“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.

A land that is thirstier than ruin
A sea that is hungrier than death
Heaped hills that a tree never grew in
Wide sands where the wave draws breath.

— Algernon Swinburne, “By the North Sea” (1880)

At some point around 1230 (perhaps during the “St. Luke’s Storm” of 1228 when the people of London saw “dragons and wykked Spyrites” in the storm wind) the action of the North Sea against the shallows on the southeast coast of Yorkshire threw up “stones and sand” to make an island probably to the east of a long sandbank at the mouth of the Humber Estuary. That sandbank is now “the Spurn” but the Vikings called it Ravenser (“raven’s tongue”) and a port of the same name appears on and off in history at the northern end of “the Neck” which connects the Spurn to the mainland such as it is of Yorkshire. Fishermen dried their nets there, then they stashed their boats there, then they traded without a lot of pesky taxation there, and by 1240 the Count of Aumale built a fortification on the island, which by that time was a “borough” named Ravenser Odd (an “odd” being Norse or Danish for a spit or point of land), or Ravenserodd, or Ravensrodd, or just Lod.

Map of the Humber mouth, 1595

In 1251, the Count obtained a charter for an official (taxed) market and fair, adding a (taxable) quay in 1297 and another in 1310. At its height, 100 ships called there per year (officially), and the town had 300 buildings, among them windmills, a tannery, a court, a prison (and gallows), and a chapel of Our Lady. Ravensrodd gained a royal charter in 1299, which came in very handy during its neighbors’ incessant lawsuits against it for piracy. In fact, another version of the town’s history says it began with a shipwreck, and was founded by the captain of that ship, one Peter-at-Sea (or Peter de la Mare), who began “convincing” other ships to land at Ravensrodd (“by fear and force”) instead of continuing on to Grimsby or Hull.

However it began, it ended just about as rapidly. The great storm of 1334 drowned “two parts” of the town and eroded the island badly; by 1351 the chapel and cemetery had drowned and looters carried off the chapel’s gold and silver ornaments. In 1360 the island was abandoned, the property owners feebly attempting to get writs against fishermen salvaging wooden beams from drowned buildings. The “St. Marcellus’ Flood” of 1362 (also called the Grote Mandrenke: “The Great Drowner of Men”) completed the job. In 1400 the walls of Ravensrodd could still be seen at low tide, but not long after that even the location of Ravensrodd was forgotten.

Trail of Cthulhu: The Shadow Over Ravensrodd

“… that town of Ravenserodd … was an exceedingly famous borough devoted to merchandise, as well as many fisheries, most abundantly furnished with ships …. But yet, with all inferior places, and chiefly by wrong-doing on the sea, by its wicked works and piracies, it provoked the wrath of God against its self beyond measure.”

— Thomas de Burton, Chronicle of Meaux Abbey (1396)

A mysterious island rises from the waves, becomes immensely profitable in gold and fish, then “by its wicked works” it drowns again. One hardly has to stretch to cast Ravensrodd as a medieval Innsmouth, destroyed by God rather than by J. Edgar Hoover. The Ravensrodd versions of the Marshes and Gilmans include family names such as: Barell, Selby, Brune, Cotes or Cokes or Coas, Rottenherring (meaning “red herring”), Keeling, Ferby, and perhaps most excitingly de la Pole, who married into not only the royal House of York but the poetic Chaucer family.

These families mostly removed to Hull in Yorkshire after Ravensrodd went down, or in some cases well before, buying up choice properties and investing in towns as far north as Whitby. So a Keeper looking for weird connections in Hull might begin with the mysterious (dream-driven?) suicide on December 6, 1924 of housebreaker Edward “Fanlight Jimmy” McMahon. McMahon apparently hanged himself in gaol despite having no motive to do so, after breaking into a house on Chariot Street. What did he see there that he couldn’t forget, or that Something wanted him to keep silent about?

Fall of DELTA GREEN Handlers might also want to look into the murders in Hull of prostitutes Margaret Lowson (1966) and Evelyn Edwards (1967). One Samuel Stephenson (a stereotypical serial killer, down to the letters to Scotland Yard) confessed to Lowson’s murder and was convicted of it, but Edwards’ remains officially unsolved. The other Deep One spoor that decade is the Hull triple trawler tragedy: three trawlers out of Hull sank in January 1968, one of them only a day out of port.

NIght’s Black Agents: The Ravensrodd Inheritance

“… the inundations of the sea and of the Humber had destroyed to the foundations the chapel of Ravensrodd, built in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that the corpses and bones of the dead there horribly appeared …”

— Thomas de Burton, Chronicle of Meaux Abbey (1396)

As I mentioned, the port of Old Ravenser goes back to Viking times or before, beginning as a monastic hermitage in 600 or so, a Danish invasion port in the centuries that follow, and reduced to only one manor house by 1400. At some point perhaps the monks drove something out into the sea, something that raised its own island and spread its own foul influence, trying to supplant the Counts of Aumale (all six of the Countess of Aumale’s children predeceased her; the line became extinct in 1274) and lurking in the manor house until the chapel drowned.

That something is the Danish vampiric spirit called the nikke (mentioned as the neck or nykr in the Director’s Handbook, p. 233). It might appear as a horse or as a bearded man or as a beautiful woman or youth. (In human form it has a slit ear, or a dripping wet garment.) Its “true appearance” may be that of a worm with blood-sucking tendrils. It surfaces every so often to work its wiles or slake its thirst in Hull: William Bolton kills Jane Allen in her flat in Andrew Marvell Terrace on October 17, 1902, stabbing her three times and himself once in the neck “in his sleep.” Six years later Thomas Siddle deprives himself of food, cuts his wife’s throat with a razor on June 9, 1908, stands stunned at the crime scene, remains insensible in prison, claims “something came over me; I only realised what I had done when blood was on my hand” …

Nikke

General Abilities: Aberrance 16, Hand-to-Hand 8, Health 10

Hit Threshold: 4 (above water), 6 (under water)

Alertness Modifier: +1 (at edge of water), +2 (on the water), +3 (under water)

Stealth Modifier: +2 (when not singing)

Damage Modifier: +0 (grasp; damage first to Athletics then to Health)

Armor: -1 (subcutaneous scales) or Corpse

Free Powers: Drain (drains air and blood from lungs, as Heat Drain), Regeneration (2 Health per round in water; all damage by next high tide), Strangling Grasp (as Lamia; NBA, p. 151)

Other Powers: Musical Enthrallment and Musical Madness (both as Mental Attacks; NBA, p. 131), Turn to Creature (Horse, Snake); Apportation (to its lair or to anywhere touched by its waters), Clairvoyance (everywhere touched by its waters), Dominate, Howl (when in the presence of a future drowning victim), Magic (Call Storms, Multiply Fish), Mesmerism, Necromancy

Banes: saying its name

Compulsions: sell magic to those who pay for it with “three drops of blood,” accept a coin dropped in water in lieu of a life

Blocks: iron knife or a steel fire-striker

Requirements: drown or drain humans, remain in or near its waters by day

Many of us ride winter and summer, but the ultimate thing for us would be to have an endless summer. The only way to do this is to travel around the world.

— Narrator, Endless Summer (1966)

When older DELTA GREEN agents reminisce – when the painkillers and the bourbon hit at the same time, or when they pass the row of unmarked black tiles near the Reflecting Pool entrance to Wing Five of the Munitions Building – they might talk about the War, sure. Or they might talk about the Raid, although even these grizzled veterans don’t remember that far back. But what they want to talk about is what they want to remember: the time when God and Eisenhower protected the right, when a man with a brush cut and a U.S. diplomatic passport could overthrow a kingdom, when the program had Nazis to hunt and Deep Ones on ice. They were in their element then, the survivors and the cowboys. DELTA GREEN may be falling now, they will tell you, but in the Fifties, it was summertime all year round.

The Fall of DELTA GREEN corebook mentions eight operations carried out by the program in this decade: SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY, SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS, SEVEN, LANCASTER, BRISTOL, ADVANCE MAN, SKUNKED, and MALLORY. Here are eight more missions for your grizzled veterans to look back on with pride and horror.

1950: Operation AUDITOR

Part of SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY, this operation tasks the Agents with the capture – alive – of Francois Genoud, Swiss financier of the ODESSA rat lines, and perhaps of the remaining Karotechia. When they track him down, he is trading in artifacts in Beirut: including idols and tablets pertaining to Dagon, al-Abhi, Nirgal, and other unnatural entities. His cultist customers are the real threat, even more than his Nazi partners in crime. This might be a straight-up snatch job, or more of a long con, depending on the Agents’ skill set.

1951: Operation FLORIDA

The Olaegodae (“very old”) mountain tribes around Hwasun in southwestern Korea held out after the main North Korean elements were pushed back in October 1950. Desperation led them to return to old habits of worship: the Hwasun miners’ communes called down the “North Emperor,” Gugwang. In February 1951, DELTA GREEN inserts two companies of occult counter-insurgents to capture and destroy the Olaegodae black stone monolith in the mountains.

Keep watching the skies!

1952: Operation ORSON

Following multiple UFO sightings over Washington, D.C. by military pilots, civilians, and radar technicians on 19-20 July 1952, President Truman orders MAJESTIC-12 to come up with two explanations: a real one, and one suitable for a press conference on 29 July. The program gets swept up in this “all hands on deck” moment as an even bigger Grey armada buzzes the capital on 26-27 July. For one week, nobody at MAJESTIC is paying attention, and the Agents can push things as far as they dare.

 

1952: Operation STITCHER

On 12 September 1952, five boys and a West Virginia National Guardsman saw a cone-shaped, round-headed, tentacled monster near Flatwoods, West Virginia while investigating strange lights. The next day, MJ-3 and DELTA GREEN send a BLUE BOOK team to investigate and cover up this possible Yithian sighting; the Agents discover that MJ-3 might be more interested in harnessing this fold in time to the Triassic than in shutting it down. Meanwhile, the eyewitnesses report mysterious ailments: prehistoric contagion, Yithian possession, or unnatural toxicity?

1953: Operation HAWKEYE

DELTA GREEN sends the Agents to examine Lomarian ruins uncovered by the extension of the runway at Barter Island, Alaska during construction of a radar station for the Distant Early Warning line. While they are there, the station emits a pulse that awakens Arnos, a lich of primordial Lomar. He sends his consciousness into the USAF personnel there, and then into the DELTA GREEN team, until they cannot tell who is human and who is some kind of thing from another time.

1954: Operation HIPPOLYTA

During the chaos around the CIA’s Operation SUCCESS in Guatemala, archaeologist Karla Lawrence disappears on 21 June 1954 near the suspected Deep One hybrid colony at Laguna Negra. The program scrambles a rescue mission, not least because Lawrence is a former OSS agent and DELTA GREEN friendly. Things get complicated when examination of Lawrence’s effects indicates she knew about the Deep One presence, and perhaps arranged her own kidnapping as a way to find out what the immortal beings know about the ancient Maya.

1956: Operation EPHESUS

On 5 February 1956, many of the citizens of Blue Hill, New Mexico oversleep and cannot be wakened until nightfall. At night, they paint graffiti on walls, move rocks, and bury water tanks in certain spots. Because Blue Hill is a residential community for the White Sands missile range, the program tasks the Agents to investigate a possible unnatural threat. A cult of Tamash in the Dreamlands city of Ilarnek has begun dreaming itself into the waking world, intending to overthrow the god Bokrug by shifting him into New Mexico to be killed by the Army. There may be some psychic backlash to the residents of Blue Hill, or of New Mexico – but it’s worth it in their eyes to rid Ilarnek of their hideous lizard tyrant. How exactly the Agents respond to this invasion of the Bokrug switchers – and how they’ll find them all amongst the innocent townsfolk — is up to them.

1957: Operation MULE TRAIN

Interest in Antarctica rises during the International Geophysical Year, and the program has picked up on Soviet plans to investigate the ruins of Kadath uncovered by the Lake expedition in 1930. The Soviet occult operatives (possibly GRU-SV8) have been inserted into the Second Soviet Antarctic Expedition; in December DELTA GREEN inserts the Agents into the Navy’s Operation DEEP FREEZE III. Their mission: shadow the Soviets, find out what they find out, and leave Kadath untampered with in its cold waste. Whatever they find out may trigger the Antarctic Ocean “nuclear tests” on 27 August through 6 September 1958, code named Operation ARGUS.

“But let us turn to the Tyrrhenians while they still remain; for under the maddening power of Dionysos the forms of dolphins are creeping over the Tyrrhenians — not at all the dolphins we know, however, nor yet those native to the sea. One of the men has dark sides, one a slippery breast, on the back of one a fin is growing, one is growing a tail, the head of one is gone but that of another is left, the hand of one is melting away, while another laments over his vanishing feet.”

— Philostratus of Lemnos (ca. 220 CE)

Philostratus purports to be describing a painting here, but read it through a Lovecraftian lens and wonder with me about the other big-brained mammal that washes up against Y’ha-nthlei. Note, by the way that the forms the Tyrrhenians metamorphose into are “not at all the dolphins we know” and also not “those native to the sea.” What could he be talking about? Why, the Deeper Ones, of course.

Kkkrrrkkkk-thulhu fhtagn!

The Deeper Ones are to dolphins what the Deep Ones are to humans: the result of a hybrid breeding program that produces a blend of the two phenotypes. Since dolphins are already aquatic, the changes mostly come inside it: gills emerge, pressure-resistant scales form beneath its blubber, the eyes distend, the flippers lengthen. The most visible difference is a thick bristly crest along the Deeper One’s spine, but it can lay that down voluntarily. The Deeper Ones behave more brutally and ruthlessly than regular dolphins, with a much stronger and more violent sexual appetite — one not limited to the delphinoid species. They are as intelligent as human-hybrid Deep Ones. If a Deeper One has not fully shifted into hybrid form, or is deliberately subduing its Deeper One “tells” then it requires a spend of Biology, Outdoorsman, or the equivalent to notice something uncanny about the beast.

Edward P. Berglund’s “The Sand Castle” names the Deeper Ones the Laniqua Lua’huan, who serve Tsur’lhn, a high priest of Cthulhu who resembles an enormous razor clam filled with tentacles and shadowy protrusions. James Wade’s wonderful Lilly-derived tale “The Deep Ones” goes still farther and indicts even regular dolphins as willing servants of Cthulhu and the telepathic amplifiers, coursing hounds, and sacred beasts of the Deep Ones. Dolphins as amplifiers of Deep One telepathy and/or Cthulhu’s dream sendings evoke the hypnotic songs associated with mermaids and Sirens. The concept also provides a wonderful opening for all manner of horrible stories — mass mind control, hypnotic suicide, dream attacks, cult frenzy — made still worse by the sunny refusal of everyone else to believe anything bad of the ocean’s perfect companion. I used this duality in my own game several years back, and I still cherish the players’ flinch when the sunny NPC docent announced “There has never been a recorded incident of a dolphin attacking a human.” As one of my players muttered in response: “Not recorded … because they kill all the witnesses.”

Trail of Cthulhu Keepers should look into Marine Studios (later Marineland) south of St. Augustine, Florida, which became the first public dolphin exhibit park in the world in June of 1938. It opened with one bottlenose dolphin, attracting tourists and literati. The Creature From the Black Lagoon was filmed at Marineland in 1954, and the dolphinarium remained extremely popular well into the Fall of DELTA GREEN era. However Flipper, filmed between 1963 and 1967, drew crowds to Marineland’s rival, the Miami Seaquarium. Perhaps a failing marine park desperately promotes its particularly intelligent dolphin, and covers up the surely unrelated rash of deaths.

• In addition, Fall of DELTA GREEN Handlers might consider involving the Deeper Ones with the Navy Marine Mammal Program. The NMMP starts in 1962 at Point Mugu, California; in 1967 the program becomes classified, transfers to the Naval Undersea Research and Development Center at Point Loma near San Diego and adds a second facility at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii. Dolphin teams deploy to Vietnam in 1965, tasked with minesweeping and anti-frogman security. The Navy prefers the more aggressive dolphins with Deep One genetics; DELTA GREEN differs.

Deeper One

“Though the ordinary Delphinus delphis is a cetacean mammal, unable to subsist without air, I watched one of the swimmers closely for two hours, and did not see him alter his submerged condition. … the peculiar dolphins were still about us, even at a depth where the existence of high organisms is considered impossible by most naturalists.”

— H.P. Lovecraft, “The Temple”

Abilities: Athletics 16, Health 10, Scuffling 12

Magic: 7; spells connected with Cthulhu or the Deep Ones.

Hit Threshold: 4 (big but agile)

Alertness Modifier: +1 (+2 vs. moving objects underwater)

Stealth Modifier: +2

Attack: bite (-1), bash (+0 or more)

Armor: -1 vs. any (subdermal scales)

Stability Loss: +0

Charging Bash: If a Deeper One can charge its target, it can convert more of its 500 kg of momentum into impact damage. A Deeper One that attacks from Near or farther can spend 2 Athletics to add +1 to its damage (max. +3). It must spend at least one round swimming back out to Near distance to launch a charging bash attack the next round.

Fully Aquatic: Deeper Ones, unlike dolphins, don’t need to surface or breathe air.

Orca Hybrid: Orcas, or killer whales, are a very large and aggressive genus of dolphin, and may also interbreed with the Deep Ones. For an orca Deeper One template, increase Athletics, Health, and Scuffling by +6. Its bite does +4 damage; its bash starts at +2; its Armor is -3. The orca hybrid can also grab and hold with its bite: by paying 2 Scuffling points, the Deeper One clamps down on its foe and automatically hits with a free bite attack each round thereafter. It and its victim take -1 to their Hit Threshold against each other.

Regular Dolphin: A regular, non-hybrid dolphin has Athletics 9, Health 7, Scuffling 6, and no Armor. (Increase these abilities as above for a regular orca.) It may or may not have Magic, or a pod of dolphins may have a common Magic pool, depending on the Keeper’s view of dolphin intelligence.

Telepathy: A Deeper One can read the mind of, and send its thoughts to, any Deep One, Deeper One, dolphin, hybrid, or dreaming human within a mile. (Stability test against the Deeper One’s roll+spend (of Magic) total to resist; the Deeper One may add +1 to its result for every five telepaths assisting it.) Alcohol (drinking enough to cost 2 Health) may block the Deeper Ones’ telepathic abilities.

 

“He handed me a chunk of green stone, almost too heavy to hold in one hand. … The inscription was in curved characters, not unlike Pitman’s shorthand; the face in the midst of them could have been a devil mask, or a snake god, or a sea monster.”

— Colin Wilson, “The Return of the Lloigor”

This is the kind of mystery that I love, because the clues are just far enough apart that there is no way to rationally solve or prove anything, but their shape — or the shape they point to — is so clear that the intuitive spark jumps across the gap regardless. This is the very meat and drink of Lovecraftian mystery investigation: the clues exist, and they unambiguously point to something insane. And there is no way to know more. Herewith, then, the clues, every one of which is real and as accurate as I can manage without knowing Chinese or taking a month to write this column.

Jade bi incised with taotie, unknown provenance

Here’s a story about jade. Around 750 BCE a pilgrim named Bian He sees a feng (a composite creature usually translated, inaccurately, as “phoenix”) land on a mountain, travels to that spot, and finds a stone. He brings it to King Li of Chu and offers to sell him this stone, which he knows (because it drew the feng to it) contains jade. (Side diversion: jade is full of yang, attracting the yin-charged feng.) King Li’s jeweler examines the stone and decrees it worthless, so Li chops off one of Bian He’s feet. Bian He waits until Li’s successor Wu comes to the throne, repeats his offer, and gets his other foot amputated. Finally King Wen comes to the throne and one day sees Bian He weeping tears of blood. Wen buys the stone, which when split reveals a jade disk, the He Shi Bi, which  eventually becomes the Imperial Seal of China, until it disappears during the Jin invasion around 950 CE.

So what is the Bi in He Shi Bi? The word bi means a specific kind of jade disk, one with a hole punched in the middle. Its character is made up of the characters meaning “jade” and “beheading.” Bi were buried on the chests or stomachs of the dead, or placed atop their graves. Nobody knows what they signified. One theory postulates the bi represents heaven or the great cycle of the stars, which implies return from the dead, or immortality.

The Chinese word for jade is yu, originally the same character as wang (“emperor”). Paleographers now believe the character originally depicted an axe. At some point, scribes added a blemish to the yu character to distinguish it from wang, much like the hole in the middle of a bi. Yu was originally pronounced ng-iog, the first consonant being a sort of trilled uvular. Maybe lliog is a better transliteration.

The earliest known makers of bi were the Liangzhu culture, which had a very impressive urban civilization at the mouth of the Yangtze River from 3400 to 2250 BCE. They used diamonds to carve jade, even making corundum axes for the purpose; diamond tools would not come into common use again until Minoan Crete around 1500 BCE. Liangzhu designs spread all over China, and in the case of the bi, lasted for millennia. Weirdly, genetic tests indicate the Liangzhu were Pacific Islanders, not Chinese. Even more weirdly, all the cities of the Liangzhu now lie beneath Lake Taihu — which may have been a meteoric impact crater, or something just as catastrophic.

The Liangzhu didn’t just invent the bi. They may also have created — or first depicted — the taotie, one of the “Four Evil Creatures of the World.” Sort of a looping geometric demon, it somewhat resembles staring eyes under curved, symmetrical horns (or tentacles) and the top of a mouth. Taotie are bodiless and even mouth-less, but apparently represent greedy hunger. Around 239 BCE the Qin chancellor Lu wrote: “The taotie has a head but no body. When it eats people, it does not swallow them, but harms them.” Another possible meaning of that last line: “Before it could swallow the man it devoured, its own body was damaged.” Perhaps Lu wrote both meanings, that being one advantage of a logographic script.

And of course the Liangzhu carved taotie into bi, although more often they put them on the corners and faces of cong, hollow jade cylinders found with bi in graves of the period. Topologically, of course, it’s the same thing: eyes in a ring around a central hole.

That’s all the clues I have right now, although I am certain as death that I could find a dozen more in Chinese legend and archaeology, or in the mineralogy of jade.

So we have a bodiless devouring creature associated with amputation, immortality, greenish stone, Pacific Islanders, the sudden destruction of cities, and cruel imperial rule. By an odd coincidence Colin Wilson’s lloigor ruled in Mu before it sank, destroy cities leaving greenish-blue lakes behind, amputate their slaves’ extremities, are made of energy (yang energy to boot: aggressive and cruel) and dwell in charged stones.

So here is the solution to our mystery. Mu left a colony or an outlying post on the coast of China, ruled by the lloigor dwelling in their jade stones. Their emperor was jade, so the glyph lliog could be the same — the glyph of the axe representing the power to amputate limbs of human rebels. Their hideous half-faces and monstrous symmetries infected the stones, emerging as the taotie. Then someone figured out how to step down the lloigor charge, or perhaps ground it entirely. Take a diamond tool and cut a hole of a certain geometric proportion into the lloigor stone, “beheading” the “jade” … in a word, bi.

Such a stone becomes the symbol of authority, not just because of its echoes of lloigor rule, but because it shows the king (or emperor) can break the lloigor-taotie to his will. (“Better a broken jade than an intact tile,” as Confucius reputedly said.) But the lloigor do not look kindly on this lèse-majesté. They call on the deep yang currents of the earth and destroy the cities of Liangzhu, drowning them under the new Taihu Lake. Chinese civilization only re-emerges centuries later, in the Huang He river far to the north. The Shang and later Zhou and Qin and Han and Tang carve taotie and bi, rote and ignorant reminders of the rebellion against the lloigor that created China while weeping tears of blood.

Ken is working hard on Fall of Delta Green, due to be released in summer 2017. Here’s a sneak preview of one of the creatures from it – ghouls.

Ghouls

Rubbery, loathsome, foul-smelling humanoids with semi-hooved feet, pointed ears, and claws, ghouls dwell in graveyard warrens, subway tunnels, and the like beneath many human cities. Their greenish or grayish skin is matted with grave earth or flecked with leprous lesions and leathery dead spots. They move in a low, hunched posture, almost semi-bipedal; they climb, leap, and lope at prodigious speed. Their eyes are red or yellow, and glow in pitch blackness or when hungrily attentive on something or someone. Ghouls can see into both infrared and ultraviolet; in utter darkness, they can find a foe by smell or sound.

Ghouls eat dead flesh, especially human corpses. Some heretical ghouls consume very fresh corpses – transients, the lost and curious – but most ghouls restrict themselves to rotting flesh for religious reasons. They also know that too much predation on the living invites human investigation. Ghouls can digest almost anything; flesh soaked in formaldehyde and other embalming fluid goes down as easy as flesh left rotting in the sewer for a month.

They speak their own language, one of gibberings and meepings, although some recall or have learned human tongues. These ties to humanity extend past diet and language: ghouls associate with human witches as go-betweens, and with human necrophiles, serial killers, and other unwholesomely death-obsessed sorts. Indeed, a human of particularly thanatophilic tendencies can transform into a ghoul over a prolonged period of time.

Most significantly of all, ghouls regularly exchange human and ghoul infants, raising and nursing the kidnapped human child as a ghoul and leaving the ghoul changeling to ignorant human parents. Some human children interbreed with their ghoulish warren-mates to produce hybrids or mongrels; some human cultists or degenerates mate with ghouls for their own purposes, likewise. And of course many ghouls brought up as humans never reconnect with their true species and marry humans. Like Deep One hybridism, ghoul hybridism can turn recessive and pass through several human generations before reverting to type, usually upon exposure to some ghoulish stimulus or infection vector.

Human-Ghoul Changelings

Humans raised by ghouls might metamorphose into ghouls or remain human to serve as interlocutors and ghoul agents in the surface world. In addition to likely high scores in Scuffling and perhaps Conceal, they have a +1 Alertness Modifier, and suffer no penalties for darkness.

Ghoul changelings or hybrids raised as humans have the same adjustments to their statistics.

Ghoul

Abilities: Athletics 12, Fighting 14, Health 13

Hypergeometry: 5-9 for pure-born ghoul priests of their dark gods; 10+ for once-human ghoul-lich sorcerers. Liches may have Raise From Essential Saltes; both liches and priests may have Charnel Meditation for negotiations in strange cemeteries.

Hit Threshold: 4 (5 underground)

Alertness Modifier: +2 (+0 in daylight)

Stealth Modifier: +3

Attack: claws (d+1), bite (d+0); ghouls can engage in two claw attacks and a bite against the same target in one round.

Armor: Resilient [L-5]

Stability Loss: +0; +1 if the ghoul was known to the witness when alive

Charnel Feast: Consuming rotten human flesh immediately restores 3 Health to an injured ghoul. This may be done once per 24 hours.

Charnel Visage: A ghoul that eats a corpse can take the appearance of the devoured human. This ritual costs 2 Hypergeometry pool points. Many ghouls can transform rapidly between their native form and any of a dozen previously consumed human forms.

Diseased: Even if ghouls don’t spread supernatural ghoul-virus, there is nothing more infectious than a mouth full of teeth clogged with rotting human flesh. A few (2-8) days after a ghoul bite, the victim must make a Difficulty 8 Health test to avoid horrible infection. If the ghoul bite was immediately treated with First Aid, her Difficulty is 4; if medical treatment waited until after the battle or the next day, her Difficulty is 6. (Claw wounds are -1 to those Difficulties.) On a failure, the victim becomes Hurt and takes +3 damage to Health. She loses 3 Health and 3 Athletics thereafter each day until cured or dead.

Inhuman Agility: By spending 2 Athletics, a ghoul can leap 5 yards in any direction from a standing position, scale and cling to any surface including ceilings, run up to 35 mph, or drop up to 50 feet without damage.

Mephitic Memories: A ghoul that eats the brain or sensoria of a corpse can “imbibe” the memories of the deceased. This works for all vertebrate flesh, not just for humans. The memories last forever, or at least until the ghoul would normally forget them.

Pack Attack: Up to three ghouls may attack a single target in one round. The foe’s Hit Threshold drops by 1 against the third ghoul.

Tunneling: Ghouls can tunnel through soil, brick, concrete, or solid bedrock in minutes, hours, or days.

Worrying Bite: If two bite attacks in a row succeed against the same target, the ghoul worries the victim with its mighty canine jaws, and the second attack thus does double damage. The ghoul continues to do normal bite damage to the victim automatically each round until killed or driven off. The target can attempt an Athletics test (as with Monstrous Grappling, p. XX) to pull free.

Investigation

Biology: The flies in the Wensdon house have the characteristic hunched thorax and scuttling movement of Megaselia scalaris, the coffin-fly. There’s a dead body hidden somewhere in there – from the number of flies, possibly a good many bodies.

Forensics: The entire body is covered in bite marks. Oddly, although the marks are clearly canine, the jaws are unusually short and wide. From the marks, we estimate three or four of the animals. The eyes were plucked from their sockets, and are missing, as are the kidneys, spleen, liver, thymus gland, pancreas, and intestines. The large wound in the belly was a tearing wound. The skull, on the other hand, was smashed open postmortem on the gravestone, and the gray matter scooped out with some kind of clawed utensil and taken. Also postmortem, the long bones of the limbs were cracked and pried open with a four-pronged, sharpened tool, and the marrow removed. Extensive saliva traces were found in and around the bone cavities.

Notice: The “newly dug grave” over in the next plot has a marker on it labeled 1949.

Occult: It’s probably just a coincidence, but the Greenyear and Detiller families we’ve been investigating could be descendants – perhaps refugees who changed their names in the New World – of Jean Grenier and Pierre de la Tilhaire, accused werewolves in Bordeaux in 1603.

The Ghouls of New York

In the 1636, a religious order run by a heretic named Mogens Dekker fled from the Holy Roman Empire to New Amsterdam (later New York), and there set about the secretive worship of an unknown god. Dekker and his followers — known as the Keepers of the Faith — were ghouls in the making, once-human monstrosities who dug into the earth and fed on dead human flesh.

After a 1925 police raid in Red Hook, Brooklyn nearly exposed the ghoul colony, most of the ghouls migrated outward to cemeteries in New Jersey and Queens. The remaining fanatical Keepers grow lean as the cemeteries in Manhattan (all closed in 1851) empty. Heretical new-fledged ghouls hunt transients and bums in the sewers and alleys, risking exposure to DELTA GREEN.

Ghouls in Old Europe

Ghouls once infested all of Europe, and warrens still persist beneath industrial cities with regular influxes of the dead. World War II provided a rich bounty that boosted the ghoul population; individual ghouls haunt cemeteries all over Western Europe. Even then, London, Paris, Rome, and the other ancient capitals are as hunted out as New York.

The largest and most dangerous ghoul outbreak occurred in Russia during the reign of Josef Stalin, whom Russia’s ghouls called the “Great Provider.” The Soviet counter-unnatural agency GRU SV-8 (p. XX) still hunts the Cult of the Great Provider in the gulags and charnel pits of the Workers’ Paradise. Thanks to GRU SV-8, the ghoul populations behind the Iron Curtain have been culled, or at least driven into hiding.

 

“We have digressed on these matters, not out of a desire to criticize Herodotus, but to show that wondrous tales tend to prevail over truthful tales.”

— Diodorus Siculus (c. 60 BCE), anticipating John Ford by 2,000 years

Not that we normally have any truck with wondrous tales here in this here column, no sirree. But the exigencies of running a 13th Age campaign set in the Hellenistic era (323-30 BCE) and more specifically in 273 BCE, mean that a wondrous tale will do us nicely. Or perhaps thirteen wondrous tales, starting with seven wonders.

‘Nuff said.

Seven Wonders, No Waiting

The poet and travel writer Antipater of Sidon first (c. 180 BCE) described and listed the Seven Wonders (a pun on themata, or “marvels,” and thaumata, or “magics”), but even he only got around to it forty years after the seventh one fell down. All seven Wonders only co-existed for about fifty years, from the completion of the Lighthouse at Pharos, in 282 BCE, to the destruction of the Colossus of Rhodes in the earthquake of 226 BCE, but that’s plenty of time for fighting giant apes on top of the Pyramids or a demi-lich in the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.

Gigantic Warships

The rival monarchs built plenty of Imperial Destroyers for their various clashes of titans on the wine-dark sea. Demetrios I of Macedon (r. 294-288 BCE) had a 16-bank ship with 2,000 crew, which the Romans found hidden in a harbor in Macedonia 80 years after he died. Ptolemy Philopator, Macedonian pharaoh of Egypt (r. 244-205 BCE), built a twin-hulled warship with 40 banks of oars, seven rams, and room for 2,750 marines. It was 80 feet high and 420 feet long, with a crew of over 4,000 sailors and rowers.

Archimedes

Archimedes (c. 290-212 BCE) designed a catapult for one of those super-ships that threw a 120-lb. stone 200 yards. He also designed a giant claw that picked up ships and smacked them around, and a giant mirror that burned ships at sea. (He did so.) Who doesn’t want a super-genius who invents calculus and ship-killers in their game? Other mad Hellenistic weapon designers include Philo of Byzantion (c. 280-220 BCE) who built a chain-driven repeating crossbow, and Kteisibios of Alexandria (285-222 BCE), who built a compressed-air cannon.

The City-Killer

Hey remember Demetrios I? He built a 13-story tall siege tower called the Helepolis (“City-Killer”) for the Siege of Rhodes in 305 BCE. Loaded with 16 catapults (including one that hurled a 180-lb. projectile) and weighing 160 tons, it was only brought down by the ingenious work of Rhodes’ engineer Diognetos, who cunningly flooded its path so that it mired itself in mud. But how did he find out its path? Perhaps your player characters got the plans, one rogue in particular …

The First Superhero Crossover

Gardner Fox and Stan Lee got nothin’ on Apollonios of Rhodes (c. 300-230 BCE) who came up with the idea of teaming up all, or most, of the great Greek heroes in his blockbuster poem Argonautika. (Theseus was trapped in Hades, and I guess Perseus was with another studio.) Imagine playing the team of heroes who look back on the Argonauts as their Justice Society — or, if you’d rather, imagine unfreezing Jason from an iceberg in Thule and having him lead a new team of avenging heroes.

Sea Monsters

Antipater of Sidon also mentions a fifty-foot sea monster that washed up on the beach, possibly near Athens, to be found by the fisherman Hermonax. He calls it a skolopendra, which at the time probably meant a creature that could vomit up its own bowels to void a fish-hook, but now means a giant centipede. Fifty-foot giant sea centipedes, anyone?

A Star-Finding Super-Computer

In either 205 BCE or 100 BCE or another year entirely, a ship went down off the coast of the island of Antikythera. On board was a magnificently intricate and weird device, all clockwork gears and counter-weights, escapements and cams, which probably existed to predict eclipses and planetary patterns but maybe it didn’t. People are still arguing about just what the “Antikythera mechanism” was and whether there were more of them so it might as well be the brain of a warforged or the spell-store of a math wizard like Archimedes or just a wonderful 13th Age-style magic artifact. Maybe it was a really intense escalation die.

Weird Sky Cult

Alexarchos (350-290 BCE) believed that he was the incarnation of the Sun and wore its power like a helmet, and he invented his own crazy version of Greek and sent letters to rhetoricians demanding that they use it instead of regular Greek. Unfortunately, they couldn’t just ignore him, because he was the brother of King Cassander I of Macedon (r. 305-297 BCE) who may have poisoned Alexander the Great so don’t get him mad. So Alexarchos was urged to found a “City of Heaven,” Ouranopolis, on the slopes of Mount Athos, and everyone tried to forget about him and his cult compound in between weirdly spelled letters.

Pirate Women

The Illyrians, unlike the Greeks, didn’t have any hangups about women warriors. (One of Alexander the Great’s half-sisters was Cynane, a fighting cavalry princess of the Dardanians.) And their favorite way of war was piracy, because their fast, light ships named libyrnae (after the Liburnian tribe of Illyrians) were capable of taking on even heavy quinquiremes and winning, and because it pays better. It paid so well that the Romans got into a scuffle with Queen Teuta of the Ardiei tribe (r. 231-227 BCE) who defended the rights of all her subjects to loot anyone they liked, including Roman ambassadors, which did not in fairness end well for her. But light fighter ships crewed by pirate women vs. immense behemoths full of armored Zeus-troopers — tell me this isn’t a fantasy tale from a long time ago and far, far away.

Voodoo Dolls

The Graeco-Egyptian Magical Papyri, as modern scholars call them, begin accumulating in the 2nd century BCE in Alexandria, and boy do they have everything: demons, invocations to the gods, love potions, summonings, stage magic, possibly a prismatic spray of some kind, and oh yeah voodoo dolls. Lots and lots of magic incorporated into figurines that received baths in various eerie ingredients or were made from unlovely substances, then associated with something of the target’s and buried — in swamps, graveyards, caves … pretty much everywhere in the Hellenistic world there’s a tiny evil cursed doll waiting for you.

A Gate To Hades

Near the city of Hierapolis (modern Pamukkale, Turkey), founded in 190 BCE, a hole in the ground held not a hobbit but a gateway to Hades. Called the Ploutonion, its exhalations of deadly gases killed everyone who went in except the priests of Cybele and, one hopes, the priests of Plouton (the Greek name for Hades when they didn’t want to tempt him to kill them with deadly gases). Pilgrims would toss birds or other animals into the cavern as sacrifices or get high off the fumes and hope for a dream-vision from the dark god, a practice called incubatio. Other gates to the Underworld existed around the Hellenistic Mediterranean, but this one was the newest and therefore the neatest.

War Elephants

Who doesn’t love war elephants? Despite their very iffy performance in actual battles, they were the M1 Abrams of the ancient world: tough, fast, immense, and terrifying to people without fireball spells. They wore armor and spikes on their feet and tusks, and threw foes around with their trunks. Seleucus I Nicator (r. 321-281 BCE) thought they were vital enough military resources that he traded his eastern provinces to Chandragupta Maurya for 500 elephants, and he was no slouch. For more elephantine inspiration, see the Oliphaunt in Lord of the Rings, or 1 Maccabees 6.

Snake-Legged Giants

For no reason anyone can tell, in 334 BCE the Greeks suddenly started depicting giants as having snakes for legs, rather than human limbs. These anguipede giants may have come from Persian or Scythian myth, and they show up in Etruscan art as early as 500 BCE. But the Greeks, up until the beginning of the Hellenistic era, staunchly refused to hear, write, or depict anything of the sort — and the mainland Greeks kept up the tradition of human-legged giants even as anguipedes took over temple after temple in Asia (especially the Gigantomachia frieze at Pergamon, 190 BCE), Italy, and Africa into Roman times. Hunting down a new gigantic Icon seems like a great adventure … and if the “snakes” are actually tentacles, well, I know another game that can tackle gigantic hybrids of man, octopus, and dragon. But let’s try 13th Age first, shall we?

“Do you realize that this project concerns human evolution, and that it’s one of the most important questions the human race has ever dealt with? And here these damned fools are thinking in terms of espionage and counter espionage and murder …”

— Colin Wilson, The Black Room (1971)

Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, the “Black Sorcerer” of the CIA. For real.

The 1970s are not the official decade of Fall of DELTA GREEN, but they are the decade that gave us the “modified limited hangout,” which is spy-speak for what the mystical-minded Masons call “Making Manifest That Which Should Be Hidden.” In other words: you reveal some of the truth, but as a distraction or cover for the real secrets behind everything. This, of course, is why Beyonce is always making the Illuminati gesture with her hands, and why MAJESTIC-12 greenlit Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and why everybody knows about MK-ULTRA, the CIA mind-control project so secret that CIA Director Richard Helms destroyed 138 boxes of MK-ULTRA records rather than turn them over to the Church Committee in 1975.

The “MK” digraph means that MK-ULTRA fell under the purview of the CIA’s Technical Services Staff (TSS), the Company’s “Q Branch.” In 1953, when MK-ULTRA spun up from the previous Project CHATTER (a Navy program begun in 1947) and Project ARTICHOKE (previously Project BLUEBIRD, a CIA program run under the Office of Scientific Intelligence, which by the 1970s was absolutely not building bionic astronauts), Director Allen Dulles put the TSS’ head chemist, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, in charge of it. Gottlieb, delightfully, was known as the “Black Sorcerer,” because of his expertise in poisons. Gottlieb rapidly expanded the remit of MK-ULTRA from brainwashing, LSD experiments, and hypnosis into some really weird stuff. (Delightfully, the “foreign deployment” sub-project of MK-ULTRA was called MK-DELTA. You cannot make this stuff up, or rather, you just never need to.) In 1964, MK-ULTRA became MK-SEARCH; in 1967, Gottlieb became head of the TSS and came up with even more wonderful toys including a microwave gun for planting voices in people’s heads. In 1972, Gottlieb retired; MK-ULTRA shut down (officially) the next year. Cue Congressional investigation, and Helms’ fun with shredders.

From ULTRA to OFTEN

So if MK-ULTRA is the modified limited hangout, what on Earth must the real deal have looked like? Well, according to researchers who quite frankly begin at “dodgy” and go down from there, the real deal is an MK-ULTRA spinoff called MK-OFTEN. In Congressional testimony, Director Helms claimed that MK-OFTEN was just another name for MK-CHICKWIT, a CIA-Defense Department program for testing “medical procedures” on prisoners at Holmesburg State Prison in Philadelphia from 1967 to 1973. MK-CHICKWIT, meanwhile, has also been associated with investigations into South American and Asian hallucinogens, tests of tropical disease prevention, or a research program to “identify new drug developments in Europe and Asia and to obtain information and samples.” Several intelligence historians believe that MK-OFTEN primarily researched pharmaceuticals for a wide variety of purposes, maintaining an enormous database of tens of thousands of chemicals and drugs. Congressional testimony indicated that MK-OFTEN experiments tried to “disturb a person’s psyche,” create “violent” or “irrational or irresponsible behavior” or “temporary psychotic states in subjects.” Like MK-ULTRA, MK-OFTEN was supposedly shut down in 1972 or 1973.

But we know better, thanks to pioneering (if that’s the word I want) research by Gordon Thomas, a pop-historian of intelligence. According to Thomas, MK-OFTEN’s task was to “explore the world of black magic” and “harness the forces of darkness and challenge the concept that the inner reaches of the mind are beyond reach.” Thomas posits Gottlieb really living up to his nickname, meeting with astrologers and fortune-tellers, “Chinese palmists,” voodooists, practitioners of Satanism, and who knows what else. (This is about when Army Intelligence officer Michael Aquino joins Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, by the way.) The CIA supposedly even approached the monsignor in charge of exorcisms for the Archdiocese of New York, with unknown results.

A different historian of the MK-ULTRA project, John Marks, claims that MK-OFTEN began in 1968 and not under Gottlieb but one Dr. Stephen Aldrich of the Office of Research and Development (which if true means it should just be Project OFTEN, not MK-OFTEN). He claims OFTEN sought “a compound that could simulate a heart attack or a stroke in the targeted individual,” which sounds like the “zombie cucumber” powder in Haiti to me and perhaps also to Gottlieb or Aldrich or whomever. Aldrich was a veteran of ARTICHOKE, and a medical doctor as well, so it may be a distinction without a difference.

Conspiratologist Alex Constantine starts “OFTEN-CHICKWIT” in 1962, and makes sure to rope in the Scientific Engineering Institute (a Boston think tank that may have developed the film for the U-2 flights) and its 1972 “social laboratory” at the University of South Carolina: “a college class in black witchcraft, demonology and voodoo.” He also identifies Aldrich’s main asset in the magical community: neopagan witch and astrologer Sybil Leek. Miskatonic University, this wasn’t. But that said, OFTEN gets fingered as the hand behind the 1968 “Rockland Project,” an alleged repository of computerized personality tests and psychiatric records from all over New England (especially Vermont, hint hint) operating through a front group called Pyschological Assessment Associates in Washington, D.C.

Finally, scholar of the fringe (and take that how you will) Peter Levenda puts OFTEN in 1969, built by Gottlieb after the CIA black-bagged the lab of Canadian mind-control researcher Ewen Cameron, who if you Google him will take you down an endless rabbit hole leading to Rudolf Hess and the Montauk Project among other things. He also cites the human experimentation from CHICKWIT, basing it “out of Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland” but expanding its purview after 1969 into “everything from séances and witchcraft to remote viewing and exotic drugs,” which gets us to any number of places, all of them exciting.

In the final analysis, then, we don’t know what we know, much less what we don’t know. OFTEN might be the side program for Mythos research run by the CIA outside MAJESTIC’s supervision, or it might be an attempt to build a super-soldier (or a vampire, Night’s Black Agents Directors), or it might be a concealed cult preparing to sporulate into the People’s Temple, the Church of Set, the Process Church of the Final Judgement, and the rest of the poisoned fruit of the 1970s supernatural scene. All your agents know is they have a chance to stop it before it spreads — and that doesn’t happen very often.

Next, glad-hearted Hermes dragged the rich meats he had prepared and put them on a smooth, at stone, and divided them into twelve portions distributed by lot, making each portion wholly honorable.
— Homeric Hymn to Hermes
The Twelve Olympians receive Psyche, by Raphael. Pictured: Twenty Olympians

The Twelve Olympians Receive Psyche, by Raphael. Pictured: Twenty Olympians

That, you will be gobsmacked (or perhaps even godsmacked) to know, is the earliest reference known to the Twelve Olympians, and it’s not that early: the “Homeric” hymns are usually dated to around 600 BCE, which is about 75 years before the tyrant Peisistratos sets up the first known altar to the Twelve, in Athens. (A cult of the Twelve in Olympia, appropriately enough, likely dates to about the same time.) Where the Greeks got the idea remains mysterious: from the twelve Babylonian months, perhaps via a grouping of 12 gods found in Hittite rituals (and in a 13th-century BCE hall of statuary at Yazilikaya) and from thence to the Greek coasts of Asia Minor.

Why, you may well ask, am I improving our minds with Classical study at this late juncture? Because in my home game, my newest campaign is a 13th Age campaign I call Poikila Hellenistika, or “The Brightly-Colored Hellenistic Age.” It’s set in a big-eyes-and-archaic-smile anime-influenced version of the Hellenistic era, specifically in Syracuse in Sicily (for now) in 273 BCE. (More information here, should you wish it.) And that means I needed to redefine the 13 Icons as, of course, the 12 Olympian gods, because hey, Alexander the Great won. And indeed, erected “altars to the Twelve Gods” on the banks of the Hyphasis River, the eastern edge of his empire.

So my Icons are Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaistos, Demeter, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, and Dionysos. So who’s the Thirteenth God, then? Who isn’t? Dionysos famously replaced Hestia (goddess of the hearth) on Olympus; by the Hellenistic era, Heracles was much more worshipped than Ares. Hades is often considered the (unlucky) Thirteenth God, and Alexander the Great allegedly demanded the Greek cities recognize him as the Thirteenth Olympian. Olympia itself doesn’t help: its Twelve Gods swap in the Three Graces (as a unit), the River Alpheios, and the fallen gods Kronos and Rhea. Other common Hellenistic interlopers include Hekate, Asklepios, Pan, and Persephone. Given that one of my player characters is the Occultist from 13 True Ways, that means the Three Fates are likely an Icon, too. In practice, I’m letting the players pick their Icons and (much like the Greeks) not sweating the specific membership list.

The 13 Olympikons In Play

So leaving aside the question of “Who?” we get to the question of “What?” What do the Olympikons do in my game that the Icons don’t, and vice versa? Let’s start with the common factors: like the Dragon-Imperial Icons, the Olympian Ikons have a wide network of worshipers, priests, and other agents from the Seleukid dynasty claiming descent from Apollo to the various cults, mysteries, and temples all over the Mediterranean and points east. Most cities have at least one patron god (Syracuse’s are Athena and Apollo, plus there’s a big temple of Zeus just south of the city), so the Ikons have even more helpers in the shape of city governments and armies. It’s even more fun than it sounds, because the Olympians wound up with so many weird responsibilities in their portfolio: Poseidon is not just the god of the sea, but of horses, earthquakes, epilepsy, watchfulness, and even (as Poseidon Phytalmios) gardening. (For everything you could ever want to know about any figure of Greek myth, hie thee to theoi.com.)

Another thing that’s cropped up in play is the very Greek notion of the gods speaking and working through the players: we’ve already had Apollo justify a player’s 6 on the relationship die by inspiring his tongue to talk down a Spaniard. Greek gods loved to appear in dreams and oracles, so I can always drop one in if I like. Even then, given the sheer number of Ikonic interventions needed with six players (even on an average roll, that’s two or three interventions in one session, and my players do not roll average dice) we’re also adopting a house rule: if the player or the GM can’t think of something cool (or hasn’t yet) for your 6 to do during the game, you can take a +2 to something your Ikon plausibly might help you with. For clerics, that’s likely just casting a spell, but the Amazon might turn her 6 on the Artemis relationship die into a +2 to hit with a spear or bow. So far, a 5 likely gives you a +1 in similar fashion, although I’ll probably put a twist in the tail of a roll like that.

Some potential Ikons just flow together: Asklepios is the son of Apollo, so he becomes a major agent of the Ikon Apollo; Pan and Dionysos have that wild-man feel and patronage of satyrs in common, so they’re both aspects of the same Ikon. The campaign world is pretty human-centric, so the explicitly inhuman Icons like the Orc Lord wind up as aspects of godly humanist Olympians (the Orc Lord sounds pretty Ares-ish to me, although the Romans did explicitly identify Hades with their deity Orcus). Again, we’re letting that stuff emerge in play — we’ve decided that the Apollonian royalty of Hyperborea make pretty good elves, for example, at least on a mechanical basis, so the Elf Queen is likely an aspect of either Apollo or his woodsy sister Artemis.

In my game, if Alexander conquered you, your gods got subsumed into Olympian Ikon-hood: Melqart of Tyre becomes Heracles, for example, and Isis becomes Demeter. (Herodotos identified her as such; he also equated Osiris with Dionysos, Horus with Apollo, Amon with Zeus, and Bast with Artemis, among others.) That does leave a number of grumbly foreign gods: so far, I can reveal that Moloch (aka Baal-Hammon) of Carthage and Saturnus in Rome have not at all accepted their demotion. In our history, Zeus and his ilk eventually collaborated with the Romans and got subsumed in their turn into Jupiter, etc., but that’s 150 years away in my game and may not happen, depending on just how epic our epic tier gets. But that, as they say, is in the lap of the Ikons.

“Cosmic Love is absolutely Ruthless and Highly Indifferent.”

— John C. Lilly

There are not enough pages in any rulebook, and especially not enoughlilly_and_dolphin in the Fall of Delta Green chapter that looks like it will have to suffice for both 1960s history and backgrounder and scenario seeds, to tackle even a fraction of the weirdness that the Sixties brought to life or to light. And there probably aren’t even enough pages to do proper justice to the many and manifold weirdnesses of John Cunningham Lilly (1915-2001). But in his pioneering spirit, we’ll shoot up with a whole bunch of ketamine and decide we can do it here anyway.

Lilly was a sort of Midwestern ideal type of the Lovecraftian protagonist: born in St. Paul to wealthy parents, he studied chemistry and philosophy from an early age. His undergraduate career at Caltech (1933-1938) almost exactly overlaps the period of the alchemist-Crowleyite John Whiteside Parsons’ GALCIT rocketry program there, and both were chemistry students. (Lilly and Parsons almost certainly met, Caltech not being that big a world in the Thirties, but what happened — or Happened — during that Trail of Cthulhu time slot has managed to go un-recorded in their various biographies.) He entered Dartmouth medical school in 1938, then transferred to Penn where he continued his Lovecraftian development by conducting various medical experiments on himself and writing a forbidden text: a book (this was 1942) called How To Build an Atomic Bomb. He conducted postgraduate work under pioneering biophysicist (and putative Majestic-12 member) Detlev Bronk and at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), doing research for the Air Force — among other things developing early electro-encephalograms and, in 1954, the first sensory deprivation tank. According to his memoirs, he was approached by the CIA to work on such things as animal-activated surveillance and explosives, and (perhaps) on the MK-ULTRA mind-control project. According to Lilly, he refused, nobly insisting that his work remain open for all. He loudly resigned from NIMH in 1958.

The K-r-r-k-k-k-k-k of Cthulhu

Having boldly proclaimed his independence from government control, Lilly founded the Communication Research Institute Inc. (CRII) on the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. CRII was, of course, funded by NASA, the U.S. military, and possibly other shadowy figures. Lilly had become interested in the question of dolphin brains: much like those of humans, cetacean brains are very large in ratio to their bodies and have an even higher density of neurons. Lilly set up dolphin tanks and pools, and began to experiment on dolphins, most notoriously when his dolphin Peter fell for researcher Margaret Lowe Howitt while she tried to teach Peter to speak English. It wasn’t all dolphin grabass in the islands, though: Lilly also dissected and probed the brains of the cetaceans, in between drug experiments (on them and himself) and attempts to decipher dolphin communication by floating next to them in sensory deprivation tanks.

James Wade’s terrific 1969 short story “The Deep Ones” provides a fictionalized Lilly in the form of Miskatonic hippie guru Alonzo Waite, and in the form of his opposite number, dolphin researcher Dr. Frederick Wilhelm. Most impressively, it casts the dolphins as one more intermediary between man and Cthulhu, cousin or evolutionary stage of the Deep Ones. Wade mentions the ancient Greek myth that dolphins were pirates turned into beasts by Dionysos, tying it wonderfully into the deeper Mythos truths of Dagon and human-oceanic interbreeding of the Innsmouth sort. Any Fall of Delta Green Handler has a whole mini-campaign just lying there between Wade’s fictions and the CRII’s madness.

But it doesn’t end there. Wade doesn’t even bring in Lilly’s involvement in SETI, which (likely again via NASA back channels) wound up connecting Lilly and the CRII with astrophysicist Frank Drake, who considered dolphins a template for alien life on Earth. Lilly presented his dolphin theories at the Green Bank astrophysics conference in 1961 where Drake coined his famous equation for the probability of alien life. He was such a hit that Drake, Lilly, a pre-turtleneck Carl Sagan, and biologist J.B.S. Haldane all made up the “Order of the Dolphin” and wore dolphin lapel pins when they were wearing lapels, which wasn’t often in St. Thomas.

Lucy in Sarnath with Diamonds

But Lilly was losing interest in his dolphins for the time being, because his dolphins weren’t receptive to injections of LSD. (Although he later decided dolphins could telepathically project sonar images into his head while he floated in his nearby sensory deprivation tank, he somehow didn’t associate those results with his LSD use.) Despite Lilly’s official rejection of government support, he wound up getting on the approved list of LSD researchers, and began charting his own passage into the “province of the mind” at, among other places, the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center (MPRC) in Catonsville, Maryland in 1968-1969. The MPRC just happens to be located in the Spring Grove Mental Hospital, founded in 1797, and a major center for research into schizophrenia, with a large collection of human brains. Which means, of course, that we could go in any number of Lovecraftian directions here, from the mental experiments of “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” to the search for the biological boundaries of death in “Herbert West — Re-Animator” to the, well, large collection of human brains in “Whisperer in the Darkness.”

But perhaps it’s most fun to put a probe in all that and head inside instead, to the Dreamlands. The “province of the mind,” visited by special questers during a ritual dream state, sounds very familiar to us Lovecraftians. As Lilly put it: “In the province of the mind what one believes to be true, either is true or becomes true within certain limits. These limits are to be found experimentally and experientially. When so found these limits turn out to be further beliefs to be transcended. In the province of the mind there are no limits.”

Lilly mostly wrote up his psychedelic experiments in the context of “reprogramming the human biocomputer” rather than as a way to discover the face of the gods of Earth … assuming there is a difference. What else does Randolph Carter seek, both on Kadath and in the Silver Key, than the human source code, the image of the creators and the geometry of time? Lilly’s own experiences with Gnosticism, at a retreat in the Chilean desert, convinced him that there was a specific ritual control mechanism known to ancient man for opening that “province,” but we should move on before we get trapped in the Witch-House.

The Facts in the K of Arthur Jermyn

Anyone who has seen Ken Russell’s film Altered States knows the next bit of this story. In search of a cure for his migraines, Lilly told his friend Dr. Craig Enright to inject him with ketamine while floating in his isolation tank. After a massive dose did, indeed, end his migraines, Lilly went off the deep end. He and Enright injected each other and recorded the results, even after one time in 1973 when Enright accidentally “reprogrammed himself” to “return to the pre-hominid state of man” and began hopping around the room howling and trying to smack Lilly in the face. Their conclusion sounds like yet another Lovecraftianism, possibly out of HPL’s druggie/Neo-Platonism combo tale “Hypnos”: “One’s internal reality could differ radically from the external reality in which one was participating, even with regard to prominent features of the physical environment.” Parallel worlds, pre-hominids, and K, oh my.

The ECCO Out of Time

In a development surely unrelated to the massive doses of ketamine he was on, in 1974 Lilly made contact with the Earth Coincidence Control Office. This network of higher realities that overlaps ours controls our existence by means of coincidences: Lilly’s entire life became a pattern of ECCO-directed research. (Research, Lilly believed, was merely the decanting of higher truth into our truth by a “universal network of mind.”) During an earthquake in 1971 Lilly had discovered the “Alternaty,” a doorway or window into all futures simultaneously; ECCO has picked the door it wants us to walk through and will suffer no backtalk. Once aware of ECCO, their target must remain ready for the catastrophic and impossible, remain in the “training program” for life, and “use your best intelligence” in its service. This reminds me of nothing so much as the Motion, the Delta Green name for the Yithian agents mentioned in “The Shadow Out of Time,” directing history to produce the Great Race’s ideal conditions for their return.

And just as the Yithians fear and hate the Mi-Go and the Yellow Sign, so too do the ECCO oppose the SSI, who crashed a jet at LAX in 1974 to get Lilly’s attention. SSI are the Solid-State Intelligence rising in all electronics, preparing to eradicate biological water-based intelligence, beginning with the dolphins. (Echoes of a Mi-Go war with the Deep Ones perhaps?) Eventually the SSI, like Wilbur Whateley, plan to “wipe the world clean” and create a low-temperature vacuum, their ideal living conditions. Lilly warned us of the ongoing and escalating ECCO-SSI war in 1981 but surely its, er, echoes reach back two decades to the shadowy forces that gave Lilly access to LSD and (through Bronk and his associate Britton Chance) to the world of early computing. ECCO and SSI, dolphins and pre-hominids, Cthulhu and Carl Sagan: it all flows together in the Mythos cyclone that is the mind and life of John C. Lilly.

 

 

 

 

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