“Colonel Buchan’s novel Greenmantle has more than a flavor of truth …”

— T.E. Lawrence, to Robert Graves

In Britain, the first rank of spy novelists has long included writers from the ranks of actual intelligence agencies: John Buchan (British Army Intelligence Corps), Somerset Maugham (MI6), Graham Greene (MI6), Dennis Wheatley (London Controlling Section of the War Cabinet), Anthony Burgess (British Army Intelligence Corps), Kenneth Benton (MI6), and of course David Cornwell, a.k.a. John Le Carré (both MI5 and MI6). (The finest, and almost the first, American example is Charles McCarry, who publishes his first novel The Miernik Dossier six years after leaving the CIA, in 1973.) But the best example of the overlap (if not the best novelist or the best spy) is Ian Fleming, the former British Naval Intelligence planner who created James Bond in Casino Royale (1958) to little or no acclaim. In 1961, President Kennedy lists From Russia With Love as one of his top ten books, putting Fleming on top of the US mystery and crime charts and leading MGM to greenlight the first Bond film Dr. No (1962). The movies send Fleming’s sales into the millions before he dies in 1964.

No relation to Randolph.

Meanwhile in America, spy fiction came out of the pulps and melded with the hard-boiled detective genre, most notably with Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series (27 novels, 1960-1993) and more prolifically with Edward S. Aarons’ Assignment series (42 novels, 1955-1976) starring CIA agent Sam Durell. Bond’s success inspires paperback original publisher Award Books to revive the pulp detective Nick Carter as superspy Nick Carter: Killmaster in 1964. Various authors (in the 1960s primarily Michael Avallone, Valerie Moolman, and Manning Lee Stokes) using the “Nick Carter” house name (the novels are in the first person) churn out 261 Killmaster novels on an approximately bimonthly schedule.

The writers of these series are mostly professional authors, without any espionage background. The partial exception is James Atlee Phillips, who as “Philip Atlee” writes a series about CIA contractor Joe Gall (22 novels, 1963-1976), rebranded as the “Nullifier” series after 1966. After a career with the OSS, Phillips ran the CIA front Amphibian Airways in Burma from 1947 to 1954. But his brother, David Atlee Phillips, runs the CIA’s Western Hemisphere operations in 1973-1975, the culmination of a 25-year Agency career that includes planning the Bay of Pigs operation and helping to overthrow Allende. During the Fall of DELTA GREEN era, David Atlee Phillips takes part in the anti-Castro Operation MONGOOSE (1961-1964) as chief of covert operations in Mexico, and serves as station chief in the Dominican Republic (1965-1969) and Brazil (1969-1970). James and David have a tempestuous relationship illustrated by Joe Gall’s tendency to ridicule the Bay of Pigs planners and CIA station chiefs.

By the 1970s, the Killmaster spawns his own lines of imitators, notably Remo Williams, the Destroyer (150+ novels, 1971-present) by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir, and Mack Bolan, the Executioner (600+ novels, 1969-present) by Don Pendleton. Pendleton writes four novels a year about non-spy super-killer Bolan until 1980, when the Executioner becomes a multi-author franchise like the Killmaster. (Bolan fights Cthulhu cultists in Executioner #264: Iron Fist (2000) and Cthulhu spawn in Executioner #276: Leviathan (2001), both by Gerald Montgomery.) Joseph Rosenberger’s Death Merchant series featuring hit man Richard Camellion (70 books, 1971-1988) takes on not just the Mafia, neo-Nazis, and Red China but secret societies, Soviet psychotronics, clone armies, and the hidden city of Shambhala.

Camellion isn’t alone on the fringe. British spy novelist W. Howard Baker uses the pseudonym “Peter Saxon,” the credited author of the Guardians series (6 novels, 1968-1970) about a team of occult investigators. Baker sharecrops the “Peter Saxon” name to other writers; who exactly wrote which Guardians novel remains (appropriately) a mystery. The Mind Masters series (5 books, 1974-1976) by John F. Rossman stars Britt St. Vincent, a psychic race car driver who investigates occult conspiracies for the clandestine Mero Institute. And then there’s CIA agent Peter Ward, the “American James Bond,” who stars in nine novels (1965-1971) by David St. John. In his last two adventures, The Sorcerers (1969) and Diabolus (1971), Ward battles an alliance of Satanists, voodooists, and Communists straight out of Dennis Wheatley, featuring MK-ULTRA-style mind-control drugs deployed by heroes and villains alike.

Which intrigues not least because “David St. John” is one of many pen names for active, on-duty CIA agent E. Howard Hunt. (According to fellow CIA agent and spy novelist William F. Buckley Jr., Hunt wrote too prolifically for the CIA to review his manuscripts.) Hunt began his clandestine career with the OSS in China, and with David Atlee Phillips planned the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala and the Bay of Pigs. He then serves as chief of covert action for the CIA’s (borderline illegal) Domestic Operations Division (1962-1964), in Madrid for two years on a shadowy mission that included “write spy novels”, and as covert action chief for Western Europe (based in Washington, however) from 1968-1969. He resigns from the Agency in 1970 and works for various security-state front groups and the White House until his 1972 indictment for the Watergate burglary he helped mastermind.

A Dirty Story of a Dirty Man: Operation TRAVEN

“All this was flagrant trashiness, and my friend Manton was not slow to insist on that fact. Then I told him what I had found …”

–H.P. Lovecraft, “The Unnamable”

The X-Files episode “Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man” by Glen Morgan plays with the career of Hunt and Phillips, portraying the titular “Cancer Man” as JFK’s assassin (both Hunt and Phillips may have met – or recruited – Lee Harvey Oswald in Mexico) and as frustrated spy novelist “Raul Bloodworth,” creator of the Jack Colquitt adventures based on his own career. Inspired by Morgan’s riff (and perhaps by these lovely covers by Loz Bearfield), can we posit a series of men’s adventure paperbacks that correlates a few too many of DELTA GREEN’s proprietary contents?

Superspy Dalton Verdant, codenamed the Outsider, works for a secret nameless “Division” vaguely attached to the Navy. Reporting only to Admiral Joseph Cooke, he beds beautiful women and battles international Communism and weirder foes in a series of lurid paperback novels from Pagan Books:

  • The Stalin Sanction (May 1966): Verdant crosses Siberia in disguise – to prevent SMERSH mad scientists from re-animating Joseph Stalin! Verdant fights “charnel dog-men” in KGB uniforms. (Cf. Operation SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS; FoDG, p. 163)
  • The Shanghai Sanction (Oct 1966): Verdant is ordered to assassinate Stephen Alban, “Red China’s top Satanist in Asia,” and does so by blowing up Alban’s airplane. (Cf. Operation PARIAH; FoDG, p. 180)
  • The South Pole Sanction (Feb 1967): Verdant tracks Karthek, leader of a neo-Nazi cult, to “Hitler’s frozen bolt-hole” in Antarctica powered by “living brains from Atlantis.” The brains explode into blob-monsters and destroy the base. (Cf. Operation SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY; FoDG, p. 286)
  • The Simba Sanction (Jun 1967): Verdant fights “Cuban voodooists” in the Congo, and faces the “Mongolian Death Worm” they have awakened in a jungle city of white apes. (Cf. Operation KURTZ; FoDG, p. 180)
  • The Saucer Sanction (Nov 1967): Verdant rescues a beautiful, amnesiac NASA test pilot from a flying saucer crash site in Nicaragua, battling a hit squad seemingly sent by the U.S. government to kill her – and him! Mind control gave her amnesia; the hit squad uses a serum derived from alien fish-men. (Cf. Project GARNET; FoDG, p. 163)

The credited author of all five books is “Ward Phillips.” This pseudonym might refer to (Agency (CIA)) Hunt’s spy character and Atlee’s middle name, or (Occult) to the Rhode Island ghost-story writer (colleague and friend of author-mystic Randolph Carter) Ward Phillips (1880-1937?). The Saucer Sanction’s plot strongly resembles the script of the Matt Helm movie The Ambushers, released in December 1967 – could “Phillips” have Hollywood connections? “Phillips” might be a DELTA GREEN agent left in the cold after a breakdown, or the sibling (or spouse, or child) of such an agent. He (or she) might be a psychic in contact with a former agent, or a fragment of an agent’s personality detached by Yithian or Xin magic and now trying to write its way back into existence by possessing amphetamine addicts.

Hunting “Phillips” through a network of weird loner tough-guy writers, skeevy publishers, and predatory Hollywood small-timers takes all the HUMINT the Agents can muster. None of the operations “Phillips” uses as source material postdate 1964, giving a possible date for their retirement. Once MAJESTIC notices the connections in The Saucer Sanction, the Agents have a rival team hunting “Phillips,” and killing witnesses: the Seattle offices of Pagan Books go up in a mysterious fire on New Year’s Day 1968, detonating five cases of ammunition illegally stored in the building’s basement. Is there a connection to the Two Lanterns or another occult radical group?

Finally, if you want to play a session (or a whole campaign!) in the world of Dalton Verdant and the Division, use Night’s Black Agents; ideally the “airport thriller” drift rules (Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook, p. 320). Go ahead and add monsters and magic from Fall of DELTA GREEN or Trail of Cthulhu on an ad hoc basis. Dalton Verdant has vanished on the trail of a British ex-superspy traitor and sex magician named Hamish Rhodes, and Admiral Cooke recruits your team to follow him …


The Fall of DELTA GREEN adapts DELTA GREEN: THE ROLE-PLAYING GAME to the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, opening the files on a lost decade of anti-Mythos operations: the 1960s. Players take on the role of DELTA GREEN operatives, assets, and friendlies. Hunt Deep Ones beneath the Atlantic, shut down dangerous artists in San Francisco, and delve into the heart of Vietnam’s darkness. Purchase The Fall of DELTA GREEN in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

“Everybody likes a fireworks show.”

— Samuel Cummings, president of the International Armament Corporation

If, as the Beatles assured us, happiness is a warm gun, the happiest place on Earth between 1953 and 1968 is the Alexandria, Virginia warehouse complex of Interarms, the International Armament Corporation. In 1968 it holds between 650,000 and 800,000 military-surplus small-arms — more guns than the army of any NATO country except America — up to and very much including dozens of 20mm Lahti rifled anti-tank cannon from Finland. Samuel Cummings (b. 1927), the president of Interarms, worked for the CIA officially in 1950-1953 as a weapons analyst, and some say continues to work for the Company as a source for weapons the Company would rather nobody be able to trace to the CIA. Born in Philadelphia Main Line society, he affects a Virginia drawl but otherwise keeps things professional and never flashy. Interarms clears about $20 million per year, from gun sales in America as well as from international arms brokerage. When Cummings buys the entire Spanish national arsenal in 1965, he converts much of it into sporting guns and sells it by mail-order; but he also brokers gently used fighter jets, submarines, and tanks.

Interarms pre-unboxing in progress

Cummings’ deep pockets, myriad of subsidiaries and shell corporations, and vast network of stringers and clients in the world’s military and intelligence services keep him ahead of all his private-sector rivals; Interarms controls about 80% of the non-governmental traffic in arms. Smaller companies, often thinly-disguised agents for Bonn or Paris, nip at his heels or sink into the shadows, going after deals that Cummings can’t afford to touch without angering his patrons in the CIA and State Department. The Piccadilly firm of Cogswell & Harrison still brokers sales that the British Foreign Office couldn’t possibly countenance. “Munitions manipulators” proliferate on the next level down, selling arms to rebel movements without great-power backing or conniving to rig the bidding in Greece or Thailand for a bigger corporate client.

The big money is in Africa (Algeria 1954-62, Congo 1960-65, Biafra 1967-70; ongoing bush wars in Ethiopia and Rhodesia; plus running the blockades of South Africa and Angola) and to a lesser extent the Caribbean, even after Castro crushes the Bay of Pigs invasion. Iran and Saudi Arabia hire arms dealers to equip their police and to supply their proxies in their neighbors. Hill tribes from Sudan to Yemen to Burma always want rifles, and can perhaps pay in drugs or even archaeological treasures. Countries like Egypt, Vietnam, and others supplied by the Soviets often unload their weapons on the Western market to make hard currency, and the Czech national weapons company Omnipol seemingly connives at such capitalism. Rakeoffs and bribery also provide incentives for Third World generals and deputy ministers to make unnecessary arms deals just to collect their percentage. But the First World isn’t immune, although the currency is string-pulling as much as bribery: some port officer or air-traffic controller keeps authorizing freighter-loads of assault rifles to depart from Belgium (along with Holland, the major “free port” in arms dealing) or allows cargo planes to “divert” to Spain or Malta and refuel for Africa.

Big old-school weapons companies such as Krupp, Mauser, and Schneider have diversified into general industry; Oerlikon, Hotchkiss, FN, SAAB, and Hispano-Suiza still aggressively market weapons overseas. (The new-school weapons companies like GE, Lockheed, and Vickers just slurp up fat defense contracts, hiring lobbyists instead of salesmen.) The Argentine Ballester-Molina dynasty of gun-makers writes its own foreign policy in Latin America. Skoda is now the engine of the Czech communist arms trade, supplying fine weapons to foul terrorists. But all of these companies still use cut-outs and keep up with the old field: for example, the Quandts of Mauser have friendly (and oh so informal) ties to the West German shell company Merex, which sells weapons to Israel and the Arabs alike. For more Interarms, more anecdotes, and wild NPCs (such as former fruit-planter Mitchell Livingston WerBell III who sells guns in Latin America; exiled Hungarian master smuggler Dominick de Fekete von Altbach und Nagyratoth who sells guns from Latin America to rebels and the governments fighting them) I recommend George Thayer’s The War Business (1969).

“Morgan uncased the big-game rifle on which he relied despite his colleague’s warnings that no material weapon would be of help.”

— H.P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”

So where and how can your Fall of DELTA GREEN Agents cross paths with the modern-day merchants of death? Obviously the Interarms private intelligence network makes a great source for story hooks or even for DELTA GREEN friendlies. The program might task agents to find the source of weapons flowing to Mauti- or Angka- worshipping rebels, or to supply weapons to local militias getting riled up to massacre the local Dagon cult. Or, of course, being DELTA GREEN Agents, they might just want to know a guy who can hook them up with not-quite-yet-sporterized Tommy guns or entirely-sporting heavy game rifles or half-a-dozen Spanish Super-Star 9mm pistols apiece, all without inconvenient serial numbers.

In a slightly James Bond-ed version of the setting, perhaps some Australian munitions manipulator has stumbled on a cache of Yithian weapons and gone through enough subordinates to figure out (mostly) how they work. He’s getting ready to offer weak-nuclear-force-disintegrators, Tenet-style reverse-entropy pistols, and full-auto lightning-throwers to any and all interested parties — and your team has to stop MAJESTIC from putting in a very generous bid.

Arms Dealer

You might be a drummer for Interarms sniffing out wars and deals, a private broker or “munitions manipulator,” or (with Pilot and Conceal) a slightly glorified gun-runner. Ever since you met these particular Company men, you’ve been doing a lot of business in very special ammunition loads and high-caliber hunting rifles — it’s only a matter of time before you see what’s at the other end of the barrels you sell. You don’t need Cop Talk, because between Negotiation and Network you’ve already bribed the commander who arrested you.

Points: 11 Investigative, 21 General

Foreign Language 2, Law 1, Military Science 1, Negotiation 2, Streetwise 1

Demolitions 2, Firearms 3, Heavy Weapons 2, Network 4, Sense Trouble 2

Pick two Investigative: Accounting 1, Chemistry 1, Foreign Language 1, History 1, Military Science 1, Traffic Analysis 1

Pick one Interpersonal: Flattery 2, HUMINT 2

Pick two General: Bureaucracy 4, Conceal 4, Demolitions 4*, Drive 4, Firearms 4*, Heavy Weapons 4*, Mechanics 4, Network 4*, Pilot 4, Preparedness 4, Sense Trouble 4*

Lahti L-39 20mm “Elephant Gun” Anti-Tank Rifled Cannon

You’ve all been very patient, so here’s what you came here for. The Lahti weighs 109 lbs. and fires its very expensive ($1 each) and hard-to-source Swiss ammunition [L2, also available in phosphorus] up to a mile downrange. Each magazine holds ten 5.4-inch-long shells and weighs 2.5 pounds. It takes a round of cranking the bolt back (Diff 6 Athletics test to do it in half a round) before you can fire the first shot; after that, each shot re-cocks the bolt. In a string of jobs in 1965, robbers in Canada and New York use them to blow open bank vaults from the rear. Interarms sells them for $99 apiece to licensed collectors.


The Fall of DELTA GREEN adapts DELTA GREEN: THE ROLE-PLAYING GAME to the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, opening the files on a lost decade of anti-Mythos operations: the 1960s. Players take on the role of DELTA GREEN operatives, assets, and friendlies. Hunt Deep Ones beneath the Atlantic, shut down dangerous artists in San Francisco, and delve into the heart of Vietnam’s darkness. Purchase The Fall of DELTA GREEN in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

“When you ask who built this mound, the only answer is the echo of your own question within the vault that has been hidden in darkness within this mound for no one knows how many centuries. The dead past has surely buried its dead within the mound.”

— artifact collector J.G. Braecklein, quoted in the Kansas City Star (Dec. 15, 1935)

In August of 1935, John Hobbs of the Pocola Mining Company broke into the sealed chamber beneath Craig Mound, near Spiro in eastern Oklahoma. He and his comrades discovered dozens, possibly hundreds of burials, accompanied by thousands of inscribed conch shells, effigies, arrowheads, ceremonial weapons, copper plates, and cloaks, along with bushel baskets of beads, pearls, and copper needles. Hobbs and his crew were on Craig Mound legally — they had leased it from the owner — but not in it legally, Oklahoma having just passed its first antiquities act in July to prevent exactly this kind of thing from happening. Hobbs and the Pocola Miners became simultaneously the discoverers of the greatest archaeological trove in North American history and the linchpins of the “pot-hunting” community. American archaeologists, then and now, call anyone who digs up Native artifacts without a doctorate “pot-hunters,” a term just a notch above “grave-robbers.” (Native Americans, then and now, often don’t see what difference a doctorate makes to the grave robbery.) But in the pit of the Depression, pot hunting put food in, well, your pot.

Hobbs and team at Spiro (Leviathan, not pictured)

Their iffy legal status, and the huge supply of artifacts, drove the Pocola diggers to unload priceless items for a few dollars, supercharging the market for the next decade. Dealers from Arkansas just across the border such as Joe Balloun, Goodrich Pilquist, and H.T. Daniel arrived on the site just after Hobbs did, in late 1933, buying pots and arrowheads turned up in smaller mounds nearby for fast cash with no records kept. Other dealers arrived after the news broke in August 1935, carting away literal carloads of artifacts to Chicago, Ohio, New York, and anywhere else they could sell them.

Artifacts moved from the diggers to the dealers to the collectors. In the 1930s, collecting Native American artifacts was a huge hobby; almost every boy had a few arrowheads in a cigar box. The monthly magazine Hobbies: A Magazine For Collectors ran a column called “Around the Mounds” about American archaeology, and filled its classifieds with ads for “Indian relics.” On another level, the architect J.G. Braecklein and his friendly rival Harry Trowbridge assembled museum-sized collections in their Kansas City houses; Colonel Fain White King did likewise in his Kentucky mansion. All three became major bidders for Spiro relics. Glen Groves of Chicago headed the North American Indian Relic Collectors’ Association, and became a major middleman between the local dealers and the Smithsonian. Even actual archaeologists like Robert Bell and Sam Dellinger of the University of Arkansas lowered themselves to buy from the pot-hunters. The University of Oklahoma partnered up with oilmen, who siphoned off prize specimens for their own private museums in Tulsa and Bartlesville.

“They were very curious, these open-air ghost tales; and though they sounded flat and prosaic in the mouths of the white people, they had earmarks of linkage with some of the richest and obscurest phases of native mythology. All of them were woven around the vast, lonely, artificial-looking mounds in the western part of the state, and all of them involved apparitions of exceedingly strange aspect and equipment.”

— H.P. Lovecraft with Zealia Bishop, “The Mound”

Although Spiro is all the way across the state from Lovecraft’s Ghost Mound in Binger, the mighty underground empire of K’n-yan surely flung its tendrils at least as far as the Arkansas River. The Caddos and Wichitas of “The Mound” are, per current anthropological consensus (and Oklahoma state law), the heirs to the fourteenth-century Caddoan-speaking builders of the Spiro mound complex. Said consensus also identifies the Spiro builders as priest-kings of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (SECC), what an earlier generation of archaeologists dubbed the Southern Death Cult. That religion focused on a war between Overworld and Underworld, the latter personified by a Great Chaos Serpent that also eerily resembled a black panther. This conflation of Yig and Tsathoggua (or Tirawa, as the also-Caddoan Pawnee knew him) may explain the “black drink” ceremony of the SECC. Following the pearls, conch shells, and other aquatic artifacts of this inland empire logically points us toward the Tulu Indians, also called the Coligua, now known as the Tunica. Their language is not Caddoan but an isolate, and the Coligua-Tulu spent much of their history the irrational targets of their neighbors’ rage as they moved from the Spiro area down the Arkansas River valley and south to Louisiana.

When whoever the Spiro builders were finished Craig Mound around 1420, it had been almost exclusively used as a necropolis for a century or more. Abandoned shortly thereafter, it remained completely deserted. The Caddoans left it very much alone, and the transplanted Choctaws refused to go near it, settling their slaves in the mound country after Emancipation forced them to provide them land. As in Lovecraft’s tale, ghost sightings proliferated near the mounds. There was even a “curse of Spiro Mound” of a sort, as the Poteau lawyer who provided the Pocola Mining Company its paperwork, the young co-owner of the mound James Craig, and the Reverend R.W. Wall (one of the Pocola investors, and a respected Black minister) all died within three years of the chamber opening. Craig died of tuberculosis, and Wall drowned in a suspiciously shallow stream.

Was someone — or Something — closing off loose ends? Was there a dealer in Arkansas — or a dealer-collector team — who recognized the significance of the “black residue” in the conch shell cups, the eye-in-hand motifs on certain gorgets, the Signs of the Spider and Swastika incised into stone pipes? Are your Trail of Cthulhu Investigators scrabbling to uncover the missing “copper box holding surgical tools” that vanished from the dig tent, or to destroy utterly the “eight-foot giant in armor” that local rumor claimed to have seen in the hills? Are they perpetrating, or penetrating, the forgeries that abounded around the site? And was it they who, just as the Pocola Mining Company lease expired on November 27, 1935, set off an immense black powder charge within the burial chamber, collapsing a third of the mound and destroying everything remaining inside it? Or maybe destroying just one, very old Thing …


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 print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

“Professor Webb had been engaged, forty-eight years before, in a tour of Greenland and Iceland in search of some Runic inscriptions which he failed to unearth …”

— H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

Instead of “Runic inscriptions,” in 1860 Professor Webb finds Cthulhu in West Greenland, on a rocky ledge in the cold. But by the 1930s the trail of runes runs hot … as does the Trail of Cthulhu. The SS teaches its officers rune science, while its Ahnenerbe office (ToC, p. 160) gathers runic material from all over Europe and the North. Ahnenerbe directors Hermann Wirth and Wolfram Sievers investigate (and vandalize) runes and petroglyphs at Bohuslän in Sweden in August 1936 to kick off an expedition into the wilds of Scandinavia.

This runestone in Uppsala probably doesn’t depict a winding nest of tentacles

If the Investigators follow the trail of the runes to Sweden themselves, they quite likely encounter Sigurd Agrell (1881-1937). And if they don’t, they surely encounter a runologist who warns them that Sigurd Agrell is a dangerous crank with unsound theories. In the Thirties, he’s a rabbity-looking, bespectacled man with a domed forehead and a truly luxurious black beard. Agrell spent his twenties between Paris and Uppsala University, a member of the decadent Symbolist poetic group Les quatre diables. But he seemingly put such things behind him, getting his doctorate in Slavic philology at Lund University in 1909, translating Russian literature, and going on to become full professor of Slavic Languages at Lund in 1921.

Then something happened in 1925, possibly connected with an earthquake in the Pacific and a wave of dreams around the world. Agrell suddenly became obsessed with the runes, the script of various Germanic languages invented (according to orthodox history) around 200 B.C. Agrell uses the name “Sigurobald” (and possibly uses opium) while studying the runes, and teases out a new theory: that they descend from Greek letters, and (more importantly) that they encode Mithraic wisdom. In 1931, he publishes his third runological text: Mystery Religions of Late Antiquity and Nordic Rune Magic, in which he reveals his discovery: the order of the runes was deliberately hidden.

Agrell argues that the standard ‘Elder Futhark’ order of runes (named for the first six runes: F, U, Th, A, R, K) conceals the true first rune: Ur, the rune of the aurochs, signifying the First Cow Audhumbla who licked the giant Ymir out of ice and also the Primal Bull of the Mithraic Mysteries often represented by Taurus. Hence the true runic alphabet is the Uthark, and the F rune (Feh, representing wealth) is not the first but actually the twenty-fourth. This, for example, explains the mystifying Norse good-luck runic inscription ALU; under the new numbering, its values add to 24, the number of all the runes and (now) of wealth.

Runing With the Devil, or, Too Many Olauses

“I had read only the least fragment of that blasphemous rune before closing the book and bringing it away.”

— H.P. Lovecraft, “The Book”

Is Agrell merely a classic academic crank, a specialist hubristically tempted to theorize outside his expertise? Or is he the secret (unconscious? dreaming?) heir to Sweden’s long tradition of esoteric rune lore? Study of the runes begins with the Swedish historian, cartographer, and cryptozoologist Olaus Magnus (1490-1557) exiled to Poland (and eventually to Rome) in 1530 for his religion (and probably not for his investigations of mermaids – or Deep Ones) along with his brother Johannes Magnus (1488-1544) the erstwhile archbishop of (Agrell’s city) Uppsala. Olaus posthumously publishes his brother’s the History of the Goths and Swedes, which uses runic inscriptions that Johannes dated to 2000 B.C.

Uppsala-born Johannes Bureus (1568-1652) began studying the runes in 1594, compiling a runography in 1599. He became a tutor to the future King Gustavus Adolphus in 1602, and perhaps his teaching explains the wide use of runes as battlefield codes (and spells?) by the Swedish Army in the Thirty Years’ War. He dedicated his masterwork, the “Gothic Cabbala” Adalruna rediviva, to one of that war’s generals, Count Jacob de la Gardie (1583-1652), reputed to be an alchemist himself. (Jacob’s son, Count Magnus de la Gardie, became the namesake of M.R. James’ revenant, although Jacob better fits the model of a hideous necromancer.) Bureus believed the runes encoded noble truths of a supersensible realm, and carried on a runic rivalry with his Danish counterpart the anatomist Olaus Wormius (1588-1654), the translator of the Necronomicon into Latin in 1628 (Lovecraft’s 1228 date is clearly an error). Wormius’ runic compilation Runir seu appeared the year before (and perhaps caused?) Bureus’ death.

Bureus’ successors as court antiquarian and royal archaeologist avoided mention of the runes’ esoteric side. In 1675, the Swedish antiquarian and archivist Olaus Verelius published Manductio ad runographiam, which warned of runic black magic and necromancy. Verelius attempted to locate the site of the immense pagan temple to Thor, Odin, and Freyr in Uppsala (burnt in the 11th century); he also identified Sweden as Hyperborea. Olaus Rudbeck (1630-1702), a Swedish anatomist and runologist like Wormius, identified Sweden as both Hyperborea and Hades in his Atlantica (4 vols, 1679-1702), which also attempted to prove by runes that Atlantis was in Sweden. Rudbeck’s library burned up in a 1702 fire that devastated Uppsala and destroyed his house; he died before finishing his fifth volume.

A thin thread of esoteric runology survived Rudbeck’s fire: Erik Julius Björner (1696-1750) believed in primeval nature of runes, and the esoteric cabbalist Johan Göransson (1712-1769) also catalogued all known Swedish runic inscriptions in Bautil (1750). The Romantic nationalist impulse revived esoteric runology; the artistic Gothic League (1811-1844) rhapsodized about runes and their quasi-Masonic counterparts the Manhem League (1815-1823) created runic initiatory degrees (prefiguring Agrell’s Mithraic rune mysteries) and studied Old Norse sagas and fairy tales. Around that time (1812), one of the seven known manuscripts of Bureus’ Adulruna rediviva disappeared from the National Library of Sweden. In 1932, the Stockholm construction magnate (and Olympic gymnast) Carl-Ehrenfried Carlberg revives the Manhem League as a fascist occult physical-culture movement with runic ritual elements.

Rune Messiah, or, Going Cabbalistic

“The writing was in red, and varied from Arabic to Greek, Roman, and Hebrew letters. Malone could not read much of it, but what he did decipher was portentous and cabbalistic enough.”

— H.P. Lovecraft, “The Horror at Red Hook”

So we have at least two creepy Nazi rune societies, an opium-soaked crank, a missing magic book, a burned library, and a possible line of occult descent from the Renaissance to the Thirties. What more could you want? Well, if you’re anything like William Hamblin, author of the excellent old-school Call of Cthulhu adventure “The City Without a Name,” you want arbitrary cabbalistic calculations aplenty! It should go without saying that you’re free to shift up the orthography and the math to suit your own campaign or your own list of ominous numbers.

With that said:

Agrell’s Uthark system not only re-numbers the runes but also interprets them as stages in a cosmic ritual cycle. Agrell’s Uthark nicely limns not just Mithra and Odin but another, older god.

The fifth rune, Kaun (K) means “ulcer” or “boil” although it’s usually interpreted as “torch” – meaning inspiration?

The second rune, Thurs (Th) means “giant,” and I note that combining ‘Thurs’ with the next rune As (meaning “god”) yields a partial anagram for [h]asthur.

We’ve covered the first rune, Ur (U), but Agrell also interprets it to mean “water” as in “primordial ice” or “primal chaos.”

The twentieth rune Logr (L) means “waterfall, lake” but Agrell also associates it with the sea gods Aegir and Ran.

The eighth rune Hagal (H) means “hail,” but also, to Agrell, “crystal” – as in a divinatory crystal? Or a Trapezohedron, perhaps?

K + Th + U + L + H + U = 5+2+1+20+8+1 = 37

I don’t have anything particularly special to say about 37, except that multiplied by 18 (aeons? runes of the Hyperborean Futhark?) it becomes 666.

In Johannes Bureus’ Adulrunic cabbala, Great Cthulhu signifies thusly:

Kyn (10) + Tors (5) + Vr (3) + Lagher (700) + Haghall (30) + Vr (3) = 751

Hebrew Gematria

Let’s back up a bit, to the godfather of all cabbalism, the Hebrew mystical practice known as gematria. Gematria goes back at least to the Assyrians, which implies the Hebrews learned it during their Babylonian Exile in the 6th century B.C. – about the same time the similar Greek number system and occult practice (isopsephia) takes off.

Spelling ‘Cthulhu’ in Hebrew is even more fraught than in Runic, given the absence of vowels and many choices for transliteration. Two common variants both start with Cheth (but you could use Kaph or Qoph) and include Waw twice:

Ch (8) + T (9) + W (6) + L (30) + W (6) = 59

Ch (8) + Th (400) + W (6) + L (30) + H (5) + W (6) = 467

However you might want Scriptural backing for your spelling, in which case you can look to Isaiah 38:11: “I shall look upon man no more among the inhabitants of Chadel.” Chadel means “rest” or “cessation,” and is usually interpreted here to mean either “the land of the dead” or “this world” as a pun on Cheled (“the earth”). But if we look at the Ch-D-L root, or at Cthulhu as “resting,” we get:

Ch (8) + D (4) + L (30) = 42

Or put the vowels in (Aleph and Yod, since a diacritical in that text of Isaiah sometimes means there’s a ‘hidden’ Yod): + A (1) and Y (10) = 53

53 also turns out to be Hamblin’s value for ‘Cthulhu’ in “The City Without a Name,” as he transliterated the dread name ChDWLH:

Ch (8) + D (4) + W (6) + L (30) + H (5) = 53

Hamblin also mentions other gematriac methods in the adventure. “Small number” gematria reduces values to single digits; the value of Lamedh (30) becomes 3, for example, and ChDWLH yields 26. “Squares” gematria involves taking the square of each letter’s value, then adding them; ChDWLH squares to 1,041. “Series” gematria adds up all the previous letter values for each letter; A is 1, B is 2+1, D is 4+3+2+1, etc. In series, ChDWLH becomes 187. “Filled value” gematria uses the gematriac value of each letter as its final value; Heh (H-H) becomes 5+5, and ChDWLH fills to 958. You can arbitrarily add the number of letters in a name to any of these methods; plus five letters yields 963.

Arabic Gematria

The Koranic testimony to Cthulhu appears in 25:29: “For mankind, Satan is Khadhulan [the forsaker].” The Arabic version of gematria is called Abjad (after its first four letters), although cabbalists use a different “serial” version in Morocco. Breaking down ‘Khadhulan’ to its root, with Abjad values first and Moroccan serial values after the slash, you get:

Kh (600/7) + Dh (700/9) + L (30/500) = 1,330/516

Expanding ‘Khadhulhu’ with analogous but arbitrary vowels and aspirants borrowed from the Hebrew transliteration:

Kh (600/7) + Dh (700/9) + W (6/900) + L (30/500) + H (5/800) + W (6/900) = 1,347/3,116

Greek Isopsephia

The Greek Nekronomikon surely fooled around with this stuff. Greek numbers formed before their alphabet finalized; the now nonexistent letter digamma (pronounced like W in Homeric Greek) marks the place of 6. I’ve used upsilon (‘U) for the final phoneme in the Dread Name, because it was aspirated in older Greek (as in the first letter of Hyperborea). I’ve used Ch for Chi not the actual X, to avoid confusion with Xi.

Ch (600) + Th (9) + W (digamma, 6) + L (30) + ‘U (400) = 1,045

Latin Aequicalculus

Latin scholars, beginning in the 10th century, began applying Greek values to Latin letters for their own gematriac calculations. At first, they skipped the value for 6, because there was no Latin version of digamma, which is why H is 9 not 8. For the rest of these, I’m adopting Professor Angell’s transcription of the Dread Name, on the grounds that he was an expert linguist.

C (3) + T (300) + H (9) + V (400) + L (30) + H (9) + V (400) = 1,151

In 1499, the cryptographer Trithemius (1462-1516) developed a ‘simplex’ version based on a 22-letter Latin alphabet (omitting K and W and blending I/J and U/V).

C (3) + T (18) + H (8) + V (19) + L (10) + H (8) + V (19) = 85

Agrippa’s early 16th-century ‘Cabala Ordinis’ added K, but a variant German version did not. Cthulhu appears with the German variant value after the slash:

C (3) + T (100/90) + H (8) + V (200/100) + L (20/10) + H (8) + V (200/100) = 539/319

The German mathematician Michael Stifel (1487-1567) applied Hebrew gematriac methods and simplex letter values to Latin. The results for CTHVLHV appear below.

Triangular (series gematria) = 6 + 190 + 36 + 210 + 66 + 36 + 210 = 754

Quadrangular (squares gematria) = 9 + 361 + 64 + 400 + 121 + 64 + 400 = 1,419

Pentagonal (Quadrangular times two, minus Triangular) = 12 + 532 + 92 + 590 + 176 + 92 + 590 = 2,084

Masonic Gematria

The Protestant pastor of Quedlingburg, Johann Henning (1645-1695) created a Masonic code that basically adapted Trithemius’ simplex to the German alphabet.

C (3) + T (19) + H (8) + U (20) + L (11) + H (8) + U (20) = 89

The Golden Dawn created their own version of “English Qabala” gematria, basing it on Hebrew values:

C (3) + T (300) + H (8) + U (400) + L (30) + H (8) + U (400) = 1,149

For far more than you want or need to know about this stuff, with far less sourcing than you want or need, I recommend the two-volume polyglot numerological text The Key of it All, by David Allen Hulse.


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 print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

 

“Monk was asking Vida Carlaw, ‘Do you believe a mysterious jellylike creature did any killing?’ The girl hesitated, nipping at her lips. ‘You probably think I’m foolish, but, after all, no one really knows what is in the depths of the earth. Of course, scientists have a general idea, but there may be—things—down there that they don’t know anything about.'”

— Lester Dent, The Derrick Devil (Doc Savage Magazine, Feb 1937)

Cthulhu and his mythos emerged from the same news stands that produced the Shadow, Doc Savage, and lots of other larger-than-life characters who vastly outsold Cthulhu. Trail of Cthulhu honors that heroic origin by presenting rules and even gods in both Pulp and Purist categories, and Robin Laws especially honored it by presenting four straight-up pulp tribute adventures in Stunning Eldritch Tales. In the third adventure, “Death Laughs Last,” your heroes solved the mysterious death of milllionaire philanthropist Addison Bright, who fought crime in secret as … the Penitent!

Some detectives are stranger than others.

But what kind of pulp hero has only one adventure? (Most of them, sadly. Heroism was an unrewarding business, then as now.) The Penitent may be dead (for now) but if your Investigators acquired a taste for the lurid life, there’s more where he came from in the yellowed pages around them. Robert E. Howard alone provides plenty of inciting GMCs in need of two-fisted backup: River Street police detective Steve Harrison, boxer Kid Allison, sailor and boxer Steve Costigan, and that’s before you even get to Irish occultist John Kirowan or aging mercenary Kirby O’Donnell. Your heroes might cross cerebral swords with super detective Nick Carter, the young (ish) and (always) hungry Nero Wolfe, or any one of a hundred figures right out of Jess Nevins’ encyclopedias.

Compared to their descendants in the superhero comics, few actual pulp super villains survived more than one adventure. (Plenty of pre-pulp anti-heroes, such as Dr. Nikola, Dr. Quartz, Zenith the Albino, and Fu Manchu seemingly carried whole series by themselves, of course; classic pulps that attempted to recapture that spirit usually failed after a few numbers.) All their creators needed was a name and a gimmick — which is all a Keeper needs in a pinch, to be fair. So heroes are plentiful, and villains die fast — but which is which? Here’s a spinner rack full of pulp GMCs, packed like pulp-revival Ace Doubles, with both a hero side and a villain side. But even the heroes here have just a shmear of Purist flavor, meaning your Investigators might find themselves cast as the villains of this month’s exciting issue.

A-10

Decorated Great War ace turned barnstormer turned adventurer, “A-10” uses that code name when carrying out jobs for the FBI or the State Department with one of many state-of-the-art airplanes. Surveillance autogiros, speed-record interceptors, flying boats, even drone craft: A-10 can fly any of them better than any man alive.

Hero: Letitia Coolidge, self-taught electrical engineer, pulled an avionics control box out of a crashed disc-shaped craft in Vermont, put it in her second-hand Curtiss “Jenny,” and took off. She never gets used to having to plug wires from the stick into her brain, but the results are worth it … so far. Some of her “government orders” just come in on her airplane radio, a buzzing voice on a box …

Villain: Morland Harding flew too high over Brazil during an air show altitude contest, and made a deal with a Gaseous Wraith (Hideous Creatures, p. 108). All it wants is human sacrifices, and as long as he keeps killing people above 30,000 feet its vapors keep Harding literally at the top of his profession.

Fu Mien-chü

His name translates as “man who is a mask,” and his role in New York’s Chinatown is appropriately opaque. He has agents in every obscure temple, criminal gang, and house of ill fame in the district — and in every hospital, political campaign, and scientific laboratory. He holds at least two doctorates, in endocrinology and entomology, and speaks perfect un-accented baritone English.

Hero: This is the alias of the brilliant psychologist Dr. Fo-Lan, kidnapped by the Tcho-Tcho in 1902, who escaped them in 1906 by summoning the Elder Gods from Orion to destroy their city. Now, he investigates New York’s cult underground, warring against inhuman infiltrators and determining whether he needs to destroy yet another city to save the world …

Villain: “Fu” is either the Scorpion himself, Hsieh-Tzu (which is to say, L’mur-Kathulos of Atlantis), or one of his most trusted body doubles running the American branch of the Hsieh-Tzu Fan (Bookhounds of London, p. 63).

Jenna of the Jungle

Normally Jenna stays in her forest home in the Congo, but sometimes she visits New York in the company of her latest good-looking conquest. Both a wealthy English aristocrat and a jungle queen, she keeps a penthouse on Central Park West where she grows wild tropical plants and flowers, and where her pet panther Menes can sleep in the sun. Her prodigious strength keeps the mashers at bay when Menes isn’t around.

Hero: Born Geneva Jermyn, of the aristocratic Huntingdonshire Jermyns, she escaped the “Jermyn curse” of simian looks; although her arms and legs aren’t quite normally proportioned, and her nose is a little upturned, on her it looks amazing. When her cousin Arthur committed suicide and burned down the family mansion in 1920, she went to Africa to find out why. She came out a decade later, looking not a day older.

Villain: Did she visit the Anzique country on the way? Her boyfriends don’t last long, after all … Alternatively, perhaps she embraced the “White God” of Dzéwa, gaining her powers over plants and animals from its Xiclotli servitors (Shadows Over Filmland, p. 103).

Hugo “Doc” Woesten

There’s nothing he can’t do: scientist, surgeon, explorer, Doc Woesten embodies the perfect physical and mental development of the species. Using his “mental radio” at the top of the Empire State Building to receive uncanny distress signals from all over the world, Doc and his five assistants are always there when something weird and menacing threatens an heiress or endangers an archaeological dig. Only Doc’s assistants know what goes on in his secret psychic college beneath the New York State Psychopathic Institute in the Catskills.

Hero: Doc owes his abilities to alien possession: while experimenting with his mental radio during the 1927 nova XX Tauri, a “brother of light” incarnated into him. His operations on criminal brains further the “brother’s” search for minds possessed by Algol, Alphecca, or other “demon stars.”

Villain: Doc is a van Kauran on his mother’s side, from a long line of Mythos magicians in upstate New York. Henrietta raised him using twenty-one years of rituals and following every stricture in the Book of Eibon to create a “star child.” Doc travels the world “rescuing” artifacts (and eliminating rivals) to eventually bring about a new Hyperborean Age and make his mother proud of him.


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 print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

“My shadowy visage, grey with grief,
In sunken waters walled with sand,
I see — where all mine ancient land
Lies yellow like an autumn leaf.”

— Clark Ashton Smith, “The Kingdom of Shadows”

Robin has staked out Paris with his customary élan, and Robert Chambers has toured us through Brittany, but there’s at least one more stretch of French countryside redolent with time-slips, dangerous romances, and werewolves. I speak of course of Auvergne, nestled atop the Massif Central, a volcanic upthrust covered even in 1895 with forests as deep as they were two thousand years ago when the Arverni arrived from the east.

Chromolithograph of Tournoël Castle, c. 1895

Even in 1895, the railways connect only the bigger towns: Vichy (pop. 12,300) in the north, St.-Etienne (pop. 133,400) in the southeast, Aurillac (pop. 16,500) in the southwest, Clermont-Ferrand (pop. 51,000) in the Allier valley in the middle. Although Michelin’s tire plant in Clermont-Ferrand and Thiers’ knife factories bring outside investment, art students in The Yellow King RPG know the region primarily as a source of mineral water, charcuterie, cheese, and a very affordable vin gris. (Americans might appreciate Chavaniac-Lafayette, named for its most famous son, in the forested southeast.) It hasn’t been really fashionable for painters since Theodore Rousseau and the Romantics two generations ago — although a few Barbizon school devotees still chase the region’s ineffable dapple of trees and mountains. The rich and the elderly take the cure in springs at Vichy and Mont-Dome; nothing could be less au courant.

People

Edgar Degas, 61 (1834-1917; Paris p. 117)

In August 1895, Degas takes the water cure at Mont-Dore. While here, he continues to practice photography, including experimenting with moonlit exposures using “panchromatic plates.” He may bring the characters along as assistants, or they may hear of strange yellow streaks appearing in his images — Degas writes home to Paris complaining of his many spoiled prints and negatives.

Armand Guillaumin, 54 (1841-1927)

An o.g. Impressionist and friend of Pissarro and Cézanne, Guillaumin wins the lottery in 1891. He quits his job at the railway and retires to Creuse, just west of Auvergne, to become the center of the Crozant School in that town. He paints in Auvergne in 1895, as might other Crozantistes such as Maurice Leloir, 41 (1853-1940) who avidly researches and photographs ancient and medieval costumes; and the occult-minded Swedish lithographer and painter Allan Österlind, 39 (1855-1938) who embraces Spiritism while on an island off Brittany in 1886.

Auguste and Louis Lumière, 34 and 32 (1862-1954 and 1864-1948)

In 1895, the Lumière brothers of Lyon experiment with their new motion picture camera, and with color photography, before triumphantly debuting their movies in Paris that December. History does not record whether they venture into Auvergne for some nature shoots that summer, or why they abruptly abandoned motion pictures and refused to sell their camera to other film-makers.

Auguste Michel-Lévy, 51 (1844-1911)

Geologist, Inspector of Mines, and director of the Geological Survey of France, Michel-Lévy develops the interference color chart, using birefringence of cross-polarized light to identify minerals. In 1895 he studies extinct volcanoes in Auvergne; minerals from the region such as amesite and pargasite both display as yellow in cross-polarized light. (A newly discovered mineral, lawsonite, also displays as yellow; it first appears in 1895 in Marin County, California and soon after in Brittany.)

Émile Munier, 55 (1840-1895)

A great friend of Bougereau with many American clients, Munier has painted in the Auvergne since 1886. His Academic paintings increasingly depict angels and cupids, possibly an attempt to domesticate Carcosan figures he perceives — he dies of cerebral congestion in Paris on June 29. His death might be what points the group to the Auvergne influx — or perhaps he makes an abrupt “recovery” and returns to Auvergne a changed man.

Felix Thiollier, 53 (1842-1914)

After making his fortune in ribbon manufacturing in St.-Etienne, Thiollier retires at 35 to take photographs in the Auvergne. He lives in a former Hospitaller commandery in Verrieres; his many interests include Celtic archaeology and medieval art. Perhaps he notices towers or hillsides changing in his photographs, or sees carnivorous toads labeled SADOGUI in an illuminated manuscript.

Other artists painting in the Auvergne in 1895 include the painters Adolphe Appian, 75 (1819-1898) and Victor Charreton, 31 (1864-1936), both based in Lyon. If you’re looking for some meddling kids, you have your choice of the odious, spoiled Pierre Laval, 12 (1883-1945) in Chateldone near Vichy, and the mystical Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 14 (1881-1955) home for the summer at Orcines near Clermont-Ferrand from studying mathematics at a Jesuit college. At a remove, two native Auvergnois might send home a useful or terrifying discovery: the diplomat Henri Pognon, 42 (1853-1921) unearths Aramaic manuscripts and Assyrian tablets while consul in Baghdad and Aleppo; and the engineer Nicole Auguste Pomel, 74 (1821-1898) excavates giant rhinoceri in Algeria that remind him of the woolly rhinoceros that roamed Auvergne in the Ice Age.

The Occult

Characters looking for the Rosicrucians and other occult societies should look to Lyon (pop. 450,000), 165 km east of Clermont-Ferrand and several hours journey by train around the black-forested Monts du Madeleine between them. Rich and sociable, Lyon boasts several flourishing, bickering secret societies, tracing themselves back to Cagliostro, Saint-Martin, or even Agrippa. The AGLA society, if it exists as anything more than an old printers’ guild, claims all three as members.

Though Aurillac produced a sorcerer Pope (Sylvester II) who read mysterious Arabic books, Auvergne doesn’t hold with such citified occult fripperies. The Auvergnois hold to the Old Ways. Here, the Druids outlasted the Romans, and country folk still follow old customs at standing stones and deep wells — lighting fires to Grannus, singing to Pan, leaving offerings to Sadoqua.

A Rendezvous in Auvergne

Sadoqua, or Sadogui as the inquisitors referred to him while hunting the stubborn witch- and werewolf-cults of Auvergne, may have been a local version of Sucellus, a god of wine, or the name under which the Arverni and Averones worshiped “Gallic Mercury,” a shape-shifting god of prophecy. Under those names or another, he sees Carcosan energies fracturing reality, and presses his bat-like ears and toad-like tongue to the cracks. Clearly the multiplicity of images — of rocks under cross-polarized light, of anomalous photographs, of paintings iterating the same dark valleys for decades — speak both to Carcosan unreality and to Sadoqua’s plasticity.

Is the sudden phylloxera outbreak in Auvergne’s vineyards a Carcosan strike at Sadoqua’s vintage? (The blight had avoided Auvergne until 1895.) Can the AGLA cult tempt the players with a quest for the lost monastery library of Abbot Hilaire, broken up after the Revolution but rumored to contain a book of Hyperborean rituals that can re-make an un-made world? Does Carcosa manifest here through the seductive world of Sylaire, visible in lenses that have read the birefringence of Druidic menhirs or the gargoyles atop Notre-Dame du Port in Clermont-Ferrand? Do the lamias and succubae that lurk in Auvergne’s ruins serve Cassilda or Sadoqua? Or is Carcosa actually Cykranosh, sacred planet of Tsathoggua? When the players emerge, will the maps have changed: Le Puy become Ximes, Clermont-Ferrand become Vyônes, the Allier flows as the Isoile, the sparkling water labeled Ylourgne instead of Vichy, St.-Etienne now St.-Azédarac, and Auvergne rejoicing once more in its true name of Averoigne?

 


 

The Yellow King Roleplaying Game takes you on a brain-bending spiral through multiple selves and timelines, pitting characters against the reality-altering horror of The King in Yellow. When read, this suppressed play invites madness, and remolds our world into a colony of the alien planet Carcosa. Four core books, served up together in a beautiful slipcase, confront layers with an epic journey into horror in four alternate-reality settings: Belle Epoque Paris, The Wars, Aftermath, and This Is Normal Now. Purchase The Yellow King Roleplaying Game in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

“Another queer happening, of a totally different kind, occurred four or five years ago. A woman‐friend and I were out walking one night in a lane near Auburn, when a dark, lightless and silent object passed over us against the stars with projectile‐like speed. The thing was too large and swift for any bird, and gave precisely the effect of a black meteor. I have often wondered what it was. Charles Fort, no doubt, would have made a substantial item out of it for one of his volumes.”

— Clark Ashton Smith, letter to H.P. Lovecraft (November 1933)

Clark Ashton Smith: Decadent, Horrorist … Fortean? Smith first read Charles Fort’s Book of the Damned in October 1930, according to an earlier letter to Lovecraft: “I don’t care for the style — but the assembled data is quite imposing, and worthy of close study.” (Lovecraft read Fort’s works in March 1927.) By the next year Smith had gotten over his allergy to Fort’s telegraphic prose, writing to one William Whittingham Lyman: “When it comes to fictional inspiration, I had more in the writings of Charles Fort … than in any of the orthodox crew. Fort has spent his life amassing a gorgeous collection of data …” Could Smith have turned to Fort, going to the considerable trouble of checking The Book of the Damned out of the California state library by mail, to investigate his own Fortean encounter? As he wrote to Lovecraft in November 1933, some time in 1928 or 1929 or 1930 he saw “a dark, lightless, and silent object … a black meteor” “too large and swift for any bird” that “passed over us against the stars with projectile-like speed.” Did the Black Meteor leave its shadow behind on the Sorcerer of Auburn? Perhaps, perhaps, and perhaps that is why Smith datelined the letter describing his UFO sighting “Tower of black jade in lost Carcosa. Hour when the twin suns are both at nadir.” The “tower of black jade” crossing the stars on the darkest night of dark Carcosa, in other words.

“Klarkash‐Ton had seen one, had seen something, a year or two before. It was on a hot night and he had been lying outside on his sleeping bag, gazing upward into the depths of space. Suddenly he became aware of a large object, like an indistinct shadow, darker than the night, passing slowly above him, blotting out the stars.”

— George Haas, “As I Remember Klarkash-Ton” (1963)

From left: Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Barbour Johnson, George Haas, and Stanton Levey

Smith didn’t leave Charles Fort’s skies behind with the Weird Tales crew. In 1949, he praised an Arkham Sampler SF issue for “the prominence given to Wells and to Charles Fort.” In 1951 he wrote the foreword to a book of poems (including such Fortean titles as “Cosmic Saboteurs” and “Since We Are Property”) by Lilith Lorraine, the pseudonym of SF author Gertrude Wright (nee Mary Maud Dunn). (Smith may have met Wright in person while she was living in Berkeley and running a Theosophical sex cult, ca. 1923-1927.) And in 1953 he met gardner, Fortean, and SF fan George P. Haas who went on to fame as an early Bigfoot hunter.

Haas also introduced Smith to fellow Weird Tales alumnus Robert Barbour Johnson and to area occultist-photographer-organist Howard Stanton Levey, who would later become the Satan-monger Anton LaVey. (While we’re engaged in Fortean synchronicities, Johnson had worked as a big cat trainer, and Levey kept a pet panther named Zoltan.) Haas talked Fort with Smith on their first meeting in September 1953, and elucidated either a garbled rendering of Smith’s 1928 encounter, or a repeat sighting. Given the different circumstances in each description (alone and lying down in his backyard vs. walking with a girl on a road) we can’t rule out a second encounter of the first kind, around 1951 or 1952.

Smith’s home town of Auburn, California has a smattering of UFO sightings to its credit, dating back to the 1896 “airship” flap for proper Fortean juju. (Does anybody else think the 1896 Airship makes a great Carcosan irruption for a Yellow King RPG game set in San Francisco? No? Just me then.) If flying shadows cruised Auburn’s skies in 1928-29 only Smith seems to have seen them, or written about it. UFOs buzzed Auburn, as well as nearby Roseville and Sacramento (only 30 miles away) in June and July of 1947. Two Air Force officers saw a “cylinder with twin tails, 200 ft. long and 90 ft. wide” over McClellan AFB in Sacramento, moving north (toward Auburn) at “incredible speed” on 13 March 1951, right in the window for Smith’s second sighting. (In 1952, Beale AFB near Auburn was officially on “inactive status.” Sure it was.) Another UFO flits over Citrus Heights on 20 August 1956. Smith dies of a series of strokes in 1961. In September 2009, numerous witnesses see “black triangles” in the skies over Auburn.

“A dark meteor, made of some incombustible, indestructible matter which is seen to fall. It is found to be a sort of shard containing an alien entity in a state of suspended animation. (Such a meteoric object might be found buried in the archaean strata, where it had fallen in the earth’s youth.) The alien being might be a king of some trans-galactic world, who had been ((thus)) kidnapped and dropped on the earth by enemies. His subjects, knowing that he still exists, have sought him for aeons through the universe, using a magnetic detector which would reveal the presence of the strange element which he is enclosed.”

— Clark Ashton Smith, story treatment “The Dark Meteor” (n.d.)

Your Fall of DELTA GREEN Agents may well want to investigate the 20 June 1966 UFO sighting in Auburn, especially given that Beale AFB (just down the hill from Auburn, even closer than McClellan AFB) begins basing the top-secret SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance plane in January 1966. And when they look back through the records and papers, and ask around town, they discover that a man who knew a whole lot about the Unnatural used to live up on Indian Ridge before a mysterious fire burned down his cabin in 1957. But fortunately, he may have left a clue in his Black Book.

Smith’s notebook, the “Black Book,” describes one possibility. A king of Shonti or Nython, an empress of Sadastor or Xiccarph, lies bound in a black meteor, imprisoned in an interdimensional orbit that emerges over Auburn, California every seven years (1930, 1951, 1966). Alien enemies — Mi-Go? — seek the meteor, as perhaps does MAJESTIC. The Air Materiel Command of Roswell fame (now Air Force Logistics Command) bases out of McClellan AFB in Sacramento, after all. The search for the Dark Meteor, or the flight from the avengers of triple-sunned Xiccarph, may send your Agents deep into the shadows over Auburn and still deeper into the incantations of Klarkash-Ton.


The Fall of DELTA GREEN adapts DELTA GREEN: THE ROLE-PLAYING GAME to the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, opening the files on a lost decade of anti-Mythos operations: the 1960s. Players take on the role of DELTA GREEN operatives, assets, and friendlies. Hunt Deep Ones beneath the Atlantic, shut down dangerous artists in San Francisco, and delve into the heart of Vietnam’s darkness. Purchase The Fall of DELTA GREEN in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Bugs! Everywhere you look there’s another kind of bug
Makes you want to get a club and clout ’em
Yes everybody’s talking bout the worrysome bugs
But ain’t nobody doing nothing about ’em …

Bugs! Everywhere you look there’s another type of bug
But if ya live in the delta ya got ’em …
— Bobbie Gentry, “Bugs” (1967)

In 1951, the sudden onslaught of the Korean War drove a somewhat less-sudden onslaught of Federal preparedness programs: civil defense, counter-intelligence, and — as it happened — bacteriological warfare defense. Thrust onto the front lines of this effort, Alexander Langmuir, M.D. (b. 1910), the Director of the Epidemiology Program Office of the CDC, proposed the creation of a special unit of “shoe leather epidemiologists” to investigate suspicious clusters. Langmuir believed in national surveillance as the key to detecting outbreaks and determining hidden patterns and vectors, but without intelligent observers on the ground, analysis was worthless.

Do not lose the briefcase. Do NOT lose the briefcase. DO NOT LOSE THE BRIEFCASE.

The resulting Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) started up in 1953, with a “class” of 22 doctors and veterinarians. Langmuir runs the EIS out of his hip pocket, and after exposing a faulty polio vaccine in 1955 he begins salting other offices of the CDC with EIS alumni. EIS officers discover links between cancer and birth defects in Niles, Illinois; clamp down on the Hong Kong flu epidemic in 1968 (which nonetheless kills 100,000 Americans over the next three years); and discover norovirus in Norwalk, Ohio in 1969. By the 1960s, the EIS has around 40 members, all post-graduate medical professionals: doctors, veterinarians, nurses, microbiologists, and the inevitable-for-the-decade statisticians. The numbers go up in 1966, when the EIS becomes a recognized alternative to the draft; the doctors nickname themselves the “Yellow Berets.” But EIS officers still get sent to remote lands: not just hurricane-devastated stretches of Mississippi or dengue-ridden fields in Puerto Rico, but to Jamaica (for diptheria vaccination), rebellious Biafra in West Africa (for smallpox eradication efforts), and the remote back-country of Bolivia.

In that last operation, the U.S. Army Medical Unit (USAMU, which becomes USAMRIID in 1969) tasks the CDC to bring back samples of the bubonic plague from an outbreak in July of 1964. The EIS sends a team under a CDC plague specialist to the village of Descargadero, where a quarter of the local Quechua population had died of the plague. They dig up the most recent plague victim, sever her pinkie finger (plague viruses survive longest in bone marrow), pack it in dry ice and bring it back to Fort Detrick, Maryland.

“It’s an awful thought—whole forgotten cycles of evolution with beings and races and wisdom and diseases—all lived through and gone before the first amoeba ever stirred in the tropic seas geology tells us about.”

— H.P. Lovecraft and Adolphe de Castro, “The Last Test”

Grave-robbing and plague-collecting seem to lead us ineluctably to the DELTA GREEN side of all this. You can simply have an EIS Officer as part of the standard Agent team; whether Langmuir is cleared or just knows to look the other way is the Handler’s call. Or Langmuir could be MAJESTIC, possibly MJ-8 connected. (Or both! His CDC tenure goes back to before the formal DELTA GREEN-MAJESTIC split.) He might simply be legitimately, rationally terrified of alien viruses — but since the EIS also practices live trials of both vaccines and strains of disease on Federal prisoners, he might just be another mad scientist with a slightly better rep.

Or you could play an all-EIS (or mostly-EIS with one USAMU liaison to shoot people) team, mostly fighting legitimate diseases in a legitimate way, with new pneumatic Ped-o-Jet injectors and clever grid maps of infection punched into computer-readable cards. And every so often, yes, fighting ghouls. Run each containment effort as a chase, using the average of the team’s First Aid as their chase pool and varying the Disease pool to reflect its virulence and lethality. Rather than the Fall of DELTA GREEN best-of-three chases, use the full thriller chase mechanics from Night’s Black Agents (NBA, p. 53), rolling one contest per scene (or per day). Each point of Lead the disease opens up kills 10 (or 1, or 100, or whatever) people; at Lead 10 it becomes a full-blown outbreak. The scenes themselves become interpersonal interactions with possible victims, and searches for vectors: Are these canned tuna full of botulism? Did these farmers eat crops tainted by fungicide? Is the disease spreading from UFO contactees? If the Handler has determined a vector, the Agents figuring it out can count as a Swerve on their part, or just affect that scene’s contest like a standard Investigative spend. Alien or sentient diseases, or those spread by villains, can Raise and Swerve or even attack the Agents!

Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer

Start with Physician (FoDG, p. 043) or the basic Medic template (if your Agent has military training; FoDG, p. 026) and layer on CDC Researcher (FoDG, p. 034). Add Traffic Analysis 1. For a veterinarian or microbiologist (or other medical specialist), spend 2 build points on Special Training (FoDG, p. 072) in that specialty, which adds +2 to your First Aid tests to save a subject’s life, or to the Health test of a subject under your care (resisting toxins, for example) within that specialty. It doesn’t increase the amount of First Aid points you have to spend refreshing the subject’s Health.

Army Medical Unit Field Investigator

Well, you say you’re with the AMU. You might be with the Biological Warfare Laboratory, also at Fort Detrick, which doesn’t shut down until 1969. Build an active-duty Army Medic (FoDG, p. 026). Add Agency (AMU) 1, increase Medicine to 3.

Add one of: HUMINT 1, Photography 1, Reassurance 1

Add one of: Athletics 3, Firearms 3, Health 3

CIA Project CHICKWIT Liaison

Hey, if you’re going into the Lake Mlolo area anyway, maybe someone from Langley could tag along. No reason, just more of a backstop for you, really. Also, don’t pay any mind if he puts any unusual biological samples — yellow lotus, or Glossina diabolis flies, or what-have-you — into this sealed container.

Every dangerous biological investigation operation needs a Paul Reiser type, and the Agency has lots of them to spare.

Build a Political Action Division Officer (FoDG, p. 043), with the following exchanges: Biology 2 instead of the Art and History abilities; Negotiation instead of Inspiration.


The Fall of DELTA GREEN adapts DELTA GREEN: THE ROLE-PLAYING GAME to the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, opening the files on a lost decade of anti-Mythos operations: the 1960s. Players take on the role of DELTA GREEN operatives, assets, and friendlies. Hunt Deep Ones beneath the Atlantic, shut down dangerous artists in San Francisco, and delve into the heart of Vietnam’s darkness. Purchase The Fall of DELTA GREEN in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

For the long cases they seized proved upon opening to contain some exceedingly gruesome things; so gruesome, in fact, that the matter could not be kept quiet amongst the denizens of the underworld.

— H.P. Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Although DELTA GREEN keeps most of its attention focused north of Boston during the ripples following Operation RIPTIDE in 1963 (FoDG, p. 179), the area south of Boston attracts plenty of attention from its cousins in overt law enforcement. During the 1960s, Providence, Rhode Island served as the headquarters for the New England Mafia, running operations as far north as Maine. Where better to focus a few DELTA GREEN eyes in (or around) the FBI? Other federal fingers can poke in from the Naval War College in Newport and the Quonset Point Naval Air Station (ONI, DIA), or even the Rhode Island Nuclear Science Center (DARPA, AEC). Even if the Executive Committee doesn’t know why Providence should be a priority, your players might guess.

That’s Mister Patriarca to you, pal

Whoever’s looking at Providence, they’re going to be looking at Raymond “The Man” L.S. Patriarca, Sr. (b. 1908), the godfather of the New England mob. A former gambler, drunk-roller, and pimp, Patriarca graduated to burglary, safecracking, and armed robbery as Prohibition cemented the power of organized crime. After two brief stints in prison (a year and a day on Mann Act charges in 1933, and four months in 1938), he emerged as a savvy hood, “just the toughest guy you ever saw,” and rose through the ranks of the New England Mafia to become underboss in 1947. In 1952, Boston godfather Filippo Buccola retired, moving to Sicily to start a chicken farm. Patriarca took over and moved headquarters to his home town of Providence in 1956, leaving Gennaro Angiulo (b. 1919) in charge as underboss in Boston. Angiulo plays a divide-and-conquer strategy with the Irish gangs, sending hitter “Cadillac Frank” Salemme (b. 1933) to kill the last two members of the McLaughlin gang in 1966 to put the Winter Hill Gang tenuously on top.

Patriarca runs his empire from “the Office,” a two-story building on Atwells Avenue in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Providence. The National Cigarette Service Company and Coin-O-Matic Distributors based there somehow get their machines everywhere in New England, but earn only a fraction of the revenue Patriarca commands. He runs race tracks, including the Berkshire Downs and Hancock Park in Massachusetts and Lincoln Downs in Rhode Island. He has a large stake in the Dunes and Desert Inn in Las Vegas; after 1967 he controls almost all the fresh seafood shipments out of New England to the rest of the country. In addition to gambling, the Office oversees prostitution, pornography, robberies, and truck hijacking, and runs union rackets through Arthur Coia Sr. (b. 1914) of the Laborers International Union. About a dozen top soldiers run these operations and oversee others in Rhode Island: strip club racketeer Luigi “Baby Shacks” Manocchio (b. 1927), strong-arm man Giovanni “Candy” Candelmo (b. 1905), the “Swiss watch” mastermind and hit man John “Red” Kelley (b. 1914), and others. Frank Forti (b. 1916) taps carnivals, fairs, and similar attractions all over the state, while the fence Alfredo “The Blind Pig” Rossi (b. 1920) manages gangs of shoplifters and “boosters” all over the country.

Patriarca’s rules include keeping a low profile, paying all his men generously, and ruthless enforcement of his will. Rule three takes precedence: among other challengers, he has John F. “Jack” Nazarian, one of his own killers, whacked in a Providence restaurant in 1962 in front of 22 witnesses. The Office has ample pull in Rhode Island politics, including Governor Notte, Providence Mayor Joe Doorley, North Providence police chief Jack de Stafno, U.S. Senator John O. Pastore,  state legislators including majority leader (1966-1976) Joseph Bevilacqua, along with numerous judges, state’s attorneys, and lesser figures. Patriarca has a national reputation, to boot. He sits on the governing council of La Cosa Nostra, and even gets recruited by the CIA for Operation MONGOOSE in 1960: he contributes minor league second baseman turned hit man Maurice “Pro” Lerner (b. 1935) to the Castro kill squad.

The FBI begins its full-court press on Patriarca in 1961, as the losing Irish mobs call in the Kennedys on their oppressor, and wiretaps “the Office” starting in 1962. In 1964, Patriarca funds a gun-running depot disguised as a seminary in Maine, to be run by the American Nazi Party through his enforcer Louis “the Fox” Taglianetti (b. 1903). In 1965, his gambling chief and underboss Frank “Butsey” Morelli (b. 1896) dies of throat cancer; thinking “The Man” weakened, burglar Raymond “Baby” Curcio tries robbing Patriarca’s brother Joseph’s house and meets a fatal comeuppance. In 1968, Patriarca’s soldiers kill at least three more rivals and possible informants.

FBI pressure eventually shows results. Patriarca cuts out Joseph “the Animal” Barboza (b. 1931), a former light-heavyweight boxer and contract killer, from the Office for his flamboyant excesses in 1966. From prison, Barboza cuts a deal with the Feds, and the FBI indicts Patriarca in June 1967 for the 1966 murder of Providence bookie Willie Marfeo, trying and convicting him in 1969. The Bureau also flips “Red” Kelley, whose testimony indicts and convicts Enrico “the Referee” Tameleo (b. 1901), Patriarca’s underboss, for the 1965 murder of Teddy Deegan in Boston. (Courts later overturn Tameleo’s conviction, when evidence surfaces that FBI agent H. Paul Rico (b. 1925) perjured himself and suborned witnesses including Kelley.) Patriarca goes to Atlanta Federal Prison for five years, then serves two years in prison in Rhode Island (his parole letter is signed by Joseph Bevilacqua), running “the Office” from behind bars with his son Ray Jr. (b. 1945) as nominal figurehead.

Two Offices, One Fate

While Patriarca reigns in Providence, the Fate climbs to power in New York (FoDG, p. 288). So how does Patriarca’s reign fit into the shadowy world of sorcery and the Unnatural? Depending on whose undependable testimony you buy, Patriarca either deals narcotics through cut-outs or not at all, a pair of possible models for his dealings with the Fate. He deals with the New York families mostly through Tameleo (a Bonanno), and through his made man Nicholas “Nicky” Bianco (b. 1932), a Colombo associate. It’s possible that Patriarca keeps the Fate at arm’s length inadvertently, by keeping New York at arm’s length from his turf.

Regardless of Patriarca’s sensitivities, the Fate and Stephen Alzis want things in Providence, and in New England in general. But Alzis has the other Five Families to overawe; he may be slightly overextended reaching out to Providence. Does Patriarca use the Unnatural to fight the Fate? Was he one of the “hi-jackers” who opened alchemical coffins meant for Charles Dexter Ward in January 1928? Did he find another passage into the Pawtuxet cellar, and clear it out? Did he hear stories on the Providence docks, or run rum with weirdly bulging-eyed sailors? Perhaps he has some use for mind-switching witchcraft – he did, after all, get out of prison in Massachusetts in 1938 (for possession of stolen jewelry – an Innsmouth tiara perhaps?) after only four months by sending “an unknown girl” to bribe Massachusetts Governor Hurley.

Or does Patriarca hate and fear the Mythos’ poison even more than he hates and fears Alzis’ Lords? Possibly as a kid he got a bad scare playing in the abandoned Starry Wisdom Church on Federal Hill, just down Atwells Avenue from his own Spirito Santo Church. Maybe he was one of the Italians holding candles to hold back the Haunter of the Dark that August night in 1935. And now he’s holding more than candles, and his connections might let him pull in DELTA GREEN to help him light them up.


The Fall of DELTA GREEN adapts DELTA GREEN: THE ROLE-PLAYING GAME to the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, opening the files on a lost decade of anti-Mythos operations: the 1960s. Players take on the role of DELTA GREEN operatives, assets, and friendlies. Hunt Deep Ones beneath the Atlantic, shut down dangerous artists in San Francisco, and delve into the heart of Vietnam’s darkness. Purchase The Fall of DELTA GREEN in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

“I said to him, ‘What disguise will hide me from the world?’ … He looked at me with his large but indecipherable face. ‘You want a safe disguise, do you? You want a dress which will guarantee you harmless; a dress in which no one would ever look for a bomb?’ I nodded. He suddenly lifted his lion’s voice. ‘Why, then, dress up as an anarchist, you fool!’”

— G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday

I’ve been reading a pair of books by the pair of spies who consecutively headed the Disguise Section of the CIA’s Office of Technical Services (OTS), Antonio Mendez and the then Jonna Goeser (now Jonna Mendez). The Master of Disguise (1999) is a relatively straightforward memoir by Mendez; The Moscow Rules (2019) re-tells some of the stories in the earlier book but ties in some now-declassified missions such as the CKTAW weapons-lab tap, on which Mendez ran the disguise-and-evasion component.

Antonio Mendez meeting Jimmy Carter in 1980

Antonio Mendez meeting Jimmy Carter in 1980 — OR IS IT?

A long-time fan of stage magic, Mendez also pioneered the re-introduction of illusion and misdirection as key techniques of disguise and evasion. Ever since 1953, when the CIA recruited the magician John Mulholland to train its agents in (and write a manual of) sleight-of-hand for brush passes and covert drink-dosing, the Agency has paid at least some attention to its flashier brethren. (Mulholland stayed with the Agency as a consultant through at least 1958, developing a set of covert hand signals and investigating ESP.) Mendez specifically adapted stage techniques such as “keep them comfortable” — let the audience think they’ve seen through the illusion — and forced aversion — a reverse of the gorgeous assistant drawing the viewer, something unsettling that viewers instinctively avoid — in counter-surveillance techniques.

 

In Night’s Black Agents, the Agents use Filch for brush passes and the like. For evasion through misdirection, allow a one-time 3- to 4-point refresh of Surveillance for a clever description of how you accomplished the task right under the enemy’s eyes (“keep them comfortable”) or how you got them to look away for just long enough (forced aversion).

Spy Gear: Disguise

To hear Mendez tell it, at least, CIA disguise tech made a giant leap in a decade under his direction, mostly the result of his decision in 1971 to consult with Hollywood makeup genius John Chambers. Chambers, who designed Spock’s ears and the apes in Planet of the Apes, was also a diehard Cold Warrior, always up for experimentation. Here’s a quick rundown (using Mendez’ terminology, which is almost certainly bogus) of the developments in disguise between 1971 and 1981.

FINESSE: Agents can use this quick-drying liquid flesh to paint on any new facial features they like, available in varying skin tones. Available in the early 1970s, and possibly earlier if DELTA GREEN went to Hollywood before the Agency did. Requires a Disguise test to apply, but lowers Difficulty of tests against being recognized by 1.

GAMBIT: This thin face mask and long gloves allow an Agent to appear to be of a different race, complexion, or facial type (with FINESSE inserts). Available ca. 1971, used by the CIA in Indochina. Requires no Disguise test to apply, allows Agents to blend into a crowd. Lowers visual-recognition Alertness Modifier of non-expert (Alertness Modifier <+1) spotters by 1. This is what Agents should use if they don’t plan on encountering active surveillance.

SAM: Stands for Semi-Articulated Mask. This half-face mask composed of several small pieces of latex joins up with the eyes using FINESSE. It allows full mobility of and use of the mouth; it often incorporates a beard (less conspicuous behind the Iron Curtain, or infiltrating student movements). Debuted ca. 1977, based on the ape masks in Planet of the Apes (1968). Requires a spend of 1 point of Disguise to apply; provides a pool of 3 points to spend avoiding being recognized (usually Disguise or Surveillance tests). Pool is 4 points if a beard can be inconspicuously incorporated into the SAM.

DOTR: Stands for Disguise-on-the-Run. The CIA uses a New England tailor to create specialty clothing, in this case fully-reversible clothing that by itself allows the agent to re-roll a failed counter Surveillance test after donning it. The full DOTR developed in the late 1970s incorporates compressed garments that can be put on (or put themselves on) over the Agent’s clothes while walking, in about 45 seconds. The late DOTR changes cut and type, even going from a diplomat’s trench coat to the fuzzy pink dress of an elderly lady. Changing into the full DOTR requires a spend of 1 Disguise point but provides a 3-point refresh of your Surveillance pool against a spotter or tail.

DAGGER: This thin face mask fits into a small paper bag, and can be applied by touch and while walking. Development began in 1978; it becomes available in 1981. By 1989, a DAGGER mask is completely paper-thin, can markedly change your appearance, hold makeup, and appear natural even to trained observers. A Dagger mask is one-use, and cannot stand up to rain, heavy physical activity, or being punched in the face. It provides 5 pool points (3 or 4 for earlier models) of Disguise or Surveillance to escape enemy searchers; when the pool is empty, the mask is too badly degraded or sweaty to keep using.

If the CIA had all of this gear by 1981, they very well might have straight-up Mission: Impossible face mask technology (Double Tap, p. 64) by now. At the very least, between 3D printing and micro-thin fiber materials, the ability to print a skin-thin, photographically realistic (passing video surveillance and anything but up-close examination), self-adhesive DAGGER face mask to resemble a specific target almost has to be off-the-shelf tech by now. That would lower Disguise Difficulty for specific impersonations by 1 or 2, as well as providing the other benefits of a DAGGER.

DELTA GREEN might well have looked into such matters earlier, so Fall of DELTA GREEN Agents could justify FINESSE and GAMBIT, and perhaps specialty SAMs intended to provide the Innsmouth Look.

“A disguise is only a tool. Before you use any tradecraft tool, you have to set up the operation for the deception.”

— CIA agent “Bull Monahan”

TFFB: Just Don’t Look

The Agents use Intimidation (to spot a psychological weak point) or an Investigative 2-point spend of Shrink (to identify a phobia either from a psych profile or surveillance) on their future watcher. An Agent under surveillance by that watcher then pushes that weak point or triggers that phobia by their actions. For the next round, the Difficulty of their Surveillance test to escape watch (or their Disguise test to suddenly don a DAGGER or similar) lowers by 2.

TTTB: Know Your Audience

Europeans rest their weight on both feet; Americans usually favor one or the other. Americans and South Asians make eye contact with the opposite sex at different speeds. And so forth; knowing tiny cultural details allows you to blend into a crowd of foreigners. By spending Human Terrain, the winger can add pool points to the striker’s Disguise or Surveillance pools to blend into such a backdrop.


Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite puts you in the role of a skilled intelligence operative fighting a shadow war against vampires in post-Cold War Europe. Play a dangerous human weapon, a sly charmer, an unstoppable transporter, a precise demolitions expert, or whatever fictional spy you’ve always dreamed of being — and start putting those bloodsuckers in the ground where they belong. Purchase Night’s Black Agents in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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