“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.

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.

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