the frozen Crane Pond during the water. There’s a campus tradition that if you’re on track to fail your exams, the ice will crack and break beneath you when you step on it, as if the Pond weeds out unworthy students.

Westheath: It’s hard for Christmas cheer to penetrate the grey skies and tomblike tenements of this district, but it’s here that the most honest celebrations of the season may be found. The people here light candles and place them in the windows of their apartments as a sign of defiance against the Mythos. Each morning, the elders of the community rise before dawn and walk the dark streets, checking every window. If a candle’s missing, does that mean that a family has succumbed to despair? Have they been taken by the Transport Police or some other dark force?

  • Biology: Christmas is obviously a busy time for Gardner Industrial Farms, where they churn out truckloads of obscenely large turkeys. They don’t have time to fatten the birds through conventional means, so they give the birds triple doses of the vitalising light from the patent Whipple lamps. Workers then enter the building and weed out the mutant birds, the ones whose cells… reacted to the Whipple lamps in an unwholesome fashion.
  • Streetwise: Christmas is hard for many families in this poor district; loan sharks working for the Malatesta family are always eager to help out. Nothing’s more useful to the criminal gang than an honest man without a prior record who’s unknown to the authorities. Want to give your kids a Christmas they’ll remember? The Malatestas can help…

Dunwich: Snow blankets the backroads and thickets of Dunwich, making travel difficult. Most people bunker down for the season, staying close to home. They have stories here – brought from the old world, they say – about Father Christmas and his elves. Things creeping through the woods, lithe and pale and leaving no tracks. A huge figure, white-bearded, his coat splashed with red, astride (or one with) his horned mount, following after his hunting beasts. No, it’s best to stay close to home at Yule in Dunwich, and leave offerings on your doorstep so nothing slithers down your chimney.

  • Oral History: Snowed in at the White Stone roadhouse, the investigators spend Christmas stuck with a bunch of strangers. Tongues loosened with port and mulled wine, each stranger relates a tale of horror and mystery… (aka, a one-shot flashback using pregenerated player characters).
  • Electrical Repair: The mighty turbines of the Olmstead Dam provide electricity for all the lights and amusements in the city. From the top of the dam, one can see the city blazing with seasonal illuminations… and when the turbines skip, the whole city flickers for an instant. It’s as though the dam’s transmitting messages to the streets, subliminal signals articulated in patterns of darkness and light.

Northside: Northside’s thronged with shoppers and revellers at this time of year. Plunge into those anonymous crowds, cast off your individuality, and join the dance of consumption!

  • Forensics: These bones recovered from Christchurch graveyard have toothmarks, suggesting that someone ate the corpse. What’s really disturbing, beyond the mere fact of the cannibalism, is that there are several different sets of toothmarks, implying that a whole family feasted on the deceased…
  • Physics: A misfiring Yithian machine buried deep under Northside triggers around midwinter, projecting its victims into the past, present and future for brief jaunts before returning them to their point of origin. The investigators are hired by an old and miserly businessman who’s experienced two such time-jumps already, and wants them to find a way to stop the machine before he’s forced to confront the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Salamander Fields: Here in the oldest, darkest heart of Arkham, they do not speak of Christmas. It is the Yuletide, and it is celebrated by descending into wet, dark tunnels that glisten with green flame. There are lights in the deserted houses, and strange spiked growths that might resemble Christmas trees at a distance, but do not mistake them for anything safe or festive…

  • Occult: A curious custom practised by an ancient Lodge in Old Arkham – each year, the wealthy members of the Lodge find some poor beggar or hobo and crown him King. They bring him back to their hall, dress him in fine clothes, feed him a meal fit for a king, and then… well, the king returns to the gutter, but is never quite the same afterwards.
  • Bureaucracy: The city’s determined to finish the infamous and long-delayed Dig as soon as possible, and work on the massive engineering project is due to continue through the festive season. Enterprising investigators could infiltrate the Dig site by taking temporary employment over the holidays.

Innsmouth Docks: Swim down, and you’ll soon find there are no seasons in the deep. Winter and summer are things of the surface; the deeps are timeless. So, the Yuletide is of less importance in Innsmouth than in other parts of the city. There are no brightly lit streets down here, and what hangs from windows is limp and damp and weedy instead of glittering tinsel.

  • Credit Rating: The Gilman House committee does host an expensive Christmas charity dinner every year. Since the raid on the House itself, the dinner’s moved to the more upscale function rooms at the Devil’s Reef restaurant. Those cultivating political connections in this part of town are advised to give generously. Especially promising donors may be introduced to certain… elderly individuals who are of great influence in Innsmouth.
  • Craft: Some unlucky children find strange pale dolls under the Christmas tree. The parents mutter to one another in wonder, trying to work out where the gift came from, and how it was placed under the tree in secret. They would be better off keeping a closer eye on their children; the dolls are lures dispatched by the Moon-Beasts of the Black Ships, and if the children are not watched, the dolls lead them off down to the docks to board the waiting ships…

Kingsport: Kingsport is Arkham’s pleasure-garden. It’s more associated with lazy summers and yachting than the dim midwinter, but there are still amusements to be found here. Walk along the promenade, fortified by hot cocoa and roasted chestnuts, and look out at the snowy harbour before visiting a gallery or a Christmas movie. It’s festival time, and strange pleasures might be found down some unexpected alleyway or winding stairs that only appears in moonlight.

  • Oral History: Everyone agrees that the best department store Santa Claus in the city is in Hartman’s Department Store in Kingsport. The jolly old fellow is positively magical in how he enchants the children, and always has the right gift to hand. Who knows what he whispers in their ears, though – and strange to say, in some lights, his face looks as artificial as his fake beard…
  • Art History: A script for a Christmas movie has floated around the various movie studies in Kingsport’s film district for the last few months. It’s called The Snowglobe, and it’s a seasonal tale of weird horror about a man who discovers that his quaint little village is actually a model trapped inside a globe, and he must fight to escape from this picturesque prison. The identity of the screenwriter is a mystery, and it’s rumoured he was visited by the transport police shortly after submitting a draft to AKLO pictures.

Chinatown: This district is a merciful refuge from the Yuletide spirit. Be of good cheer – there’s a place to escape Christmas, even in Cthulhu City…

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A Bookhounds of London rare tome by Mike Drew

Keepers of Bookhounds of London may find themselves growing tired of the same old mythos tomes. How many copies of the Necronomicon can be discovered in mouldy crypts before they become rote? Here then is a real world tome along with possible ways for it to torment your players. An extravagant Edwardian binding, haunted by a terrible curse and linked to the world’s most famous sinking. Unlike Stead and Murray’s Priestess this cursed artefact was actually onboard Titanic when she sailed. This is a tale of high ambition, elaborate bindings and the international book trade. This is the tale of the ‘Great Omar’.

Possibly the most ambitious binding of the modern world (or ever) the Great Omar was a ludicrously fine binding executed by Sangorski and Sutcliffe for John Stonehouse. Stonehouse was then manager of the Piccadilly branch of storied antiquarian bookseller’s Sotheran’s (my own trade alma mater and notably missing from the trade list in Bookhounds). Sangorski was consumed with binding the Elihu Vedder illustrated Rubáiyát. In 1909 he finally convinced Stonehouse who said “charge what you like for it”. ( I am indebted here to Vic Gray’s excellent Sotheran’s history, Bookmen: London, produced for our 250th anniversary. It is highly recommended to the student of the book trade and everyone else as well.)

It took two years for Sangorski and assistants – forwarder Sylvester Byrnes, gold-finisher George Lovett and an (as-usual) unheralded sewing lady – to finish. Perhaps a little gauche for modern (or any) tastes there is no denying the craftmanship, passion, and quality of materials. 5000 pieces of coloured leather were pressed into underlying green morocco along with 1,050 jewels (topazes, turquoises, rubies, amethysts, garnets and olivines). The front cover featured three peacocks with spread tail feathers, the back a lute of mahogany. The front doublure (an ornamental lining on the reverse of the cover) had a writhing snake in an apple tree and the back one a skull (with ivory teeth) with a poppy growing from an eye socket. The work was unveiled for the Coronation of George V; even incomplete it was a wondrous sight. Just as well – there was no buyer. It was marked up at a staggering £1,000 (more than three times the cost of any single volume in the shop) and Stonehouse hadn’t consulted Mr Sotheran before proceeding. The book had to sell.

The book didn’t sell.

In early 1912 trade legend Gabriel Wells offered £900 but was rebuffed. Stonehouse travelled to New York to try other options. The volume was packed and dispatched ready to collect. Unfortunately American customs demanded 40% duty. Books over 20 years old (as the Vedder was) were duty free, but the text was undated. This was seized upon to argue the new binding overrode the text within, making it a new book. It took the Board of the United States General Appraisers to overturn the decision. Meanwhile Mr Sotheran, perhaps upset Stonehouse had failed to consult him before commissioning the piece, refused the duty and the book returned.

Mr Sotheran was tiring of the whole affair. Gabriel Wells would now only offer £650 in light of the customs issues. There was an argument with Sangorski over payment for two years’ work. In a fit of pique Omar was dispatched to the rooms. The prevailing attitude may be judged by the biting order that Sotheby’s offer it without reserve. It was finally knocked down for a tragic £405. To Gabriel Wells. Stonehouse maintained the sale was blighted by a coal strike. Wells had the book prepared for shipping on the next liner to New York. It should have shipped on the 6th April but the coal strike disrupted shipping. It left instead on the 10th on the next ship, the RMS Titanic. The ‘Great Omar’ still resides 400 miles off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

Legend holds the book was cursed – perhaps because of the peacock feathers, unlucky in some cultures. Certainly it seemed for Sotheran’s at the time, and for curse proponents the death of Sangorski by drowning 7 weeks after the sinking is apposite. Twenty years later Stanley Bray (Sutcliffe’s nephew) recreated the binding in his spare time from original drawings. The war interrupted him and the uncompleted work was stored in a metal-lined case in a bank vault on Fore Street…where it was bombed. The first bomb of the Blitz fell on Fore Street. The building above burnt to the ground. The recovered metal case was intact but the book was cooked to a congealed mass. Inevitably Sangorski’s bindery was untouched for the duration of the war. Bray retrieved the jewels from the ruined binding and finally completed a third effort in 1989, which was presented to the British Library. To date the BL has resolutely refused to hit an iceberg. John Stonehouse died young at 72 surrounded by family. George Sutcliffe died in 1943, 30-odd years after the iceberg. Cecil Sotheran was run down crossing Constitution Hill…16 years later.

But away with mere fact!

This is not merely a cursed tome written by an Arabian mathematician. It is a fabulously-bound cursed tome produced by one of the greatest binderies in London at the behest of one of the greatest antiquarian booksellers. It is writ large in book trade lore and would still be a legend for any 30s Bookhound.

So if cursed, who cursed it? The peacock recalls Tawûsê Melek , Peacock Angel of the similarly-Persian Yazidis. Better though to avoid Lovecraft’s racist characterisation of them as “Persian devil-worshippers”. Perhaps start from the premise of sea-born disaster and assume the Cthulhu cult is behind this. The binding acts as focus for a Summon Watery Doom spell. Who was the target? Gabriel Wells? Harry Widener (probably carrying it for Wells with his own books)? Stead? How many cursed items can one man be associated with before we call enemy action? The Titanic was a target-rich environment for those seeking historical conspiracy. More on possible targets could be mined from the Suppressed Transmission “A Night to Embroider” by some fellow named Ken Hite.

The Bookhounds then are lucky enough to get a great deal: fine peacock bindings in a seeming job lot – all-too-conveniently they have buyers for some already. All of the names on their list are high-powered (at least in the occult world) and they start turning up dead. The Constabulary may not always be the most imaginative, but they are notoriously thorough. So many deaths in one field (and linked to one shop) will turn the head of even the most staid copper. Can the shop get out from under their watchful gaze? How did the cult get their client list? How long can they keep the books before the shop is hit by disaster? What will they do to make a profit on the remaining works? The curse might be lifted by damaging the bindings – but what will that do to the price?

Of course the book should never have been onboard in the first place. Is it more terrible that so many perished to kill one person or that it was all a great screw-up? Was this just the equivalent of a terrorist bomb, producing souls for harvesting? Perhaps it is a hungry entity we seek, dwelling in the shrine created for it. This might explain the way peacocks became a “fetish” in Sangorski’s binding work. Stonehouse recalled this in the 1929 Piccadilly Notes (Sotheran’s part-catalogue, part-magazine). He thought Sangorski’s “dreams must have been of oriental lands and colours which he had never seen” – maybe they could only be called colours at all by analogy? Evidently Sangorski became similarly obsessed with Kismet, then playing at the Garrick. He went several times and it had an “almost intoxicating effect”. He made copious notes in the margins of his programme for future bindings – finding these might reveal information about other book shrines.

Could a certain (un-dying) blasphemous Arab writer lurks behind the mask of Omar? Khayyam was an astronomer and mathematician after all, solving cubic equations with geometry. Lovecraft uses Fitzgerald’s metre and rhyme-pattern for his ‘That is not dead…’ couplet. Perhaps a specific translation was needed to unlock the poem’s secrets? Dr John Potter, according to The Times a translator of the Rubáiyát, vanished from Castletown on the Isle of Man in 1923. His body washed ashore at Auchencairn on the Solway Firth one month later. Taken by Deep Ones to produce a new translation? It may be the translation reveals truths in the illustrations. Vedder was interested in occult imagery but claimed he was not learned in “occult matters” instead “I take short flights or wade out into the sea of mystery which surrounds us” (The Digressions of V). That sounds horribly close to those “black seas of infinity” – was the thing inspiring Sangorski at Vedder’s shoulder years earlier? If the two elements are combined in a peacock binding the reader can open dimensions through cubic geometry. The Titanic was not sunk to kill a person, it was sunk to destroy this book.

If this is the case the likely suspects are the true face behind The Church of the Cult of Omar. Founded in The Pas, Manitoba in 1921, during the province’s 7-year flirtation with prohibition, it was inevitably suppressed by a humourless government only a few months later. A new convert testified that the church was only founded to claim liquor permits to obtain wine for “sacramental purposes”. There are perhaps echoes of the suppression of the Starry Wisdom in America only a few years later, although in a somewhat more low-key Canadian manner. No doubt a new chapel could be found in the home of some Bright Young Thing with protruding eyes.

Who sank the ship though? There is one organisation capable of such a dramatic act. According to Amin Maalouf’s novel Samarkand the only manuscript copy of the Rubáiyát also went down with the ship. American scholar Benjamin Lesage retrieved it from Tehran in 1896. It had made its way there after being saved from the inferno of texts after the fall of Alamut. Because of course the Assassins are involved. For this the Bookhounds might accidentally come by a copy of Potter’s manuscript in an auction lot, or an obsessed binder might offer them the chance to back his recreation using the secret text of that lost book. At that point the binder, shop and any client interested become clear targets for the Assassins. This might offer some delightful cognitive dissonance for players who would expect the Order to be the bad guys.

If you want to use the book itself the fact that it lies full fathom five shouldn’t stop you. A seller is hawking the real thing round London. Sure, it’s spent the better part of two decades underwater, fair copy at best, but a legendary piece nonetheless – find another one. Sub rosa sale, linked to a shop specialising in oceanography, the history of oceans (especially lore and mysteries), and a less well-known sideline supplying lost art treasures. Rather than the usual tome as mythos artefact this is a shop using the mythos. The owners have a deal with, maybe are, Deep Ones. They use the access to shipwrecks to supply lost treasures to well-heeled, snobbish and ghoulish collectors. The shop could be rivals, a worrying presence, or (for more pulpy games) a target. If the owners simply use their connections to sell to a specialised market what do the players do about it?

The Bookhounds are approached by a strange client to get him the Omar. He doesn’t care how but he does care price. Do they get into the auction or try more underhanded methods (lifting it from the shop or from the ultimate buyer)? Troublesome auction clients might include agents of the Hsieh-Tzu Fan or the Cthulhu cult, both of whom have an interest in oceanography. If the book was the home of a devouring entity then being trapped at the bottom of the Atlantic has made it very hungry. What will they do when they learn of the curse? Their is still their rival’s batrachian methodology to consider. What do Deep One book runners demand as payment?

 


Mike Drew was lucky enough to learn the book trade at perhaps the oldest still-trading antiquarian booksellers in the world, Henry Sotheran’s. He has since catalogued books (and occasionally antique fishing reels) for a now-defunct auction house, and escapes from the kids by volunteering at the local museum library. The happiest moment in his almost 30-years of roleplaying came when Pelgrane made his job a roleplaying game.

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