“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.

A Trail of Cthulhu scenario hook

When Georgian-era occultist Samuel Chasable first set about assembling his library, he could not help but think of the fate of John Dee’s book collection. Notoriously, the brother-in-law of the Elizabethan seer and statesman let Dee’s volumes fall into the hands of rivals while the great man journeyed to the continent. Chasable resolved that this would never happen to him. He learned, as his very first spell, a mere cantrip, a trifle, that would alert him should any unauthorized person lay a pilfering hand on any of his precious books.

As did many who went before him, Chasable soon understood that more momentous magics required pacts with otherworldly entities. Tipped into his copy of the Testament of Carnamagos, he found a spell to contact the Crawling Man. Assuming this to be a demon, he strode to a suitably wooded portion of his estate to perform the summoning. The Crawling Man turned out to be a figure of sticks and leaves that moved about in a disquieting quadrupedal fashion. In a flash of insight, Chasable saw that this being was far more than a demon, but was rather a god capable of taking a thousand forms. So he asked the being to make him physically immortal: impervious to all harm, including the effects of aging. The Crawling Man agreed; he would have need of Chasable in a future he considered imminent, but a mortal might not.

After many sinister exploits, in which Chasable shrugged off assassins’ bullets (pictured) and walked unharmed across the floor of the Mediterranean, the Crawling Man came to him and said it was time for him to enter a period of quiet repose. Though reluctant to withdraw from mortal affairs, Chasable could hardly refuse. The Crawling Man gave him time to sort his affairs. Wishing to retain access to his books when he returned from indefinite slumber, Chasable had a lead vault constructed and buried beneath his London manor. He made a similar underground chamber built for his physical form, which would fall into suspended animation at his Somerset estate.

That’s the past…

In 1936, extension of the London Underground’s Northern line leads workers straight to Chasable’s book vault. Perhaps fortunately, the diggers do not turn over the contents over to the British Library. Instead money changes hands and the books make their way to a specialist dealer for profitable disposal.

If you’re playing a Bookhounds of London game, that bookseller might be a PC.

Regardless of who starts to sell the books, the cantrip against book theft wakes Chasable ahead of schedule. He busts from his vault and resolves to take sorcerous vengeance on anyone interfering with his books. Then, assuming the Crawling Man takes a while to catch on, he reckons he might as well see what further mischief he might get up to in this new era…


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.

Edward_Bigsby_cover_350The flamboyant artist Edward Bigsby pays a call to the Investigators on the recommendation of a mutual friend, but dies horrifically before he can tell them what he needs. Soon afterward, the police question the PCs – another corpse matching Bisgby’s description has been found, with their address in his coat pocket. It does not end there; dead Bigsbys are being found all over London.

Follow the trail of Bigsbys through the bohemian streets of crime-filled 1930s Soho, dodging Chinese triads, Dope Kings, and the Metropolitan Police force to find out once and for all who Edward Bigsby is, and why he keeps dying.

The Many Deaths of Edward Bigsby is a stand-alone Trail of Cthulhu scenario from the pen of Adam Gauntlett (Soldiers of Pen and InkDulce et Decorum Est, and many more).

 

Stock #: PELGT42D Author: Adam Gauntlett
Artist: Pat Loboyko, Miguel Santos, Georgia Roan Type: 27-page PDF

Buy now

One of the joys of writing a whole new Cthulhoid core book (The Fall of Delta Green, and thank you for asking) is attempting yet another take on the old familiar Mythos legendry. The technothriller tone of Delta Green cries out for specifics and details and connections to our real world of war and terrorism, just as the Mythos demands uncertainty and confusion. I have to walk a fine line aiming for the “care and verisimilitude of an actual hoax,” as Lovecraft requires. Sometimes, in my walk, I wind up piling up a little too much verisimilitude, and I have to pare it back somewhat, as indeed I did when I tried a survey of Leng. I should have known better — even Lovecraft famously never pinned Leng down to “Central Asia” or the Dreamlands or Antarctica. So having left only the sparest and most jut-jawed of descriptions in the Fall of Delta Green corebook, I’ve been saving all my Leng for you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Leng Is In The Air

The lore of the “icy desert plateau” of Leng closely resembles that of unknown Kadath in the Cold Waste, and it is possible that they are actually the same location given divergent names in early occult tradition. If Leng is a physical location on Earth, Kadath might be the dimension to which it provides access. More usually, occultists consider Leng to be a “soft place” or “etheric window” in the world’s geometry where natural and Unnatural overlap, or where the one slides into the other. The name likely comes from the Chinese lĕng, “cold,” although some Sinologists argue for a derivation from léng, which can mean either “hilly, steep, rugged,” or “edge, angle.” The Qin emperors destroyed all scrolls and texts that referred to Leng, including the Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan and the Dhol chants.

The ruler of Leng is a monstrous high priest or high lama wearing a yellow silken robe and veil, neither of which quite conceal his amorphous form and grotesque features. The High Priest Not To Be Described dwells in a windowless lamasery in the middle of a circle of crude (or aeon-eroded) monoliths. He sits at the edge of a foul and bottomless well, an echo of the oracular pit of Delphi, and possibly an entrance to the vaults of hellish Zin.

Leng’s other landmark is the “Elder Pharos,” a lighthouse that shoots a glowing blue beam up into the skies, attracting foolish wanderers both mundane and occult. Outside the palace of the High Lama and the Elder Pharos, a few bone-white buildings dot the plateau, likely temples or lamaseries dominating a small peasant population. The lees and crevasses of Leng’s seemingly inhospitable ice desert shelter bloated, unsettlingly sentient purple spiders. They may be the source, or the carrier, of the “black fever” brought out of Asia (“the farther uplands of Thibet”) by the epidemiologist Alfred Clarendon, who perished in a hospital fire while attempting to culture an “antitoxin” for the San Francisco bubonic plague of 1900-1904.

Medieval European travelers described the corpse-eating cult of Leng, locating it vaguely in or beyond Tibet, possibly conflating Leng with the Tibetan plateau of Ü-Tsang. Joannes de Pian (ca. 1245) mentions their cannibalism and calls them “deformed” and “beardless,” William of Rubruck calls them “misshapen individuals” (1253), Marco Polo (1295) says they have “the best enchanters and astrologers that exist in all that quarter of the world; they perform such extraordinary marvels and sorceries by diabolic art, that it astounds one to see or even hear of them. So I will relate none of them in this book.”

According to the Necronomicon, the lamas of Leng wear a winged hound as their soul-symbol. Despite this, occult lore seldom associates them with Nodens of the Hounds, but rather with Ithaqua, Hastur, Azathoth, or Nyarlathotep. Von Junzt even repeats rumors of a cult of Ghatanothoa on the plateau of Leng, possibly a holdover from its Lemurian-era golden age. Between the prehuman Lemurians and the coming of the Ghulistani tribes, the moon-beasts ruled an empire centered on Leng that reached as far as Ib in the land of Mnar; thus, remnant cults of Gol-Goroth or Mormo may survive in Leng.

Swaddled like their high priest, the inhabitants of Leng wear turbans, fur boots and gloves, and enveloping robes. Beneath, they show a wide variety of deformities; medieval and even 20th-century travelers report everything from horns to hooves. Travelers most often describe Lengi as possessing mouths that seem “too wide.” Given the habitual clothing of Lengi, this may just be the unnatural feature most commonly visible to outsiders. The Ahnenerbe expeditions to Tibet (Ernst Schaefer, 1938) and Afghanistan (Inge Kircheisen, 1935 and 1938) took cranial and facial measurements of Nepalese, Sikkimese, Tibetans, Tajiks, Nuristani, Monpa, Kalash, and other peoples of the region, possibly attempting to locate Leng phylogenetically.

The music of Leng, a combination of chants, droning pipes, and wooden hand-clackers, resembles that ascribed to pre-Pythagorean Greece. Some authorities identify the Lengi as Tcho-Tchos; they may be Tcho-Tchos interbred or otherwise altered by the moon-beasts, who ruled antediluvian Leng in theosophical legend. They may also be devolved Lemurians; the ruined Lemurian city of Sarkomand (cf. ancient Sogdian sart-kimand, “way to the cold”) lies in a valley at the base of the plateau.

Looking For Leng In All The Wrong Places

As I mentioned earlier, even Lovecraft couldn’t pin Leng down to just one location. Here are a few of his ideas, and a few of mine, on the topic.

In his Unaussprechlichen Kulten (1839), Von Junzt locates “inaccessible Leng” in Central (or “Inner”) Asia; what few specifics he gives seem to point to northern Turkestan, now divided roughly between Kazakhstan and Xinjiang. Some scholars connect this region to the Aryan tribe called the Tochoa in Greek texts, scattered in the 3rd century CE by Hunnic and Persian invasions. The Tochoa practiced cranial deformation, possibly in an attempt to ape the inhuman Lengi lamas. The legendary inhuman music of Leng may derive from the “singing sands” of Dunhuang in Gansu province.

Across the Tarim basin from Dunhuang lie the ruins of Lou-lan, its name supposedly a Chinese mistranscription of “Krorän,” which its Tocharian (possibly kindred of the Tochoa) inhabitants named it in their language, the “tongue of the shining ones.” The city’s Chinese conquerors described the people of Lou-Lan as resembling “birds and wild beasts,” implying that Lou-lan may have been a colony city of Leng. The icy Takla Makan (possibly from the Arabicized Uighur tarq makan “place of no return,” or the Turkish taqlar makan “place of ruins”) desert swallowed Lou-lan around 330 CE, roughly the same time that archaeologists put the collapse of Ubar in Arabia – another Cthulhoid cult center, identified by some as the outward seeming of Irem of the Pillars.

In the pre-Buddhist Bönpo rolang (“corpse who stands”) ritual, the ngagspa (tantric practitioner) must bite the tongue off a corpse. Alexandra David-Neel reported that the lama Chogs Tsang ate pieces of a dead body seen floating against the current, and that the Dzogschen sect of Tibetan Buddhism believes that eating the flesh of an arhat (enlightened teacher) grants illumination. The connection to the “corpse-eating” cult of Leng is obvious; Leng may be the mystical ancient kingdom of Ling in Tibetan lore.

The Tibetan epic of Gesar of Ling apparently originated in the Amdo region, inhabited by the Tukuhun people. The Tibetans considered the Tukuhun outsiders; the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo destroyed the Tukuhun in 633 CE. In Tibetan, ling means “island,” and the Tukuhun lived on the shores of the Koko Nor, the largest lake inside the boundaries of the People’s Republic of China. Leng may be a mystical island (similar to the Arthurian Avalon) that appears in Koko Nor, perhaps when the Elder Pharos flares azure.

Northwest of the district of Zin in Afghanistan, between the provinces of Uruzgan and Daykundi, lies Mount Leng-e Mulla Aman (elevation 2,916 meters). Von Junzt drew a parallel between the enormous statues carved into the cliff at Bamiyan in Afghanistan (generally thought to represent the Buddha) and the statue of the god carved into the side of Mt. Ngranek: “long narrow eyes and long-lobed ears, and that thin nose and pointed chin.” The face on Ngranek pointed to the inhabitants of Inganok, on Leng’s western border. Sixty years after von Junzt visited Afghanistan, king Abdur Rahman Khan of Afghanistan destroyed the Bamiyan statues’ faces with cannon fire. (Both Aurangzeb and Nadir Shah had attempted to do so in the 18th century.) The Taliban demolished what was left in 2001.

In a possible parallel with Bamiyan and Ngranek, the Italian friar Odoric of Pordenone described two sights during his return from China (1329) in the “Valley of Death,” somewhere in Central Asia. (By contrast with his meticulous records of his outward voyage, his description of his homeward route is chaotic and fragmentary, as though he had encountered something that deranged or at least fundamentally disturbed him.) Not only did he see “swarms of corpses,” but “upon a certain stone, I saw the visage of a man, which beheld me with a terrible aspect.” Did Fr. Odoric enter the ghoul-haunted Valley of Zin at the foot of Leng?

Another candidate for Leng in Afghanistan is Tirich Mir, or Terichmir, at 7,7o8 meters the highest mountain in the Hindu Kush. Its name means “King of Darkness” or “King of Shadows.” Tirich Mir was widely considered the home of peris, djinn, and other unnatural beings, including demons with twisted feet; Gurdjieff hinted at having studied there with an ancient magical brotherhood. It remained unclimbed until a Norwegian expedition successfully reached the peak in 1950.

The Chinese mystical travelogue Shan Hai Jing (4th century BCE) mentions a Mount Ling, which holds all medicines and from which descended ten wu (shamans) in the primordial era. Sinologists consider this a reference to the Wushan mountain near Chonqqing. In 1986, paleontologists discovered 2 million year old primate fossils in a cave near Wushan, including Gigantopithecus (Lemurian) remains.

In 2006, the Malaysian government officially denied the existence of the “Lost City of Gelanggi,” reputed to be the first capital of the Srivijaya Empire (650-900 CE). Sighted in 1881 by Hervey and in 1931 by Gerald Gardner (who later founded Wicca), Gelanggi or Linggiu supposedly consists of black ruined blocks of stone in the jungle. Thai lore calls the city Ghlong-Keow (the “Box of Emerald”), recalling the legendary rubies traded by ships from Leng. Linggiu may be the Tcho-Tcho colony of Lelag-Leng, on the “shore of Leng.”

William Dyer identified Leng as the central Antarctic plateau in his 1931 report on the Miskatonic Antarctic Expedition. Dyer’s thesis was that racial memory and the prehuman Pnakotic manuscripts passed down the name and description of Leng as a frozen plane of horror. Greek and Arab scholars attached that concept to the more familiar (if still inaccessible) plateaus of Afghanistan, and later of Tibet.

Perhaps the last word on the topic belongs to Randolph Carter: “Men reached Leng from very different oceans.”

FASTCAR_350by Victor J Raymond PhD

[Editors’ Note: Victor Raymond acted as a cultural consultant on Trembling Giant, an adventure for Out of the Woods, our forthcoming collection for Trail of Cthulhu.

Victor J. Raymond, PhD, is a sociologist, writer and longtime gamer.  A founding member and Secretary of the Board of Directors of the Carl Brandon Society, which works to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction, he is also the chair of the Tekumel Foundation. He resides in Madison, Wisconsin.]

We live in a world awash in information.  This simple fact has wrought a profound change in how we know things.  It used to be that doing research involved a careful search of a limited number of volumes, stored in a library for precisely that purpose.  Now, the information available through your phone far exceeds what a scholar of the 1970’s would have access to.  But this presents everyone in industrial and post-industrial societies with an entirely different set of problems related to knowing anything – anything at all.  Information by itself is not “knowledge” – no more so than a bunch of facts assembled together constitute evidence for anything.  Rather than having to be carefully trained in making the most of the information we might have limited access to, instead we are confronted with a veritable white-out of data.  Making sense of all of that data – including how to tell when we might not have all of the information we might need – is an epistemological challenge of daunting proportions.  Yet, anyone writing fiction – particularly fiction dealing with real circumstances and historical events – must end up facing this problem head-on.

In John Birmingham’s alternate history novel, Weapons of Choice, first published in 2004, there is a scene in which two U.S. Navy seamen talk about Girl Guide cookies and whether or not they might get some during mail call.  It’s a great moment, but it also happens to be incorrect; there are no “Girl Guides” in the United States – there are Girl Scouts, who have been selling cookies since 1917.  It would be easy to say that a few minutes research on the Internet would have solved that mistake – but it’s still there.  Birmingham is a best-selling Australian author, so he might be excused for making the mistake – but it got past his U.S. editor at Ballantine Books, as well.

I doubt that Birmingham didn’t do any research.  In fact, I am sure he did a lot of research – he has said as much in various online forums and communities about his work.  However, it’s a small but telling mistake in detail like this which can threaten the reader’s suspension of disbelief.  In the past, if an author got something incorrect, the chance of discovery would depend on the scale of the mistake and the accessibility of information necessary to correct it.  Now, it is possible that an error like the one in Weapons of Choice will be caught quickly – and, if sufficiently problematic – have an immediate and negative effect.

But it is one thing to find out that “Girl Guides” are known as the “Girl Scouts” in the United States, and another thing altogether attempting to write realistically about completely different social and historical contexts.  While some have suggested that writers must only write about “what they know” this implies that it is impossible to transcend those differences (and such advice is particularly unrealistic for the science fiction and fantasy author).  This perspective is too restrictive, and also does not recognize that individual writers are themselves not all cut evenly out of a single cultural cloth.  For example, Kazuo Ishiguro’s third novel, The Remains of the Day, is regarded as a compelling depiction of human frailty and social expectations – but this ought not be surprising.  Ishiguro’s family background is Japanese, but he himself grew up in the United Kingdom since the age of six.  This mixture of cultural backgrounds is increasingly common in a world drawn closer together through travel, immigration, and technology.  But not every writer has that background or range of perspective.

So what is a writer supposed to do, in this modern age, to tell a convincing story set in another place and time?  When a writer is working with societies and cultures quite different from their own personal background and heritage, they must turn to other sources to back up their creative work.  For a fantasy or science fiction author, the very fact that such cultures and backgrounds can be made up out of whole cloth might provide a certain amount of shelter from criticism.  But this is a two-edged sword, since invented cultures and societies need to be believable on their own merits, just as much as depictions of real societies must meet certain standards of veracity.  John M. Ford, in his tour de force Star Trek novel, The Final Reflection, recognized this in the “Translator’s Note” at the beginning of the book:

“An old Italian proverb runs traduttore, traditore: the translator is a traitor.  And it is nowhere more true than when translating between races from different stars; still, I have tried to speak as little treason as possible.  For clarity’s sake, certain klingonaase technical terms have been translated as their Federation Standard equivalents: thus warp drive, transporter, disruptor, instead of the more literal anticurve rider, particle displacer, vibratory distructor (most literally: the “shake-it-till-it-falls-apart-tool”).”

Other authors, notably Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delany, and Nalo Hopkinson, have also recognized this challenge, and worked to ensure that they not only write believably about what they know – but also about places and times that are magical and different, and yet feel real to the reader.  But even so, sometimes it doesn’t work.  In Jo Walton’s alternate history novel, Farthing, set in a post-war Great Britain at an uneasy peace with Hitler’s Germany, small errors jeopardize the believability of the otherwise excellent writing.  The make of cars driven by some of the characters; where certain towns are located; certain details about parliamentary procedure; even details of coinage – these all conspire against the verisimilitude of the story itself.  So there is no sure way to avoid making mistakes; the author needs to be on constant watch for believability, while knowing that errors will creep in.

In the context of a role-playing game, the problem of “getting it right” is made more complicated by fluid nature of gaming itself.  Mistakes which might jar a reader out of a written story might be more easily glossed over in the descriptions provided to the players during the course of a game session.  Indeed, it might seem easiest to provide relatively little background detail, trusting to the players’ imaginations to fill in the various gaps.  Such an approach is much more problematic than many game masters realize, creating an on-going risk in the game they are running on several different levels.  The first level is simply that there is no assurance that players will know very much about the setting or place, and the game gets shaped more by stereotypes and misconceptions than anything else.  The second level of problem is that it becomes easier to see “behind the stage flats” as the culture and milieu end up lacking depth.  The third level of problem is that the game itself ends up lacking that sense of sub-creation which Tolkien wrote about in his essay On Fairy Stories: it ends up being not strange enough, rather than too strange.  All of this is complicated by the nature of role-playing games partaking of both story-telling and dramatic improvisation.

To add to the creative tension in writing for role-playing games, differences between cultures are especially important.  When you are working within a social context of different cultures such as those of Native American tribes of North America, “getting it right” means stepping away from stereotypes and overly simplistic explanations.  In particular, it becomes necessary to keep in mind the colonial legacy of European colonization of the Western Hemisphere, and the cultural appropriation which is embedded deeply in contemporary popular media, especially in role-playing games.  If possible, the author needs to write believably about both white and Native cultures, as well as any other more fantastic cultural elements required by the fictional milieux of the game.  Therein lies the rub.

If accurately depicting cultural differences themselves were the only test faced by the author, that would be challenge enough.  But we’re not done; the Cthulhu Mythos itself presents a requirement of fidelity to the source material.  Striking the balance between differences between actual cultures while at the same time introducing elements of weird horror is difficult enough for the writer; “getting it right” becomes a perilous balancing act – and yet absolutely necessary to make role-playing believable.  It is a Gordian Knot, not easily cleft in twain by the author, the game master, or the players – but the reward is in new and unexpected revelations and insights which can enrich the experience immeasurably when the game is actually played.

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