A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Continuing from last month, we look at the Dreamhounds of Paris player characters who survived to the 1960s and how they might make cameo appearances as sources of information in The Fall of Delta Green.

Agents seeking Giorgio de Chirico (1888- 1978), painter of eerie, depopulated landscapes strewn with Classical debris, find him in his home near the Spanish Steps in Rome. Still busily at work on new canvases, he long ago abandoned his so-called metaphysical style, no longer wanting anything to do with the Dreamlands. Should agents show up brandishing one of his old paintings, he declares it a forgery. Ironically, it may be a forgery of his own creation, as his old style commands higher prices than his current, Rubens-inspired work, and he sometimes pays the rent by dashing one off and signing an old date to it. Art might spot the fraud, giving the group leverage to gain the info they seek from him. He may confess that he still occasionally slips back to the Dreamlands, where he tries his best to revert it to its pre-surrealist state. Nowadays that means removing the Oldenburg stuffed hamburgers and the field of Warhol electric chairs.

Previous to his death in 1968 at 81, agents can locate the cerebral granddaddy of conceptual artists, Marcel Duchamp either in the Greenwich Village New York studio where he secretly putters away on new projects, or at home in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. Age has left undimmed the sardonic twinkle in his eyes. Prying information from a reluctant Duchamp may require an agent to lose to him at chess (not a difficult feat), followed by Flattery of his playing skill. The old man might be lured back to the Dreamlands, doubtless in the dream-form of his female alter ego Rrose Sélavy, by the opportunity to play a Grandmaster there. Duchamp remains fast friends with Man Ray, a frequent visitor at Neuilly-sur-Seine.

After a lengthy sojourn in Sedona, New Mexico, the German-born painter, collagist and bird avatar Max Ernst (1891-1976) moved back to France. The agents find him working in his Provence studio alongside his American wife, Dorothea Tanning, also a surrealist painter. Finally financially secure, he ruefully recalls the hunger and occasional danger of his Dreamhounds days. Having once painted a gruesome protective mural to aid his late friend Paul Éluard against a Mythos entity, he might do the same for the team on an Inspiration spend.

Largely retired from a career devoted to theatrical set design, Valentine Hugo lives modestly in a Paris flat. When visited by agents, she maintains a decades-long pretense, claiming to have abandoned painting and drawing. HUMINT shows that she’s lying—and indeed, a locked room contains countless visual works, including one on the easel right now. Even then she says she has stopped showing her work out of shyness, when really she’s doing it for Pickmanesque reasons. Or the paintings act as a portal to the Dreamlands, Leng or Yuggoth. Or she has enemies trapped in the confines of her delicate linework. Hugo dies in 1968, at 80.

René Magritte lives long enough to see his paintings of impossible realism, suffused with deadpan wit, embraced by the counterculture generation. A man of regular habits even during his interactions with the 30s surrealists, he leads a quiet life with his wife Georgette near Brussels. Though he never admits to participation in any supernatural event, he tells the agents what they want to know by couching his memories as fiction. As his final year, 1967, approaches, agents may note outward signs of his pancreatic cancer. After meeting him, the agents are pursued by faceless, bowler-hatted men clad like Belgian bankers.

The painter André Masson (1896 – 1987) has returned to the automatism he practiced in his surrealist days, now through his present viewpoint as a Zen Buddhist. His new faith tempers his turbulent, anarchic personality. The agents may be drawn to Paris flat after learning of his support for Algerian independence, for which he is arrested in 1961. Leveraging this with the aid of French intelligence contacts may allow them to subject him to Interrogation. Secrets he may harbor include not only his Dreamlands activity but Mythos involvement in the Spanish Civil War, which he witnessed first hand. (Thus allowing you to dragoon your copy of Soldiers of Pen and Ink into DELTA GREEN service.)

Even for DELTA GREEN agents, getting access to the world’s most famous artist isn’t easy. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) might take a shine to them if pick up on and echo his contempt for his longtime personal and ideological enemy André Breton. HUMINT shows that his claims never to have been involved with or influenced by the surrealists include a healthy dollop of protesting too much. Picasso still works feverishly at an array of paintings and sculptures, never mind the critics who call them passé and perverse. An unflinching Stalinist (at least in public), his Party connections may be of as much interest to agents as his long-ago Dreamlands jaunts.

The American surrealist photographer and experimental filmmaker Man Ray (1890-1976) lives in Paris’ St. Germain des Pres neighborhood with his wife, the dancer Juliet Browner. Agents may find him in a retrospective mood, as he is either working on his 1963 autobiography Self-Portrait or still has his notes lying around. Naturally the published version omits all the details of filming an experimental film in a supernatural realm, or the time he was nearly devoured by the disembodied lips of ex-lover Lee Miller near the Nameless Rock. Streetwise may permit agents to filch undeveloped film canisters bearing the legend “les fouet de Dylath-Leen.”

Dadaist poet and performance artist Tristan Tzara has stepped back from public life after antagonizing fellow Communists by supporting Hungary’s liberalization movement. His grudge against André Breton continues: his old nemesis deepened his troubles by agreeing with him too loudly. Tzara accepts the occasional prize for his contributions to poetry, studies the works of 15th century poet-criminal François Villon, and promotes African art. When agents ask for his help, he conditions it on a favor in return. They must banish the invisible entity that pursues him. Half a decade ago, it moved into his apartment in Zurich, trapping him there. Now, his health mysteriously failing, he feels its inexorably nearing presence. He’ll tell them anything—anything—so long as they banish it. Presumably the agents do a partial job at best, as Tzara dies of unknown causes on Christmas of 1963.


The Fall of DELTA GREEN adapts DELTA GREEN: THE ROLE-PLAYING GAME to the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, opening the files on a lost decade of anti-Mythos operations: the 1960s. Players take on the role of DELTA GREEN operatives, assets, and friendlies. Hunt Deep Ones beneath the Atlantic, shut down dangerous artists in San Francisco, and delve into the heart of Vietnam’s darkness. Purchase The Fall of DELTA GREEN in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

In a previous post, I floated the idea of using events from a prior Dreamhounds of Paris series as backstory in The Fall of Delta Green. This column, first in a two part series, dives deeper on that with a series of FoDG plot hooks centered around the historical figures from the earlier book who survived into the 1960s. You can still use these, supplemented by your copy of Dreamhounds, even if you never played that campaign. But if you did, contriving events so that players interact with characters they played in a previous series provides an extra hit of callback fun.

By 1959, death has already taken many Dreamhounds characters off the board. Antonin Artaud, Georges Bataille, Claude Cahun, Robert Desnos, Paul Éluard, and Kiki de Montparnasse have all passed. Granted, this is the Mythos, so your DELTA GREEN agents might still interact with them during seances, in ghoul tunnels, or after raiding a Mi-Go brain case archive.

Another half dozen die during the sixties: having Breton, Cocteau, Duchamp, Hugo, Magritte or Tzara show up alive requires some attention to dates.

The theorist, arbiter and petty tyrant of surrealism, poet André Breton, does not appear as a GMC in Dreamhounds of Paris. Instead he serves as a nemesis figure your players may have some unsettled scores with with. The agents find him at a cafe called Promenade Of Venus near Les Halles in Paris, where he now restricts himself to a single glass of Beaujolais per visit. Though never able to reach the Dreamlands, to his enduring frustration, he may provide secondhand intel on it. Alternately, he dishes dirt on other movement members, most of whom have left him behind, leaving him to boss around a lesser generation of hangers-on. Like many revolutionaries in their dotage, he has grown culturally conservative, decrying current art movements and new technologies. He exempts from his contempt the young leftist tel quel movement, whose leader, Philippe Sollers, treats his disciples, including Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, as Breton did the surrealists.

The agents might involve themselves in a 1963 incident where young poets, in alleged tribute to Breton, set fire to his apartment building door, nearly igniting a gas main and blowing the place to kingdom come. The PCs could gain his trust by intervening. Or maybe they’re the ones who commit the arson, as an act of Intimidation. They could also secure Breton’s cooperation through Negotiation, adding to his collection of antique waffle irons. First Aid (used as an investigative ability) identifies his ill health as chronic asthma. He dies, aged 70, in 1966.

The 1960s see filmmaker Luis Buñuel (1900-1983) embark on the greatest late-career comeback in cinema history. After years spent in the relative obscurity of the Mexican film industry, he shoots the caustic story of a young nun, Viridiana, in 1961. Agents may visit him during its clandestine production in Franco’s Spain. Or they could find him a year later in Mexico, directing The Exterminating Angel, about dinner party attendees who discover they’re unable to leave the room. That set visit must surely lead the agents to a Yog-Sothothian pocket dimension without a clear exit. Other opportunities to talk with Buñuel include the shooting of 1964’s Diary of a Chambermaid with Jeanne Moreau or 1967’s Belle de Jour with Catherine Deneuve.

In his later biography My Last Sigh, Buñuel describes his extremely hazy memory, into which great stretches of his past have vanished. Presumably a side effect of his Dreamlands visitations, the agents may have to overcome this condition with black lotus powder or pineal stimulation from a Tillinghast Resonator.

If looking in the early sixties, agents track down the painter and novelist Leonora Carrington (1917 – 2011) in New York City. In 1963 she returns to her adopted home, Mexico. The agents visit her as she paints her epic mural “El Mundo Magico de los Mayas” (The World of Mayan Magic), which draws on the Popul Vuh and, as you can see by clicking the link, the Dreamlands. Agents may note its dhole-like dragon, tentacular tree, one-eyed cat of Ulthar, as well as its rendition of Yog-Sothoth and a wicker man-esque figure that could represent nearly any other Great Old One. Older and wiser than during her family-defying adventures with Max Ernst on the edge of the surrealist circle, Carrington may require Inspiration before recalling them. She’s no one’s muse, she informs the the agents, but a revolutionary artist with much of her own work left to do.

Filmmaker, artist and writer Jean Cocteau dies in 1963, on the cusp of the sexual revolution that will eventually allow the world to catch up with his unabashed self-realization as a gay man and passionate aesthete. Cocteau recalls the heady events of the 20s and 30s through an opium haze, and can prescribe the combination of dope and sugar he used to make his Orphic descent into the Dreamlands. If his happens in 1960, he must be on the set of his final film, Testament of Orpheus. Though most of Breton’s cabal despised him, he won’t correct agents who call him a surrealist. Should they bring up Picasso, who has recently resumed their old friendship, they see Cocteau’s decades-long unrequited crush flush through his face.

In the sixties Salvador Dalí (1904 – 1989) has achieved the international fame and glory he always dreamed and schemed for, abetted by his formidable wife, the muse and cartomancer Gala (1894 – 1982.) Agents may find these jet-setters in Hollywood, Paris, or the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. While enjoying the freedom of life in Europe and the US, he cozies up to Francisco Franco when at home in Spain. Dalí does this both out of conviction, and his desire to wangle a museum from the fascist leader. The agents may get him to open up by wiring funds to money-thirsty Gala (Negotiation.) Dalí’s rediscovery among the burgeoning counterculture kicks off in 1964. By 68 supple young adherents of the free love generation flock to the beaches of his home in Cadaques. His invitations to model have more to do with his voyeurism than artistic intention. In 69 he signs a deal to create a tarot deck but is unable to complete it, an incident the agents might well take a hand in. To square the debt he incurs by failing to deliver, he resorts to a self-forging scam that will later blot his reputation, signing blank sheets of paper to be turned into bogus prints.

Next month: we conclude with Giorgio de Chirico, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Valentine Hugo, René Magritte, André Masson, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, and Tristan Tzara.


The Fall of DELTA GREEN adapts DELTA GREEN: THE ROLE-PLAYING GAME to the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, opening the files on a lost decade of anti-Mythos operations: the 1960s. Players take on the role of DELTA GREEN operatives, assets, and friendlies. Hunt Deep Ones beneath the Atlantic, shut down dangerous artists in San Francisco, and delve into the heart of Vietnam’s darkness. Purchase The Fall of DELTA GREEN in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Officially, the Delta Green setting never indicates that the Dreamlands underwent a radical transformation at the hands of Parisian surrealists in the 1920s and 30s.

However, in the privacy of their own Gaming Huts, GMs who ran a Dreamhounds of Paris series and want to connect it to their current Fall of Delta Green games might just indulge in a callback or two.

Careers of key surrealists continued for decades after the Trail of Cthulhu period. As I researched Dreamhounds, I saw how events might unfold after its era—an extended continuity I had no place for. Until now.

The period of surrealist involvement with the Dreamlands reaches a natural endpoint when most of its cast of historical characters flees France in advance of the Paris Occupation.

The book hints that their departure triggers a freezing over of the Dreamlands. The few surrealists who remain in Paris, like the heroic and doomed Robert Desnos, use it as an otherworldly transport and staging area for their Resistance activities.

The post-war period finds the surrealists swept aside by art world trends. In Paris, hardcore Stalinists, including recent convert Picasso, shut them out of the avant garde scene. The center of art world gravity shifts to New York, where abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock and color field painters including Mark Rothko take painting far from the psychological and pseudo-mystical imagery that gave Ernst, Dali, Tanguy and the gang the ability to reshape the Dreamlands.

The sleeping realm thaws out but remains static in reaction to the austerity of the artistic times. The surrealists’ bulb-headed automatons and melting clocks might remain. Or maybe the place reverted back to its old Symbolist, Dunsanian imagery, as seen in Lovecraft’s tales.

In the 60s and on into the 70s, simultaneous with Delta Green’s collision with the Age of Aquarius, a new generation of artists takes inspiration from the surrealists, and from pop culture images previously deemed unsuitable for museum consumption. To various degrees, the likes of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Kiki Kogelnik draw on the influence of advertising and entertainment on the psyche. This allows them to enter the Dreamlands, achieve lucidity there, and begin to alter its environment, just as the surrealists did before them. When your Delta Green agents arrive there, they find its skies dripping with Campbell’s soup cans, weeping comic strip duotone, and cotton-candy colored skulls. Sixties rock mainstreams both surrealism and pop art. In the Dreamlands, this development could find ghouls bobbing their head to a Zappa polyrhythm and Hendrix riffs reverberating through Dyath-Leen.

Agents might look to these new oneironauts for information, or seek out the old school surrealists now enjoying rediscovery and a fame that eluded them during their peak creative years.

Next up in See Page XX, I’ll survey the Dreamhounds characters active in the 60s to see what they might be up to when Delta Green drops in on them for a consultation.


The Fall of DELTA GREEN adapts DELTA GREEN: THE ROLE-PLAYING GAME to the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, opening the files on a lost decade of anti-Mythos operations: the 1960s. Players take on the role of DELTA GREEN operatives, assets, and friendlies. Hunt Deep Ones beneath the Atlantic, shut down dangerous artists in San Francisco, and delve into the heart of Vietnam’s darkness. Purchase The Fall of DELTA GREEN in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

a column on roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

On a recent episode of our podcast, Ken and I talked about adapting Dreamhounds of Paris as a GUMSHOE One-2-One setting. In a moment of rash exuberance I promised to provide character cards for some of its key figures. Use these as a model for your own conversion if I failed to include the surrealist your player most wants to portray. You’ll need a copy of Dreamhounds to make use of this.

Luis Buñuel

Two Fisted Filmmaker

Investigative Abilities: [Academic]

Anthropology [Academic]

Art History [Academic]

Assess Honesty [Interpersonal]

Bargain [Interpersonal]

Charm [Interpersonal]

Chemistry [Technical]

Dream Lore [Academic]

History [Academic]

Inspiration [Interpersonal]

Intimidation [Interpersonal]

Languages (Spanish, French) [Academic]

Photography 3 [Technical]

Streetwise [Interpersonal]

Theology [Academic]

General Abilities:

Art-Making (Filmmaker) 2 dice

Athletics 2 dice

Cool 1 die

Devices 2 dice

Disguise 1 die

Dreamscaping 2 dice

Fighting 2 dice

First Aid 1 die

Instability 2 dice

Preparedness 1 die

Stability 2 dice

Starting Problem

Pugnacious

Continuity

You let your hot temper and Iberian machismo, not your superior intellect, determine when your fists go flying.

-1 to Cool tests to keep your fists in check when your temper flares.

Jean Cocteau

Resplendent Anathema

Investigative Abilities

Architecture [Academic]

Art History [Academic]

Chemistry [Technical]

Cthulhu Mythos [Academic]

Dream Lore [Academic]

Flattery [Interpersonal]

History [Academic]

Library Use [Academic]

Literature [Academic]

Medicine [Academic]

Occult [Academic]

Pharmacy [Technical]

Seduction [Interpersonal]

Streetwise [Interpersonal]

General Abilities:

Art-Making (Visual Art, Film, Fiction, Playwright) 2 dice

Art-Making (Poetry) 1 die

Athletics 1 die

Conceal 1 die

Cool 1 die (-1 penalty in real world, +1 bonus in Dreamlands)

Disguise 2 dice

Dreamscaping 2 dice

First Aid 2 dice

Fleeing 2 dice

Hypnosis 1 die

Instability 2 dice

Preparedness 1 die

Stability 1 die

Starting Problem

White Dragon

Continuity

You’ve kicked your opium habit a number of times. Which is the optimistic way of saying you never quite kick your opium habit.

-1 to Cool tests when tempted by the opportunity to smoke opium, or any of its Dreamlands equivalents.

Salvador Dalí

Calculating Visionary

Investigative Abilities:

Anthropology [Academic]

Archaeology [Academic]

Architecture [Academic]

Art History [Academic]

Biology [Academic]

Charm [Interpersonal]

Chemistry [Technical]

Dream Lore [Academic]

Flattery [Interpersonal]

History [Academic]

Languages [Academic]

Library Use [Academic]

Theology [Academic]

General Abilities

Art-Making (Visual Art) 2 dice

Art-Making (Film) 1 die

Art-Making (Poetry) 1 die

Athletics 1 die

Dreamscaping 2 dice

Cool 1 die

Fleeing 2 die

Instability 2 dice

Preparedness 1 die

Stability 1 die

Sense Trouble 1 die

Stealth 1 die

Starting Problem

Dependent on Gala

Continuity

Without your tigress wife by your side, even ordinary tasks, like crossing a busy street, paralyze you with fear.

-1 to Cool and Stability tests when away from Gala. After reuniting with Gala, gain +2 to Cool and +1 to Stability tests until next interval.

Gala

Protective Devourer

Investigative Abilities

Accounting [Academic]

Assess Honesty [Interpersonal]

Bargain [Interpersonal]

Biology [Academic]

Bureaucracy [Interpersonal]

Interrogation [Interpersonal]

Intimidation [Interpersonal]

Languages (Russian, French, English) [Academic]

Library Use [Academic]

Locksmith [Technical]

Medicine [Academic]

Occult [Academic]

Seduction* [Interpersonal]

Streetwise [Interpersonal]

*After making a Seduction Push, roll a die. On an even result, regain the Push.

General Abilities

Athletics 1 die

Card Reading 2 dice

Conceal 1 die

Cool 2 dice

Fighting 1 die

Filch 1 die

Fleeing 1 die

Stability 2 dice

Sense Trouble 2 dice

Shadowing 1 die

Stealth 2 dice

Starting Problem

Grasping

Continuity

Survival means everything. Your brother’s death during the Russian Revolution taught you that. And in this world survival means one thing: money.

-2 to Cool tests to avoid the temptations of avarice.

Kiki de Montparnasse

Free-living Muse

Investigative Abilities:

Assess Honesty [Interpersonal]

Bargain [Interpersonal]

Bureaucracy [Interpersonal]

Charm [Interpersonal]

Dream Lore [Academic]

Flattery [Interpersonal]

Locksmith [Technical]

Photography [Technical]

Reassurance [Interpersonal]

Seduction [Interpersonal]

Streetwise [Technical]

General Abilities:

Art-Making (Visual Art) 1 die

Art-Making (Dance) 1 die

Art-Making (Singing 6) 2 dice

Cool 1 die

Athletics 2 dice

Conceal 2 dice

Filch 2 dice

Fleeing 2 dice

Instability 1 die

Stability 2 dice

Sense Trouble 2 dice

Starting Problem

Hard Liver

Continuity

You adore nothing more than another drink. Except of course for the drink after that.

-1 to Cool tests to avoid overindulgence in intoxicants.

Valentine Hugo

Little Swan

Investigative Abilities:

Archaeology [Academic]

Architecture [Academic]

Art History [Academic]

Assess Honesty [Interpersonal]

Bargain [Interpersonal]

Charm [Interpersonal]

Dream Lore [Academic]

Flattery [Interpersonal]

History [Academic]

Medium [Academic]

Occult [Academic]

Pharmacy [Technical]

Photography [Technical]

Reassurance [Interpersonal]

General Abilities:

Art-Making (Painting/Illustration) 2 dice

Athletics 1 die

Cool 1 die

Conceal 1 die

Disguise 1 die

Driving 1 die

Dreamscaping 1 die

First Aid 1 die

Fleeing 2 dice

Hypnosis 1 die

Instability 2 dice

Preparedness 1 die

Stability 2 dice

Stealth 1 die

Starting Problem

Lovesick

ContinuityWhen you fall in love, you fall hard, and never give up, no matter how much resistance you face. Others call you a fool. You call yourself a lover.

-2 to avoid throwing yourself humiliatingly at the current object of your obsession, Andre Breton. Void during the brief period after 1931 when he finally gives in to you.

Ripped from the history books, here’s a great choice the next time you’re asked to create a Trail of Cthulhu player character: Bessie Coleman, aka Queen Bess, pioneering African American aviator. An active protagonist if ever there was one, she taught herself to fly when neither women nor black people were supposed to do so. So she went to France to get her pilot’s license, dated two years before Amelia Earhart’s. Unable to get conventional piloting work back in the states, she returned to Europe to learn barrel rolls and other aerobatic techniques, then toured the US as a popular barnstormer. Coleman forced promoters to desegregate her audiences, and turned her back on a Hollywood career when asked to play a stereotypical role.

(In some of her publicity shots, she bears a striking resemblance to Janelle Monae. Somebody call somboedy’s agent.)

History tells us that she died in an air accident in 1926. Those of us steeped in horror adventure can see the flaws in that story, in which she allowed her mechanic to fly the plane, and it went out of control due to a literal wrench left in the engine case. A little too on the nose, surely—clearly she’s signaling to those in the know that she’s faking her own death. And if she’s doing that in ‘26, clearly she has to drop from sight to settle some business with Nyarlathotep.

That’s her backstory when it comes time to play her a few years later, in the Trail era.

Pilots can be a little hard to work into the action of a standard multiplayer game. As a GM you might build a Cthulhu Confidential series around her, with lots of aerial Challenges and problem solving. She speaks fluent French, so one of her globe-trotting Mythos-busting cases could take her to Paris to rub elbows with the Dreamhounds of the surrealist movement. Chauvinists like Andre Breton and Luis Buñuel might not know what to make of her, but a romp into Unknown Kadath with Gala Dalí and Kiki de Montparnasse might be just the thing. Perhaps she would also insist on taking Josephine Baker along, too. I’m sure she’ll be entirely careful while buzzing Mount Hatheg-Kla in the butterfly ornithopter Kiki has dreamed up for her.

Follow the Trail of Cthulhu into the Dreamlands in this limited edition copy of Dreamhounds of Paris!

 

Signed bookplate

 
Only 100 copies of this faux-leatherbound limited edition Dreamhounds of Paris exist in this reality. 50 will be made available to customers in the US & Canada, and 50 will be made available to customers outside the US & Canada. The books are faux leather with gold foil, and each one includes a sticky-backed book plate signed by the three authors for you to add to the book.

From the 1920s to the coming of the Occupation, a new breed of artist prowled the fabled streets of Paris. Combative, disrespectful, irresponsible, the surrealists broke aesthetic conventions, moral boundaries—and sometimes, arms. They sought nothing less than to change humanity by means of a worldwide psychic revolution. Their names resound through pop culture and the annals of art history.
But until now, no one has revealed what they were really up to.

In this comprehensive campaign guide for Trail of Cthulhu, you recreate their mundane and mystical adventures as you stumble onto the Dreamlands, a fantastical realm found far beyond the wall of sleep. At first by happenstance and later by implacable design, you remake it in the fiery image of your own art.

Will you save the world, or destroy it?

 

 

Stock #: PELGT38L Pages: 160
Artists: Tyler Clark, Ben Felten, Emilien Francois, Melissa Gay, Jérôme Huguenin, Leah Huete, Rachel A. Kahn, Anna Kryczkowska, David Lewis Johnson, Pat Loboyko, Rich Longmore, Jeff Porter, Patricia Smith, Jeff Strand Authors: Robin D. Laws, Kenneth Hite, Steve Dempsey

Buy now

exquisite-corpseby Steve Dempsey

Dreamhounds of Paris is a very rich game. The player characters, the surrealists, each have a detailed history. Paris, both in its mundane and magical incarnations, has locations, stories and conspiracies. And that’s even before you add in the Dreamlands and the rest of the Lovecraftian canon. As someone who runs improvised games, that’s a lot to take into account. The question for me the is how can I get player buy-in and build a decent story without doing days of preparation?

Well, I did do some preparation, I’m familiar with the geography and history of Paris as I wrote the parts of the book that deal with it. I’ve also been a fan of surrealism for ever, even before I heard a small girl in the Hayward Gallery proclaim, “Of course it’s not a pipe, silly. It’s a lawnmower.” I wouldn’t suggest however that anyone run this game without at least some introduction to the background material. So read some of the book, note down some of the things that catch your fancy. Surrealism is about flights of fancy, and have a look at some surrealist art, in the pages and margins of the rulebook and on-line.

You should also give the players their character sheets beforehand to familiarise them with the material (see here to download of the sheets).

But what can else the improv Keeper do to get the ball rolling quickly?

There are a couple of things. The first is to steal from the surrealists. This is a method I’ve employed at the start of the campaign and a one shot. It’s the Exquisite Corpse, a little game the surrealists invented and played to stimulate their imagination. It’s best played in character too.

Each player, and perhaps the Keeper too, has a pen and a blank sheet of paper. Each piece of paper is folded to create a number of sections equal to the number of participants, then flattened. In the first section each player draws part of a drawing, with connecting lines to the section below. They then fold the paper over to hide all of their contribution except for the connecting lines. Everyone passes their paper to the player to their left. This is repeated until everyone has written on each piece of paper. You then unfurl the drawings and talk about what you’ve done.

As a Keeper, look at the images and use these to start the game. In my campaign game, a fish motif was prevalent so I started with a chance encounter, not of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissection table, but inside a giant fish in the Dreamlands of all the characters. In the one shot, I used a cloud suffused with eyes which was the thing Erich Zann’s music was keeping beyond the threshold. The characters were assembled in the Le Cyrano, a bar on the place Blanche at the foot of Montmartre. Magritte’s dog Fifi had run disappeared up the hill in pursuit of a haunting melody.

Another way to start is to take a leaf from Drama System and have the players define what their characters want and have other players say why they can’t have it. These can be on an emotional or procedural level.

Dali – Q: When will everyone own up to loving my art? – A: When you redeem yourself with a selfless act.

Magritte – Q: What does the man in the mirror want?- A: To take your place in the Waking World.

Buñuel – Q: How can I master the bleeding eye? – A: Bataille*.

Alternatively as the Keeper you might come up with questions for the players to answer for their characters. Try to aim for a psychoanalytical (Freudian or Jungian) or surreal angle.

You could start Dreamhounds with these questions:

  • de Chirico – What does the fleeing child in the red dress represent?
  • Lee Miller – What is the hungry thing in the Dreamlands that is your father?
  • Kiki – How can you gain the strength to confront your shadow?
  • Man Ray – You see everything except yourself, what is so terrible about you?

As suggested in the book, let the characters explore the Dreamlands, let them change things and have these changes have repercussions in the Waking World. And when characters make art, have this art change the Dreamlands, in subtle ways for a campaign, in violent and unexpected ways for a one-shot.

Once the exploration is under way, start to draw correspondences between the two worlds. Allow abstract ideas in one world correspond to concrete things in the other, and don’t be afraid to bring in the Mythos.

  • André Breton is not present in the Dreamlands, but does he cast a shadow there – perhaps the sliced eye that haunts Buñuel? Or is he in fact the Waking World’s Crawling Chaos, improperly manifested as the angry leader of an anarchist movement that derides leadership.
  • The ants are on the march, the workers of the world, but which world and who is their (red) queen? Does a Surrealist rapprochement with the Communist Party require submission to her?
  • Eyes are a common motif. Who are they spying on and for whom? Perhaps it is the perpetual male gaze of many of the artists that can only be overcome through true sexual liberation and not just trite, and bourgeois fantasies.
  • Bataille’s ritual group that meets in the forest of Marly just outside Paris is represented by the Acéphale, an image of Y’golonac drawn by André Masson. Come on! This writes itself.

Above all, let your games be convulsive and beautiful.

[1]     Puns, visual or otherwise are a staple of surrealism. Bataille can refer to Georges Bataille, but it also means Battle in French.

“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 …

 

 

When I start a new series, I always intend to keep it separate from the last one. Certain factors inevitably continue from one game to the next. At the top of this list appear the habits of individual players in creating and portraying their characters. The way any two players tend to riff off one another tends to act as a constant, too. Players can shift these with effort but the reasons that bring them to the gaming table tend over time to push the game toward the group’s default groove.

I have my habits too and try to consciously avoid some of them. I ration the use of particular themes that I’ve used too much in the past.

Sometimes though the story can have a surprising way of wending back to previously explored territory. A new player joined the Alma Mater Magica DramaSystem game I’m currently running and improvised her way to an area the rest of the crew already knew well. She introduced a dream reality into the setting, along with the sort of dreamscaping that featured in our previous Dreamhounds of Paris campaign.

Other players started to joke about the possibility of a cross-over.

At first I decided that I wouldn’t set about to introduce any elements from the old game in the new. If another player had wanted to, the narrative freedom of DramaSystem would certainly have allowed it. But no one did.

You might interpret this as meaning that they didn’t really want the current series to become a sequel to the last.

But the jokes and references kept coming.

I knew it would get a positive response when it happened, so when the story allowed the opportunity, I succumbed to the crossover urge.

A minor antagonist character turned out to be someone else in disguise. He revealed himself to be an insane dream reflection of a PC from Dreamhounds.

Yes, you guessed it. A simulacrum of Salvador Dalí turned out to be the big bad antagonist of the series’ second season.

Lesson: the fun value of a thing is more important than abstract qualms about the cheapness of the effect. In roleplaying, use what works.

Although Dalí hails from the Dreamlands, so far we’ve kept the rest of the Mythos out of it. So in our hunger for that sweet, sweet crossover buzz, we did show some restraint.


Hillfolk is a game of high-stakes interpersonal conflict by acclaimed designer Robin D. Laws. Using its DramaSystem rules, you and your friends can weave enthralling sagas of Iron Age tribes, Regency socialites, border town drug kingpins, a troubled crime family, posthuman cyberpunks and more. Purchase Hillfolk and its companion Blood in the Snow in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

If you’ve ever tried to research a painter on the net, you might have noticed a paradox: many sites dedicated to historical visual artists are ugly, outdated, and haphazard. A site called Artsy addresses this gap by presenting itself as a clearinghouse of articles and images for the visual arts. Dreamhounds of Paris Keepers might direct their players to it as a clean, modern source of images and articles. Particularly useful for our purposes is the drop-down filter on each image page allowing you to focus only on particular decades of an artist’s work. For a painter with a long career, like Salvador Dalí, you can separate out his 1930s pieces, for example, which happen to the ones that most look like landscape paintings of a transmogrified dreamlands. Digital reproductions surpass the usual standard, and are zoomable to allow you to pick out the weird details in the corners.

I was tipped to Artsy by one of its researchers, Nicholas Sewitz, whose searches led him to the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff episode featuring our profile on Marcel Duchamp. Other dreamhound player characters represented on Artsy include Dalí, Man Ray, Giorgio de Chirico, Claude Cahun, Leonora Carrington, Max Ernst, René Magritte, André Masson, and of course Picasso. Its remit doesn’t cover writers or performance artists, so you won’t find everyone in The Book of Ants here. The site is still in the process of fulfilling its ambitious mission statement, meaning that some profiles are meatier than others. The various rights policies of the world’s art museums, many of which have their own digital efforts in progress and aren’t necessarily eager to share with an aggregator, have to be a big obstacle on that front. Still, if your players want to do their homework in a pretty interface that presumably looks lovely on a tablet, this is a good place to start. The site lets you follow artist profiles, so players can check back periodically to see if more inspiration has popped up regarding the surrealists they’ve chosen to play.

Image: Gala by Melissa Gay, Dreamhounds of Paris


Dreamhounds of Paris and The Book of Ants are sourcebooks for Trail of Cthulhu, the award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game. 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.

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