» Trail of Cthulhu

Hideous Creatures: A Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos expands on Mythos-monster issues from Ken Writes About Stuff, summoning a fetid host of new horrors and adding new facets to existing creatures. One section that’s especially close to my heart are the in-character documents, which present an oblique look at a particular monster in the form of a handout – diaries, official reports, letters and newspaper cuttings. Here are two cuttings that got, well, cut…

 

From The Empty Half: Travels in Western Australia

spent the morning with an old prospector, who told me of his encounter with a pair of Aboriginal hunters he encountered some years previously on the fringes of the Great Sandy Desert. According to his account, he traded with them and shared his campfire. The two spoke a little English, having learned it from the trading post at Marble Bar. When the prospector mentioned his intention to explore the region to the south-east, the two expressed alarm and told him that there was a monster living underground in that part of the desert, and that it was forbidden to go there.

During the night, the miner woke to hear the two hunters arguing in their native tongue. One of the pair grew so angry he walked off into the night, and the other in broken English offered to show the miner a place where he could find a great deal of gold. The miner agreed, and the next morning the second hunter brought the miner to a place in the desert where they found a huge formation of black rock ‘like a chimney’. The desert wind whistled across the mouth of the chimney in a manner the miner found disturbing, but he refused to show fear in front of the Aborigine, so he bravely stepped forward and led the climb down the shaft.

At the bottom of the chimney he found a large chamber, and the floor of it was littered with strange lumps of gold. They were, he said, twisted filaments of pure gold, wires as thick as a man’s thumb. They resembled driftwood, or the castings of worms, and their purity was evident to the naked eye. The miner eagerly began scooping these into a sack, while the Aborigine began to climb down the rope.

Suddenly, a huge wind rushed down the chimney, pulling the unfortunate hunter off his perch on the chimney wall and dashing him against the rocky floor. His legs broke with the force of his impact, and his scream chilled the miner’s blood. Then the wind changed direction, and lifted the hunter, whisking him away into the dark recess of the cave.

Another wind struck the miner, knocking him off his feet, and he feared he would meet the same nameless fate as his poor guide. At the last moment, he heard a voice singing from the top of the shaft. It was the first hunter, the one who had left them in anger during the night.

Impossibly, the wind changed direction in response to the Aborigine’s song, and reversed to hurl the miner up and out of the chimney like a scrap of waste paper caught on an updraft. The fall knocked him unconscious, and he woke again next to the ashes of his campfire, with no marvelous gold or Aboriginal savior in sight. Of course, he could never find the black chimney again.

When I asked for proof of his tall tale, he scowled, then turned his tin mug upside-town on the table. He proceeded to sing in an curious high-pitched fashion while staring intently at the cup. After a moment, he stopped and knocked the cup over in frustration. ‘I can make it move sometimes,’ he insisted, ‘when the wind is right, and I remember how he sang me out.’

 

A Letter from Newport

Orleans County Sheriff’s Office

Newport, Vermont,

November 3rd.

Dear Mr. Conwell,

I write in connection with your late uncle’s home on Dupuis Road, which according to Mr. Tatler of the Irasburg General Store was rented by you to a Mr. Noyes from June of this year. I wish to inform you that your tenant has disappeared in what can only be termed unusual circumstances, and that you are obliged to take charge of the property forthwith or appoint an agent to do same.

The situation, as far as can be determined presently, is as follows: Mr. Noyes took up residence of the property in June. His origin, profession and business in Irasburg was the subject of much speculation among the townsfolk, including some suggestions that he was a treasure hunter, inventor or even a foreign spy, and none of those I spoke to was able to provide any evidence for their suspicions. His only known associate was a Mr. Brown, who can no longer be questioned, having drowned last month in a sudden flood.

Other than purchasing general groceries and receiving a number of parcels at the Irasburg Post Office, Mr. Noyes appeared largely self-contained. It was evident that he had ready access to money (if you would be so kind as to make available to us details of any rental or other payments he made to you, it would be very beneficial.) Some witnesses report seeing unknown strangers visiting the farm, or Noyes driving off in the middle of the night, but these only elicited mild curiosity and did not warrant alarm or investigation.

On the 21st of September, gunshots were heard from the direction of the farm on Dupuis Road. The next morning, neighbors investigated and found no trace of Mr. Noyes; after several days of continued absence, Mr. Tatler contacted the sheriff and we entered the farmhouse. (Mr. Noyes is still missing, as is his automobile.)

Inside, we discovered the house to be in disarray. Furniture and other belongings were strewn around, and the hearth was overflowing with ash and partially burnt debris, suggesting that Mr. Noyes attempted to incinerate a large amount of material. We found several broken electronic devices and other items we cannot readily identify. The deputies who handled these items are now seriously ill, and have developed alarming skin lesions. The doctor here in Newport is baffled, and finding out precisely what chemicals or other substances Noyes possessed may be key to their recovery.

A possibly related matter is the heavy metal case that I discovered in the paddock out back of the house. It was partially buried in the earth, as if it fell from a height. I do not know if this case belongs to you, or Mr. Noyes, or some other individual, and am wary of opening it until I can ascertain its provenance. I enclose a photograph of the case, which now rests in the storeroom of the Orleans County Sheriff’s Office.

If there is any information you can share regarding Mr. Noyes and his acitivites on your uncle’s property, we would welcome this assistance with our investigations. As I wrote earlier, you are obliged to come and take charge of the property immediately, or dispatch an agent to do same.

If you have any questions or information, please telephone me at the Newport Office.

Yours,

Deputy Sheriff Adams

 

SaveSave

By Hao Zhang

There’s an idea, a saying that when a thing travels, evolution, alteration, and other unexpected outcomes go with it. This idea sometimes can lead one to pleasant views. And this is how we at Labyrinth see it.

Before we formally begin the mumbling, we’d like to notify you dear readers that we wrote this article majorly based on our personal impressions and memories, therefore it would not be a bad idea to treat what we are about to recount as a mere story:

[the beginning]

By the end of 20th century, there were rumors and legends being told on the Chinese-speaking part of the Internet of stories about a sort of game, a unique kind of playing, which allows its players to freely act out the characters and to experience their adventures in a way that no other form of gaming can provide. It’s called Tabletop Roleplaying Games.

For many of us players in China—a place that’s literally a half planet away from where TRPG was born, this was how we first heard of it.

By the end of 1999, an article was published on the nation-wide magazine Popsoft, it was likely the very first systematic introduction of TRPGs written in the Chinese language. Due to the magazine’s popularity, we can also safely say that it was likely the first time TRPG was introduced to the mass-public of Chinese players.

Shortly after that, the Dragonlance novels and RA Salvator’s Forgotten Realms novels were published.

Following this, the D&D 3.0 edition core rule books.

For the first time, TRPG doesn’t just exist in the “introduction threads,” for the first time those who formerly could only say “I’m curious about this TRPG thing” could actually become a player.

And this was the beginning of an actual TRPG player population in China.

Since the stories about TRPG were mostly spreading within the video gaming communities (Popsoft itself can be arguably deemed as a video game magazine, too), most of these early players are also video game players. It’s interesting to mention that before many of these first TRPG players ventured into the world of TRPG, they first played CRPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment.

That said, due to the fact that the fantasy novels were basically introduced to Chinese youth at the same epoch, among the first TRPG players we also have a lot of fantasy novel readers. But in most cases a Chinese TRPG player is both a fantasy novel reader and a video game fan.

To put this on a larger scale, we can say that most of the first TRPG players were the Chinese young people who are fascinated by western pop culture in general.

And since then, TRPG began to flourish in China… as many of us once so hoped.

Actually, since then, until the D&D 3.5 and 4.0 rule books both got published in 2009 by two different entities, it was mostly just silence.

The number of TRPG players in China remained relatively low for many years, the lucky ones who managed to talk their friends into TRPGs mostly play in local board game cafes, and the less-lucky-but-determined ones could only play online.

Due to the lack of actual games, many TRPG players here formed an online reading habit and became rather knowledgeable about various pop culture subjects. At first it was heavily focused on D&D and genres like high fantasy, but soon other games/systems (like World of Darkness, Sword World RPG, and GURPS) and other genres were explored.

Thanks to these knowledgeable pioneers and their activeness in all sorts of video game forums, while TRPG itself seemed very insignificant and marginal in China, the influence it had on the entire Chinese pop culture is tremendous: together with fantasy novels and animations, it inspired a whole generation of web novel writers and game designers, it’s like the Illuminati society for Chinese pop culture aficionados, you just cannot call yourself an insider without stating your admiration and interest in TRPG…

Speaking of Chinese pop culture, it’s also hard to avoid mentioning animations and other Japanese pop culture works. If the the influence of earlier works like Slayers was still largely limited to the anime fan community, the impact of classics like Record of Lodoss War was just huge.

As more animes and light novels were made since the late 2000s, this impact from Japan got more significant and began to turn Japanese pop culture fans into TRPG players.

From the Japanese pop culture fanbase emerged a wave of new players whom are introduced to the TRPG via light novels, manga, J-CRPG, anime, and Japanese-style visualized AARs (in some of these AARs the characters have “Yukkuri” version portraits of Touhou characters and they often talk in the voice of Google), a considerable part of these AARs are CoC AARs.

And thanks to Nyaruko: Crawling with Love, today a lot of people among us here in China are used to refer Nyarlathotep as Nyaruko even in non-anime discussions.

Despite that many earlier “western school” players are also anime watchers, due to the cultural differences that existed in the two different worlds, the “Japanese school” players have a small cultural gap with the “western school” players. That said, fusions can be also widely observed.

And while TRPG in China slowly evolved here, “another secret cult”—the Cthulhu culture also crept into the Middle Kingdom and gained its own place.

It’s hard to tell which one arrived first: the CoC game, or the literature works associated with Cthulhu mythos, or maybe they appeared at the same time in one online thread? We can only tell with certainty that some of the literature was published along with some other fantasy novels here in PRC during the first decade of 21st century.

If TRPG is a marginal cult, then in general the Cthulhu culture was even more marginal, when TRPG was still recognized by the pop culture geeks and hailed as an important source of inspiration, Cthulhu mythos was like a whisper, only murmured in the least visited corners of Chinese-speaking Internet.

The very reason for the Cthulhu pop culture itself looking so alike to the in-work secret cults and mysteries, was probably that the Cthulhu-associated works were never (or at least just rarely) systematically introduced, if somebody in the 2000s would have searched “克苏鲁” (the Chinese transcription of Cthulhu), he would most likely only get scattered information: a couple of books, some short introductions to HP Lovecraft, some longer articles full of specific terms, and some “Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!” replies here and there.

Of course this mystery doesn’t last forever, as the Chinese pop culture community grows and the earlier fans expand their explorations into more and more different worlds (resulting in more translated works and even original works), and as the Japanese creators started to use more Cthulhu-related references in their works, now it becomes much easier for anyone interested to get information. On top of that, we at Labyrinth even have Trail of Cthulhu translated and published.

We’ve been saying that a majority of the Chinese TRPG fanbase are into western pop culture (and they play western characters more often than not during games), but as most of them are still born and raised in China, a cultural difference still exists. Here’s a quick example, for many Chinese players, the Prohibition Era is something they are unfamiliar with, and thus moonshine and bootlegging can be interpreted in unexpected ways…

This doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the games though, many players smartly avoid such issues with characters from backgrounds they are unfamiliar with. And the Chinese players are sometimes very into playing out their characters’ personalities and charms , some creative folks here even play with largely minimalized rules to have greater freedom (meanwhile some others deem this unorthodox).

So this is how the things feels like at a glance and how they became so. So far TRPG culture and Cthulhu culture have grown slightly bigger than they originally were when they first arrived, but these cultures are still young here and will have a long way to go to until they can be considered as fully fledged.

But as long as the legends of TRPG are still being told and the Lovecraftian mysteries are still being whispered, this story will just live on.


Hao Zhang is the founder and CEO of Labyrinth Culture
Ever after his engagement in the localization of D&D 3rd Edition Core Rule Books in 2000, Hao has always been an over-serious aficionado and a zealous promoter of TRPG. He founded Visionary e-magazine, the first magazine in China that focus solely on TRPG in 2005 and co-founded Khan Kon in 2011. The games he brought to Chinese players include Fiasco, Trail of Cthulhu, and Pathfinder.

Over on the Google+ Pelgrane Press RPGs community, Johan Lundström voiced concerns about the order in which his players would tackle the locations of Eternal Lies, our world-spanning Trail of Cthulhu campaign, and the impact that might have on plot and pacing of the campaign. Eternal Lies writer Will Hindmarch responds as follows (***CAUTION*** Contains spoilers for Eternal Lies below the image—for Eternal Lies Keepers only!)

 

 

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Great questions. These concerns are totally valid! Fortunately, the game and the campaign have features built in to help you pace and adapt the campaign to suit your needs.

First, be careful to lay out the options for Act Two such that the players and their characters are choosing from multiple options with a bit of intel to go on. Their patron in the campaign can buy them all the boat trips and plane rides they need to take on the chapters in the order of their choosing. If Malta or Bangkok catch their interest, the logistics of travel don’t have to play a part in their decision. If Ms. Winston-Rogers summons the Investigators back east for a meeting to discuss what they’ve uncovered so far, you can emphasize how easy it is to travel in this campaign in Ms. Winston-Rogers’ own words.

The episodic format of Act Two is intentionally designed to give the long-running campaign a bit of a familiar, recurring structure in the middle. That serialized feeling can be a feature, rather than a bug! Given how long it might take to play out a given locale, the ability to recenter and quickly understand the format of the investigation between locales can be helpful. Use scenes set at home, between chapters, to adjust and modulate the pacing, especially if the PCs are moving quicker than they seem to like. This isn’t meant to slow them down, but to add variation to the kind of challenges put before them.

How you pace and portray the big choices is important, too. It is fair game to play up the danger and mystery of the Yucatán expedition to help the players and their characters question if they really are ready to go there yet. If they attempt the Yucatán expedition early in the campaign, that’s their choice. Let them enjoy the benefits of that—and experience the consequences. It is an undeniably big encounter, at the end of that locale, but whether it’s climactic or not is a matter of structure and storytelling, right? Consider how the campaign goes forward differently as a result of their choice, including how to introduce new Investigators, if necessary.

They have made great progress in battling their foe, and earned an edge against it, but can they trust the words of a spiteful alien god-monster? Is it even accurate? Knowing how to cast the spell isn’t enough! Other locales have clues that tell them where and when to cast the spell. And if they somehow press on without gathering sufficient clues, the Investigators live or die by that choice, too.

To carry the campaign forward after any locale that feels highly climactic, maybe treat that as something akin to a season finale, and treat the next session as the premiere of the next season. This also signals you, as the Keeper, to portray choices and consequences in later locales so that they are climactic, too; maybe by being more personally consequential than epically climactic.

The structure of Eternal Lies is designed to help Keepers and other players modulate the experience, and to keep the story going even if the Investigators cannot keep going. The premise picks up the threads of an investigation that met with disaster. If new Investigators meet with trouble, more Investigators can pick up the threads too, carried forward by the players already. Each locale is a jumping-on point and a seam for the Keeper to use to reorient the players and new characters. The feeling of setting out for locale #3 (whichever one that is) can echo or allude to the Investigators’ previous trip. That can be comforting or foreboding, depending on how the last trip went.

The flip side of it? If the Investigators are doing very well, making smart choices and getting great results, they get to enjoy the benefits of that for a little while.

But remember: they don’t know what the next locale holds. They don’t know how far, how vast, how perilous their future might be. The fear of what happens next is greater for those who haven’t read the book. Use that. They might find a later locale easier than an earlier one… but they can’t rely on that feeling. You have the power to keep them wary, but enticed to press forward despite their fears. The menace and the mystery of the experience is in your voice, Keeper.

by Steven Hammond

It’s been two or three months since we published an update on the new Gumshoe character tool. I lost a little time to an Olympics related project, but we’ve been cranking away all of March, and I think we have some great stuff to share.

Addressing Your Input

First, I want to talk about what we did with the character sheets and surveys you sent in. The number one thing we heard was that you don’t want to see the huge list of possible abilities during play. Instead, you want to focus on your character’s abilities. Several you also asked for a straight list of abilities rather than the category lists found on the print sheets.

To implement this, we gave Black Book character sheets 2 modes — edit for creating or updating characters, and play for use during a game session. Edit mode, looks like a normal Gumshoe character sheet. All the abilities are visible and grouped into their categories. In play, you choose to view all abilities, or just the ones where your character has ranks. You can also have the visible abilities grouped or in a single, alphabetized list.

The other common thread was that Health, Stability and Stamina were hard to read in the grid boxes. We’ve addressed this by making those abilities large and prominent, while keeping the grid to make updating these often changing values easy.

The video below shows these features in action.

 

Alpha Test Starts This Week

What, does Alpha Test mean. The app is not feature complete, nor are all the features there polished. There is enough there to play with it and giving us feedback on how things work, find bugs, measure real-world performance, etc.

You should know things won’t be stable, servers will crash, and we don’t promise you will be able to keep characters from one release to the next. We are still moving too fast to spend time migrating data as our format evolves. If this sounds a little wild for you, then you might be happier waiting for Beta to start. At that point we will be feature complete, stable and polished. Once Beta starts, we will commit to preserving characters between releases.

A number of people volunteered to test the Black Book. We will email the first 10 people on that list with an invite code they can use to join. You cannot register without one of these invite codes. Every week or so, we will invite 10 additional people to participate. This will help ensure that we can keep up with the feedback and that there are always fresh perspectives giving feedback. There isn’t a scheduled start date for Beta yet that will happen when we are stable and feature complete. If you want to get in on the testing, go to https://theblackbook.io and submit your email address.

This is a project, I’ve been planning about for a long time and I am super excited for you all to finally try it out. Let me know what you thought of the video below and watch your email for those invite codes.

by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

Love is eternal… if you’re an alien monstrosity from beyond all sane conceptions of space and time, an undying horror that seethes and defies our pitiful understandings of entropy and existence. For the rest of us, love’s a brief candle, a momentary delusion to distract us from the horror of existence, our cells blindly pushing towards pointless self-replication, perpetuating the cosmic torture upon a million future generations until humanity is mercifully extinguished and there’s nothing left upon the Earth but dust and coleopterans.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Here are three love-themed mythos seeds.

 

Roses are red/Violets are blue

(or so they are seeming)

In his house in Rlyeh/Great Cthulhu

(lies dreaming)

A dilettante investigator from a wealthy or influential meets an alluring young woman. She’s charming, eerily beautiful, erudite, and apparently of considerable independent means. Also, she proves to be remarkably well-informed about the Mythos, and is ready to aid the investigators in their struggle against cosmic horrors. All she asks is that the investigator come home with her to Innsmouth to meet her family…

The investigator is in no danger; he’s welcome in Innsmouth. After all, the elders want him to be part of the family. He doesn’t have to stay – in fact, they encourage him to take his bride-to-be home with him. The elders of Dagon intend to establish a second enclave of Cthulhu-worshipping Deep One hybrids, and have chosen the investigator to be the human progenitor of a new line.

How can he refuse? Can the other investigators interrupt the wedding in time?

 

Roses are red/Violets are blue

Yithians in your time-stream want to date you.

One of the investigators suffers a mysterious period of amnesia, during which she acted in a bizarre fashion, travelling to various occult sites and trafficking with ghastly entities. Afterwards, the investigator discovers bizarre messages left for her across the aeons – an archaeological dig in Cyprus finds a statue that’s the image of her, her name crops up in the secret oaths of cults, there are prophecies about her recorded in cryptic passages of the Necronomicon. Eventually, she find a Yithian library buried under the sands of Australia, and there she discovers the truth. She was abducted by the Great Race, and while imprisoned in prehistory, she fell in love with a mighty sorcerer of Hyperborea. Her starcrossed lover swore that he would find his way back to her once they both returned to their home time periods – even though he lived thousands of years before the present day.

All the hints and clues in the various occult tradition suggest that the sorcerer still exists in some form. Maybe he’s travelling forward in time through arcane rituals, or prolonging his life through vampirism, or he’s reduced himself to his essential salts so he can be resurrected by the cult he founded in ancient days. In any case, he’s unlikely to be the cone she fell in love with fifty million years ago – what eldritch horror, sustained by mad obsession, now shambles towards the investigator out of the aeons?

 

Roses are red/Violets are blue

Yellow, though, is the unhealthiest of hues.

In a gallery in Paris, the investigators glimpse a painting of a young woman. In the image, she strolls by a strange, misty lake, glancing over her shoulder as if daring the viewer to follow her.

Over the course of the next few weeks, all the investigators are beset by memories or dreams of the woman. In each case, they remember having a torrid, passionate romance with her at some point in their pasts. Some details are common to all their recollections – in every case, her name was Camilla; in every case, she abruptly ended the affair and fled, saying only that she had to find “truth, not its phantom”. Other details vary – in some cases, she was a student the investigator met at university, or a shepherdess in the village where the investigator grew up, or an artist’s model, or a friend of a friend. She appears ageless – some investigators remember her from their distant youth, for others, they recall her so vividly that they can still smell her perfume in their rooms, but she is always the same, always young and beautiful.

The memories become more intense, more alluring – and more detailed as the investigators dwell on them. Spend time thinking about Camilla, and you’ll recall how you picnicked on the banks of the Seine, or how she led you up the steps of a crumbling Roman ruin in the woods, or how she taught you the secret speech of ghouls. Memories of Camilla are suffused with a warm yellowish glow, and it is far more pleasant to dwell in melancholic remembrances of lost love than it is to exist in the harsh light of the present day. Spend enough time with her in the past, and she reveals more hidden truths, even hinting that the investigator can find her again in the present if he or she ensures that their love is the only true one – by killing the other player characters…

Is Camilla a curse conjured by the mysterious artist who painted the portrait, hired by some rival to destroy the investigators? Is she some Carcosan phantom, a memetic horror that’s colonising their histories? Is she a creature of possibility, trying to fix her own ever-shifting history by attaching herself to the timeline of one of the investigators? Or is she an innocent who became trapped in Carcosa, and is now trying to escape as best she can?

A Bookhounds of London rare tome by Mike Drew

Keepers of Bookhounds of London may find themselves growing tired of the same old mythos tomes. How many copies of the Necronomicon can be discovered in mouldy crypts before they become rote? Here then is a real world tome along with possible ways for it to torment your players. An extravagant Edwardian binding, haunted by a terrible curse and linked to the world’s most famous sinking. Unlike Stead and Murray’s Priestess this cursed artefact was actually onboard Titanic when she sailed. This is a tale of high ambition, elaborate bindings and the international book trade. This is the tale of the ‘Great Omar’.

Possibly the most ambitious binding of the modern world (or ever) the Great Omar was a ludicrously fine binding executed by Sangorski and Sutcliffe for John Stonehouse. Stonehouse was then manager of the Piccadilly branch of storied antiquarian bookseller’s Sotheran’s (my own trade alma mater and notably missing from the trade list in Bookhounds). Sangorski was consumed with binding the Elihu Vedder illustrated Rubáiyát. In 1909 he finally convinced Stonehouse who said “charge what you like for it”. ( I am indebted here to Vic Gray’s excellent Sotheran’s history, Bookmen: London, produced for our 250th anniversary. It is highly recommended to the student of the book trade and everyone else as well.)

It took two years for Sangorski and assistants – forwarder Sylvester Byrnes, gold-finisher George Lovett and an (as-usual) unheralded sewing lady – to finish. Perhaps a little gauche for modern (or any) tastes there is no denying the craftmanship, passion, and quality of materials. 5000 pieces of coloured leather were pressed into underlying green morocco along with 1,050 jewels (topazes, turquoises, rubies, amethysts, garnets and olivines). The front cover featured three peacocks with spread tail feathers, the back a lute of mahogany. The front doublure (an ornamental lining on the reverse of the cover) had a writhing snake in an apple tree and the back one a skull (with ivory teeth) with a poppy growing from an eye socket. The work was unveiled for the Coronation of George V; even incomplete it was a wondrous sight. Just as well – there was no buyer. It was marked up at a staggering £1,000 (more than three times the cost of any single volume in the shop) and Stonehouse hadn’t consulted Mr Sotheran before proceeding. The book had to sell.

The book didn’t sell.

In early 1912 trade legend Gabriel Wells offered £900 but was rebuffed. Stonehouse travelled to New York to try other options. The volume was packed and dispatched ready to collect. Unfortunately American customs demanded 40% duty. Books over 20 years old (as the Vedder was) were duty free, but the text was undated. This was seized upon to argue the new binding overrode the text within, making it a new book. It took the Board of the United States General Appraisers to overturn the decision. Meanwhile Mr Sotheran, perhaps upset Stonehouse had failed to consult him before commissioning the piece, refused the duty and the book returned.

Mr Sotheran was tiring of the whole affair. Gabriel Wells would now only offer £650 in light of the customs issues. There was an argument with Sangorski over payment for two years’ work. In a fit of pique Omar was dispatched to the rooms. The prevailing attitude may be judged by the biting order that Sotheby’s offer it without reserve. It was finally knocked down for a tragic £405. To Gabriel Wells. Stonehouse maintained the sale was blighted by a coal strike. Wells had the book prepared for shipping on the next liner to New York. It should have shipped on the 6th April but the coal strike disrupted shipping. It left instead on the 10th on the next ship, the RMS Titanic. The ‘Great Omar’ still resides 400 miles off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

Legend holds the book was cursed – perhaps because of the peacock feathers, unlucky in some cultures. Certainly it seemed for Sotheran’s at the time, and for curse proponents the death of Sangorski by drowning 7 weeks after the sinking is apposite. Twenty years later Stanley Bray (Sutcliffe’s nephew) recreated the binding in his spare time from original drawings. The war interrupted him and the uncompleted work was stored in a metal-lined case in a bank vault on Fore Street…where it was bombed. The first bomb of the Blitz fell on Fore Street. The building above burnt to the ground. The recovered metal case was intact but the book was cooked to a congealed mass. Inevitably Sangorski’s bindery was untouched for the duration of the war. Bray retrieved the jewels from the ruined binding and finally completed a third effort in 1989, which was presented to the British Library. To date the BL has resolutely refused to hit an iceberg. John Stonehouse died young at 72 surrounded by family. George Sutcliffe died in 1943, 30-odd years after the iceberg. Cecil Sotheran was run down crossing Constitution Hill…16 years later.

But away with mere fact!

This is not merely a cursed tome written by an Arabian mathematician. It is a fabulously-bound cursed tome produced by one of the greatest binderies in London at the behest of one of the greatest antiquarian booksellers. It is writ large in book trade lore and would still be a legend for any 30s Bookhound.

So if cursed, who cursed it? The peacock recalls Tawûsê Melek , Peacock Angel of the similarly-Persian Yazidis. Better though to avoid Lovecraft’s racist characterisation of them as “Persian devil-worshippers”. Perhaps start from the premise of sea-born disaster and assume the Cthulhu cult is behind this. The binding acts as focus for a Summon Watery Doom spell. Who was the target? Gabriel Wells? Harry Widener (probably carrying it for Wells with his own books)? Stead? How many cursed items can one man be associated with before we call enemy action? The Titanic was a target-rich environment for those seeking historical conspiracy. More on possible targets could be mined from the Suppressed Transmission “A Night to Embroider” by some fellow named Ken Hite.

The Bookhounds then are lucky enough to get a great deal: fine peacock bindings in a seeming job lot – all-too-conveniently they have buyers for some already. All of the names on their list are high-powered (at least in the occult world) and they start turning up dead. The Constabulary may not always be the most imaginative, but they are notoriously thorough. So many deaths in one field (and linked to one shop) will turn the head of even the most staid copper. Can the shop get out from under their watchful gaze? How did the cult get their client list? How long can they keep the books before the shop is hit by disaster? What will they do to make a profit on the remaining works? The curse might be lifted by damaging the bindings – but what will that do to the price?

Of course the book should never have been onboard in the first place. Is it more terrible that so many perished to kill one person or that it was all a great screw-up? Was this just the equivalent of a terrorist bomb, producing souls for harvesting? Perhaps it is a hungry entity we seek, dwelling in the shrine created for it. This might explain the way peacocks became a “fetish” in Sangorski’s binding work. Stonehouse recalled this in the 1929 Piccadilly Notes (Sotheran’s part-catalogue, part-magazine). He thought Sangorski’s “dreams must have been of oriental lands and colours which he had never seen” – maybe they could only be called colours at all by analogy? Evidently Sangorski became similarly obsessed with Kismet, then playing at the Garrick. He went several times and it had an “almost intoxicating effect”. He made copious notes in the margins of his programme for future bindings – finding these might reveal information about other book shrines.

Could a certain (un-dying) blasphemous Arab writer lurks behind the mask of Omar? Khayyam was an astronomer and mathematician after all, solving cubic equations with geometry. Lovecraft uses Fitzgerald’s metre and rhyme-pattern for his ‘That is not dead…’ couplet. Perhaps a specific translation was needed to unlock the poem’s secrets? Dr John Potter, according to The Times a translator of the Rubáiyát, vanished from Castletown on the Isle of Man in 1923. His body washed ashore at Auchencairn on the Solway Firth one month later. Taken by Deep Ones to produce a new translation? It may be the translation reveals truths in the illustrations. Vedder was interested in occult imagery but claimed he was not learned in “occult matters” instead “I take short flights or wade out into the sea of mystery which surrounds us” (The Digressions of V). That sounds horribly close to those “black seas of infinity” – was the thing inspiring Sangorski at Vedder’s shoulder years earlier? If the two elements are combined in a peacock binding the reader can open dimensions through cubic geometry. The Titanic was not sunk to kill a person, it was sunk to destroy this book.

If this is the case the likely suspects are the true face behind The Church of the Cult of Omar. Founded in The Pas, Manitoba in 1921, during the province’s 7-year flirtation with prohibition, it was inevitably suppressed by a humourless government only a few months later. A new convert testified that the church was only founded to claim liquor permits to obtain wine for “sacramental purposes”. There are perhaps echoes of the suppression of the Starry Wisdom in America only a few years later, although in a somewhat more low-key Canadian manner. No doubt a new chapel could be found in the home of some Bright Young Thing with protruding eyes.

Who sank the ship though? There is one organisation capable of such a dramatic act. According to Amin Maalouf’s novel Samarkand the only manuscript copy of the Rubáiyát also went down with the ship. American scholar Benjamin Lesage retrieved it from Tehran in 1896. It had made its way there after being saved from the inferno of texts after the fall of Alamut. Because of course the Assassins are involved. For this the Bookhounds might accidentally come by a copy of Potter’s manuscript in an auction lot, or an obsessed binder might offer them the chance to back his recreation using the secret text of that lost book. At that point the binder, shop and any client interested become clear targets for the Assassins. This might offer some delightful cognitive dissonance for players who would expect the Order to be the bad guys.

If you want to use the book itself the fact that it lies full fathom five shouldn’t stop you. A seller is hawking the real thing round London. Sure, it’s spent the better part of two decades underwater, fair copy at best, but a legendary piece nonetheless – find another one. Sub rosa sale, linked to a shop specialising in oceanography, the history of oceans (especially lore and mysteries), and a less well-known sideline supplying lost art treasures. Rather than the usual tome as mythos artefact this is a shop using the mythos. The owners have a deal with, maybe are, Deep Ones. They use the access to shipwrecks to supply lost treasures to well-heeled, snobbish and ghoulish collectors. The shop could be rivals, a worrying presence, or (for more pulpy games) a target. If the owners simply use their connections to sell to a specialised market what do the players do about it?

The Bookhounds are approached by a strange client to get him the Omar. He doesn’t care how but he does care price. Do they get into the auction or try more underhanded methods (lifting it from the shop or from the ultimate buyer)? Troublesome auction clients might include agents of the Hsieh-Tzu Fan or the Cthulhu cult, both of whom have an interest in oceanography. If the book was the home of a devouring entity then being trapped at the bottom of the Atlantic has made it very hungry. What will they do when they learn of the curse? Their is still their rival’s batrachian methodology to consider. What do Deep One book runners demand as payment?

 


Mike Drew was lucky enough to learn the book trade at perhaps the oldest still-trading antiquarian booksellers in the world, Henry Sotheran’s. He has since catalogued books (and occasionally antique fishing reels) for a now-defunct auction house, and escapes from the kids by volunteering at the local museum library. The happiest moment in his almost 30-years of roleplaying came when Pelgrane made his job a roleplaying game.

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.

The 1920 murder of Joseph Bowne Elwell asks the question: who would want to kill a womanizing bridge expert and gambler with interests in the worlds of horse racing and Wall Street speculation?

When hacked from the history books as a Trail of Cthulhu scenario premise, we can answer the question with a Lovecraftian spin.

Missing from the apartment of our fictionalized Elwell—let’s call him Halliwell—is an item his loyal housekeeper scarcely thinks about: his lucky card deck.

The investigators get involved to clear the name of a friend accused of shooting Halliwell over the bridge master’s supposed attentions to his wife. As early 20th century murder cases among the well-heeled are wont to do, the initial scenes turn up too many people with a motive to shoot Halliwell.

But then one of them, a gambling associate of Halliwell’s, is found dead in circumstances even more humiliating than a bullet wound to the head. He died while bathing, when the ceiling of his apartment collapsed, sending the tub above thundering down on him. In his apartment the team finds notes about Halliwell’s magic card deck. It makes you the winner you’ve always wanted to be. Until, that is, the arbitrary day when cosmic joke gets played on you. The 53rd card materializes, bearing the vengeful image of Tsathoggua, Nyarlathotep or another Mythos entity sufficiently interested in humanity’s vices to enjoy toying with them.

Not that the second victim’s notes go this far: he just knew that the deck was magical. He didn’t know the incantation he needed to speak to give himself years of good fortune, instead of a few lousy days.

The deck has already been purloined again. This leaves two avenues of investigation:

  • tracking down its latest owner and finding a way to dispose of it without incurring the curse

  • looking into Halliwell’s past to uncover the 1904 ritual that created the deck, and dispersing the cult responsible for it—along with their continued production of similar cursed items

Either way, the cultists who made the deck want it back, and are conducting a parallel investigation, no doubt aided by blasphemous prayers to their obscene god.

Whatever the team’s plans for the deck that brings luck and then death, this is one case that won’t go according to Hoyle.


Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu and its many supplements and adventures in the Pelgrane Shop.

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

Handouts are Artefacts

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

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

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

Atmospheric

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

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

Esoteric

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

The Clue Isn’t Necessary In The Text

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

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

Handouts Are An Anchor

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

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

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

by Tony Williams

(Download a crib sheet for this variant rule).

Greetings. I am a fan of GUMSHOE and, more specifically, Trail of Cthulhu. I’ve been playing RPGs since the early eighties and skew mostly towards Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu. I enjoy Trail so much I have created several items to try and make playing the game easier for myself and others. They can all be downloaded at the Trail of Cthulhu Resource page on this website (on the list at the right there click “Trail of Cthulhu“, then “Resources” and look for my name next to stuff).

As I have said I enjoy the ruleset of Trail of Cthulhu; its simplicity, elegance and most importantly how GUMSHOE helps get clues into Investigators’ hands. However I have always felt that the concepts of “Sources of Stability” and “Pillars of Sanity” were somewhat nebulous and maybe could be improved in some way by hardwiring them into the ruleset more directly.

Sources of Stability in particular don’t serve much purpose other than giving the Investigator a peer group which has little to no impact on the game during the actual session. Pillars of Sanity confer no in-game advantage to the player other than defining the mindset of their Investigator and I always felt that if an Investigator has multiple “Pillars” plus a “Drive” their motivations could become difficult to remember (certainly if you are the Keeper and have to be aware of multiple Investigators’ motivations simultaneously). Also, from a player’s point of view, Pillars only offer an attack vector onto their Investigator with no actual benefit other than describing their character’s personality. I wanted to improve Pillars so a player might embrace them more and also let a Pillar give an actual advantage to their Investigator.

A couple of other issues I had with the rules of Trail, as they are, were that Sanity pool points didn’t seem to be eroded often enough for my liking and the use of the Cthulhu Mythos ability was proving too “dangerous” for my players to decide to use it. Excluding the times where Sanity is hit in a BIG way (via a shattered Pillar or meeting a Great Old One) Sanity only tends to be hit in small amounts when an Investigator fails a Mythos-related Stability test that sends them into negative Stability territory. I wanted to increase the opportunities where an Investigator might lose some Sanity pool points.

So… I threw all the ingredients of Sources of Stability, Pillars of Sanity, the Cthulhu Mythos ability and the Sanity mechanic itself into a pot (my brain), stirred them up with a spoon that was covered in some rules from Nights Black Agents, and came up with the following rule amendments:

Pillars of Sanity (Revised)

Types of Pillar of Sanity

There are now four types of Pillar of Sanity:

  • a Moral Stance
  • a Treasured Symbol
  • a Person of Solace
  • a Place of Safety

A Moral Stance is a core belief of the Investigator. It is an abstract concept and is identical to the type of Pillar of Sanity as defined in the Trail of Cthulhu Rulebook. An example would be “The purity of my bloodline.”

A Treasured Symbol is a physical object that inspires or gives hope to the Investigator. Examples could be the flag of the country of origin of the Investigator, a photograph of their family or an object gifted by a close friend.

A Person of Solace is a living non-player character that is dear to the Investigator (this is identical to a Source of Stability as defined in the Trail of Cthulhu Rulebook and therefore the game construct of “Sources of Stability” is deprecated under this rule revision). Examples could be a best friend, a close work colleague or a family member.

A Place of Safety is a specific location where the Investigator feels comfortable and secure when they visit it. Examples could be their place of work, their parents’ house or the site where they first realised they had fallen in love.

Choosing Pillars of Sanity

When a player is creating their Investigator they should define one Pillar of Sanity for each partial set of 3 rating points of Sanity their Investigator has.

Thus for 1-3 rating points of Sanity they should define 1 Pillar, for 4-6 rating points they should define 2 and for 7 upwards they should define 3. Three Pillars of Sanity is the maximum number allowed for an Investigator.

An Investigator can only have one Place of Safety and one Moral Stance as Pillars of Sanity at any one time. An Investigator does not have to have any particular type of Pillar if they so wish. Thus a player could choose three Treasured Symbols if they so desired.

If an Investigator’s Sanity rating falls such that it no longer supports the number of Pillars the Investigator currently has, then the player must choose to “crumble” a Pillar (their choice) and explain why it no longer has any value to their Investigator. There is no further Sanity or Stability penalty for crumbling a Pillar.

Investigators with no remaining Pillars of Sanity suffer a +1 difficulty penalty to Stability tests as per the usual Trail of Cthulhu Rulebook rule.

Regaining Lost Stability Pool Points via Pillars of Sanity

Pillars of Sanity can now be used to regain lost Stability pool points. Each of the Investigator’s Pillars can be used once per game session to do this, but only one Pillar of each type can be used in the same session.

To use their Moral Stance or a Treasured Symbol the Investigator must be in a place of relative calm and safety and must spend a few minutes contemplating their core values or handling or viewing their Symbol. They will regain 1 lost Stability pool point.

If an Investigator can spend at least 6 hours visiting with, talking to or otherwise engaging in normal human interaction with their Person of Solace, without being under threat or placing their Person of Solace in danger, they may regain 2 lost pool points of Stability.

If an Investigator can spend at least 24 hours at their Place of Safety without being under threat or drawing the Mythos to it they may regain 3 lost pool points of Stability.

An Investigator can not regain Stability through their Pillars of Sanity if they are in a mind blasted state (Stability pool points of -6 or less).

Pillars of Sanity and Psychological Triage

Regaining Stability through the Psychoanalysis ability is now affected by Pillars of Sanity.

The difficulty level for the Psychological Triage test is now [ 6 minus the number of Pillars of Sanity the patient possesses ] instead of the standard test difficulty of 4.

Loss of Pillars of Sanity and Mental Damage

Pillars of Sanity can be lost in two ways: via Mythos corruption or in a mundane (non-Mythos related) manner.

Mundane Loss

  • A Moral Stance, because it is an abstract belief, is highly unlikely to be lost in this manner.
  • A Treasured Symbol could be misplaced or physically destroyed.
  • A Person of Solace could die of natural causes or turn against the Investigator for some reason.
  • An Investigator could be evicted from their Place of Safety or it could be demolished or become inaccessible somehow.

Losing a Pillar of Sanity without the Mythos being involved causes the Investigator to suffer Stability rating and pool point loss depending on the type of Pillar lost:

  • a Treasured Symbol – lose 1 Stability rating and 1 Stability pool point
  • a Person of Solace – lose 2 Stability rating and 2 Stability pool points
  • a Place of Safety – lose 3 Stability rating and 3 Stability pool points

Loss involving the Mythos

If the Investigator knows that the Mythos is involved in the loss of a Pillar (e.g. new Mythos knowledge proves a Moral Stance meaningless; a Mythos creature destroys a Treasured Symbol; the Mythos drives a Person of Solace insane or cultists desecrate a Place of Safety) then the Investigator suffers Sanity and Stability pool point loss appropriate to the lost Pillar type.

  • a Moral Stance – lose 3 Sanity pool points and 5 Stability pool points
  • a Treasured Symbol – lose 2 Sanity pool points and 3 Stability pool points
  • a Person of Solace – lose 2 Sanity pool points and 6 Stability pool points
  • a Place of Safety – lose 2 Sanity pool points and 4 Stability pool points

Pillars of Sanity and the Cthulhu Mythos Ability

Successful use of the Cthulhu Mythos ability is now not certain to cause loss of Stability and Sanity pool points.

The more Pillars of Sanity an Investigator has, the greater a chance of protection against losing Stability and Sanity they can have when using the Cthulhu Mythos ability.

Upon successful use of the Cthulhu Mythos ability a test is made against difficulty 5 (the standard Mythos test difficulty). If the test is failed, the Investigator loses pool points of Sanity and Stability depending on the difference between the test die result and the target difficulty according to the table below:

Difference:

1 – lose 1 Sanity pool point

2 – lose 1 Sanity pool point and 1 Stability pool point

3 – lose 2 Sanity pool points and 1 Stability pool point

4 – lose 2 Sanity pool points and 2 Stability pool points

A player can risk any or all of their Investigator’s Pillars of Sanity as a bonus to the test die roll. For each Pillar they offer, they receive a +1 bonus to the die roll. Players must state which Pillars they are offering (if any) before rolling the test die.

If a test that has Pillars of Sanity backing it fails, then one of the backing Pillars (player’s choice) has been corrupted or shattered by the Mythos revelation the Investigator has just received using the Cthulhu Mythos ability. The Pillar is lost and the Investigator suffers Sanity and Stability pool point loss appropriate to the lost Pillar type as per the amounts for loss of a Pillar via the Mythos described earlier.

The player should try to offer an explanation for how the revelation has corrupted or shattered their Pillar.

How these rule variants might affect the game

Hopefully with these rule suggestions I have simplified the amount of “motivators” describing an Investigator’s mindset since an Investigator can now have only 1 Moral Stance. This means players and Keepers only have to remember an Investigator’s 1 Moral Stance and their Drive when considering their actions. An Investigator could even be “amoral” with no Moral Stance and just have a Drive to motivate them.

Keepers now have other ways to attack Pillars other than relying on Mythos revelations antithetical to the Investigator’s abstract moral concepts. Keepers can launch physical attacks on pillars because three of the new Pillar types are actual physical objects. The Keeper can also choose a mundane form of attack or a Mythos corruption of a pillar to generate different types of mental damage (one way skewing Stability loss versus the other’s Sanity loss).

Pillars now offer an actual tactical advantage to a player because they can replenish lost Stability pool points. I pondered quite a while on the numbers for Sanity and Stability loss/gain trying to strike a balance between reflecting Nights Black Agents’ rules (of Symbol/Solace/Safety) and Trail’s rules for shattered Pillars versus how easy it is for a player to use each type of Pillar in-session and how easy it would be to lose a Pillar (either through a mundane reason or via the Mythos). When choosing which types of Pillar to have for their Investigator players might want to consider the following advantages and disadvantages:

Moral Stance

ADVANTAGE – It is always available for use and can’t be “lost” (in a mundane sense) causing Stability rating loss like the other types of Pillar can.

DISADVANTAGE – It replenishes only 1 Stability pool point. There is a large Stability/Sanity cost if corrupted by the Mythos.

Treasured Symbol

ADVANTAGE – It is easily portable. It has the smallest Stability/Sanity cost of the Pillar types if corrupted by the Mythos.

DISADVANTAGE – It only replenishes 1 Stability pool point. It could be misplaced/taken/destroyed, possibly easily.

Person of Solace

ADVANTAGE – Least likely to be lost via mundane reasons of all the Pillar types. Replenishes more Stability than a Symbol or Stance.

DISADVANTAGE – Large cost if corrupted by the Mythos. Not as readily accessible as other Pillars.

Place of Safety

ADVANTAGE – Replenishes most Stability of the Pillar types.

DISADVANTAGE – Requires most game time to replenish Stability. Large Stability rating loss if it becomes unavailable through mundane reasons.

When choosing Pillars there is also the issue of whether a player wants Pillars they can risk to back the new test for successful use of the Cthulhu Mythos ability which will cause the least grief if they shatter, or do they want Pillars they can use in-session to replenish lost Stability.

A connection has also now been introduced between Sanity rating and Stability replenishment. The lower a character’s Sanity rating the fewer Pillars they will have and thus the harder it becomes to replenish Stability in-session (either by use of the Pillars directly or through in-session Psychological Triage).

Finally, it is now not a certainty that use of the Cthulhu Mythos ability will be damaging to the Investigator due to introduction of some “gamification” through use of Pillars, hopefully encouraging its use more by players. However it still has the potential to shatter a Pillar of Sanity causing a hefty mental hit. If the players are more willing to use their Cthulhu Mythos ability then they face the stark choice of risking a Pillar of Sanity or letting the dice fall where they may (and the odds are such that if they don’t risk a Pillar then they will lose a little bit of Sanity which is something I wanted to work more of into the game).

I hope you feel inclined to adopt these new rule suggestions and do offer feedback in the comments below.

Happy (Slimy) Trails,

Tony Williams.

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