I must confess that I love handouts in roleplaying games. I love them a little too much. In the upcoming expanded Hideous Creatures, we’re doing player-facing documents for each monster, hinting at some aspect of the creature in an oblique way. Some tips on their creation and use…

Handouts are Artefacts

Handouts must feel real. You can spend many enjoyable* hours aging paper and carefully selecting the right font, but you also have to take care when writing the handout to make it a plausible document. It needs to be short enough to be read at the table, contain enough information to make it useful, but also drip with verisimilitude. Short reports obliquely hinting at strange events, newspaper articles, diary entries and the like are ideal.

You can also have handouts that are extracts from larger documents – a single page of a longer book or one section of a report – by including trailing text and references to other parts of the fictional document. (Group a bunch of short newspaper clippings in a scrapbook to create a handout that hints at but never states an awful truth – leave it up to the players to connect a death notice, a report about dead dogs, a mysterious classified advertisement, and a clipping from the catalogue of a rare book store that’s selling a copy of Cultes des Ghoules.)

The diary entry found by Dr. Armitage in The Dunwich Horror is an ideal example of this sort of extract – it’s short, atmospheric, suggests it’s part of a larger document with its throwaway references to other Dunwich natives and ongoing studies, and – most important of all – has an actionable clue for the players: “That upstairs looks like it will have the right cast. I can see it a little when I make the Voorish sign or blow the powder of Ibn-Ghazi at it”.

Atmospheric

Everyone knows that boxed text is awful. It’s painful to sit there listening to a Keeper read prose aloud. It’s stilted, often hard to follow, and at odds with the inherently conversational nature of roleplaying games. Handouts, though, are much closer to traditional prose. You can tell a little story, or go to town on descriptive elements that a Keeper would struggle to convey in a bloc of text.

A handout that just conveys information isn’t necessarily a waste of them – all handouts have their uses – but if you just want to, say, give the players the name of the victim, writing up a police report is probably overkill. Use the space afforded by the handout to hint at horrors to come. Diaries, in particular, let you extend a scenario’s scope back in time by letting you do the Lovecraftian trope of listing a whole series of past incidents and weirdnesses that culminate in the present horror.

Esoteric

In any group of players, there are usually degrees of engagement. Some players are really, really interested in the mystery, or the Cthulhu Mythos, or fighting monsters; others become more or less engaged depending on the action in the game, and others are just there to hang out with their friends. In general, it’s a bad idea to pay too much attention on the overly enthusiastic players – they’re going to have fun and be involved no matter what, so the Keeper’s efforts are best spent drawing the more reticent players into the action. Handouts, however, are a place where you can reward engagement, giving those players a little more to chew on. Use handouts to hint at connections to the wider Mythos, to imply deeper and wider conspiracies, or to flesh out the backstory. Handouts are one place in the game where you can be as obscure and wilfully misleading as you like, as the players can take time – even between sessions – to chew over the clues.

The Clue Isn’t Necessary In The Text

While you can include clues in a handout that you expect the players to spot, you can also have clues that can be discovered with investigative abilities. A player might be able to use History to recognise a name in a diary as the site of a famous murder, or Cryptography to decode the weird runes in the margin as an enciphered message, or even Cthulhu Mythos (“after reading the diary, you start dreaming of that same strange house on the clifftop, and feel this weird urge to go east, towards the ocean. Something’s drawing you to a spot on the coastline overlooking the grey Atlantic. You suspect that if you follow that unnatural tugging, you’ll find that house.”)

You can also use investigative abilities to push the players towards the correct interpretation – “from your expertise in Cop Talk, you’re pretty sure this report was written under protest – whoever wrote it was told to provide a ‘reasonable’ explanation for the weird events. Maybe if you find the original author, they’ll tell you what really happened.”

Handouts Are An Anchor

Handouts feel significant. Even a tiny handout, like a business card, implies the players are on the right track in the adventure, (“If this musician wasn’t important, the Keeper wouldn’t have printed up a business card”) and you can use that feeling to reward the players. Successfully traversing a difficult challenge or solving a section of the mystery yields a handout.

Handouts are also useful for organising information. If you’ve a long list of similar leads – say, all the guests at a party, or all the victims of a serial murderer, or a set of addresses – it’s good practise to give the players the list in the form of a handout. It avoids transcription errors and miscommunications, and keeps the game running more smoothly. Similarly, handouts are a good way of conveying complex timelines or spatial relationships to the players – a map or a diary can become the frame of the investigation that the players then fill in with clues.

*: Hours may not be enjoyable if they turn into weeks, nay months…

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

HC_Hunting Horror_350“I see it—coming here—hell-wind—titan blur—black wings—Yog-Sothoth save me—the three-lobed burning eye. . . .” Avatar or servitor, this winged and coiling horror haunts the dark and hunts those who seek it out. Shine a little light on this most shadowy of creatures!

Hideous Creatures: Hunting Horror is the sixth installment of the third Ken Writes About Stuff subscription and is now available to subscribers – it will be available to buy in the webstore in September. If you have subscribed to the third KWAS subscription, Hideous Creatures: Hunting Horror is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).

Stock #: PELH33D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Ethan Black
Pages: 10pg PDF

HC_Wendigo_350“In spite of his exceeding mental perturbation, Simpson struggled hard to detect its nature, and define it …” Cannibal spirit or arctic ogre? Wind-walking demigod or folie a faim? Hunt the Wendigo down — or up into the skies, where mad auroras roll.

Hideous Creatures: Wendigo is the fifth installment of the third Ken Writes About Stuff subscription and is now available to subscribers – it will be available to buy in the webstore in August. If you have subscribed to the third KWAS subscription, Hideous Creatures: Wendigo is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).

Stock #: PELH32D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Amanda Makepeace
Pages: 11pg PDF
Great Race of Yith cover

Great Race of Yith cover

“As mental barriers wore down, I beheld great masses of thin vapour in various parts of the building and in the streets below. These steadily grew more solid and distinct, till at last I could trace their monstrous outlines with uncomfortable ease.” From unguessable aliens to cone-shaped librarians to beetle-conquerors, the Great Race of Yith takes many forms. Learn to recognize them, before they take yours!

Hideous Creatures: Great Race of Yith is the third installment of the third Ken Writes About Stuff subscription and is now available to subscribers – it will be available to buy in the webstore in June. If you have subscribed to the third KWAS subscription, Hideous Creatures: Great Race of Yith is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).

Stock #: PELH30D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Melissa Gay
Pages: 11pg PDF

Tcho-Tcho cover “The nastiest people who ever lived … and whatever it is they were doing, they weren’t going to let a stranger in on it.” Do you really want to know what the Tcho-Tcho know? Too late.

Hideous Creatures: Tcho-Tcho is the first installment of the third Ken Writes About Stuff subscription and is now available to subscribers – it will be available to buy in the webstore in April. If you have subscribed to the third KWAS subscription, Hideous Creatures: Tcho-Tcho is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).

Stock #: PELH28D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Jeff Porter
Pages: 11pg PDF

Hideous Creatures: Rat-Things

“Witnesses said it had long hair and the shape of a rat, but that its sharp-toothed, bearded face was evilly human while its paws were like tiny human hands.” Witch become rat, or thing become hyper-physicist? Familiar-ize yourself with Lovecraft’s creepiest creation.

Rat-things resemble ordinary rats, and are easily mistaken for them at a distance. Their heads are nonetheless evil caricatures of human heads, and their paws are like tiny human hands. They have extremely strong, sharp teeth, canines grown forward to resemble incisors. They nuzzle and nurse on human blood from their witch companions or from convenient sleepers. Though they do not die naturally, they are now very rare. Attacking rat-things climb the legs or clothes of human opponents, or drop down from ceilings, or climb plumbing into their delicate areas at delicate moments, or tunnel up from the insides of their chests.

Hideous Creatures: Rat-Things includes,

  • Two unique scenario seeds, The Rats in the Trenches, and The Dream House in the Witch
  • Keeper clues for every GUMSHOE investigative ability
  • Five mythic echoes from across the world
  • Thirteen Rat-Thing variations
  • And new powers, like Internal Attack and Dream Initiation, with GUMSHOE statistics.

In this series, Kenneth Hite looks at the creatures, species, and monsters of the Cthulhu Mythos from every non-Euclidean angle. Alternate versions and new explanations provide the same jolt of mythic bisociation that the gods and titans receive in the TRAIL OF CTHULHU corebook. Hite traces these foul things through their legendary history, and provides further clues for any Investigator to follow. Horrific scenario seeds burst and bloom, story spines protrude and deform, in a blasphemous garden any Keeper can harvest.

Praise for Hideous Creatures,

a brief injection of Hite-ian awesome … they’re just about the right length to digest in a single sitting, and full of amazing ideas that will make anyone’s game into a flavourful occult gumbo.” – High Trust, High Drama Blog

I consider this series a wake-up call to the lacklustre, to remind them tales of the Mythos, using whatever system, should instill uneasiness, upset and fear. Grasp the potential of the unearthly and inhuman…” – Paul Baldowski

Hideous Creatures: Rat-Things is the tenth installment of the second Ken Writes About Stuff subscription available to subscribers now – it will be available to buy in the webstore in January. If you have subscribed to the second KWAS subscription, Hideous Creatures: Rat-Things is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).

Stock #: PELH24D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Gennifer Bone
Pages: 11pg PDF

HC_Byakhee_cover

Hideous Creatures: Byakhee

“Apart from the curiously repellent feeling of human flesh under my hands, and furred wings, I was not able to ascertain what these creatures were like.” Servants of Hastur or misperceived shantaks? Astral psychopomps or sidereal scavengers? Climb aboard the byakhee and find out!

Byakhee are interstellar hunters, flying between the stars on vast membranous wings. They sometimes carry riders, usually one apiece — though such riders need protection from the vacuum and cold from suitable spells or potions. Byakhee do not have bases on earth, but sorcerers summon them to perform foul deeds or to serve as steeds.

Hideous Creatures: Byakhee includes,

  • Two unique scenario seeds, Something in Platinum, and Just a Song at Twilight
  • Keeper clues for every GUMSHOE investigative ability
  • Six mythic echoes from across the world
  • Eighteen Byakhee variations
  • And new powers, like Cognitive Dissonance and Orbital Flight, with GUMSHOE statistics.

In this series, Kenneth Hite looks at the creatures, species, and monsters of the Cthulhu Mythos from every non-Euclidean angle. Alternate versions and new explanations provide the same jolt of mythic bisociation that the gods and titans receive in the TRAIL OF CTHULHU corebook. Hite traces these foul things through their legendary history, and provides further clues for any Investigator to follow. Horrific scenario seeds burst and bloom, story spines protrude and deform, in a blasphemous garden any Keeper can harvest.

Praise for Hideous Creatures,

a brief injection of Hite-ian awesome … they’re just about the right length to digest in a single sitting, and full of amazing ideas that will make anyone’s game into a flavourful occult gumbo.” – High Trust, High Drama Blog

I consider this series a wake-up call to the lacklustre, to remind them tales of the Mythos, using whatever system, should instill uneasiness, upset and fear. Grasp the potential of the unearthly and inhuman…” – Paul Baldowski

Hideous Creatures: Byakhee is the eighth installment of the second Ken Writes About Stuff subscription available to subscribers now – it will be available to buy in the webstore in November. If you have subscribed to the second KWAS subscription, Hideous Creatures: Byakhee is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).

Stock #: PELH22D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Patricia Smith Pages: 11pg PDF

HC Lloigor_cover

Hideous Creatures: Lloigor

“You make the usual mistake — of thinking of them as being like ourselves. They weren’t.” God or monster? Species or phenomenon? Dragon or disc — or discontinuity? Invisible, invulnerable, inexplicable — the vile vortices of the lloigor encompass all and care for nought.

The lloigor are vortices of immaterial vibration in natural form, and completely invisible to human eyes. Thus, describing them can be a challenge. Instead, describe their effects: the lloigor vortex attack, or possibly long-term exposure to lloigor wavelengths, colors water and some jadelike stone a peculiar blue-green tint.

Hideous Creatures: Lloigor includes,

  • Full writeup of the Al-Kazimiyah Cult, with eight hooks, and cult reponses
  • Keeper clues for every GUMSHOE investigative ability
  • Four mythic echoes from across the world
  • Nineteen Lloigor variations
  • Statistics for Dragon Form Lloigor
  • And new powers, like Cancerous Growth and Time Fog, with GUMSHOE statistics.

In this series, Kenneth Hite looks at the creatures, species, and monsters of the Cthulhu Mythos from every non-Euclidean angle. Alternate versions and new explanations provide the same jolt of mythic bisociation that the gods and titans receive in the TRAIL OF CTHULHU corebook. Hite traces these foul things through their legendary history, and provides further clues for any Investigator to follow. Horrific scenario seeds burst and bloom, story spines protrude and deform, in a blasphemous garden any Keeper can harvest.

Praise for Hideous Creatures,

a brief injection of Hite-ian awesome … they’re just about the right length to digest in a single sitting, and full of amazing ideas that will make anyone’s game into a flavourful occult gumbo.” – High Trust, High Drama Blog

I consider this series a wake-up call to the lacklustre, to remind them tales of the Mythos, using whatever system, should instill uneasiness, upset and fear. Grasp the potential of the unearthly and inhuman…” – Paul Baldowski

Hideous Creatures: Lloigor is the sixth installment of the second Ken Writes About Stuff subscription available to buy in the webstore now. If you have subscribed to the second KWAS subscription, Hideous Creatures: Lloigor is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).

Stock #: PELH20D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Patricia Smith Pages: 12pg PDF

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HC Dark Young_cover

Hideous Creatures: Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath

Worlds of sardonic actuality impinging on vortices of febrile dream – Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young!” Are they nameless horrors or numbered servitors, Druidic nightmares or ab-natural abominations? Where do they grow, and on what loathsome food do they thrive? Follow them to Hell and Hydra, or to Mormo and Monsanto.

Dark young are enormous writhing masses, formed out of ropy black tentacles. Here and there over their surface, ragged, puckered mouths drool green sap. Beneath them, tentacles end in black hooves. Dark young roughly resemble trees in silhouette — the trunks being the short legs, and the tops of the trees represented by the ropy, branching bodies – but smell like open graves.

Hideous Creatures: Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath includes,

  • Two unique scenario seeds, Carnivorous Plantings, and Into the Woods
  • Keeper clues for every GUMSHOE investigative ability
  • Six mythic echoes from across the world
  • Twelve Dark Young variations
  • Statistics for Gof’nn Hupadgh and Milk-Spawn
  • Rules for drinking the Milk of Shub-Niggurath (Why?! Why?!!)
  • And new powers, like Corrupt Fertility and Spit Thorns, with GUMSHOE statistics.

In this series, Kenneth Hite looks at the creatures, species, and monsters of the Cthulhu Mythos from every non-Euclidean angle. Alternate versions and new explanations provide the same jolt of mythic bisociation that the gods and titans receive in the TRAIL OF CTHULHU corebook. Hite traces these foul things through their legendary history, and provides further clues for any Investigator to follow. Horrific scenario seeds burst and bloom, story spines protrude and deform, in a blasphemous garden any Keeper can harvest.

Praise for Hideous Creatures,

a brief injection of Hite-ian awesome … they’re just about the right length to digest in a single sitting, and full of amazing ideas that will make anyone’s game into a flavourful occult gumbo.” – High Trust, High Drama Blog

I consider this series a wake-up call to the lacklustre, to remind them tales of the Mythos, using whatever system, should instill uneasiness, upset and fear. Grasp the potential of the unearthly and inhuman…” – Paul Baldowski

Hideous Creatures: Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath is the first installment of the second Ken Writes About Stuff subscription (if you are a previous subscriber, you will need to buy a new subscription to see this), or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store.

If you have subscribed to the second KWAS subscription, Hideous Creatures: Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).

Stock #: PELH15D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Jeff Porter Pages: 10pg PDF

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