Bookhound_coverBookhounds of London

Kenneth Hite

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

Forbidden Tomes

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?

Terrible Choices

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.

Page XX Map Close Up

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.

Stock #:PELGT16 Author: Kenneth Hite
Art:Jerome Huguenin Format: 184 pg case bound with colour plates

Buy

“The inner world of our subjective life is quite as real as the objective.” — O. Louis Guglielmi, 1943

O. Louis Guglielmi, "Mental Geography" (1938)

O. Louis Guglielmi, “Mental Geography” (1938)

I hardly need to tell you good people about the very excellence of Robin’s (and my, and Steve Dempsey’s) Dreamhounds of Paris. But I suspect it may be something of an uphill fight for more conventionally minded Trail of Cthulhu play groups to suddenly relocate from the darkest alleys of Arkham to the City of Light. And it’s even harder to get players to drop their Tommy guns and eccentric dilettantes for paintbrushes and squabbling weirdo artists.

But what to do? The solution hit me as I took in the magnificent exhibition “America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s” at the Art Institute of Chicago. (Said exhibition has closed in Chicago, but will travel to the Musee de l’Orangerie in Paris and the Royal Academy in London.) Or more specifically, a painting by O. Louis Guglielmi hit me, a deceptively bright splash of American Surrealism entitled “Mental Geography.”

As a quick aside: there were indeed lots of American Surrealists about, especially after 1935, when Salvador Dali tours New York and demonstrates that Surrealism can in fact be made to pay. Dali anchors a massive 600-work exhibit, “Fantastic Art, Dada, and Surrealism,” curated by Alfred Barr at the Museum of Modern Art in December 1936, one that also launches a good number of American Surrealists’ careers. Most American Surrealists (just like their European contemporaries) are loudly of the Left, and indeed swap out the sexual and “automatic” themes of the Surrealist mainstream for a “Social Surrealism” of explicitly political imagery. This perhaps explains why they don’t open any gateways to the Dreamlands in the “default” setting of Dreamhounds — but a group of players who decide to take on the roles of Walter Quirt, James Guy, Peter Blume, David Smith, Joseph Cornell, Roberto Matta, Boris Margo, Federico Castellon, or Francis Criss have my eager blessing. (Sure, Europe has Sex Hitler. But America has Mussolini-in-the-Box.) Someone can even play gallery owner Julien Levy, or Dali during his New York sojourn. And someone should definitely play O. Louis Guglielmi.

The Doom That Came to Brooklyn

“Brooklyn Bridge is by the process of mental geography a huge mass of stone, twisted girders and limp cable.” — O. Louis Guglielmi, placard exhibited alongside “Mental Geography” (1938)

Osvaldo Louis Guglielmi was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1906, the son of an Italian orchestral musician. (Did your ears just prick up twice? Mine did.) The Guglielmis moved to New York’s Italian Harlem slums in 1914, and growing up amidst immigrant poverty turned young Louis definitively leftward. However, he applied himself to study at the National Academy of Design and the Beaux-Arts Institute from 1920 to 1925; in 1927 he became a naturalized citizen, eventually opening a studio in Chelsea at 165 West 23rd Street. An early fondness for Precisionism warps when he sees an exhibit of Giorgio de Chirico paintings in 1933; from that point on he becomes a Surrealist, or as he is often dubbed, a “Magical Realist.” For the remainder of the Thirties, he paints murals for the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration, traveling all over New York and gaining an instinctive understanding of the city’s true artistic and secret geometries: its mental geography, if you will. He keeps walking, and painting, and observing: his “South Street Stoop” (1935) shows one of the many seemingly innocent “hopscotch” diagrams kabbalistically chalked in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood. The WPA also commissions more conventionally framed works, including Guglielmi’s “View in Chambers Street” (1936), depicting a dejected family in a despairing cityscape — beneath a bright yellow sign, as it happens. Guglielmi’s canvases appear in Barr’s show in 1936, blending morbid death imagery, bleak urbanity, ground-down proletarians, and looming buildings in odd perspective.

And then, somehow — Egyptian childhood nightmares? Half-remembered Erich Zann compositions? Delayed-detonation de Chirico? — Guglielmi finds the Dreamlands. But this is not the automatic, random-walk method of Louis Aragon in 1923. This is a furious, politically charged march driven by his hatred of Fascism and by the terror of the news out of Spain as Franco bombs and breaks through the Republican lines. Unfortunately, Guglielmi doesn’t know (enough?) about the depth and direction of the gateways that Robert Suydam and his Mormo cultists opened beneath Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood in 1925, destabilizing the megalopolisomantic currents of the city. Visions flow into his art: two of Mormo’s thousand faces appear on the (putrefactoid, cannibal) nuns in “Sisters of Charity” (1937), for example. In November 1938, in the psychic aftershock of Orson Welles’ hoax invasion from Mars, Guglielmi mounts a solo show at Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery in Greenwich Village. Here, he shows “Mental Geography” for the first time. And he blows a hole into the Dreamlands.

The hole opens in/behind/under/around the Kruger Diner at East New York and Atlantic Avenues in Brooklyn, but the Social Surrealist nightmares walk everywhere from Chelsea and the Village to Flatbush and Gowanus. Tunnels that weren’t there before have been there since before the Dutch came; weird ultraviolet arcs float across the sky; street lamps become hacked-off stakes; more Mormo-ite nuns grow out of blisters on the sidewalk; sensitive passersby (such as the friends of the Investigators) see a pelvis hanging on the wall in midair. (Guglielmi eventually tries to combine or contain these phenomena or their memory or their potential in “Terror in Brooklyn” (1941).) Coffins pile up near tenements, Maypoles teeter above the street decked with food and infant corpses, furniture stacks asymmetrically and threateningly, skull-faced men and naked women appear in shadowy porches, funerals emit shafts of yellow light, wreaths bedeck buildings. You can’t go too dark and despairing for Guglielmi: “If you contemplate adding to the suicide rate, we recommend this picture for your guest room,” as one critic said of his painting “Testaments.” Eventually the buildings deform as perspectives elongate. People with nothing to lose, lose it anyway as the city begins to bulge blank walls, extend phalangist shadows, and shrink the pitiable folk under its gaze.

On a slightly less morbid note, a fish-filled brook appears under a nearby elevated train, a stochastic tributary of the River Oukranos.

Artistic-minded Investigators (artists or dilettantes ideally) or their Wilcox-ish NPC friends should eventually be able to connect such apparitions and phenomena as the Bomb-Angel of the Proletariat, the Skyscraper Harpist, the Cable Knight, and the Gallows Dancers to specific images in “Mental Geography,” and hence to Guglielmi. They may still feel baffled, especially if you’ve dropped a lot of juicy and dangerous imagery on them, or provided lots of leftover Red Hook juju. If so, you can grant an appropriate Investigator (a pilot or an artist, a soldier or an architect) an informative hallucination overlaying the Brooklyn Bridge with Guglielmi’s nightmarish vision. That night, they follow the purple skies into Dream. From that revelation it becomes a matter of retracing Guglielmi’s footsteps earlier in 1938 and mapping them to the madness creeping out of Brooklyn.

The hole doesn’t have to open all at once, or even all at Guglielmi. Any Dreamhounds monster or phenomenon you’ve wanted to introduce into your conventional Trail of Cthulhu game can appear as a harbinger, or as a level boss, before the Investigators get anywhere past Crown Heights. Or you can use the hole as a way into the Dreamlands for a few Dreamlands adventures before closing it down, as an opportunity to guest-star Cocteau and his ghoul friends, or as a way to bring your Paris Dreamhounds over to America for a few weeks in the winter of 1938-1939.

By way of an epilogue: The city tears down the Kruger Diner shortly after Guglielmi paints “Terror in Brooklyn,” putting up a new five-level transit crossing and an underpass. Guglielmi serves with the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II from 1943 to 1945. After the War, he rejects Surrealism, attempting to combine his old Precisionist tendencies with Cubism, and teaching faultless painting techniques at the New School for Social Research. A few stray de Chirico obelisks and skulls creep into “Solitudes” (1946) and “Job’s Tears” (1946) but he conquers them in increasing abstraction and flatness. He dies at age fifty in 1956, shortly after taking a visiting instructorship (and showing a retrospective of his works) at Louisiana State University. Cthulhu cult or Dreamlands blowback: there’s no way to be sure. Except to Investigate, I guess. Who’s up for Andy Warhol’s Factory as a Fall of Delta Green firebase, investigating (and instigating) mysterious Happenings and deploying the commercial against the unnatural? Now, let’s not always see the same hands …

 

 

A Dispatch From Cthulhu City4_bookshop

Cults are a major part of Cthulhu City. The setting mashes Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth and Kingport together with the Mythos’ other great cities – the City of the Elder Things, the City of Pillars, Carcosa, Pnakatos, Rlyeh, the Marvellous Sunset City of the Dreamland – and each of those cities has its own age-old cults and secret cabals. In Cthulhu City, the cults all vie for power and the favour of the Old Ones. The city was founded by cults:  Great Arkham remembers Joseph Curwen as its founding father. It’s been ruled by cults: the Esoteric Order of Dagon ran the Gilman House political machine that dominated city politics for decades, and it’s been guided by cults: the Church of the Conciliator is the dominant faith in the city, and although that church traces its origins to a lone preacher in Dunwich in the 1830s, the rites it celebrates are far more ancient.

Even the city’s enemies can be treated as a cult. Look at the recent scandal at Miskatonic University, where it was discovered that the head librarian was also head of a secret cell of anarcho-Communistic radicals who intended to blow up City Hall! Fortunately, a joint investigation by the city police and the FBI thwarted that fiendish plan, but Armitage and some of his co-conspirators escaped capture, and like any cult, they may have allies and contacts in the underworld.

Any of the many non-player characters detailed in Cthulhu City (all using the by-now-familiar Neutral/Villain/Potential Ally breakdown pioneered in the Armitage Files) could be a cultist. Therefore, each cult write up provides a template of adjustments that the Keeper can quickly apply to that NPC’s statistics to reflect their secret cult affiliation. If the Servant or the Gadabout is secretly a member of the Witch Coven, then the Keeper need only check the Witch Coven write up in the Cults chapter to discover that initiates of the Coven gain +2 Health, +4 Magic, +2 Weapons, and the spells Contact Rat-Thing and Open Witch Gate (expect many new spells in Cthulhu City). Of course, that’s only for initiates – adepts and masters of a cult have considerably more potent adjustments to their base statistics, not to mention more far-reaching and subtle ways to strike back at meddling investigators. Any NPC might secretly be a powerful cultist (or even be promoted on the fly by an improvising Keeper).

You can’t fight City Hall, especially when City Hall is a cyclopean temple to nameless evil and ruled by wizards.

Fortunately, each cult has tells that the investigators can discover. Some are obvious – the bulging eyes, bilious skin and bloated physique that make up the Innsmouth look bespeaks a connection to the Esoteric Order. Others are more subtle – what does it mean when you detect the faint smell of formaldehyde, or experience a sudden rush of vertigo? As a foulness shall ye know them…

Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. 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 Trail of Cthulhu, and its many supplements and adventures, in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

 

TombThe streets here are a concrete labyrinth. I try to go one block east, towards the ocean, and find myself crossing another bridge over the grey waters of the Miskatonic, and I’m back on the north side of the city, climbing up towards the civic monstrosity that squats atop Sentinel Hill. Transport Police, their faces hidden by gas masks – to protect against “typhoid”, according to the peeling posters in the subway – watch me as I march past. I don’t dare ask them for directions, and I can’t go back underground. I have to stay on the streets, even if I get lost again. Maybe if I find higher ground, a vantage point… a doorman ushers me in, making a familiar sign with his left hand as he does so, but too late I realise that the building I’ve entered is one of the cryptic and terrible windowless skyscrapers that loom over the city, their tops lost in the oppressive, low-hanging clouds. I cannot go back – I have to climb, struggling up flights of stairs that are clearly not made for any human frame…

Why, I am writing Cthulhu City, now that you mention it. Or rewriting, in parts, as the book has its own ideas about what it wants to be. A sandbox, maybe, where the Pillared City of Irem was lost long ago.

* * *

At Gen Con, I ran two prewritten scenarios: Kevin Kulp’s Valkyrie Gambit for Timewatch, and Ruth Tillman’s Midnight Sub Rosa, which can be found in Out of the Woods. In both games, I screwed up and misread key elements of the scenario (protip: running a game on the day after those Ennie Awards is never going to go smoothly). In both games, though, I was able to recover from my error and keep the game on track. Neither group noticed that anything was amiss.

Confusion & Conflation

In Midnight Sub Rosa, I conflated two locations. There’s one house where the main action of the adventure takes place, and there’s a guesthouse where most of the assembled non-player characters are staying. In my haste, I missed the guesthouse and assumed that everyone was staying in the same place. If I’d noticed my error in time, I’d have simply corrected the players, but a good fifteen minutes of play elapsed between me describing the building, and me realising there was supposed to be a whole separate guesthouse down the road from the country house, and rewinding play kills momentum in a convention game. I had to get ahead of the derailed train while it was moving.  (if you notice a mistake just as you make it, you can correct yourself – “oh, no, wait, they’re not staying here, there’s a guesthouse down the road” – but that’s a very narrow window. Once you’ve spent five minutes in-character complaining about the cramped rooms in the main house, that opportunity’s gone.)

Removing the guesthouse introduced two problems. First, it made it harder for the player characters to sneak around and investigate the various bedrooms. In a six-person con game, though, that problem solved itself: some player characters distracted the NPCs while the others committed a little breaking and entering. The second issue was a bigger one. Midway through the scenario as written, there’s supposed to be a ghoul attack on one of the NPCs as he walks down the isolated tree-shrouded laneway between the main house and the guesthouse. By moving his bedroom into the main house, I’d removed the opportunity for the ghouls to ambush him, and I couldn’t have the ghouls attack the main house midway through the scenario.

The ghoul attack scene is in the scenario to be a sudden visceral shock and to eliminate a particular NPC. It doesn’t need to happen on that laneway. So, I invented a reason for the NPC to leave the safety of the house. I described him as a smoker, and then later had one of the other characters complain about the smoke. Soon, a player character suggested that he and the NPC step outside for some fresh air where they could smoke in peace. They wandered into the gardens… and the ghouls were lurking in the trees nearby.

If the location of the ghoul attack scene was important, then I’d have had to come up with some other solution, but here all I needed to do was eviscerate one particular occult expert. Once I’d done that, and given the players a fright, the game was back on track despite my screw-up about the guest house. The key is to know the purpose of every scene, even if you have to change the setting or content.

The Case of the Missing Villain

In Valkyrie Gambit, I forgot to introduce the villain of the whole adventure. The villain’s supposed to show up in the opening scene, setting up a dramatic reveal at the end. (“It was you all along! Shock! Horror!”), but the players and I were having such fun brawling with mutant cockroaches that I ended the scene without bringing the villain onstage. I could have added another scene where the villain pops in, but it would have stuck out like a strange growth on the scenario’s spine. The shape of the story in a roleplaying game isn’t discernible when you’re in the middle of play; it’s only seen in retrospect, when the players look back and see the sequence of events from beginning to end. In a convention game, where you’ve got limited time and only a handful of scenes, I couldn’t get away with adding a new scene to add a new NPC – it would make the game feel unsatisfying at the end, even if the players didn’t notice in the heat of play, because it would have robbed that opening scene of its purpose. Pointless scenes are always rotten, even if they’re fun in the moment. (There’s a tension between the game that the players are experiencing right now, and the story that they’ll remember and tell afterwards. You can have a really fun, action-packed game, and then discover when you look back on it that nothing actually happened, that it was just running around and rolling dice without any consequence. You can have a perfectly structured compelling story that’s boring and frustrating to actually play through. For a good convention session, both the game and the story need to sing.)

It’s always better to call back and reuse material in a convention game. If the players introduce a concept in scene 1, then try to bring that into a later scene, even if you have to force things a little. In 13th Age games, for example, I’ll happily twist myself into knots trying to work in all the players’ One Unique Things, because it’s more fun for them to have contributed something that actually plays a part in how the story plays out. In Valkyrie Gambit, one of the players decided to play with the Timewatch rules by having his future self show up to help out in that initial fight. That gave me a justification for my replacement villain – it was a time-shifted duplicate of one of the mutant cockroaches, breaking the laws of time by skipping out in the middle of that first fight.

Using the time-shifted cockroach as the villain was the most parsimonious solution – it incorporated two existing elements (cockroaches, and the fact that time travellers can duplicate themselves), so it gave a sense of unity to the whole game when the player characters met the cockroach again in the final scene. It tied everything together. Look for ways to link back to earlier events and ideas, or to echo them.

Distraction With Shiny Clues

Another common landmine – which I gracefully leapt over this year, unlike the steps at the back of the Embassy Suites – is the logical contradiction, where you accidentally say something that breaks the logic of the mystery. You describe, say, an NPC closely examining a weird statue, even though it’s supposed to be locked away in a glass case. In that situation, look for a way to correct the mistake that involves the player characters finding out more information through active use of their Investigative Abilities. You could, for instance, describe the museum porter come back in with the glass case, complaining about how he has to clean it every few weeks because a strange black mold keeps growing on the inside, giving the player character with Biology a chance to whip out her microscope, look at some mold samples and discover that they’re very similar to a toxic mold found in certain Egyptian pyramids or somesuch (the clue doesn’t have to be relevant; it’s there purely to give the players a little reward so they don’t notice the plot bandage you just slapped on.)

Convention games are a particularly manic high-wire act for the GM when they go awry – as everything has to fit into one three or four-hour slot, you’ve got to find a solution to problems in time for that big finale. Always keep your nerve – if you screw up, keep going instead of backtracking. Prewritten scenarios are just suggested routes, they’re maps of what might happen, not strict scripts that you’ve got to follow. If you go off course, keep going and look for another turning to get back on track. Do it right, and the players will never suspect a thing.

“Just as it is almost impossible to be an agnostic in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, so it is difficult to keep from being swept up in the beauty and majesty of the Task Force Alpha temple.”

— Leonard Sullivan, Deputy Director of Defense Research & Engineering, in 1968

There are, in fact, lots of other things happening around the world in the 1960s besides the war in Indochina, but just like the Johnson Administration I find it nearly impossible to tear my attention away from Southeast Asia as I write The Fall of DELTA GREEN. And when the Johnson Administration hands you a multi-billion-dollar above-top-secret surveillance-and-interdiction facility on the Mekong River, you by God make lemonade, son. You’ll need it in the jungle, though not, as it happens, in Task Force Alpha.

Southeast Asia’s Largest Air-Conditioned Building, And Other Miracles of the Age

NakhonPhanomRTAFB1960s

Task Force Alpha is the compound in the lower right (northwest) of the picture.

Both the North Vietnamese and the Americans extended their war into the neighbors’ yards. North Vietnam supplied the Viet Cong with arms and materiel along the “Ho Chi Minh Trail,” which ran through Laos and into South Vietnam. The United States flew combat missions, reconnaissance missions, and every other kind of mission in between out of Thailand. Specifically, out of the Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base just across the Mekong River from southern Laos, a WWII-style airfield scraped out of the paddies by Seabees in 1962. The planes flying out of “NKP” were prop-driven WWII-style (and even WWII-vintage) planes, for the most part: C-47 Skytrains, A-26 Invaders, and A-1 Skyraiders. NKP also hosted a large collection of multi-role helicopters in support of MACV-SOG and other covert ops as well as battlefield evac and air support, and a weird assortment of quasi-civilian aircraft such as Cessnas and the like.

One such plane taking off from NKP was a modified P-2 anti-submarine patrol bomber, which (along with its squadron-mates) dropped 20,000 acoustic, seismic, and magnetic sensors along the Ho Chi Minh trail. (Sensor dropping eventually became the job of Sikorsky HH-53 “Jolly Green Giant” helicopters from the 21st Special Operations Squadron.) Camouflaged to resemble plants and often hidden in the thick brush, the sensors sent a radio signal when they detected noise, movement, or metal in their radius. An electronic-warfare EC-121R Batcat on continuous station overhead picked up the signal, boosted it, and transmitted it to the antenna farm in an isolated corner of NKP. (In 1970, modified Cessna drone aircraft replaced the EC-121 on this station.) This complex was just called “The Project” during its construction in 1967, although eventually it got designated “Task Force Alpha.”

Each sensor’s signal fed into a massive complex of two (count ’em) IBM 360/Model 65 mainframe computers, the same models that plotted the Apollo missions. The Task Force Alpha complex centered on the computer center, inside a cavernous (and necessarily air-conditioned) building kept at positive pressure to escape the omnipresent Thai road dust. Contractors from Harris Corporation and IBM maintained the communications and computer systems, and assisted intelligence officers (including a number of female Air Force officers) in creating a nearly real-time map of NVA operations along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. One witness describes seeing “trucks roll down the Trail in full color, on screens three stories tall.” If this is an exaggeration, it’s exactly the kind of description that both Robert S. McNamara and Fall of DELTA GREEN Handlers can agree to exaggerate together.

Once a convoy of trucks could be plotted with reasonable certainty, Phantom IIs staged from carriers such as the USS Kitty Hawk (often carrying radar-assisted navigation and fire control systems controlled from Task Force Alpha) delivered strikes on target. Except when the system didn’t work, or the NVA played tape recordings of trucks near sensors they’d found, or the strike came too late, or it was a peasant with a water buffalo. The whole operation, called IGLOO WHITE, cost something like $7.5 billion dollars, and destroyed between 15% and 35% of the Viet Cong’s motorized logistics, not enough to prevent the Tet Offensive of 1968 or the Easter Offensive of 1972. (That said, the system worked much better as a fire control “mastermind,” directing as much as 40% of the artillery and airstrikes at the siege of Khe Sanh.) The Easter Offensive, and the general Nixon policy of Vietnamization and retreat, ended IGLOO WHITE in 1972, and Task Force Alpha got disassembled in 1975, its computers unplugged and flown back to the States with who knows what secrets in their 2 megabytes of memory and their miles of magnetic tape and punch cards.

I encourage the interested to pursue the matter further into the Internet’s own Ho Chi Minh Trails, beginning perhaps with this site dedicated to the USAF 553rd Reconnaissance Wing, which has some glorious photos that I wish were free to use because this one is just perfect RPG material. More great photos and information (including oh joy of joys a map of NKP) appear on another site, excitingly and aptly titled Nakhon Phanom During The Secret War 1962-1975.

IGLOO WHITE meets DELTA GREEN

Every secret team in Indochina apparently staged out of NKP at one time or another, from the “Gray Berets” of the USAF 10th Combat Weather Squadron to Operation Phoenix assassins to MACV-SOG to Lansdale’s psychological warfare squads. So of course DELTA GREEN runs operations out of “Naked Fanny,” a.k.a. “the end of the line at the edge of the world.” But how might DELTA GREEN make use of IGLOO WHITE?

  • When microphones along the Trail pick up the sound of inhuman chanting, or Mi-Go buzzing, or any other unnatural noises, a subroutine deep in the computer system alerts a DELTA GREEN team to go in after the airstrike. I cannot emphasize this enough: after the airstrike.
  • Do those strange civilian types with mysterious DoD clearances check the data banks for sounds of the unnatural? Do they keep copies of spells, True Names, or the hateful music of chaotic flautists handy on magnetic tapes for future MAJESTIC acoustic research? Can DELTA GREEN delete those recordings without degrading the operational efficiency of Task Force Alpha — and without getting caught?
  • All those antennas and radar dishes don’t only listen for EW aircraft transmissions. They also pick up strange exhalations from the skies and weird echoes from the ancient hills of Laos. Perhaps there’s a dedicated DELTA GREEN antenna out in the field of masts, one tuned for frequencies of the known unknown, or perhaps the unnatural signals wash out the human sounds of the Trail and DELTA GREEN has to stop them — or gather enough recordings from enough directions that the computers can mask them out going forward. Either way, someone’s going up into the hostile karst cliffs with a lot of cumbersome and delicate equipment — and night on the way.
  • So we have a huge array of sensors hearing the unnatural, transmitting it to the most powerful electronic brains in the world, brains designed and programmed to correlate their contents. Does the call of COBOL turn into something else? A hypergeometric intelligence nestled inside Task Force Alpha, learning to spy on humans, kill humans, call more powerful human weapons to kill still more humans — this can only end with the DELTA GREEN field team dodging cannon fire from a drone-piloted Phantom II while they desperately try to upload a pentatonic kill code through a balky and malfunctioning ACOUSID sensor.
  • Nakhon Phanom makes a great place for DELTA GREEN agents to meet some sort of super-soldier, a real gung-ho type who knows that really understanding the natives, going out into the jungles light and deadly, is the key to winning the war. This puts them on the list to resolve his situation when he inevitably goes rogue at the head of a cannibal Tcho-Tcho cult or worse. No better time for the apocalypse than now, after all.

Deep One_350Hideous Creatures is the Trail of Cthulhu bestiary written by Mythos giant Kenneth Hite in the tradition of the award-winning Book of Unremitting Horror and the 13th Age Bestiary. Creatures are not just antagonists to fight or flee from, they are entire adventures by themselves leaving physical traces, occult clues and madness in their eldritch wake.

Lovecraft created his various “shadowy congeners” because the stories of vampires, werewolves, and even ghosts had become too familiar and too formulaic to evoke true horror. Almost a century after he wrote, his own monstrous races have likewise begun to seem like comfortable story furniture rather than unnerving signals that the world is horrible and wrong.

Our goal with this book is to present a comprehensive look at Lovecraft’s hideous creatures, from as many angles as we can. Our goal is contradiction, surprise, and most especially the uncanny: the recognition of something familiar as something weird. As in the “Gods and Titans” section of the Trail of Cthulhu core book, this book deliberately contradicts itself, blurring boundaries and erasing certainties in the name of the uncanny. In your campaign, these variant truths might be misunderstandings, legends, heresies, or deliberate lies spread by the creatures to lull their foes into a false sense of familiarity.

Status: In Development

An opening scene for Trail of Cthulhu

Dr. Ellis Brock, a medical doctor acquainted with one of the PCs, asks them to consult on a curious case. A young patient, Rudolf Esper, presented himself to Brock exhibiting the telltale symptoms associated with ocular syphilis: damage to the retina, nerves and blood vessels at the back of the eye. Yet Esper, a student at a nearby Lutheran seminary, denies ever having any sexual contact whatsoever. As Brock says and Forensics confirms, it is possible but very unlikely that Esper’s symptoms came about as the result of inherited syphilis. Brock would simply have written off the boy as a liar but for the intensity of his belief in his odd story.

When the investigators speak to him, the sweating, trembling Esper says he was cleaning out the attic of the seminary’s manse prior to the arrival of its new dean. “I found what had to be an old painting or picture, wrapped in cloth. It was covered in dust so I took the cloth off of it to clean it, and to see if maybe it was of interest to the dean. The previous dean had decorated the place with his own pictures, so the walls were kind of bare, you see. Well, I unwrapped the painting and there was this… I can’t describe it… this awful portrait… human and not human. Next thing I remember, I woke up in my bed, covered with sores, and with my eyes looking like this. Already the world blurs. I don’t want to go blind. And I never want to see that terrible painting again.”

Brock takes the investigators aside: he asked the dean, John Mann, about this, and he had his caretaker search the attic. No such painting turned up. Did the boy perhaps hide it somewhere during the period of time he has forgotten?

A Difficulty 4 Sense Trouble test reveals that Esper has a glinting object hidden up his sleeve—one of the doctor’s scalpels. The next time anything spooks him—and trying to take the scalpel away counts—he tries to stab Brock in the neck and then leap through his office’s large window. This scene takes place on the third floor of the hospital. The character who spots the blade can automatically save the doc from injury; Difficulty 4 Athletics otherwise. A separate Difficulty 4 Athletics test grabs Esper before he can jump out the window. Without it, he falls to a bone-shattering death below.

The rest is up to you, and your players…


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. 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 Trail of Cthulhu and its many supplements and adventures in the Pelgrane Shop.

TombThere is – by certain unreliable and maddening accounts, and now by your own dreadful experience – a city on the eastern seaboard of the United States, in northern Massachusetts. You do not recall seeing it on maps when you were growing up, and no-one of your acquaintance ever admitted coming from that place until you found yourself living within its eerie confines. It is a city of windowless cyclopean skyscrapers, of crumbling baroque buildings and ruins that must, impossibly, predate human habitation in this part of the world. At times, you can see remnants of familiar small towns that have grow together into this monstrous conurbation – Dunwich in the west, beyond Sentinel Hill; quaint Kingsport, by the sea; industrial Innsmouth, the engine of trade and commerce; and the city’s heart, Old Arkham.

You know that this city is monstrous.

You know that the city government are in the thrall of – or in league – with alien horrors.

You know better than to go out at night, when the clouds roll in from the sea and shapes move in the sky. You know there are occasional, unpredictable streets that come and go according to some unearthly schedule, that strange black ships dock at Innsmouth to trade with the squat, ugly denizens of that neighbourhood. You know, too, that not all of your neighbours are sane – or human.

But you’re trapped. There’s no way to escape the city.

Because the city is the world.

Cthulhu City is a setting for Trail of Cthulhu, usable for a full campaign in its own right or as a nightmarish intrusion into an existing game. The Investigators find themselves in a strange, corrupted Arkham, a ghastly metropolis. People – humans – live in the city, and seem bizarrely normal on first encounter – their concerns are the same mundane, day-to-day passions and trials of anyone in the modern world – but scratch the surface, and the Mythos spills forth. Motorcars drive down streets lined with sullen-eyed basalt cyclopean buildings raised by no human hand; at night, loathsome and titanic shapes move behind the clouds. It’s a city where priests masked with yellow silk proclaim the majesty of God from the churches; a city occupied by alien powers. The old-money families have names like Marsh and Whately and Curwen, and the worst crime imaginable is defying the will of the living gods.

Humans shouldn’t survive here, but they do, blindly adapting to the horror all around them. Are the Investigators dreaming? Insane? Have they travelled in time? Is this an alternate reality? An illusion? Or have they somehow had their minds swapped with denizens of the city?

Or has it always been this way, and they can no longer deny the truth?

 

 

Status: In playtesting

Cult for Trail of Cthulhu

Ever since humanity stared into the first flames and saw a cause for worship, cults secretly venerating Cthugha have arisen within existing religions to lure the young and fervent to immolation.

In the contemporary west, this pattern manifests in the Cult of Redeeming Light.

Founded by French knight, occultist and serial killer Gilles de Rais after the execution of his beloved comrade Joan of Arc, the cult exists to ritually recapitulate a demonic parody of her burning at the stake. It survived de Rais’ 1440 hanging, perpetuating itself under a mask of Catholicism. It arrived in America shortly after the founding of Maryland, then a rare haven for Catholic worship in the colonies. From there cult leaders, seeking a more widely tolerated outward face for their occult blasphemies, pretended to be Anglicans, and later still members of increasingly obscure Protestant denominations.

By the 1930s, investigators may find cult chapters concealed within Catholic or Protestant organizations. Some chapters exist within genuine congregations; others are made up entirely of cultists.

Cult leaders, often apparent laymen functioning under the noses of entirely virtuous and respectable clergy, prepare for their sect’s key ritual by inculcating religious mania in prepubescent children. Although they find more success with withdrawn, bright, approval-seeking girls, Redeeming Lightists happily accepts susceptible boys, when available.

Leaders prepare their victims by teaching them prayers and hymns that express conventional religious sentiment in the local language, but also contain sounds in a prehuman tongue, binding the reciter to Cthugha. After two to three years of exposure to these insane liturgies, cultists teach the child the final ritual, culminating in the victim’s spontaneous combustion. When the stars are right, the flames transform into an earthly, minor manifestation of Cthugha, which the cultists attempt to bind.

Before their rituals of final apotheosis, targeted children sometimes become conscious of their growing connection to Cthugha. Minds altered, they assume control of the cult, at least until immolation day. Otherwise leadership duties and status within the cult go to the parents who last sacrificed offspring to the cosmic flame. Rivalries within a chapter, between the parents of the last sacrifice and aspirants hoping to take their place with a fresh sacrifice, sometimes lead to its fragmentation or exposure.

Distribution: rare and scattered, but worldwide. Styled to fit each locality’s prevailing faith.

Hooks: a divorced parent approaches the investigators, uneasy about a child’s glassy-eyed new religious fervor under the influence of her new stepfather.

Responses: cultists want to avoid exposure without losing their time investment in the latest candidate for combustion. They use their cover as respectable citizens to hamper the investigation, resorting to carefully organized, deniable violence when PCs get too close to the horrible truth.


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. 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 Trail of Cthulhu and its many supplements and adventures in the Pelgrane Shop.

“The Air Force seems inescapable, like the Eye of God, and soon, you imagine … all will be razed, charred, defoliated by that searching gaze.”

— Mary McCarthy, 1967

“The General is another matter. … In his fifties, he is mild, pleasant, soft-spoken, and not bad-looking … but he has hollow eyes. I don’t know quite what I wish to say here. They are not weak eyes, but they do not have any light in them.”

— Norman Mailer, Harlot’s Ghost, 1991

lansdale_pictureWhen one first encounters the oeuvre of Edward Lansdale (1908-1987), the hard part is deciding what to use for a game scenario. Myself, I’m not sure I could resist bringing him all the way into the Fall of Delta Green campaign as a recurring sage-enigma-antagonist-namedropper in a sort of “is he or isn’t he” role — Delta Green friendly? Majestic-12 field commander? Devotee of the neon memetic gods of America’s id? Let’s take a tour with some of his highlights.

Lansdale begins, like all great dubious GMCs, as a heroic OSS agent fighting the Axis. After the war ended, he stayed on in the Philippines as a liaison between the U.S. military (he switched his Army major’s rank for an Air Force captaincy in 1947) and the Philippine government, eventually using his advertising skills (Lansdale had been a successful ad man in Los Angeles before the war) and a few million CIA dollars to shepherd the virtually unknown Ramon Magsaysay into the Philippine Presidential palace. Lansdale also wound up assisting the Philippine government’s counterinsurgency effort against the Huk rebels from 1949 to 1953, when the CIA transferred him to Vietnam.

Lansdale spent four years running similar psychological warfare ops in Vietnam, where President Diem ignored his advice on plausible vote-hocusing (earning himself the nickname “Colonel Landslide” after Diem “won” 98% of the vote) and the CIA and the Army ignored his advice on counterinsurgency. (Or so he claimed later.) After a stint at the Defense Department (ended when he resigned rather than help plot the overthrow of his old pal Diem), he rotated back to Vietnam in 1965 as an ill-defined “minister” in the U.S. mission in Saigon. He left Vietnam in 1968. His personal papers and library burned (conveniently?) in a house fire in 1972. In the 1980s, he played mentor and connector to Oliver North, John Singlaub, and other key players in the Nicaraguan contra effort. He died of heart failure in 1987.

Among Lansdale’s many many greatest hits:

  • To remove entrenched Huk guerrillas from a strategic jungle, he first suborned a famous soothsayer to predict “death in the jungle” for that region. Then, he spread rumors that an aswang — the Philippine vampire — operated in that area. Then, the coup de grace: his commandos snatched a Huk guerrilla, strung him up, punched two holes in the man’s throat, then left the bloodless corpse where his fellow Huks were sure to find it. (In a Night’s Black Agents agent’s backstory, maybe Lansdale didn’t fake a vampire attack …)
  • Huk guerrillas on a mountaintop used a nearby village for food and supplies. Lansdale’s psywar team captured a Huk courier from the village and tape-recorded his confession, which was, in Lansdale’s own words, “made to sound as if his voice emanated from a tomb.” [Aaaaah! –KH] The courier was then [I bet. –KH] killed, his body dumped near the village. After the villagers buried him, the psywarriors infiltrated the cemetery and set up sound equipment, to play the eerie “undead confession” of the courier at full volume, at night. The villagers evacuated their haunted town, and the Huks starved.
  • When his Philippine patrol killed and beheaded a Huk sympathizer, Lansdale picked up the head and began shouting questions at it, slapping it when it “refused” to answer. Eventually, his men told him “He’s dead, he can’t talk,” to which Lansdale replied “He’d talk soon enough if you hadn’t cut his damn head off!” Lansdale later claimed this was to prevent his men mutilating the dead, at least in a non pretend-vampire capacity.
  • In Vietnam, the Diem government wanted to encourage mass migration from the Communist North to the South. Lansdale assembled an almanac full of horoscopes and predictions, all forecasting bad things for the North. One prophecy targeted at Vietnamese Catholics urged “The Virgin Mary is going South.” To make sure his targets took the almanac seriously, he gave orders not to give it away but to sell it for the local equivalent of about 50 cents: what people buy with their own money, they’re more likely to value and thus to believe.

Along with necromancy and fortunetelling, Lansdale was a big fan of the power of projected images. He made successful propaganda films, selling the war to both Vietnamese and American audiences. His teams showed Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons to the children in the Philippine villages they entered. While attached to the anti-Castro Operation MONGOOSE, one of his (unproduced) brainwaves was to holographically project the Second Coming of Christ above Havana to terrify the Communist soldiery. Lansdale became larger than life, almost literally: the model for “Colonel Terryman” in Jean Lárteguy’s Yellow Fever and “Colonel Hillandale” in Lederer and Burdick’s The Ugly American. He thought (mistakenly) that he was the model for Alden Pyle in The Quiet American, and subtly redirected the film’s director Joseph Mankiewicz into detourning Greene’s novel into support for the anti-Communist effort.

But it gets even better. One “Philip Jeckyl” wrote pornographic spy stories starring “Lansdale, of the Army Air Force,” and Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia wrote, directed, and starred in a 1968 spy movie in which he defeated and killed an American agent named “Lansdale.” (The name of the movie, by the way, is Shadow Over Angkor, for anyone looking for a campaign title.) Sihanouk based the film on an attempted coup against him by governor Dap Chhuon uncovered in February 1959, two weeks after Lansdale had visited Chhuon on a no-doubt unrelated matter. In 1991, Oliver Stone depicted Lansdale in his film JFK as “General Y,” one of the “three tramps” on the grassy knoll and a key player in the assassination.

So it’s this sense of immense, hidden iconic figures working behind the scrim of the Cold War that makes me pick this last one as my best-of-all Lansdale story.

Their Eyes Were Watching God And Vice Versa

eye_of_lansdaleAs early as World War I, fighter pilots would buzz the enemy positions and shout threats at the soldiers below: “We see you, and we’ll tell the artillery where you are.” During WWII, Lansdale headed a team that looked for Japanese proverbs which could be redirected jujitsu-style into airdropped leaflets or radio broadcasts: “The man who makes the first bad move loses the game” was a favorite. But an even more personal touch was better.

In the Philippines in 1951, Lansdale read a report from one of his operatives in the field, a psywar officer in Colonel Napoleon Valeriano’s 7th Brigade Combat Team, the wonderfully named “Skull Squadron.” In a Piper Cub above an escaping Huk detachment called Unit 17, the quick-thinking operative grabbed a bullhorn and shouted down at the Huks, calling them by name (“yes, you, Pepe, and Ramon, and Carmelo, and Baby”) and repeating details from the various briefings he’d received about that unit’s background. Then he completed his call-out with “And to our friend in Unit 17, our thanks for your helpful information!” Unit 17 held a number of fatal self-criticism sessions shortly thereafter, and Lansdale decided to expand the methodology.

Lansdale’s version of the story is a wonderful combination of Walt Disney, Dan Draper, and Aleister Crowley:

“The name of this technique, the ‘eye of God,’ reminded me of the ancient Egyptian practice of painting watchful guardian eyes over the tombs of the Pharaohs. … Recalling its appearance, I made some sketches until I recaptured the essence of its forbidding look [Aaaaah!! –KH] and I handed over the final drawing to the Philippine Army with suggestions for its use.”

Political officers would drive into towns that had an active Huk underground, and announce over the loud-hailer that “God sees all traitors,” or something similar. That night, the psywar teams would enter the village and paint or posterize the walls with Lansdale’s Eye design, in the best case only hitting the walls opposite the homes of suspected Huks. Ideally, every Huk sympathizer would awake to see an All-Seeing Eye staring in his window. As Lansdale put it in his memoirs: “The mysterious presence of these malevolent eyes the next morning had a sharply sobering effect.”

No doubt.

Lansdale must have lost connection with the Eye at some point. Possibly his South Vietnamese intelligence protégé Pham Xuan An stole it — An, it turned out, was a Communist Vietminh agent. (An also went to community college in Orange County from 1957-1959, perhaps his own attempt to back-trace the secret to Lansdale’s Hollywood goëtia.) Lansdale’s career in Vietnam is full of these weird Lovecraftian-via-Tim Powers details, a sorcerer trying desperately to return to power. (Even in WWII, he made a point of interviewing ichthyologists, which has to set Cthulhoid alarm bells ringing.) Lansdale began training dogs to watch for disturbances at houses under surveillance, and studied traditional Vietnamese geomancy. From 1965 to 1968, he asked his visitors in Saigon to sing folk songs for him, recording hundreds of hours of tape. This is where the Agents come in, tools for Lansdale’s attempts to find a new Key. He doles out (Doels out?) lore and hints, perhaps provides a ritual or two, and sends them into the jungles or up the mountains to look everywhere … until they see Something looking back.

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