» Kenneth Hite

With The Fall of Delta Green having psychedelically burst onto the shelves of finer game stores everywhere and indeed of this very site, this column keeps on bursting the covers of that already overfull tome. This time, rather than throw more weird story meat out there for the Handler, it’s time to give the players some love. And what better form can love take than a steady government paycheck? No better form, in the 1960s or now, surely. So here are a few more Departments where Agents can hang their hats while they’re out hatlessly hunting the unnatural. All these appear in the same format as those in the core book; and as always, yes, some of these Departments are actually just agencies, offices, bureaus, commands, and so forth.

Ability ratings with asterisks add to the rating already in the template, if you pick that ability for your Agent.

Army Security Agency

Technically under the wing of the NSA, but commanded by a U.S. Army general, the ASA protects electronic transmissions by the U.S. Army and attempts to intercept enemy and hostile communications both in the field and from listening stations, satellites, and other technical means. The ASA also has responsibility for electronic countermeasures and electronic warfighting if needed.

Semper Vigile

In Vietnam, the ASA operates as the 3rd Radio Research Unit (509th Radio Research Group after 1965) out of Tan Son Nhut in Saigon, accompanying Special Forces and MACV-SOG units and providing ELINT to regular U.S. forces in country. ASA pilots fly Special Electronic Mission Aircraft (SEMA) over the jungles, locating and targeting Viet Cong and NVA transmissions … and perhaps other phenomena.

ASA Officer

Prerequisite: Begin by building your Agent using the Soldier template (FoDG, p. 028). You may be Active Duty.

Points: 9 Investigative, 12 General

Foreign Language 1, HUMINT 1, Military Science 1, SIGINT 2, Traffic Analysis 1

Bureaucracy 2, Mechanics 2

Pick Three Investigative: Anthropology 1, Cryptography 1, Data Retrieval 1, Foreign Language 1*, Interrogation 1, Photography 1

Pick Two General: Athletics 4, Mechanics 4*, Pilot 4, Sense Trouble 4, Stealth 4

Bureau of Customs

The U.S. Bureau of Customs doesn’t just collect tariffs and man airport checkpoints (or the other 300 points of entry into the United States) looking for undeclared bottles of wine. Its Office of Investigations combats art and antiquities smuggling, human and narcotics trafficking, and illegal weapons sales both at home and overseas; in 1969 it gets an Air Interdiction Unit. The Customs Bureau also maintains and secures bonded warehouses in ports and airports where almost anything might be stashed away by someone.

Customs Investigator

Points: 11 Investigative, 23 General

Accounting 1, Law 2, Cop Talk 1, Notice 1, Streetwise 1

Bureaucracy 2, Conceal 2, Drive 3

Pick Five Investigative: Accounting 1*, Archaeology 1, Art 1, Cop Talk 1*, Criminology 1, Foreign Language 1, HUMINT 1, Interrogation 1, Law 1*, Notice 1*, Streetwise 1*

Pick Four General: Athletics 4, Conceal 4*, Health 4, Pilot 4, Preparedness 4, Sense Trouble 4, Stability 4, Stealth 4

Central Intelligence Agency

Division D Intercept Specialist

Within the CIA’s Directorate of Plans, Division D handles the collection of electronic and signals intelligence, sometimes in partnership with the Office of Research and Development. The Division’s work happens overseas, in embassies and foreign listening stations such as Kagnew in Ethiopia and Teufelsberg in West Berlin. “The Shop” (FoDG, p. 033) most likely operates under Division D, which does not scruple to access foreign transmitters as well as passively intercept foreign signals. In 1978, Division D folds into the Special Collection Service (SCS), a joint NSA-CIA program.

Points: 14 Investigative, 25 General

Agency 2, Architecture 1, Cryptography 1, Data Retrieval 1, Foreign Language 1, HUMINT 1, Notice 1, SIGINT 2, Tradecraft 1

Bureaucracy 3, Firearms 1, Mechanics 5, Stealth 3, Unarmed Combat 1

Pick Three Investigative: Architecture 1*, Cryptography 1*, Foreign Language 1*, Photography 1, Reassurance 1, SIGINT 1*, Streetwise 1, Tradecraft 1*, Traffic Analysis 1

Pick Three General: Conceal 4, Disguise 4, Filch 4, Mechanics 4*, Preparedness 4, Stealth 4*

Office of Scientific Intelligence Analyst

Tasked with collecting information about scientific developments that could affect national security, the OSI remains something of an odd man out within the CIA. It supports U-2 flights and (until 1965) analyzes Soviet rocket launches, it monitors nuclear tests and provides grants to cooperative universities. In 1963 it moves from the Directorate of Intelligence to the DDS&T; in the confusion and bureaucratic infighting that follow, DELTA GREEN uses OSI as a seine for any hint of hypergeometric research overseas or inside MAJESTIC.

Points: 13 Investigative, 20 General

Data Retrieval 1, Fringe Science 1, Military Science 1, Notice 1, Physics 1

Add One Scientific Specialty: Astronomy 2, Biology 2, Chemistry 2, Physics 2*

Bureaucracy 3, Firearms 1, Mechanics 4, Sense Trouble 1, Unarmed Combat 1

Pick Three Investigative: Agency 2, Data Retrieval 2*, Foreign Language 2, Fringe Science 2*, SIGINT 2, Traffic Analysis 2

Pick Two General: Bureaucracy 5*, Network 5, Preparedness 5, Sanity 5, Stability 5

National Underwater Reconnaissance Office

Established in 1968 to take advantage of the sinking of the Soviet submarine K-129, NURO remains entirely classified for thirty years. Staffed by CIA and ONI personnel, NURO uses mini-subs and “special project submarines” like USS Halibut and USS Seawolf to carry out undersea operations against signal targets such as undersea cables and to penetrate both enemy and neutral waters for intelligence gathering. Prior to 1968 the ONI has a handful of officers tasked with undersea intelligence, but no dedicated program as such; the Navy has the “Oceanographic Systems” Commands (COMOCEANSYS) that operate the SOSUS deep-water sonar array.

The amount of intelligence product on Deep Ones alone that floods into DELTA GREEN with the establishment of NURO nearly drowns the program. Much of the planning of the abortive Operation POMPEY (FoDG, p. 185) comes from NURO sources. Meanwhile, program investigators backtrack the opposition to NURO to pressure from Exalted Circle-connected admirals and bureaucrats; another promising lead the dismantling of DELTA GREEN shuts off.

NURO Analyst

For COMOCEANSYS operators and officers, the Sailor template (FoDG, p. 027) is a prerequisite for your Military Service. Both COMOCEANSYS and NURO personnel may be Active Duty.

Points: 11 Investigative, 13 General

Cryptography 1, Military Science 2, Notice 1, SIGINT 1

Add 3 to any two of these: Bureaucracy 2, Drive 1, Heavy Weapons 1, Mechanics 2, Pilot 1

Pick Three Investigative: Agency 2, Cryptography 2*, Data Retrieval 2, Foreign Language 2, Physics 2, SIGINT 2*, Traffic Analysis 2

NURO Frogman

If your game uses Special Training skills, NURO frogmen should take SCUBA.

Prerequisite: Sailor template (FoDG, p. 027) for your Military Service. You are on Active Duty.

Points: 8 Investigative, 22 General

Add 1 to any two of these: Astronomy 1, Foreign Language 1, Inspiration 1, Interrogation 1, Notice 1, SIGINT 1

Athletics 4, Demolitions 3, Mechanics 2, Preparedness 3, Stealth 4

Pick Two General: Demolitions 3*, Firearms 3, First Aid 3, Heavy Weapons 3, Mechanics 3, Pilot 3, Stealth 3, Unarmed Combat 3

 

 

Limited edition with bookplate

Night’s Black Agents won two silver ENnie awards for Best Game and Best Writing, and was nominated for Best Rules, Best Interior Art and Product of the Year. Find out why with the limited edition!

Only 100 copies of the faux-leatherbound limited edition Night’s Black Agents exist. 50 are available to customers in the U.S. and Canada, and 50 are available to customers outside the U.S. and Canada. The books are faux leather with silver foil, and each one includes a sticky-backed book plate signed by Kenneth Hite, which you can add to your book.

Night’s Black Agents puts you in the role of a deadly secret agent, taking down the forces of darkness.

Bring your favorite high-octane spy thrillers to the table with Night’s Black Agents from legendary designer Kenneth Hite (Trail of Cthulhu). Have friends who love console shooters? This is the tabletop RPG for them! Access the eyes-only Resources page for blank agent dossiers, quick-reference sheets, a 20-minute demo and more — but sweep for tracking devices first.

 

Buy the limited edition

The Cold War is over. Bush’s War is winding down.

You were a shadowy soldier in those fights, trained to move through the secret world: deniable and deadly.

Then you got out, or you got shut out, or you got burned out. You didn’t come in from the cold. Instead, you found your own entrances into Europe’s clandestine networks of power and crime. You did a few ops, and you asked even fewer questions. Who gave you that job in Prague? Who paid for your silence in that Swiss account? You told yourself it didn’t matter.

It turned out to matter a lot. Because it turned out you were working for vampires.

Vampires exist. What can they do? Who do they own? Where is safe? You don’t know those answers yet. So you’d better start asking questions. You have to trace the bloodsuckers’ operations, penetrate their networks, follow their trail, and target their weak points. Because if you don’t hunt them, they will hunt you. And they will kill you.

Or worse.

Night’s Black Agents brings the GUMSHOE engine to the spy thriller genre, combining the propulsive paranoia of movies like Ronin and The Bourne Identity with supernatural horror straight out of Bram Stoker. Investigation is crucial, but it never slows down the action, which explodes with expanded options for bone-crunching combat, high-tech tradecraft, and adrenaline-fueled chases.

Updating classic Gothic terrors for the postmodern age, Night’s Black Agents presents thoroughly modular monstrosity: GMs can build their own vampires, mashup their own minions, kitbash their own conspiracies to suit their personal sense of style and story. Rules options let you set the level of betrayal, grit, and action in your game. Riff from the worked examples or mix and match vampiric abilities, agendas, and assets for a completely custom sanguinary spy saga.

The included hook adventure gets the campaign going; the included city setting shows you what might be clotting in Marseilles’ veins even now. Rack silver bullets in your Glock, twist a UV bulb into your Maglite, and keep watching the mirrors … and pray you’ve got your vampire stories straight.

Designer’s blog entries

An interview with the publisher

Free downloads and resources for Night’s Black Agents

Listen to Ken Hite talk about Night’s Black Agents on the Fear the Boot podcast

 

 

Review Highlights

Read all the reviews here.

As good as the toolkits that Night’s Black Agents provides are, the rules and advice deliver on the game and genre that they promise. Whether it is blood pumping action or heart stopping shocks, Night’s Black Agents is probably best shaken, and definitely has the “Vampire Spy Thriller” staked. – Matthew Pook

Vampires and spies – once you’re past the initial surprise, you’ll see that they work tremendously well in tandem. Well, I think they do, and I think the book’s an absolute knockout. – Sidney Roundwood

 

Limited edition with bookplate

A Secret History Unearthed. A Legendary Horror Walks Again.

Only 100 copies of the limited edition exist. 50 are available to customers in the U.S. and Canada, and 50 are available to customers outside the U.S. and Canada. The limited edition books are faux-leatherbound with foil, and each one includes a sticky-backed bookplate signed by Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, which you can add to your book.

Presenting an epic improvised campaign for Night’s Black Agents Roleplaying Game. Do your Agents have what it takes to face the Lord of the Undead himself?

The Dracula Dossier follows in the fully improvisational path of the award-winning Armitage Files campaign. Players follow up leads in the margins of Dracula Unredacted, a rare edition of Bram Stoker’s masterpiece that reveals the terrifying truth behind the fiction. They’ll chase down the real characters from Stoker’s novel, their descendants in the present, and the British agents caught in the backblast.

Dracula's Castle_350Directors combine these leads and notes with pre-prepared elements in the Director’s Handbook, including:

  • Conspiracy nodes, eerie locations and vampiric beasts
  • More than 60 supporting characters in vampiric, heroic, or in-between versions
  • Different versions of the real Mina Harker, Abraham van Helsing, and the other stars of Stoker’s novel — and their modern-day successors, descendants, and survivors — who can drive the story in any direction the players look.

ZZ_Spread pages 186_187 (Carfax)

Players choose which leads to track, which scarlet trail to follow. The Director, using the clear step-by-step techniques in this book, improvises a suitably blood-soaked thriller in response to their choices. Clear advice to players and Directors on improvisation, with extensive examples and guidelines, helps you set the scene. Together, you will read and write your own unique version of the Dracula Dossier.

Follow the clues to end the story once and for all, and close Project EDOM forever. You will find, hunt, and kill Dracula, the king of the vampires.

If you survive.

 

Buy the limited edition

Authors: Kenneth Hite, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan Stock #: PELGN05L
Artists: Stefano Azzalin, Francesca Baerald, Gennifer Bone, Jeff Brown, Tyler Clark, Dennis Detwiller, Nyra Drakae, Dean Engelhardt, Melissa Gay, Brittany Heiner, Jérôme Huguenin, Chris Huth, Christian Knutsson, Anna Kryczkowska, Erica Leveque, David Lewis Johnson, Pat Loboyko, Rich Longmore, Amanda Makepeace, Juha Makkonen, Angelus Nex (Tina X Filic), Olivia Ongai, Margaret Organ-Kean, Nathan Paoletta, Jen Estirdalin Pattison, Brittany Pezzillo, Jeff Porter, Danielle Sands, Biddy Seiveno, Patricia Smith, Ernanda Souza, Marc Steinmann, Ashley Vanchu, Alicia Vogel, Britney Winthrope Contributors: Heather Albano, Paul Baldowski, Kennon Bauman, Walt Ciechenowski, Justin Farquhar, Elsa S. Henry, Carol Johnson, Marissa Kelly, Shoshana Kessock, Shawn Merwin, James Palmer, Nathan Paoletta, Will Plant, Wes Schneider, Christopher Sniezak, Phil Vecchione
Cartographers: Olivia Catroppa, Chris Huth, Will Jobst, Gill Pearce, Joachim de Ravenbel, Simon Rogers, Ralf Schemmann Format: 368 page, full colour hardback

 

Take your players on the greatest vampire hunt in history—more than a hundred years in the making with the limited edition of Dracula Unredacted.

Limited edition without dust jacket

Only 100 copies of the limited edition exist. 50 are available to customers in the U.S. and Canada, and 50 are available to customers outside the U.S. and Canada. The limited edition books are hardbound replicas of the first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with the Dracula Unredacted dust jacket and each one includes a sticky-backed bookplate signed by Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, which you can add to your book.

Dracula is not a novel. It’s the censored version of Bram Stoker’s after-action report of the failed British Intelligence attempt to recruit and control the perfect asset — the ultimate weapon — Count Dracula. Kenneth Hite and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan have restored the deleted characters and redacted information, inserting annotations and clues left by three generations of MI6 analysts. This is Dracula Unredacted.

Limited edition with dust jacket and bookplate

 

This new edition of Dracula adds new letters and recordings, diary entries long thought lost, and documents suppressed by Her Majesty’s Government… until now. From the first tentative contact between British intelligence and the un-dead, to the werewolf of Walpurgisnacht, to the cataclysmic disappearance of Dracula in volcanic fire, read the story you’ve known for years… for the first time.
Dracula Unredacted does for the Dracula Dossier what Henry Armitage’s letters did for Armitage Files or The Book of the Smoke for Bookhounds of London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stock #: PELGN06L Author: Bram Stoker, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, Kenneth Hite
Artist: Jérôme Huguenin, Juha Makonnen Format: 488 pages, casebound, octavo sized

“They have no time to think of surrender. Are they heroes — these Parisians?”

— Robert W. Chambers, “The Street of the First Shell” (1895)

Right about now, just about fifty years ago as I write this, France had no functioning government. I mean, more than usual. Charles de Gaulle, President of France for the last decade, had vanished from the Elysée Palace in the midst of strikes and protests that paralyzed – or vitalized – Paris and left France on the brink of revolution. Half a million protesters marched through the streets of the capital in the dawn light of May 30, 1968, chanting “Adieu, de Gaulle!”

Awake!

The “May 68,” as it has come to be known, began with a student strike in March at the miserable conditions at the University of Nanterre outside Paris. Some of the Nanterre activists (calling themselves enragés after the grubbiest left-radicals of 1793) fled to the Sorbonne in Paris; when the police closed Nanterre and entered the Sorbonne to recapture the rabble-rousers, 20,000 Sorbonne students rose in protest on May 6, 1968. Police brutality against the students in turn brought the unions and the Communists into the streets, hoping to tap into the energies of the enragés for their own causes.

A million people marched in Paris on May 13, setting off a series of general strikes and workers’ seizures of factories all over France. The students retook the Sorbonne and declared it a “people’s university.” Barricades went up, and paving stones flew at cops’ heads. By May 22, two-thirds of French workers were on strike. On May 27, the UNEF, the national student union of France, held a meeting at the Sebastien Charety stadium in Paris; the 50,000 attendees demanded the end of the French state, and the Socialists hurried to pledge their support the next day. On May 29, de Gaulle got into a helicopter and flew away.

We Have a Situation Here

“Where the real world changes into simple images, the simple images become real beings and effective motivations of hypnotic behavior.”

— Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (1967)

A plurality, and perhaps a majority, of the Occupation Committee of the Sorbonne were members of, or otherwise identified themselves with, the Situationist International. The SI believed in radical non-hierarchy – possibly because of SI founder Guy Debord’s distrust of the Stalinist tendency throughout the contemporary Left – but Debord provided the main theoretical juice for what the Situationists claimed they never called “Situationism.”

In a nutshell, Situationism expands Marxist theory of alienation from the workers to all of society. Ever since World War One, Debord wrote, “the Spectacle” of consumption and commodified objects by its very nature has dominated and controlled every act, thought, and word not just of the proletariat but of everyone who buys or watches. These illusory bread and circuses recreate the oppressive class order within themselves, and “recuperate” even seemingly rebellious acts as a necessary dramatic element within the Spectacle. Examining politics, culture, and capitalism as art produces awareness of the Spectacle but cannot escape it; psychogeography can map the effects of geography and the city on emotion and mind but cannot obviate them.

Only by random artistic inspiration and acts of parodic reinterpretation called “detournement” can the willful Situationists win “the game of events,” free themselves from the Spectacle, and call their own vision of true democratic equality into being. From 1957, when the SI emerged out of a radical surrealist movement, they (or at least Debord) grew ever more directly political.

Politically, to the extent they mapped onto the normal spectrum, the Situationists could be called left-anarchists. Debord mocked anarchists as “mystics of nonorganization,” a tag which could as easily apply to the SI. Their snark and individualism appealed to student radicals such as those in Nanterre and the Sorbonne. Those students dug up precursors to their new movement, from the dynamiter Ravachol to the Marquis du Sade to a certain anonymous playwright.

A Situationist cell in the Sorbonne reads a banned play, and acts. How better to rip the mask off the Spectacle, to separate the lying signs of capitalism from the true signifieds of feeling, than by weaponizing words that undermined so-called reality? They set the Pallid Mask against the mask of the Spectacle, attacking police from the new boulevards of the “Bablyon-Carcosa” they had seen emerging through the tear gas as the Seine billows outward into a great black Lake.

Operation CHARENTON

“Coming soon to this location: charming ruins.”

— Situationist Graffito, Paris 1968

Amidst the Situationist graffiti that rapidly covered the walls of Paris’ Left Bank, a program stringer notices a Sign painted in yellow, a Sign that Admiral Payton has made sure to brief his Paris operatives on since he saw it in 1955. Every DELTA GREEN asset in France gets the alert signal: A day at Longchamp. But how to find the center of an invasion inside a revolution? Payton suggests a random walk: seeking the Sign calls the Sign to you.

Payton learned from Operation BRISTOL that guns and confrontation only feed Hastur. So what to do about it? Detourn the Sign, spray-paint petals sprouting from it, create a yellow fleur-de-lis that angry leftists will be sure to obliterate beneath scarlet hammers, sickles, and stars. If you find copies of the play, destroy it, yes; if you see a street performance under black stars, disrupt it, absolutely. But until then, lean into the Spectacle; make it work for you. Behave like a character in a spy film, turn cosmic convulsion into cheap stereotype. Reinforce plastic reality, tread Carcosa as a stage set, recuperate the King in Yellow as nothing more than a revolutionary poster, and then rip him up.

Agents fan out into Paris, losing touch with each other in a city writhing between two masks. Your Agents doubtless play the crucial role, although other teams in other Iles du Paris report their own strange victories. A Gaullist rally 800,000 strong marches through Paris on the afternoon of the 30th. De Gaulle returns from Germany with the army’s support, orders the workers back with raises, orders the colleges reopened under proper prefects, orders the Spectacle restored. The Communists and Socialists go along, and he crushes them in the elections the next month. Only the normal despair and alienation breathes Parisian air again.

Or was the explanation different? Was Payton’s aim wrong, even if his ammunition was sound? Had the Situationists, alert to every nuance of falsity and screen memory, uncovered the truth about the world? Were they trying to awaken the world from its unnatural prison? After all, Debord’s description of the Spectacle sounds very familiar, to my ears:

To the extent that necessity is socially dreamed, the dream becomes necessary. The Spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The Spectacle is the guardian of sleep.

Iä! Iä! Spectacle fhtagn!

by Kenneth Hite

For the last 20 years, I have considered the Delta Green setting—created by John Scott Tynes, Adam Scott Glancy, and Dennis Detwiller—the pinnacle of the possible for Cthulhu campaigning. Like my own Trail of Cthulhu, published by Pelgrane Press for its GUMSHOE system in 2008, Delta Green was licensed for Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu RPG. It presented a secret war within the federal government, an illegal conspiracy of G-men dedicated to destroying the Cthulhu mythos. It gave its heroes assault rifles and CIA cover—which somehow only made their situation worse, made their investigations bleaker and more horrific.

According to Lovecraft’s story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” government agents had raided that decrepit town, discovered the hideous Deep Ones lurking therein, and even attacked them with submarines. Tynes and company proposed that the raid and cover-up mentioned by Lovecraft spawned a secret government program—codenamed DELTA GREEN—that fought occult Nazis, hunted Cthulhu cultists, and eventually destroyed itself in Vietnam.

Officially disbanded in 1970 after the failed “Operation OBSIDIAN” in Cambodia, the program continued as an illegal “cowboy” operation until it was re-activated after 9/11. Just as DELTA GREEN revived in the new century, the Delta Green partnership and Arc Dream Publishing produced their own core Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game books this year. Those books bring the DELTA GREEN story up through the War on Terror, the surveillance state, and the rest of the present day’s horrors.

Over breakfast at Gen Con 2015, Dennis and Scott revealed their plans for this new RPG and invited me and Pelgrane aboard. Trail of Cthulhu had made its own waves in the Cthulhu world, and adding a GUMSHOE system Delta Green corebook would bring two fan bases along for the ride. None of us wanted just a simple translation, needlessly duplicating material. Trail of Cthulhu had shifted its default setting from Chaosium’s 1920s to the darker decade of the 1930s, which perhaps inspired Dennis and Scott to offer me a different decade than the original’s 1990s or the new edition’s now. We settled on the 1960s, the decade in which, like many well-meaning government programs, DELTA GREEN overreached and destroyed itself. By contrast with the “summer” of the 1940s and 1950s, and to foreshadow the program’s destruction, I named this new corebook The Fall of DELTA GREEN.

The result was a double translation: not just from the Delta Green: The RPG system to GUMSHOE, but from the modern day to the 1960s. I loaded up my iTunes playlist with everything from Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys to period Japanese and Cambodian pub rock, and tried to sink into the era. I hunted through 1969 geology textbooks for signs of sunken R’lyeh. I read sixties spy novels and nonfiction (especially the pioneering 1967 work The American Intelligence Community by USAF Brigadier General Monro MacCloskey) to build a sense of the “past possible.” In many ways, a world without the Internet or micro-transmitters becomes better for investigative games and spy fiction than ours: knowledge is once more valuable, and uncertainty lets horror grow.

Not that there was any shortage of horror in the modern day Delta Green: The RPG. Lead designer Greg Stolze introduced several systems designed to grind the heroes down: Lethality, Bonds, and Breaking Points. Lethality was just what it sounded like: some weapons killed you outright if you rolled lower than their Lethality percentage. On the one-die GUMSHOE system, Lethality became even more lethal, since the lowest possible Lethality percentage was 1 in 6, or about 17%. I put in a little wiggle room (some Lethality just left you crippled or stunned) but not too much: The Fall of DELTA GREEN also encompasses the Vietnam War, after all.

Breaking Points, fortunately, already replicated the staccato feel of disintegration I’d added to the Sanity and Stability tracks in Trail of Cthulhu. But Bonds were real evil genius. On the surface, they looked like lifelines: human ties the agent could call on to preserve her sanity. But once used, their disintegration added stress to the agent’s off-hours: explain why you missed your son’s birthday to chase UFOs. It took a good bit of tweaking the specific Stability mix to get Greg’s vision working in the GUMSHOE engine, but again, my version might even have wound up a little harsher. The monsters became tougher, too, up-armored from their Trail of Cthulhu incarnations for a new era of M16s and flamethrowers. And of course, I borrowed heavily from the extensive Delta Green discussion of hiding or destroying a corpse.

As with my other GUMSHOE designs, I added modes of play, allowing the Handler (the GM) to ease up or bear down on the agents, in this case by adding or removing Stability from the game economy. Following Greg’s skill consolidation, agents can focus more points on investigating human targets either socially or by stealth; I added the Agency ability to increase that flexibility further. But like Bonds, these seeming bonuses just push players further down the slippery slope to destruction. The Fall of DELTA GREEN, while almost entirely inter-operable with other GUMSHOE games like Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents, is its own rough beast: gritty and horrifying, with plenty of sharp edges for agents at the sharp end.

I’ll wager we have some readers who can (unlike your humble correspondent) answer the question “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” But can your Fall of DELTA GREEN Agents answer that question? How about when the other Kennedy was shot? When Dr. King was shot? Malcolm X? Ngo Dinh Diem? Medgar Evers? George Lincoln Rockwell? Rafael Trujillo? Patrice Lumumba?

                         A view to a kill?

Let’s spend some Interrogation and find out where indeed your Agents might have been when the shots rang out, some time in the 1960s.

You Heard It On the Radio

While you’re not likely to catch players unaware of November 22, 1963, and U2 lyrics make it possible that April 4, 1968 won’t come as an in-game shock, without Googling it tell me when Robert F. Kennedy was shot. (June 6, 1968.) If your campaign keeps a calendar, and you’ve tied it to historical events, it can be a real moment (just as in real life) when the Agents hear the news that “Senator Kennedy has been shot and killed in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California.”

Some assassinations just become news-crawl — unless your team is in the Dominican Republic when it happens, the assassination of President Trujillo isn’t likely to make too many waves. But you never know where waves might wash up, in the world of Delta Green.

You Worked It

Something like either Kennedy assassination draws in every Federal agent remotely connected to the area, if only to ask a lot of repetitive, police-work style questions at the airport or wherever. The manhunt for James Earl Ray, the killer of Martin Luther King, lasted two months, involved thousands of Federal agents, and covered five countries before he was finally arrested in London. (See Hampton Sides’ fascinating book Hellhound on His Trail for many many game-worthy details.) If your Agents are assigned to the South, to the civil rights watch (in any sense, from COINTELPRO to CHAOS to the Marshals Service), to any major port of exit, or to Canada, Britain, or Portugal (!) they get pulled off their DELTA GREEN case and put onto this one. Stealing time from some boring embezzlement case is one thing — but everybody’s boss is watching this one, because the whole world is watching this one.

On the other hand, your Agents might be able to falsify a connection between their DELTA GREEN case and the Ray manhunt — as long as they cover their ass in the cover memo, they can go beat up all the inbred Alabama cultists they want for two months. Alternately, your Agents weren’t supposed to work this case at all. They were in no uncertain terms ordered to stay off it, by their day-job supervisors or worse by DELTA GREEN. But something about it looks, pardon the word, fishy … Charles McCarry’s novel Tears of Autumn follows a CIA agent convinced the JFK assassination isn’t all the Warren Commission cracked it up to be, and it’s a great template for Handlers who want to dangle the possibilities of Hastur-cultism (say) around Sirhan Sirhan’s bizarre ramblings.

You Were There

Maybe it’s just coincidence. Your Agents were in Saigon looking for the Kuen-Yuin in October 1963, and followed some leads to some murky South Vietnamese generals, or got some unofficial help from a CIA friendly here “on another job,” or just stumbled into the anti-Diem coup because they heard shooting and like idiots or player characters everywhere ran toward it. Maybe some book-hound in Harlem was trying to peddle a copy of al-Azif to the Nation of Islam in February 1965. Your Agents work the case, you shock them with the Malcolm X killing — and now one of their crucial Network contacts is stuck in the middle of an expanding NYPD presence, which also makes it even harder for four White Feds trying to covertly knock over a Harlem bookstore.

Or maybe it’s something else, that you were following Georg the Karotechia hit man through northern Virginia when you heard the head of the American Nazi Party got shot two miles away — right when Georg slipped your tail. Do you try to re-acquire Georg, do you try to worm your way into the Arlington Police investigation (and risk blowing your cover), do you try to find out why the Karotechia wanted George Lincoln Rockwell dead and why they made this “John Patler” guy their patsy? Or is Georg up to something else entirely, and every minute you spend on a dead American Nazi endangers millions of live American non-Nazis?

You’re the Patsy

It’s too much to ask that one of your players decides to have his Agent be a former Marine radar technician and attempted defector now involved in fringe politics in New Orleans and Dallas — but you can still frame the Agents if you’re willing to do a little work. MAJESTIC certainly is. Maybe you have to invent an assassination of a U.S. Senator (besides Bobby Kennedy) or go overseas. The fatal plane crash of Enrico Mattei, the creator of Italy’s public-private oil combine ENI, in 1962 is generally ascribed to a bomb on his plane, itself variously ascribed to the CIA, the Mafia, the French SDECE, the Italian SIFAR, and OAS terrorists. MAJESTIC might have killed him as a payoff to U.S. oil companies, or to get access to ENI records on deep drilling or a newly discovered cavern in Arabia, or as collateral damage because their real target was the U.S. reporter William McHale who was also on Mattei’s plane.

MAJESTIC knew they needed a patsy so they laid a false trail to ENI and to Mattei’s plane, dropping chicken feed to DELTA GREEN analysts until a team of Agents — your team — gets dispatched to Catania, Sicily on a phony anti-Mafia case. Or perhaps your team was in Italy already and MAJESTIC fakes the documents and footage and suborns testimony to put them on the scene at the airport or underneath the flight path with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. (Really, how hard is it to get an average group of player characters to head into the Lombard hills with a grenade launcher on no provocation whatsoever?) Even if the case remains officially unsolved (as the Mattei murder does) MAJESTIC can still offload any sub rosa backblast from its killing onto those poor neanderthal saps in DELTA GREEN.

You Did It

We can always go back to our fictitious Senator for this one. Senator Theodore Warrick (R-CT) is a Sentinel of the Exalted Circle Cthulhu cult, and is also being tipped as a possible Vice-Presidential candidate for the GOP in 1968. Your Agents have hard proof that Senator Warrick literally sleeps with the fishes, and a ticking clock before Secret Service protection makes killing him a suicide mission. This deserves to be a major set piece operation, with huge ramifications throughout the campaign. You could even move it to 1964 or 1960 and have it be the inciting event for your Agent team. DELTA GREEN can’t keep them even on its covert books, so it burns them Night’s Black Agents style, and sends them out to work under completely deniable cover, occasionally dead-dropping briefing files to them, as the FBI stays one step away from linking them to the Warrick assassination.

Or why fictionalize our senators? Really? Now, I’m not saying you should go full Ellroy and have your Agents on the grassy knoll with rifles. (I’m not saying not to do that, mind.) But let’s say that a DELTA GREEN hit team was on the grassy knoll with rifles, because a Massachusetts sailor President with strange physical debilities who sleeps with literally everything that moves is a bigger security risk than they want to take. And let’s say his Senator brother is running for President, and will definitely reopen the case if he wins. And let’s say that DELTA GREEN doesn’t want any file like that reopened. What do you do, hot shot? (Besides watch the magnificently surreal assassination film Winter Kills, of course.) What do you do?

 

It might take more than one swallow to make a summer, he said from a city where it would take about eighty Fahrenheit degrees along with any number of migratory birds to make it summer right now. But it only takes one monster to make a mystery. That, at least, is the thesis, or among the theses at any rate, of Hideous Creatures (providentially forthcoming, and long before the swallows do). Given enough attention to the monster, you can put together a fully satisfying evening or two of Trail of Cthulhu play even if the adventure might look a little bald just laid out there on the page.

Temptation of St. Anthony, from the Isenheim Altarpiece by Grünewald

Thesis, meet example. I’m going to use a subset of the clues as printed (or mostly) from Hideous Creatures: Byakhee, and reproduced below if you’d like to follow along at home and didn’t pick up that fine release. I’ll work sort of backward from them to create a short but stark adventure. Each story element I establish grows out of the flavor detail in a clue.

Our villain is summoning a byakhee for foul doings, and the clues give us the witch-cult (History) and a last name (Müller, from the Oral History clue) so let’s go with a witch named Karin Müller. Are the Investigators in Alsace-Lorraine or is she on their turf? Either one works, but seeing as Germans just got bounced out of Alsace-Lorraine in 1918 let’s have our Teutonic witch scion move to America — with a load of valuable art to sell (Art History, Chemistry) to pay for her passage.

So she’s an art dealer and a witch. What’s her goal? Maybe it’s tied in with both: she wants to inspire the genius of madness in an area artist, Paul Kerenyi (Art History, Assess Honesty) and also consecrate a temple to Hastur (Archaeology, Languages, Library Use) so she can re-start the cult here in Chicago.

Now, by reversing the process we can feed the mystery right back out.

Müller sent a byakhee to inspire one artist — Sarah Jones — but it got out of hand and Jones died; this brings in the Investigators (Forensics). They see the thing’s prints (Evidence Collection) and the weird effect on the vegetation where it landed, somewhere near Müller’s house or temple site (Biology).

Müller also stole the variant Euclid she needed for the consecration (Library Use) from the University of Chicago library. This might also bring in the Investigators, if they’re Book-houndly types.

They find out about Jones’ connection to Müller via Interpersonal talk with Jones’ friends or family; researching Müller points us to Alsace-Lorraine. This might not be time to drop the History clue, but it can be a leveraged clue for when they suspect witchcraft or when more than one clue points Müller’s direction. Such as when they meet her and she’s wearing an amulet of the Pleaides (Cryptography, Occult). Or when they see the genuine Schongauer print for sale in her gallery (Chemistry) and know (Art History) that he too was from Alsace-Lorraine.

Observation with Flattery (or gossip with a different Interpersonal ability) tells them she’s cozying up to Paul Kerenyi now. If they follow her or Kerenyi they hear her whistle, smell juniper (Sense Trouble), and then see her byakhee snatch him up (Art History). They can see the frozen ground here, too (Biology). If they stay home, they’ll see the byakhee and think of the art another time and make the connection: you can always throw in a rival Müller wants to kill or another unfortunate artist for another byakhee encounter if need be.

Kerenyi comes staggering back crazy talking to the Investigators about winged monsters and begging for their help. He’s got a heck of a sunburn, too (Medicine). The next day, though, he’s feverishly creating art based on his experience and now claims it was all a dream (Assess Honesty). This might be when to drop the clue about the “earth diver” and its role in artistic inspiration (Theology). He’s got another date with Müller two nights from now or whenever suits the game’s pacing. If you think there’s more than one whistle, or a player really grooves on Geology, Müller gave Kerenyi a whistle and mead to try out on his own; the Investigators can get ahold of it that way.

If they take advantage of her date to toss Müller’s house they find her mead (Pharmacy), her temple-consecrating cornerstone (Languages), maybe Shrewsbury’s book (Theology), and a map to wherever her sacred Hastur stone is unless it’s just in her backyard.

But the site or her yard is full of not just byakhee spoor (Evidence Collection, Biology) but also stones and mirrors (Library Use)! Which one is the sacred stone? The one aligned with the Pleiades of course (Astronomy)! If they start messing with stuff, sniff for juniper (Sense Trouble)! Müller comes riding back on a byakhee and the Big Fight ensues. Blowing up the sacred stone might dismiss the byakhee, or at least weaken its connection to Hastur.

Not a particularly challenging scenario, I admit. But it makes a nice, straightforward monster-of-the-week, and still has enough weird juju to keep the players happy and creeped out, especially if you run it with any or many of the variations on the monster from the rest of that Hideous Creatures installment. As a bonus, see if you can get some extra inspiration from the Manly Wade Wellman story “O Ugly Bird!” which is not at all about a byakhee, unless it is.

Clues

Archaeology: The Parthenon was oriented to the rising of the Pleiades – perhaps this temple shared the same alignment. In which case, the high altar should be over here. (Architecture, Astronomy)

Art History: The black-winged demon tormenting St. Anthony in Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece (1515) is supposed to be the result of an ergot hallucination – so why does it perfectly match the eyewitness’ description of the “devil bird” that took Kerenyi right out from under our noses?

Assess Honesty: He claims that the winged monsters and the flying through space was all a dream brought on by drinking “too much mead” – but he doesn’t believe his own denials! Is he crazy, or is he driving himself crazy thinking he’s crazy?

Biology: The grass here was frozen and then broken from the top down, as though something unutterably cold landed here. The spores growing here are new – I’ve never seen anything like them before, although they slightly resemble nitrogen-fixing fungi.

Chemistry: The parchment and ink are absolutely authentic for a print struck in Colmar during Martin Schongauer’s life (1440-1491). But why would he run off a print study of just one of the demons in his Torment of St. Anthony? (Art History, Document Analysis)

Cryptography: The symbol cut into the crystal is Agrippa’s emblem for the Pleiades. (Occult, q.v.)

Evidence Collection: The prints generally resemble those of carrion birds, but are not deep enough to indicate anything heavy enough to batter a human ever stood in them. (Outdoorsman)

Forensics: The body is slashed and torn almost to rags, and blood spatter evidence indicates it was carried around the area during the struggle. Although the throat is ripped out, there is surprisingly little blood either on or in the corpse.

Geology: This whistle isn’t made of any kind of stone I’m familiar with. It seems like iridium-bearing ore, rather than the natural alloy one expects to find. It could be igneous rock or clay, subjected to intense heat – possibly meteoric in origin, as I’ve never seen anything like it on earth.

History: This whole Alsace-Lorraine region was a hotbed of witchcraft outbreaks from 1410 to 1690; testimonies (not all extorted by torture) record witches and wizards flying to the Bavarian Alps (or the court of the Devil) at unearthly speed on their demonic steeds after drinking a golden potion.

Languages: The tablet we found in her sink is inscribed in ancient Babylonian, beginning with MUL.MUL, the “Star of Stars” or the Pleiades. The basalt stone is incredibly weathered, but the cuneiform looks like it was carved yesterday. (Geology for stone)

Library Use: This is the 1511 Strasbourg edition of Euclid. It incorporates a number of “improvements” by the translator Bartolomeo Zamberti taken from Theon of Alexandria’s Catoptrica – the study of mirrors – and “Alhazen’s” De crepusculis – a treatise on shadows at twilight. Why go to the trouble to get this specific edition? Does it have anything to do with the mirrors set up to reflect the western horizon right on the Pleiadean alignment? (Astronomy)

Medicine: He’s suffering from shock and severe hypothermia – and those red spots all over his skin are purpura from exploded capillaries. The dark tan indicates high ultraviolet exposure, too.

Occult: According to Agrippa’s De Occulta Philosophia (1510-1530), a properly prepared talisman “with the Moon conjunct the Pleiades rising or at midheaven, preserves the eyesight, summons demons and the spirits of the dead, calls the winds, and reveals secrets and things that are lost.”

Oral History: Talking to peasants and townsfolk all through the area, you notice that some families are – not shunned, precisely, but less connected to the rest of the region. More insular, apt to marry among themselves. The Weylands and the Müllers seem to be the leading families in that group.

Pharmacy: I can’t tell what this so-called mead is supposed to be, but it’s not just fermented honey. Or if it is, the bees took pollen from a literally impossible collection of plants, fungi, and epiphytes, and then added some ethylene glycol and neurotoxic heavy metals to finish the job. This will either put you into a mild coma or give you the worst hyperaesthesia you’ve ever had. (Chemistry)

Sense Trouble: A waft of icy air seems to rush past you, and an astringent smell like rotting juniper stings your nostrils.

Theology: Shrewsbury’s work references the “earth-diver” myth of creation common amongst Siberian and Amerind peoples, in which a sky deity sends a (sometimes infernal or demonic) bird to the bottom of the ocean to raise up the land at the beginning of time. He thus postulates a primordial antagonism between Water-Chaos and Sky-Art, and implies these “demonic birds” also “dive” into our subconscious to raise up artistic and religious impulse.

No need to build a stage, it was all around us. Props would be simple and obvious. We would hurl ourselves across the canvas of society like streaks of splattered paint. Highly visual images would become news, and rumor-mongers would rush to spread the excited word. … Once we acknowledged the universe as theater and accepted the war of symbols, the rest was easy.

— Abbie Hoffman, “Museum of the Streets”

In the most American way possible, the biggest magical ritual ever performed in the United States (and possibly in the world) was essentially a marketing campaign. The activist (and former student of psychologist Abraham Maslow) Abbie Hoffman believed in the power of vaporware politics: create an image of the product you want and people will believe it already exists and buy into it. (The French syndicalist philosopher Georges Sorel had much the same realization in 1908.) In other words, Esoterror, although it may seem a trifle charged to use such a term for an action intended to convince the youth of America that the youth of America already opposed the Vietnam War, which in 1967 was by no means a sure bet. Hoffman would surely have preferred Esorgasm, or perhaps Esotrickery.

And what, specifically, was that action to be? Nothing less than the levitation and exorcism (or “exorgasm”) of the Pentagon during the March on Washington of October 21, 1967, planned and carried out by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. While folksingers bleated and lefties old and new orated, Abbie Hoffman orchestrated a Working, complete with a Hittite chant discovered or invented by the poet (and member of the counterculture house band The Fugs) Ed Sanders, in consultation with the occultist and musicologist Harry Smith.

The full ritual, as planned, involved sprinkling cornmeal in a circle around the Pentagon as 25,000 hippies held hands, the Powers were invoked from the four cardinal directions, and “a cow painted with occult symbols” looked on. After consulting with Mexican shamans, the painter and theosophist Michael Bowen added a further air element: 200 pounds of daisies to be dropped onto the roof of the Pentagon from a small plane. Hoffman somehow put the whammy on the Pentagon’s negotiators, who talked him down from levitating the Pentagon 22 feet in the air (other sources claim Hoffman opened at 300 feet) to three feet, and in what I can only consider a classic (but ultimately failed) troll attempt, issued the Marchers a permit to levitate the world’s largest office building three feet off the ground.

I remember after we’d done “Out, Demons, Out,” I went down under the truck and there was this guy from Newsweek trying to hold a microphone close to [Kenneth] Anger. It looked like he was burning a pentagon with a Tarot card or a picture of the devil or something in the middle of it. In other words the thing we were doing above him, he viewed that as the exoteric thing and he was doing the esoteric, serious, zero-bullshit exorcism.

— Ed Sanders, in “Out, Demons, Out! An Oral History

Ordo Veritatis, or DELTA GREEN, or whoever else was keeping an eye on things magical for the military-industrial complex, was on the ball that day. The Pentagon permit explicitly forbade a human chain surrounding the Pentagon; as Norman Mailer put it later, “exorcism without encirclement was like culinary art without a fire—no one could properly expect a meal.” Furthermore, the Park Police confiscated the cornmeal when Paul Krassner and some other hippies tried a “practice exorcism” earlier that day on the Washington Monument, a different police force stopped the cow, and the FBI grounded the daisy plane.

So at the moment of truth, 25,000 stoned hippies and other curious types read an abridged visualization ritual while regaled with the music of the Fugs on Indian triangle, cymbals, drums, trumpets, and finger bells. Standing in a truck flatbed, Ed Sanders did his best to invoke Zeus, Anubis, Aphrodite, Magna Mater, Dionysus, Zagreus, Jesus, Yahweh, the Unnamable, the Zoroastrian fire, Hermes, the “beak of Sok,” Ra, Osiris, Horus, Nepta, Isis, “the flowing living universe,” and the Tyrone Power Pound Cake Society in the Sky, apparently an early avatar of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Underneath the truck, Crowleian film maker Kenneth Anger crouched, burning sigils and “making snake noises at whomever should try to come near.” He had previously scattered 93 parchment-and-India-ink sigils in the men’s restrooms of the Pentagon, part of a personal campaign to tame and banish the god Mars, one more freelance ritual to snarl whatever ectoplasm or Od was left from the abortive Working. (One assumes DELTA GREEN rounded up most of those sigils. Most of them.) Finally, the Fugs announced the “Grope-In,” meant to put the “orgasm” in “exorgasm” and replace the hate-energy of the Pentagon with the love-energy of hippies having sex in the Pentagon parking lot. But by now the 82nd Airborne had deployed around the building, and enthusiastic marshals began hitting hippies with clubs, and the old left ran away and the new left got arrested.

The Pentagon, as far as anyone can tell, remained at its original altitude, and retained its original, or at least its full, demonic complement.

So, an exercise in the ridiculous, right? Well, maybe.

The Levitation and Exorcism made the evening news, and Newsweek, and more places than Abbie Hoffman could have dreamed of. Norman Mailer made much of his own tangential role in the affair in Harper’s, and then in the very very best-selling The Armies of the Night. (Its subtitle was the esoterribly clever “History as a Novel/The Novel as History,” which rather gives the game away.) Those daisies, redirected from the abortive Aztec aircraft abracadabra, wound up in the arms of the protestors — and a photograph of hippie Superjoel (or possibly a different hippie named Hibiscus) putting a daisy in the barrel of a soldier’s gun became the iconic image Hoffman had dreamed up but never imagined. Six months and ten days later, driven in large part by ballooning anti-war sentiment in his own party, President Johnson announced he would not seek re-election in 1968.

 

“Then Hallowe’en drew near, and the settlers planned another frolic—this time, had they but known it, of a lineage older than even agriculture; the dread Witch-Sabbath of the primal pre-Aryans, kept alive through ages in the midnight blackness of secret woods, and still hinting at vague terrors under its latter-day mask of comedy and lightness.”

— H.P. Lovecraft, “The Curse of Yig”

H.P. Lovecraft had a huge sweet tooth and a morbid streak a mile wide, so of course he must have loved Halloween. His wizardly characters do, too; they make endless Halloween plans that range from kidnapping to time-shaping to world-ending. I count seven cases of Halloween ceremonies (or crimes, or both) in Lovecraft, which seemingly depend on this liminal time for their effect. In “The Dunwich Horror,” the Whateleys commune with Yog-Sothoth “on Hallowe’en” with bonfires on Sentinel Hill. In “The Man of Stone,” the sorcerer “Mad Dan” Morris attempts to sacrifice the Black Goat “at Hallow Eve” and to perform “the Great Rite that would open the gate.” Although in “Dreams in the Witch House” Walter Gilman meets Nyarlathotep at the infant-sacrificing Black Mass on Walpurgisnacht, both Brown Jenkin and “childish cries” manifest “near Hallowmass” as well.

The titular “Very Old Folk” plot their ceremonies for “the first night before the kalends of November” (October 31). The Cthulhu cult in the bayou south of New Orleans kidnapped their victims the night before November 1, 1907, i.e., on October 31. In both of those stories and “Dreams in the Witch House,” the holiday requires human sacrifice: spirit or energy sent through the gate even as the dead mass to travel the other way on All Souls’ Night (November 2). Even the gods themselves are constrained by the calendar: In “The Curse of Yig,” the Lord of Serpents sends “his monstrous children on “All-Hallows’ Night” (technically November 1). And finally, Joseph Curwen’s spell to manipulate fate (and Yog-Sothoth?) must be intoned on May 3 and October 31, or as the ancient wizard put it himself: “This Verse repeate eache Roodemas and Hallow’s Eve; and ye Thing will breede in ye Outside Spheres.”

“Not a breath of the strange grey gods of change
   That tore from the past its own
Can quicken this hour, when a spectral power
   Spreads sleep o’er the cosmic throne,
   And looses the vast unknown.”

— H.P. Lovecraft, “Hallowe’en in a Suburb” (1926)

But why would cosmic forces such as Yog-Sothoth, Cthulhu, and Nyarlathotep care about Halloween? The arbitrary quartering of the northern hemisphere’s calendar is just that, and questions of goat-breeding time, winter wheat harvest, or even the returning dead should seem irrelevant to the Great Old Ones. Halloween isn’t a holiday to these forces, it’s a marker, a regular shift in the curves and angles of Euclidean space-time. Lovecraft’s narrator L. Caelius Rufus gives us the clue in “The Very Old Folk”: “The whole cohort now remained at a standstill, and as the torches faded I watched what I thought were fantastic shadows outlined in the sky by the spectral luminosity of the Via Lactea as it flowed through Perseus, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Cygnus.”

Cetus, by Johannes Hevelius (1690)

It’s not the earthly dead that matter on Halloween. It’s the stars, which perhaps almost come right that night. The Pleiades, for instance, rise in the east in October and November, and are directly overhead at midnight on November 21. But twelve hundred years or so ago (call it the 9th century), they were overhead at midnight on October 31 — more than enough reason, say people who like precession no more than I do, and accurate chronology much less, for the Druids (or whoever) to mark that date as Samhain. The Pleiades thus represent the dead, a cluster of dim stars (some still invisible to all but the best Sight) brightening briefly as they return.

What else can we see in the skies just before “the Kalends of November,” then? In Lovecraftian sky lore, we can take note of Algol, the “Demon-Star” from “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.” An angry red variable, Ptolemy identified it (based on much older tradition) as the eye in the head of Medusa wielded by Perseus. But Algol is only one of four variable stars all in the Halloween sky, all in constellations associated with the myth of Perseus: Delta Cephei, Gamma Cassiopiae, and Omicron Ceti, also called Mira, which falls just on the sky’s meridian at midnight. Being variable stars, they make admirable keys to the lock of dimensions, and perhaps their shifting wavelengths just happen to combine or resonate on Halloween: the stars aren’t right that night, but they’re less wrong than on any other date.

Cepheus and Cassiopeia are Andromeda’s parents, Algol is Perseus’ weapon, and Cetus … Cetus is a giant sea monster turned to stone by Medusa’s head. The name “Cetus” comes from the Greek ketos, meaning “sea monster” or, intriguingly, “abyss.” Its further etymology is unknown, but we do have that C-t combo to inspire us to speculation. (In Hawaii the constellation is called Kuhi, another evocative name; in China it was Xuánwu, the “Black Tortoise” depicted with serpentine extrusions.) Early Christian astronomers just followed Ovid and called it Belua Ponti, “the Beast of the Sea,” while the late Chaldean astronomer Berossus may have called it Thalatté, a variation on Tiamat, the Chaos Serpent (cognate with the Hebrew tahom, “the Abyss”).

C-t and Th-l, now. Manilius describes Cetus in the (1st century CE) Astronomicon: “Ocean clamors in every quarter, and the very mountains and crags quake at the creature’s onset.” A mountain walked … or stumbled. Return with me to the myth again: Perseus wields the head of Medusa (Algol) to petrify Cetus, the Abyssal Monster. A variable star — a change in the stars — turns C-t/Th-l to stone, or perhaps merely seals him up in stone. Manilius or Berossus or Ptolemy guessed (or perhaps knew) that these four variable stars were the four keys to awakening the Great Old Ones. They linked each of them with the tale of Andromeda knowing that every year the tale retells itself in heaven: Cetus is unleashed and frozen again in a night. A very special night that we call Halloween.

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