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.

Dreamhounds char sheet page 1By Tony Williams

This exercise was far more difficult than previous character sheet designs I’ve done. My first problem was getting past the intimidating presence of the great art in itself and then the second was doing something I felt lived up to the design work put into the book.

I was flummoxed trying to think how I was going to incorporate the art into the character sheet; part of the problem is that the design work is meant to fade into the background behind the character stats so how could I use “artwork” and then hide it anyway ? Besides which art should I use ? Who actually represents *all* surrealists ?

I had put the problem on the backburner but later the decorating was looming and I needed an escape project ( I am a master procrastinator ).

So I turned my attention back to the problem and considered how I had approached my Bookhounds character sheet. The idea for that had been “What would one find on the desk of a Bookhound in the rear of his shop ?” Thus: “What would be found lying around the table of a Dreamhound in their dingy garret ?” Suddenly things seemed to fall into place.

Finding decent representational iconography required a lot more strenuous Google-Fu than previous sheet designs but finally I managed to find the stuff I needed to collage the sheet together. There was a lot more “hacking” the pictures in GIMP this time around as well, but I got there in the end.

Here’s a bit of design explanation:

The general tone is greens ( absinthe ) and murky browns ( down at heel ). I learned how to turn an electric blue pencil into a green pencil in GIMP this time around.

Surrealism – the starving Dreamhound was in his bathroom practising drawing his own eye in the cracked wall mirror when he needed to sharpen his pencil. The nearest thing to hand was, of course, his razor. He put the razor down casually across his drawing when he noticed a trail of ants on the floor and had to follow them out into his bedsit to foil the little beggars. He found them supping on a sugar cube he had left next to his absinthe spoon – curses! To calm his nerves he needed a little pipe tobacco whilst he perused the catalogue for the upcoming “Exposition Internationale du Surrealism” at the Galerie Beaux-Arts. If I have to spell it out for people – the pipe is a nod to Magritte, the razor on the eye is Buñuel’s “Un Chien Andalou” and the catalogue is self-explanatory ( durr… ).

Paris – well, ( Mon Dieu! ) the Galerie Beaux-Arts is *in* Paris, for Pete’s sake ! Absinthe seems an appropriate Dreamhound Parisian drink and any good absinthe drinker needs a supply of sugar cubes and an absinthe spoon. A photo of a typical Parisian street in the Pigalle area would be an easy representation of the city too.Dreamhounds char sheet page 2

Lovecraft – hmmm… that photo looks suspiciously like two investigators approaching Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol with great trepidation to me.

I chose an empty square to represent running out of Instability to reflect the ‘void’ of creativity it brings, it is also meant to be a blank canvas ( since you can no longer create meaningful art ) and a vague reference to the fact you are now a ‘square’ ( in the beat poet sense ) rather than a ‘happening’ radical artist.

And how come that absinthe spoon looks somewhat like a silver key – coincidence ? I think not !

Finally, a technical point – the General Abilities that can have Dreamscaping pool points added to their test rolls when in the Dreamlands are in a brown font rather than the standard black. As represented by the brown “think bubble” next to the Dreamscaping ability. ( Even finding the “right” think bubble was a saga in itself. )

Sadly I’m not happy with the sugar cube. Finding a top-down picture of a sugar cube results in few decent hits – “Damn you interweb !” ( shakes fist ). Maybe I’ll actually resort to photography for a fix down the line…but don’t hold your breath as I have some bloody decorating to do now. I don’t mean “bloody” as in I’m going to murder someone, or *do* I ? Ha, ha, ha, ha…

You can download Tony’s character sheets here:

  • Download Dreamhounds of Paris character sheet (A4)
  • Download Dreamhounds of Paris character sheet (US letter)

Dreamhounds_of_Paris_400Jason Thompson, over on his blog, mockman.com, reviews The Dreamhounds of Paris. Jason says,

This is great stuff. The Surrealists and the Mythos belong together.

Adding, “The idea of the Surrealists being Randolph-Carter-level Dreamers (or even better than that Carter dude) is genius; I can’t imagine historical figures who fit the role more.

In short, this is a fascinating, challenging campaign that pays homage to Lovecraft’s ‘canon’ Dreamlands, but, since it simultaneously upends and mutates them, might be just as well suited to people who *hate* the Dreamlands (shame on you). If I had one wish, I could have used more of everything…

You can check out the full review here. You can purchase the Dreamhounds of Paris Bundle, featuring The Book of Ants, at the shop.

Forget your shrooms, your blotter dots. For me the opener to the gateway of creativity was always speed. Gobble a handful of bennies and work through the night boom flash bang. Only problem I faced or so I thought was making sure I had enough canvases on hand to last through a period of explosive muse channeling. Crank up the Skrillex, grab the paintbrushes and go. At the time I was going through a real surrealist phase. Giorgio de Chirico in particular. I was looking at so much of his work so intensely that his subject matter, those puppet-like figures, the vast empty vistas, started to creep into my own work. But what the hell call it remix culture, call it appropriation and keep painting man, that’s what I kept telling myself.

At some point the zone of chemically pure work flow takes a left turn, or at least it did for me, and the lines between sleeping and waking got blurry. I’d come to, lying on the floor in a pool of my own drool, and all over my images the wooden puppet men danced. Faceless and staring out at me, like expecting me to let them loose from the canvas. I got mad at them and repainted all of their hands to look kinda like dicks but they seemed to like that.

I take a commission to mural a door at the Cafe Arabica. So I paint the penis-handed dolls on it, piloting a ship. As I painted the finishing touches I somehow realized I’d given them permission to take me somewhere.

A couple of days later I take a turn on Queen West and all of a sudden I realize I’m dreaming. One minute I know I’m in Paris. Only not the Paris of today, but way back before World War II. Then I’m somewhere else again, on a windswept plaza. Sitting at a cafe table under a Greek statue wearing shades is this woebegone dude. I realize it’s my hero, de Chirico. Who died in the seventies. I sit down next to him to quiz him, and he’s all, oh no, now I’m bring them back in time. It was bad enough already.

That’s when my Dreamlands adventures began. It was the 21st century in my waking life but the early thirties when I dreamt, in this weirdo place, haunted not only by de Chirico but all these other platinum names from the art history books.

When Kuranes blasted my brain and I couldn’t dream any more, I woke up that morning and standing over me were the members of my old band. Gez, Marcos and Sarah. I said you were there, you were there, and you were there. You were Buñuel, Éluard and Gala.

They laughed said I was still high, and I was. But for the last time. The same magic of Celephaïs that stole my ability to enter the Dreamlands took away my body’s response to mind altering substances. Not even caffeine works on me any more. And my work’s nothing now, a boring retread of what used to be great.

Tomorrow I start my first shift at Starbucks.

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