Carnivals have always exuded a faint fetor of menace. Itinerant strangers come to town, some of them dressed as clowns, and try to trick you or exploit the basest depths of your curiosity. They exist to break down boundaries, give you permission to indulge, and then move on, leaving you, the seemingly innocent townsfolk, to reckon with what you got up to under the garish light of the midway.

When you set a scene in a Fear Itself, Trail of Cthulhu, or Esoterrorists scenario at a sideshow or circus, the players know to expect creepiness.

You know what the real story is. But what are the rumors the investigators encounter before parting the wrong curtain and finally beholding that terrible truth?

Here are 7 rumors for townsfolk and carnies to spout at the PCs before the real horror surfaces.

  1. “They did a test on the corn dogs and found that 1% of the contents were human flesh.”
  2. “Last year when the carnival came by Mamie Jones just up and vanished. The sheriffs caught up with them down in Dixville but they said they’d never laid eyes on her.”
  3. “Before the authorities clamped down on the freak show, they had an alligator man who was a little too real, if you know what I mean.”
  4. “Some of the most prominent people in our town worship the devil. And their high priest and priestess are the owners of this carnival, who travel from place to place renewing the vows of apparently ordinary folk to Satan himself.”
  5. “They stopped using their old Ferris wheel. Ten years one of the cars came loose and a girl fell to her death. That old ride was haunted. People who rode by themselves would sometimes look over and see her, weeping gluey tears from her faceless head. I don’t suppose a ghost could transfer from an old Ferris wheel to a new one, could it?”
  6. “Last year one of the roustabouts lost an eye in a bar fight. Guys from the local mill started it. I wouldn’t be surprised if some bloody revenge broke out later tonight.”
  7. “A friend of my cousin’s went into that hall of mirrors back in the 90s. He stepped outside and he coulda sworn he was in the 1890s! He turned around and ran back in and says he can’t even look at a mirror nowadays.”

And as always, if the players care more about a tall tale than they do about the main plot line, why maybe it’s not so untrue after all…

Since the first outbreak in 1905, the city of Great Arkham has struggled to contain the spread of an unusually virulent and dangerous form of typhoid. All vehicles leaving the city must be inspected by the transport police. These officers wear heavy gas masks and protective clothing to minimise their exposure to the toxic disinfectant sprays they use; they have the authority to detain anyone they deem to show symptoms of infection. Take a train to Boston, and you’ll see those masked figures swarming outside the carriage, spraying the underside and searching for vagrants who try to hop the train. Drive out of the city, and you’ll find every road blocked by transport police inspection points.

More and more, the transport police can be seen in the city proper, too. They appear suddenly, as if materialising, cordoning off buildings or neighbourhoods and marking them as infected by painting a yellow warning sign on a wall. They’re also used to put down riots and disturbances, spraying crowds with caustic chemicals to disperse gangs of troublemakers.

Obviously, all this is a transparent tissue of lies. Whatever the mysterious disease is (assuming it exists), it bears no resemblance to actual salmonella enterica infection, the ‘symptoms’ are justification for the police to arrest anyone they wish (like your investigators), and they use the excuse of ‘quarantine’ to section off parts of the city that the authorities wish to temporarily remove.

So, how best to use these sinister enforcers in your Cthulhu City games?

No Escape

The transport police aren’t the only way to stop the investigators leaving the city, but they’re the most blatant and mundane expression of the city’s desire to keep its prisoners trapped. The transport police can shut down railways (“sorry, madam, tonight’s express to Boston is cancelled. Come back tomorrow… or maybe the day after…”), block roads, arrest hitchhikers, and hunt runaways across the countryside with masked dog-things and flashlights if the investigators try fleeing through Billington’s Woods or the marshes south of the city.

Investigators trying to escape the city’s clutches need to find ways to evade the police. They must identify the neighbours and so-called friends who are informing on them to the authorities; they must find ways to move across the city without being spotted by transport police surveillance; they need to cultivate contacts and spies of their own who can warn them about police activity.

It’s possible to get past the transport police. They’re not infallible; they’re just the first set of jailers. Beyond them are other, stranger prison walls.

No Evidence

The transport police swoop in to erase evidence of the Mythos. If a mindless god-thing lazily reaches out a tentacle and scoops up a tenement block in the middle of the night, then the transport police will be there by dawn, telling people to stay away from the ‘typhoid outbreak’ and ordering journalists to report on the tragic gas main explosion. Investigators trying to plumb the mysteries of Cthulhu City and discover what’s really going on need to act quickly to find clues before the transport police disinfect them away.

Similarly, if they wait too long, the transport police intimidate (or disappear) vital witnesses. (The transport police rarely speak, but they loom very effectively in the background while a regular Arkham Police officer or other emissary of the authorities explains why it’s a bad idea to talk openly about what happened…)

No Place To Hide

Several powerful Mythos cults vie for control of the city; they have their agents and minions conspiring in the corridors of power, and have carved up Great Arkham between them. Other cults and factions are on the outside, and get suppressed and attacked by the transport police. The Armitage Inquiry was shut down when the transport police raided Miskatonic. Similarly, the Yithian-worshipping Pnakothic cult is treated as a criminal group. Transport police raid the homes and businesses of Yithian agents; they erase any Yithian technology or relics they find.

The transport police, therefore, are a very visible barometer of which cults are in the ascendance and which are losing influence in Great Arkham. When the Gilman House political machine collapsed, the transport police suddenly showed up in Innsmouth in huge numbers, impounding ships and quarantining buildings near the river. So, if the investigators see the transport police sweeping the wooded isle and the old Witch House, they might guess that the Witch Coven has fallen from grace. On the other hand, if the police raid Miskatonic’s medical department and St. Mary’s hospital, then they might discover that the city’s cracking down on the Halsey Fraternity.

Of course, if the investigators become powerful and influential enough to warrant it, they’ll be targeted by the city’s secret police too.

No Truth

What if there really is an epidemic? What if the transport police really are trying to contain a threat – not typhoid, but something far more bizarre and alien? If the investigators bring down the transport police (say, by blowing up the Chemical Works at Salamander Fields, or police headquarters in Fort Hutchison), what new horror might they set free? A mi-go fungal infestation that consumes the whole city in alien growths? Primal tissue of Ubbo-Sathla, swelling up from the sewers? The Black Blood of Yibb-Tstll?

Or maybe the disinfectant spray is actually a hallucinogen that creates visions of the ‘real’ world? Perhaps Boston and Salem and all the world outside Great Arkham is born of visions breathed into the nostrils of would-be travellers, who only dreamt they left the city…

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See Page XX

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

Since Cthulhu Confidential’s arrival in foyers and post office boxes worldwide, a couple of folks have asked me how one might go about combining GUMSHOE One-2-One with Trail of Cthulhu’s standard multiplayer format.

The short answer is, uh, I didn’t design them to fit together like that.

The rest of this column will consist of a longer answer that boils down to, uh, here’s a few things you can try but they’re not playtested so get ready to kludge on the fly.

When designing One-2-One my goal was not to seamlessly port the player from solo to group play, but to make the solo play as fun and functional as possible in its own right. Making the two games interoperable would have introduced a layer of complexity that taxed One-2-One GMs and players to no immediate payoff. A big chunk of the audience for One-2-One turns out to be people introducing previously unfamiliar friends and loved ones to roleplaying, so that would have been a serious mistake.

Tuning the game for solo play meant reexamining basic elements we take for granted in multiplayer, like hit points that slowly tick away and can lead to a character’s death at any moment in the story. To serve the one-player format, I came up with Problem card mechanism, which is not only different from Health pools in standard GUMSHOE, but in a completely other ballpark.

So that leaves us with two games that share an overall feeling but on the granular level don’t plug together.

The easiest way to merge them is to move from one to the other without ever looking back.

If you’ve been running a Trail series for one player, you can work with them to adapt that PC to One-2-One. Conversely, once you recruit a new crop of players to start a Trail series, you could then turn that One-2-One PC into a ToC investigator.

The key word here is adapt, not convert.

Mathematical conversions from one system to another almost invariably wind up with weird imbalances and often a less playable character than you’d get by starting from square one.

Tell the player to keep in mind what she knows about her character from having played her, and especially what the investigator has actually done in the course of scenarios to date. Forget the numbers; remember the core concept.

For Trail, go through the standard steps of character creation, recreating the idea of the One-2-One PC in that system.

To adapt into Cthulhu Confidential, sit down with the player to follow the recommendations for new character creation on p. 294 of that book: around 14 investigative abilities and 18 dice in general abilities, with no more than 2 dice per ability.

Since the ability lists differ, you’re not trying to get everything to line up absolutely. Think of this as resembling the process by which a character from a comic or series of novels becomes the protagonist in a TV show: it’s the broad strokes that matter.

A One-2-One character will need Sources to fill her in when she runs into a clue her abilities don’t illuminate. If you’re moving the investigator from an actual multiplayer Trail game, that’s simple—just use the other players’ characters, who you’ll now be portraying as GMCs.

If you were playing Trail solo, work with your player to invent outside experts she can consult as needed.

When devising scenarios, remember to limit the number of times the investigator will need to call on Sources.

Having a character who moves between Trail and Confidential poses the biggest design conundrum.

If the character suffers the shattering of a Pillar of Sanity in Trail, you may wish to acknowledge that in Confidential with a Continuity Problem card. Whether it imposes a story or a mechanical effect or both depends on the situation. Other ongoing consequences of past Trail events might also become One-2-One Problem cards. Conversely, you could reward exceptional problem-solving in a Trail session with an Edge card that can be spent to good effect in the following Confidential episode.

Going the other way around, you might decide that Continuity Problems picked up in Confidential might come into play in Trail.

Narrative-based card effects, as with “Charlie Chaplin Owes You” (CC p. 139), are the easiest to pull off. Your player’s detective, self-taught physics genius Ethel Peaslee, gains the movie star’s confidence when the two of you play your version of “The Fathomless Sleep.” Then, in a Trail session, her player makes use of that card, getting the entire group into an exclusive garden party to brace an otherwise unapproachable witness.

Continuity Edges that exert a mechanical effect in One-2-One might grant a +1 bonus to some or all general tests. Continuity Problem cards could likewise impose a -1 penalty.

Like the design of the Problems and Edges themselves, this is all situational. You’re not doing much more creative work than you would normally do when constructing a One-2-One scenario.

Crossing the streams might see you building individual side quests into an epic Trail series. An investigator might come back from the Dreamlands, the Plateau of Leng, or the twisting boulevards of Los Angeles to share the results of an individual mission undertaken between this Trail scenario and the last one. After the group decides to steer clear of a disturbing mystery in Trail, a player can follow it up solo in Confidential.

Think twice before running One-2-One interludes only for certain members of your group. If one or two players are having a richer experience because they’re getting to also play Confidential with you, the remaining members of the Trail game may come to feel like second bananas. You might be able to remedy this by building in hooks that require the frequent soloists to cede spotlight time to the others in multiplayer mode. That gem Ethel found in D’yath-Leen might provide the key to finding J0e Morgan’s long-lost sister, say. Be doubly wary of an imbalance of perceived attention when you’re personally closer to the One-2-One player(s) than the ones who only take part in the Trail game.

This is all speculation, as I have yet to try to interweave the two games and don’t see that as a likely possibility for my own GUMSHOE play. If you do give it a whirl, let us know how it goes!

“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.

Ever hungry for new sources of terror, we just received seven gods and titans for use in any Trail of Cthulhu campaign, from player Nick Ingham. He says:

“Some have been mentioned in supplements like the Bookhounds of London, but not properly described like the ones in the core rulebook. Others I just like. In order to avoid “Great Old One creep,” each deity’s entry contains several options tying it to existing beings – or laying a rival claim to another’s characteristic – and at least one option explaining it away as a myth, metaphor or even lie. Following them is a section offering one or two myth, metaphor, error, or lie options for each deity from the core book – barring a couple that already have them – as well as Rhan-Teggoth from Bookhounds of London.”

Thanks, Nick!

 

Byatis

 

“Beware St. Toad’s cracked chimes!” I heard him scream
As I plunged into those mad lanes that wind
In labyrinths obscure and undefined
South of the river where old centuries dream.
– The Fungi from Yuggoth

 

  • Byatis, the Serpent-Bearded, is a vast toad-like entity whose face is obscured by a mass of reaching tentacles.
  • Byatis is trapped in a vast chamber beneath a ruined castle in the Severn Valley. Apparitions caused by its presence have given rise to the legend of the Berkeley Toad.
  • Some regions are subject to Byatis’s unceasing gaze, creating pools of eldritch energy accessible to sorcerers; such regions are cursed with a bloody history, and haunted by both past and future. One such pool is said to be located beneath the London.
  • Prinn’s De Vermis Mysteriis describes Serpent-Bearded Byatis as one of a triad of divinatory deities, together with Father Yig and Dark Han.
  • Those confronting Byatis’s blazing eye lose their minds and wills and walk to the god to be devoured.
  • Byatis is an avatar of Tsathoggua.
  • Byatis is the greatest of the Xothians not trapped in R’lyeh, and dreams of winning control of his race from Cthulhu.
  • Byatis is the greatest of the Nagaäe, the race of creatures that serves Cyaëgha.
  • Byatis’s essence is the ultimate power that animates vampires.
  • In return for sacrifices, Byatis can offer fragments of its being to act as familiars to witches and sorcerers. Fed on the blood of victims, these familiars can grow to vast size.
  • Byatis is a myth, a conjectured demon from which the toad-like familiars of witches are said to descend.
  • Byatis, based on the legend of the Berkeley Toad, was a claim made by Severn Valley Sorcerer Gilbert Morley to bolster his occult reputation.
  • Witnessing Byatis costs an additional +3 (1) Stability pool points and +2 Sanity pool points.

 

 

Cyaëgha

 

I have seen beyond the bounds of infinity and drawn down daemons from the stars. . . . I have harnessed the shadows that stride from world to world to sow death and madness.

– From Beyond

 

  • Cyaëgha, the Waiting Dark, resembles a vast staring eye surrounded by a mass of writing tentacles. The whole entity floats above the ground, reaching down for prey.
  • Cyaëgha appears as a vast eye superimposed over the Moon, around which rifts open in the sky. Pure darkness flows through these rifts, shaping itself into shifting bodies and appendages.
  • Cyaëgha is both worshipped and imprisoned by a cult in the Jura Mountains, near the borders of Germany, Switzerland, and France. The essence of the god is trapped behind five mystical statuettes, the Vaeyen.
  • Cyaëgha is the genius loci for the whole European continent. A similar entity, Othuyeg, embodies North America.
  • Cyaëgha is one of the Great Old Ones associated with the element of Air, and serves Hastur on Earth.
  • Cyaëgha is served by the insectile, toad-like, and fathomlessly cruel Nagaäe. The god itself is sometimes represented as an even more warped version of these creatures.
  • Cyaëgha is an Outer God, an incarnation of (or a sentient facet of) the processes of entropy in the universe, including its eventual heat death. It cares nothing for worship, seeking only the destruction of all that touches it.
  • Cyaëgha is a manifestation of Byatis’s gaze focussed upon a locality.
    Fragments of Cyaëgha’s essence live independent, seemingly-human lives. These beings are instinctively drawn towards the Jura Mountains, where they seek to free the god.
  • Cyaëgha is the brother of Nyogtha.
  • Cyaëgha is a mythical demon worshipped by a single cult in Germany.
  • Cyaëgha is a metaphorical personification made by a cult in Germany of the place of power near which its members reside.
  • Witnessing Cyaëgha costs an additional +4 (2) Stability pool points and +3 Sanity pool points.

 

Eihort

 

I knew that I was alone—horribly alone. Alone, yet close to sentient impulses of vast, vague kind; which I prayed never to comprehend nor encounter.
– The Green Meadow

 

  • Eihort resembles a pale oval shape walking on many skeletal legs. Eyes, mouths, and other appendages form out of its surface when needed.
  • Eihort dwells in caverns beneath the Severn Valley in England. These caverns may touch the surface in New England and other places as well.
  • Eihort offers its “bargain” to visitors and others it encounters. Those who accept are implanted with a horde of the spider-like grubs that make up its brood; they may also have their memories of the event erased from their minds. Those who refuse are generally killed.
  • Eihort is an avatar of Hastur.
  • Eihort is one of the Million Favoured Ones of Nyarlathotep.
  • Eihort is a powerful Shoggoth, far evolved past its kin.
  • Eihort is the collective name given to an ecology of parasitic beings that infest both Earthly and alien life, even some Titans.
  • Eihort and its brood dislike the touch of sunlight.
  • Eihort and its brood partly resemble plant matter; the touch of sunlight is required for its brood to grow within a host.
  • Eihort is a myth, a mistaken origin posited by occultists for “its brood.”
  • Witnessing Eihort costs an additional +2 Stability pool points and +1 Sanity pool points.

 

Ghroth

 

Yet when I looked from that highest of all gable windows, looked while the candles sputtered and the insane viol howled with the night-wind, I saw no city spread below, and no friendly lights gleaming from remembered streets, but only the blackness of space illimitable; unimagined space alive with motion and music, and having no semblance to anything on earth.
– The Music of Erich Zann

 

  • Ghroth is a planet-sized entity composed of rock, dust, and gas, which periodically opens itself to reveal a vast staring eye.
  • Ghroth, the Harbinger and Maker, travels ceaselessly among the stars commanding or embodying the cosmic turns that mark stages in the lives of the gods.
  • Visions of Ghroth are a psychic reaction to the witness sensing the gaze of Azathoth on their world.
  • Ghroth is an example of the ultimate evolution of the Sons of Yog-Sothoth; had Wilbur Whateley and his twin succeeded, they and the Earth would have become another entity of similar kind.
  • In the early 20th Century, a small order located in Britchester, England designed a special telescope capable of detecting Ghroth and its movements.
  • Ghroth is the wellspring of magical energy in the universe. Sorcerers seek it out to draw such energy to the Earth. Its great eye is the sorcerer’s own, reflected back at them.
  • Ghroth is a premonition of the Earth as it will be far in the future.
  • Ghroth is an Outer God, an incarnation of (or a sentient facet of) the existence of matter in our cosmos. It wars ceaselessly with Azathoth, the embodiment of chaotic energy.
  • Ghroth is an Outer God, an incarnation of (or a sentient facet of) the fundamental force of gravity in our cosmos.
  • The myth of Ghroth was invented by a faction of the Cult of Cthulhu to lend weight to their specific predictions of R’lyeh’s rise.
  • The myth of Ghroth arose from the misunderstanding of human occultists when shown Mi-Go images of the planet Jupiter (the red spot being the source of its great eye).
  •  The myth of Ghroth is a recent occult extrapolation of the Nemesis Star theory.
  • Witnessing Ghroth costs an additional +6 (4) Stability pool points and +5 (2) Sanity pool points.

 

 

Nyogtha

 

My disordered fancy conjured up hideous and fearsome shapes from the sinister darkness that surrounded me, and that actually seemed to press upon my body.
– The Beast in the Cave

 

  • Nyogtha, the Thing That Should Not Be, the Black God of Madness, appears as a fluid mass of impenetrable darkness. It is formless and amoeboid, putting out pseudopods to interact with its environment, and is accompanied by a sickening reptilian odour.
  • Nyogtha dwells in a network of caverns deep beneath the Earth. These caverns touch the surface in only a few areas of occult significance.
  • Nyogtha was created by witches as a soul symbol for humanity. This link to humanity makes it vulnerable to religious trappings such as the ankh and holy water.
  • Nyogtha is the blood of Cthulhu, possessed of independent life.
  • Nyogtha is the venom of Yig, possessed of independent life.
  • Nyogtha is tied to certain human bloodlines, most notably the Prinn family – including Ludwig Prinn, author of De Vermis Mysteriis, and Abigail Prinn of Salem. It can grant longevity, immortality, and resurrection to such people.
  • The Earthly Nyogtha is a facet of a greater entity dwelling on a dark world orbiting Arcturus, and summoned here by the Serpent Folk of Yoth.
  • Nyogtha is the larval form of a true god. It sought power from the Elder Things who imprisoned it beneath New Zealand. Manifestations of Nyogtha elsewhere in the world are only tiny fragments of its substance.
  • Nyogtha is the greatest of the Formless Spawn of Tsathoggua.
  • The first shoggoth-matter was drawn from Nyogtha’s substance by the Elder Things.
  • Nyogtha is an Outer God, an incarnation of (or a sentient facet of) the vacuum between solar systems. Only in areas of great power is it safe to draw any of its substance to Earth.
  • Nyogtha grants necromantic power to its worshippers, which makes it an enemy of Mordiggian. Ghoulish worshippers of the two gods have warred for centuries.
  • Nyogtha is the same entity as the Titan Mordiggian, at a different stage of its existence.
  • Nyogtha is a living curse, the embodiment of a sorcerer’s desire to punish or destroy a community.
  • Nyogtha is a myth, a personification given to black magic.
  • Witnessing Nyogtha costs an additional +3 (1) Stability pool points and +2 Sanity pool points.

 

Ubbo-Sathla

 

He has on rare occasions whispered disjointed and irresponsible things about “the black pit”, “the carven rim” … “the original, the eternal, the undying”, and other bizarre conceptions
– At the Mountains of Madness

 

  • Ubbo-Sathla, the Unbegotten Source, the Source and End, resembles a vast and shapeless mass of protoplasm that continually calves off its spawn into the mire (or caverns, or ocean floor) around its bulk.
  • All Earthly life descends, both physically and spiritually from the spawn of Ubbo-Sathla.
  • Ubbo-Sathla is surrounded by an uncountable number of stone tablets on which the secrets of the “Elder Gods” are inscribed.
  • The first shoggoth-matter was drawn from Ubbo-Sathla’s substance by the Elder Things.
  • Ubbo-Sathla is not an entity in itself, but a vat of inert and undifferentiated biomass from which other life forms may be created.
  • Ubbo-Sathla has only ever been perceived through the Orb of Eons, a mystical gem that allows the viewer to cycle back through their incarnations until their first existence as one of the Titan’s many spawn. Those who undertake this journey vanish out of memory, as if they had never existed.
  • Ubbo-Sathla and Quachil Uttaus are metaphorical representations of the extremes of chaos and order as represented within biological structures.
  • Ubbo-Sathla was destroyed long ago by the Elder Things in order to allow their biologically oriented technology to function without interference.
  • Ubbo-Sathla is part of the same metaphorical “source code” as Shub-Niggurath. Where the latter describes the processes of biological change, the former represents the raw states of biomass on which they operate.
  • Ubbo-Sathla a myth, conjectured by human occultists as an origin for Shoggoths.
  • Witnessing Ubbo-Sathla costs an additional +5 (3) Stability pool points and +4 (2) Sanity pool points.

 

 

Yidhra

 

I began to see a hideous relationship in the faces of the human and non-human figures. He was, in all his gradations of morbidity between the frankly non-human and the degradedly human, establishing a sardonic linkage and evolution.
– Pickman’s Model

 

  • Yidhra is a gestalt entity with no true form, but many constituent bodies spread around the world – some resembling natural creatures, others more monstrous. All of these bodies are linked with a telepathic mind.
  • Cult centres of Yidhra exist, or have existed, in Mesopotamia, South-East Asia, West Africa, and the south-west of North America. Cults of Yidhra are granted a humanoid avatar to serve as their leader; worshippers display progressive genetic mutation as their biology combines with hers.
  • Yidhra’s Mesopotamian cult was led by the Oannes faction of Deep Ones, who helped build the first cities. All Deep Ones once worshipped Yidhra, but the dream-sendings of Cthulhu have drawn most away from the true faith.
  • Yidhra is a parasitic entity that combines its genome with other organisms to ensure its own continuation. It retains the capabilities of creatures it infects or devours.
  • Yidhra is an Outer God, an incarnation of (or a sentient facet of) evolution in our cosmos.
  • Yidhra is known as the dream witch, due to the telepathic illusions with which she hides her (and as time goes on, their) true form from her cultists.
  • Yidhra’s genetic substance partakes of all life that has ever been native to the Earth. She can adopt the semblance of any such organism – though never completely, always with a few elements of some other creature mixed in.
  • Yidhra’s genetic substance is present in all organisms on Earth. All terrestrial life is part of the goddess’s substance.
  • Yidhra is the body of all beings in the universe, the same entity as Nyarlathotep which is their soul.
  • Yidhra is a myth, a misunderstanding of the Million Favoured Ones of Nyarlathotep, in telepathic communion with their master.
  • Yidhra is (or more likely was) a presumptuous high priestess of Shub-Niggurath, who falsely claimed the goddess’s power to be her own.
  • Witnessing Yidhra in a monstrous form costs an additional +4 (3) Stability pool points and +3 (2) Sanity pool points.

 

 

Mythical Options for Existing Deities

 

  • Chaugnar Faugn is an almost-comical misconception that stemmed from the confrontation with a cult of Yog-Sothoth that had hidden itself within a temple of Ganesh, and grew in the telling.
  • Cthugha is a conjectured origin for the Fire Vampires.
  • Cthulhu is a religious figure among both Deep Ones and humans, conjectured and exaggerated from interactions with Xothians.
  • Dagon is a grain-god from Near Eastern mythology, which has become associated with Deep Ones through their membership in an ancient Yidhra (or Shub-Niggurath) cult from that part of the world.
  • “Daoloth” is part of an ancient invocation for seeing the future, misconstrued as a name by later occultists.
  • Ghatanothoa was the mythical “Son of Cthulhu” claimed by the cults of Mu to bolster their status among worshippers of the god of R’lyeh.
  • Ghatanothoa is the Muvian Naacal word for petrifaction. Later occultists misinterpreted this descriptive term for a powerful curse as the name of an originating source.
  • Ghatanothoa is simply one of many legends told about the mythical continent of Mu – perhaps derived from cross-referencing with tales of Cthulhu and R’lyeh.
  • Gol-Goroth is a mythical demon invented by a cult that coincidentally practiced their rites at a true site of mystical power in Mediaeval Hungary.
  • Hastur is a metaphorical figure created by the author of the (quite mundane) play The King in Yellow, to symbolise the death of spirit he feared would result from civilisation.
  • Ithaqua is a mystical “password” used by members of a North American cannibal cult who revere the condition of windigo.
  • Mordiggian is a religious figure among Ghouls, no less mythical than the gods of any human religion.
  • Mordiggian is a metaphorical name given by human necrophages for the process of becoming a Ghoul.
  • Mormo is occult conjecture derived from conflating the many lunar goddess cults (of varying levels of similarity) that existed around the Mediterranean and Near East.
  • Nodens is a human legend conflated with Shub-Niggurath through occult error.
  • Nyarlathotep is a myth that’s grown up among opponents of Mythos forces, and other occultists who have brushed up against its truths: a comparatively understandable devil-figure set against the unknowable cosmos.
  • Nyarlathotep is a fringe-historical hypothesis from the early Twentieth Century; a faceless primal god lying behind all the various cults of Egypt.
  • Quachil and Uttaus were two powerful necromancers of the ancient world, whom later legend conflated, then deified.
  • Rhan-Tegoth is the greatest triumph of George Rogers, waxwork-maker extraordinaire.
  • Tsathoggua was a toad-like totem figure in the barbarian precursors to Hyperborea (no different from Yhoundeh the reindeer god), which Eibon associated with the Formless “Spawn” in order to mislead his rivals.
  • Y’golonac is a figure created by the “Five Fingers” cabal of decadent hedonists to lend license to their debaucheries and definition to their wider “Devouring Hands” servant cult.
  • Yig is a religious figure among Serpent-Folk, no less mythical than the gods of any human religion.
  • Yig is a term in the language of the Serpent-Folk, denoting the right order of things. Humans who heard the word mistook it for the name of a deity.
  • Yog-Sothoth is an ancient symbolic term for travel between worlds, times, and dimensions; the lore of Yog-Sothoth is the body of algebra and geometry needed to describe such journeys, couched in more and more occult terms over the centuries, and eventually personified.

Ripped from the history books, here’s a great choice the next time you’re asked to create a Trail of Cthulhu player character: Bessie Coleman, aka Queen Bess, pioneering African American aviator. An active protagonist if ever there was one, she taught herself to fly when neither women nor black people were supposed to do so. So she went to France to get her pilot’s license, dated two years before Amelia Earhart’s. Unable to get conventional piloting work back in the states, she returned to Europe to learn barrel rolls and other aerobatic techniques, then toured the US as a popular barnstormer. Coleman forced promoters to desegregate her audiences, and turned her back on a Hollywood career when asked to play a stereotypical role.

(In some of her publicity shots, she bears a striking resemblance to Janelle Monae. Somebody call somboedy’s agent.)

History tells us that she died in an air accident in 1926. Those of us steeped in horror adventure can see the flaws in that story, in which she allowed her mechanic to fly the plane, and it went out of control due to a literal wrench left in the engine case. A little too on the nose, surely—clearly she’s signaling to those in the know that she’s faking her own death. And if she’s doing that in ‘26, clearly she has to drop from sight to settle some business with Nyarlathotep.

That’s her backstory when it comes time to play her a few years later, in the Trail era.

Pilots can be a little hard to work into the action of a standard multiplayer game. As a GM you might build a Cthulhu Confidential series around her, with lots of aerial Challenges and problem solving. She speaks fluent French, so one of her globe-trotting Mythos-busting cases could take her to Paris to rub elbows with the Dreamhounds of the surrealist movement. Chauvinists like Andre Breton and Luis Buñuel might not know what to make of her, but a romp into Unknown Kadath with Gala Dalí and Kiki de Montparnasse might be just the thing. Perhaps she would also insist on taking Josephine Baker along, too. I’m sure she’ll be entirely careful while buzzing Mount Hatheg-Kla in the butterfly ornithopter Kiki has dreamed up for her.

Cthulhu City485px-Cthulhu_sketch_by_Lovecraft is written, if not finished, and the final book is overstuffed with Mythos gribbles and haunted architecture. There are so many cults and sorcerers lurking in there, not to mention weird Yithian machines, that I had to remove certain blasphemous tomes and cryptic relics to the virtual pages of page XX. Consider these a taster of horrors of come.

The Upton Papers

Type: Tome

Physical Description: A hand-written diary, coupled with several folders of official documents bound in red ribbon. The papers may be found in a patent-leather briefcase that might even show signs of water damage.

Supposed History: These papers belonged to the late Francis Upton, the previous Mayor of Great Arkham. Upton died when his car plunged off the Garrison Street bridge into the Miskatonic river, and these papers were presumably lost with him. However, if someone recovered them from the water, or snatched them from the car before it mysteriously swerved, then Upton’s secrets might have survived his death…

Major Item: If genuine, the Upton Papers contain Francis Upton’s notes and personal observations about the city council and the secret rulers of Great Arkham. If Upton was, as he claimed to be, a reformer and enemy of corruption, then the papers document the activities of the Church of the Conciliator and the Necromantic Cabal in reasserting control of the city council after the fall of the Gilman House regime in 1925. Upton names several councillors and key figures as servants of the Mythos. If Upton trusted Federal Agent Vorsht, then the last paper is a letter to Vorsht asking for a full investigation of the city council. Combine this letter with Cop Talk or Bureaucracy to gain Vorsht as an ally.

Alternatively, if Upton was actually a cultist himself, then the papers shed new light on his death. Was he the victim of some internal feud within the cult? Did Vorsht or the Armitage Inquiry assassinate Upton? Or was his supposed death in the icy waters of the river merely a step towards some other mode of existence?

In either case, reading the Papers gives +1 Cthulhu Mythos and +1 Sentinel Hill Knowledge at the cost of a 3-point Stability Loss. Readers may also have recurring dreams of Upton’s death, which leave a lingering feeling of culpability after waking.

Minor Item: The papers are genuine, but there’s no sign of Upton’s diary. The documents in the folder all relate to a property deal involving several of the councillors, perhaps related the Olmstead Dam, the Dig in Salamander Fields, or the expansion of the city west into Billington’s Woods. Law detects irregularities in the documents; someone was covering up the true purpose of the property development.

Fraudulent: The papers are forgeries, as Craft can determine. They contain damning accusations about the private affairs of one of the councillors, like Arthur Diamond or Elanor Brack. Put these papers into the hands of an unscrupulous yellow newshawk from Newspaper Row, and they could do serious damage – even after death, Mayor Upton’s word counts for a great deal in Arkham.

 

The Ashpool Plates

Type: A series of twelve photographs taken by scandalous avant-garde photographer Edith Ashpool of Kingsport.

Physical Description: The first photographs in the series show Kingsport Harbour, and appear to have been taken from the deck of a yacht or other small vessel. A man, naked except for an ornate mask, stands by the railing in the foreground of each of the photographs, framing the background with his gestures. He waves goodbye in the early photos, points at elements of interests in others.

Other photographs show seascapes and coastlines around the north coast, near Kingsport Lighthouse. Several humanoid figures can be seen on the rocks at the foot of the cliffs, climbing in and out of the water. The later pictures in the series show a bizarre shoreline on some alien sea, with two moons clearly visible in the sky. The final picture appears to depict the yacht approaching a jetty of carved stone, where another figure wearing some sort of elaborate headdress awaits the boat’s arrival.

Supposed History: Ashpool claimed to have taken the photographs from the deck of the Hecate, a yacht owned by Ashpool’s rumoured lover Sauducismis “Saul” Waite, a cousin of former mayor Ephraim Waite. She exhibited the photographs in a small gallery in Kingsport; Art History or Kingsport District Knowledge recalls stories that there was a second, ‘inner’ set of photographs that could only be viewed on payment of an unspecified fee.

The police raided the Gallery two days after it opened; initially, they claimed that several gallery patrons including Ashpool had shown symptoms of typhoid and so the gallery had to be closed as a public health hazard. Later, it was made known that the ‘inner’ exhibition contained degrading and illegal pornographic images.

Major Item: The Ashpool Plates are a form of magical communication. Looking at the photographs in sequence, ideally while using a mind-expanding drug, puts the observer into a trance in which there is a psychic overlap between the observer and the masked man. Without the second set of photographs, the communication is one-way: the user is aware of another presence in the psychic landscape (presumably, whatever entity is represented by the figure wearing a headdress) and can “send” but not “receive” thoughts. The Ashpool Plates can be used to call for aid from whatever that entity is, and such entreaties will receive a response.

Of course, wise investigators may wish to know what they’re dealing with before entering into supernatural bargains. Ashpool is still in police custody in Fort Hutchison, but Saul Waite’s family connections protected him from any repercussions. The investigators could also try identifying the naked man, who clearly isn’t Saul.

Minor Item: A Cthulhu Mythos, Occult or Magic spend confirms that the photographs document the performance of a magical ritual. Replicating the gestures made by the masked man while following the course of the Hecate opens a sea-gate off the shore of Kingsport.

Fraudulent: The later photographs were faked in a special-effects shop at AKLO Pictures, one of Great Arkham’s movie studios. Ashpool was employed as a designer on an upcoming movie, but while on set, she managed to convince a vulnerable young starlet to pose for a series of compromising photographs. To protect their investment in the actress, studio bosses bribed the police to shut Ashpool down.

 

Wonders of the Invisible City

Type: Tome

Physical Description: 110 pages, cheaply bound and badly typeset. Printed in 1862. This is a second-hand copy; according to the flyleaf, it was owned at some point by a “M. Daniels” – perhaps Milton Daniels, the Union Boss?

Supposed History: Wonders of the Invisible City is a printed transcript of a series of sermons or lectures that were allegedly given by Reverend Shrewsbury, a pastor who lived in Arkham in the 1740s and 1750s. While there is plenty of evidence to attest that Shrewsbury quarrelled with Joseph Curwen and other merchants and civic leaders, and even spoke out against their “Godless ways” from the pulpit, there is no proof that this book contains an accurate transcript of Shrewsbury’s words.

Major Item: The book contains a litany of accusations against the founders of Arkham, mentioning Curwen, Orne and Hutchinson by name, but also insinuating that several other families were in league with devils. It describes “certaine works” that were carried out in the dead of night by Curwen and his allies; Architecture or Astronomy guesses that the description is of a detailed survey of the land around Arkham, focusing on key magical sites like the Wooded Isle, Sump Marsh and the Chinese Garden.

The book also describes Shrewsbury’s encounters with strange “travellers” who revealed to him a “vision of a monstrous Pandemonium-to-come”. The description in the text of the mannerisms of these stranger is eerily close to those of the player characters – is some cross-temporal encounter with Reverend Shrewsbury in their future? Handwritten marginal notes in this section appear to be written in code, and might contain a spell or instructions for achieving such a prodigy.

Minor Item: The book is less specific about the misdeeds of Arkham’s founders, but a close reading with Archaelogy or History can reveal the precise location of Curwen’s missing farm in Salamander Fields. Marginal notes suggest that a previous owner of this book came to the same conclusion and may even have carried out a search for the buried ruins.

Fraudulent: Occult or History confirms that most of the text is copied from Philip’s Thaumaturgical Prodigies in the New England Canaan, and has little new information of relevance.

 

A rules option for GUMSHOE horror games

In situations where a Sense Trouble test might reveal the presence of danger from an otherworldly or eerie source, offer the players a chance to pay a price later in exchange for a benefit now.

One player gets an automatic success at a Sense Trouble test by agreeing to take on a Stability penalty that lasts for the rest of the scenario. Let’s call this a Stability Handicap.

In the typical situation in which Sense Trouble merely allows the element of surprise in a fight already guaranteed to happen, that penalty is -1.

If the test lets them entirely avoid a significant hazard or skip a fight with something nasty they don’t want or need to tangle with, the penalty rises to -2.

In the story, the moment represents a sudden flash of eerie awareness, attuning the recipient to eldritch energies. Depending on the situation, you might narrate:

  • a jackhammering heart
  • the nearly overwhelming urge to vomit
  • a jolt of rootless anxiety
  • an epiphany of cosmic dread
  • the appearance of a rash, welts, or other psychic injuries
  • an overpowering smell unsensed by anyone else present
  • an awful vision of monstrous violence that surfaces in the mind for a split-second and is then immediately suppressed

Make this a rare option, keyed to specific story events. You may decide that it only makes sense for characters already exposed to the supernatural, or those who have succumbed in some way to its influence.

Offer it only when the rest of the scenario holds out the possibility of at least 2 Stability tests.

The more physical symptoms for the Sense Trouble success might instead call for an Athletics or Scuffling Disadvantage. Instead of increasing your mental vulnerability, that rash that came out of nowhere makes it harder to throw punches.

For an additional fraught choice, you could even let the player choose which of the three abilities to Disadvantage. In that case you can allow the Disadvantage even if you aren’t sure that 2 or more tests of each ability still remain in the scenario. Correctly predicting which Disadvantage will hurt the least becomes part of the player’s challenge. Here the cost lies in the anxiety of decision making as much as in any actual penalties dished out in later scenes. If players always guess right, and Handicaps start to feel like a free gift, make sure they pay the piper next time around. See to that a penalty happens, in a situation with truly harrowing stakes.

“Some curiosity may be felt as to his history; I will trace it with the utmost truthfulness, according to his own words, adding any necessary explanations. He told me that he was eighty-eight years of age when he came here, and that he was the son of Prince Ragoczy of Transylvania by his first wife, a Tékéli.”  

— Prinz Karl von Hessen-Kassel, Memoirs (1817)

Proud if neglectful papa, Ferenc II Ragoczy

The perhaps-too-gullible Prince Karl wrote these words about my friend and yours, the quondam immortal alchemist, composer, and confidence man who called himself the Comte de Saint-Germain. He also called himself, among a dizzying array of other pseudonyms, the Count Ragoczy (or occasionally Czarogy, for a change-up) and claimed to be the vanished heir to the throne of Transylvania, Prince Leopold Georg Ragoczy. The last reigning Prince of Transylvania, Ferenc II Ragoczy, had three sons before his ill-fated rebellion against Austria collapsed in 1708. The eldest, Leopold Georg, died in 1700. Or did he?

The Esoterrorists: I AM = EOD

Yes, of course he did. But the psychic dislocation of the Transylvanians, betrayed by their Christian brothers and their Turkish enemies, deprived of their proper Prince by the duplicitous Emperor, left a seed of doubt. By the 18th century, Esoterror groups had run the “Lost Heir Working” many times, sparking false hope, civil war, and repression that fed the Outer Dark. The Esoterror agent known as Saint-Germain decided to play a bigger game: he would run a “Quantum Heir Working” both claiming and denying his identity to spread chaos and ruin across Europe. Indeed, he was in Russia during the 1762 revolt that put Catherine the Great on the throne; his machinations at Versailles (and the Illuminist sects he left behind) toppled the Bourbons in 1789, leading to a quarter century of global war. The founder of American fascism, William Dudley Pelley, venerated him as a Secret Master … and so he was. Modern-day OV agents track a cache of Saint-Germain’s suddenly discovered letters from Budapest murder-auction to Paris musical conjuration site to Montana cult compound, unwittingly re-linking and re-awakening his 18th-century apparat to once more bring flame and tyranny to the West.

Night’s Black Agents: Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tooth

No, Saint-Germain wasn’t a vampire. But Prince Leopold Georg was, from birth. (Saint-Germain, who never ate or drank in company, and never seemed to age, was a Renfield.) The Prince’s mother, Prince Karl foggily recalled, was “a Tékéli.” The Conspiracy cover story pretends this refers to the noble Thököli family of Hungary, from whence actually descended the Prince’s grandmother. But no, Saint-Germain actually said “Székely,” the term Dracula uses in the novel for his own Hungarian forebears. The Linea Dracula split in the 16th century, when Count John Dracula allied himself with the Bathory clan. Internecine warfare decimated the vampire ranks until Count John finally won in 1683. Diehard secret foes of Count John made a deal with the Bathorys’ great rivals for the throne of Transylvania, the Ragoczys. Ferenc II gave his blood and other humours to a Székely assign, who magically and alchemically conceived a vampiric moonchild. This may explain the entry in Ferenc’s diary on his son’s passing: “I confess my affliction at his death was not of the slightest.” John Dracula’s influence at the Imperial court explains why Ferenc was never imperially confirmed as Prince of Transylvania, and perhaps why his rebellion was so thoroughly crushed. But the Empire never found Ferenc’s true vampiric heir, who worked against the Hapsburgs in the shadows and perhaps engineered their fall in 1918. This by now 320-year-old vampire commands great magics as well as the Theosophical cult of Saint-Germain in Europe, India, and America, giving orders to his subordinates telepathically or while in mist form, to avoid being identified as an Un-Dead four-year-old. The returned Dracula hunts this lost heir to his vampiric throne, blood of his blood, Leopold Georg the Last of Transylvania.

Trail of Cthulhu: The Mahatmas of Madness

Prince Karl all too accurately recalled Saint-Germain’s words. His mother was a “Tékéli” — something fearful and primordial from the antarctic reaches of the Earth. (Saint-Germain in 1779 also puckishly described his mother’s country as one which had never been ruled by “men of a foreign origin.”)  How she arrived in Vienna in 1691 we may never know: brought on board a Dutch brigantine blown off course south of Cape Horn, perhaps. Saint-Germain finally died in 1784, at the age of ninety, still appearing as a fifty-year-old man. Madame Blavatsky claimed that “The Master Rakoczy” was one of the Hidden Mahatmas or Secret Masters or the Great White Brotherhood — and the cry “tekeli-li” is associated by Poe with the fear of white things. Are the Himalayan White Masters who spawned Saint-Germain the hideous Mi-Go, or gnophkeh worshippers of Ithaqua in Leng? Does the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign hunt Saint-Germain or his Mother, or seek the secret of immortality hidden in his alien blood? Did Saint-Germain transmigrate his consciousness into a new body, like Ephraim Waite? Did Edward Hutchinson steal his essential saltes from the crypt of St. Nicolas’ church in Eckernforde and resurrect him in “Castle Ferenczy” in Transylvania? Is Saint-Germain’s Mother, like Grendel’s, still lurking somewhere, gravid with a new Secret Master? Send the Investigators to the ruins of Castle Ferenczy in Rakus to dig up some clues, dodge some Romanian Iron Guard sorcerors, and follow the Trail of Saint-Germain wherever it leads.

TimeWatch: The Saint-Germain Variations

Dodgy mystics or occult weirdos really want to find out the truth behind Saint-Germain, and one of them, Elsa Bailly, gets ahold of a time machine. Fearing the Master’s magic, she heads for 1700 Transylvania to kidnap Saint-Germain as a baby — unwittingly spawning the legend of the Lost Heir that Saint-Germain later plays upon to credulous audiences. Is his “magic” just sleight-of-time and paradox? Does he play coy about his past because he grew up outside time, where he learned to grow diamonds and jam with Handel? Are the various Saint-Germain impostors his enemies or his alternate selves? Did Elsa steal the infant Saint-Germain — or an Outer Dark tulpa, or a vampire, or a shoggoth-spawn? This looks like a job — like a lot of jobs — for TimeWatch.

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