A scenario seed for Trail of Cthulhu by Adam Gauntlett

The return of a Deep One infected with bubonic plague causes a public health crisis in 1930s Hong Kong.

History

Hong Kong in the 1930s is a sophisticated and wealthy British colony, administered largely by British Ta-Pan. Its laws are British, its culture is Chinese, and there is a demarcation between the two: British Tai-Pan control the east portion of the territory as a kind of Little England, while Chinese culture dominates the west portion. The territory lives under British law, enforced by European, Chinese, Indian and Eurasian policemen. By the 1930s the law is stricter and more effective than it was during the bad old days of piracy and bribery, but Hong Kong is still Hong Kong – mercantile, and willing to do all kinds of business.

The territory suffered greatly during the Third Pandemic of bubonic plague, which broke out in China in the mid-1800s. More than 12 million died in China and India, and at its height 100 people a day died in Hong Kong. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the territory when plague hit, and plague continued to be a problem for many decades after the initial, deadly sweep.

If the Keeper doesn’t want to play a scenario set in Hong Kong, the action could be moved to a coast city with significant Chinese population, like San Francisco.

Hungry Ghost Folklore

A hungry ghost is the soul of someone who died with bad deeds or evil intent staining them, and thus ended up in the hell of hungry ghosts. This is rare, and should not be confused with the more common ancestral dead. The bad deeds the hungry ghosts committed in life transform them into animalistic spirit-demons, obsessed in death with whatever it was that they committed crimes for in life. So a man who drives children away from water, keeping it all himself, will become a hungry ghost obsessed with water. Anything a person might have coveted or become gluttonous for – food, drink and sex are common drivers – can inspire a hungry ghost.

Hungry Ghosts are portrayed as emaciated corpse-like beings, often with shrunken throats or needle-point small mouths, as this prevents them from consuming the one thing they want to consume. The object of their desire might disintegrate or burn to nothing when they try to devour it.

The chief difference between ancestral ghosts and hungry ones is that an ordinary ghost will fade over time and vanish, if not properly taken care of. This is why, at ghost festivals, people take care to offer sacrifices, food, drink, hell money, to care for their dead. Whereas a hungry ghost will never fade, but it will bring bad luck to whoever attracts its attention. Some traditions have it that a hungry ghost is a beloved ancestor who was ignored after death, or whose descendants didn’t pay the proper respect during ghost festivals – all the more reason to be generous.

Ghost Festivals

These happen in the 7th month of the lunar calendar. The realms of heaven and hell open up and disgorge their dead, and the living celebrate the return of beloved souls while at the same time fending off the attentions of unclean spirits, Representations of physical things – houses, clothing, money – are sacrificed, or burnt, to help the beloved souls, and keep them safe and happy. Prosperity incense is burnt to guarantee a bright year ahead. Miniature paper boats and lanterns are let loose fourteen days after the end of the festival to guide those spirits home again.

This scenario takes place shortly before the festival.

The Return of Zhao Fei Hong

The family Zhao have been shipbuilders since time immemorial, and from the early 1800s onwards some of the family have succumbed to Deep One promises. The minions of Cthulhu said they would show the Zhao the secrets of shipbuilding, and in particular the right rituals and magics to perform in order to ensure theirs were the best and fastest chuan afloat. There was a price, and from that alliance came a number of Deep One hybrids who settled in Hong Kong’s Kowloon Docks.

During the plague outbreak one hybrid, Fei Hong, fled the colony, but was too late to avoid infection. As a hybrid, Fei Hong could not be killed by the disease, but a quirk of his hybridization meant he became a carrier, and was subject to crippling, painful symptoms.

After many years in isolation – for not even his fellow Deep Ones welcomed the poor sufferer – Fei Hong has returned to Hong Kong seeking a cure. Medicine has improved since he ran away in the 1860s. Surely there is something that can be done to purge him of this hideous taint?

Some of the family Zhao have taken him in, out of familial loyalty, while others reject the prodigal. However none of them will betray the family secret. They seek a solution, one way or the other.

Pernicious Rumor

Two tales circulate.

The plague has returned! This story is particularly common among dock workers, sailors and those who work in Kowloon opium dens and boozers. According to popular report there have been several small outbreaks of plague, which the colonial authorities are either ignoring or covering up. Some doctors are taking this seriously and carrying out their own investigations. Some of these so-called doctors are no better than quacks, which doesn’t help credibility.

 Hungry Ghosts Haunt Kowloon! Spending 1 point Oral History traces this tale to members of the Zhao family. According to rumor, hungry ghosts have returned to plague honest citizens in Kowloon, only a few days before the Ghost Festival. People are terrified, crying out for spiritual aid. Anyone who can settle this unquiet spirit is welcome. Many charlatans and would-be exorcists flood the district, promising anything and everything in exchange for cold, hard cash. Keeper’s note: this rumor is being spread by the dissident Zhao, who are treating Fei Hong as a hungry ghost. Even those friendly to Fei Hong are superstitiously afraid of what he represents – a cursed immortal, in great pain, who cannot die.

The Kidnap

Doctor Victor Richard, a French researcher and philanthropist, is seized at his clinic by armed gunmen, an event that shocks the colony to its core. The Tai-Pan are outraged, and the colonial administration goes into action. Police raid the usual suspects – any would-be Chinese Tongmenghui revolutionaries, known Triad hangouts, anyone who hasn’t paid enough bribes – but nothing is found.

Enquiry either among police officers (Cop Talk) or the employees and patients who were at the clinic when it happened (Oral History), or diligent study of news reports (Library Use) notices this core clue: the gunmen were wearing many luck amulets and charms, intended to ward off evil spirits and hungry ghosts. A point spend further discovers that they weren’t your usual Triad thugs, but were roughnecks, manual laborers and, judging by tattoos, dock workers.

Doctor Richard’s specialty is treatment of infectious diseases, and bubonic plague in particular. In the most recent outbreak in India, he achieved fame by his brave and relentless fight against the disease. When he came to Hong Kong he acquired notoriety because he offered to treat poor Chinese for free, behavior his Tai Pan neighbors thought eccentric.

Plague Spreads

Investigators who check find that there are isolated incidences of plague, particularly in or near Kowloon Docks. So far there haven’t been more than a dozen, but they are documented, genuine cases of plague. The media’s been told to keep quiet to avoid panic, but doctors are pressing for full disclosure so people can take some preventative action. Any investigator who checks (Medicine, Evidence Collection) can trace the outbreak to a particular section of Kowloon Docks, where the family Zhao have their shipbuilding business.

Hungry Ghosts

Tracing the rumors, evidence concerning the criminals, or evidence concerning the plague, leads to the Zhao dockyard.

Only some of the family support Fei Hong, and it’s those who captured Doctor Richard and are keeping him in an old junk tied up at the wharf. He’s guarded by two armed men at all times. His patient is Fei Hong, who finds movement difficult and breathing painful. However for purposes of combat the hybrid Deep One has the same statistics as any other Deep One. Fei Hong knows a spell, Wrack, which when he casts it makes the target feel as if they’re suffering the final stages of bubonic plague.

There are from three to six other Deep Ones at the dockyard; the precise number is up to the Keeper, and should depend on the investigators’ fighting strength. If they come well-armed with high-caliber firearms, add more Deep Ones. These are Fei Hong’s companions, and are also members of the family Zhao. None of them know spells.

If the investigators try to win the support of those Zhao who want rid of Fei Hong, this can be done through Streetwise spends. For every point spent, remove one Deep One. In story, the rebel Zhao take care of those Deep Ones so the investigators don’t have to.

In total, there are a half-dozen dedicated, armed human cultists willing to fight to keep Fei Hong safe, or cover his escape. None have any weapon more dangerous than a handgun, and most have knives or clubs.

by Adam Gauntlett

The Vampire

The opening of a new Odeon cinema sparks a vampire craze, and presents the Bookhounds with an unusual opportunity for profit.

This is nominally set in 1936, the year Dracula’s Daughter is released, but could be restaged at the Keeper’s convenience.

Odeon

The Odeon chain of cinemas get their start in 1928, when founder Oscar Deutsch opens his first cinema in Brierly Hill, West Midlands. Deutsch’s empire accelerates rapidly when he joins forces with architect Harry Weedon, and together they designed and built 257 Art Deco picture houses, becoming the dominant face of cinema in the United Kingdom. New builds sprang up like weeds. In 1936 alone, Odeon opened 33 cinemas across the country.

Hook

It has been a quiet month for the store. People just aren’t buying, because building works have thoroughly gummed up the whole street. The noise and dirt killed walk-in trade. However the worst is over, and the new Odeon cinema a few doors down, gleaming and modern, is about to have a gala opening night. Universal Pictures’ Dracula’s Daughter shall be the first big show, and already crowds of eager teens flock to the place like a shrine. It doesn’t matter that the film’s got an A certificate, which means under sixteens need a parent or guardian; the cinema doesn’t care who it lets in, so long as they pay. The whole street’s going to be swarming with non-book buyers, and all any of them will be interested in are vampires. The queue to get in the Odeon snakes right past the Bookhounds’ front door.

Do the Bookhounds lean into it and become expert in all things Vampire, or do they buck the trend?

No Sale

The Bookhounds can ignore the Odeon. If so, the store suffers a Reverse. Old friends are put off by the queues of people, and none of the vampire crowd spend more than a few minutes in the “musty old mausoleum.”

Shenanigans!

The Bookhounds might try to interfere with the Odeon somehow. Exactly how is up to them; pranks, complaints to the Council, summoning supernatural allies, or anything in between.

However the Bookhounds may not realize that architect Harry Weedon has innate megapolisomantic ability; this is discoverable on a 2 point spend, Architecture and/or Occult, and anyone who makes this spend knows the cinema must have megapolisomantic significance. This is why the Odeon chain has been so successful; the characteristic Art Deco design, use of faience (tin-glazed pottery), rounded corners, vertical feature for adverts, all contribute to create a kind of megapolisomantic engine, a new lever. Weedon’s innate talent, in combination with Deutsch’s enormous drive, create these minor places of power. Each cinema is a magical shrine, and the audience are its worshippers. If Weedon and Deutsch realized this and played upon it, they might achieve miracles. As this is an accidental partnership, and since Deutsch’s premature death in 1941 ends their collaboration, what could have been a significant change in the city’s landscape becomes a brief fad, soon forgotten.

However when a cinema is first built its power is at its strongest, and it creates a megapolisomantic guardian to keep it safe. The guardian only lasts a few years, and is always based on the first film showed at that cinema – in this case, Countess Marya Zaleska, Dracula’s daughter.

Attempting shenanegans brings the Bookhounds in direct conflict with the paramental entity.

The ‘Vampire’: Abilities: Athletics 10, Health 8, Scuffling 6; Hit Threshold 4; Alertness Modifier +0; Stealth Modifier +2; Weapon: ‘bite’ attack, +1; Special Attack: Mesmerism holds enemies in place, helpless, at a cost of 2 Health per target. Helpless enemies are automatically hit, if attacked; Armor: non-silver physical weapons do minimum damage, and it can re-form 1 Health point per round. If reduced to 0 Health it dematerializes for 20 minutes. Only magic can kill it; Stability Loss -1. Weakness: any arrow shot from a bow affects this paramental as if the arrow was made of silver. Appearance: pale, black-clad.

New Blood

The Bookhounds might try to engage with the Vampire crowd by bringing in vampire related merchandise, making standees to draw people into the store, or some other clever stunt.

This has a chance of bringing in a Windfall. The sudden interest in vampires is a temporary thing; eventually the Odeon will go on to different films and the magic will fade. This means the Windfall is unsustainable, but even as a temporary benefit it still raises the Credit Rating of the store by 1 so long as it is active.

Exactly what triggers this Windfall is up to the Keeper, and player initiative. The more involved the players get, the more likely a Windfall should be; half-hearted attempts shouldn’t be rewarded. Any spend from the Bookshop Stock pool definitely gets the Windfall, as customers flock to the shop that has just the right stock. This represents the Bookhounds coming up with Genuine – or ‘genuine’ – vampire related merchandise. Potential high-priced items include:

  • A complete set of the periodical The Dark Blue in which Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla first saw print.
  • Copies of the Boy’s Standard 1886 Victorian penny dreadful Spring Heeled Jack.
  • Le Capitaine Vampire (1879) by Belgian writer Marie Nizet. As it’s not in translation this will be difficult to sell to casual buyers, but collectors love obscure material. The bragging rights are greater.
  • Pulp magazines like Weird Tales often feature vampire stories, and cover art.
  • Illegal copies of the 1922 silent film Nosferatu, or stills from same.
  • Copies of the latest pulp fiction, Vampires Overhead (1935) by West Indian Alan Hyder.

Most of this stuff is cheap to get, but given the spike in demand can fetch double or triple the usual price. It probably isn’t the Bookhounds’ usual stock in trade; it’s more modern, pulpy, fare. However it gets the cinema goers through the door, and that’s the main thing – particularly if they buy.  Illegal items, like the Nosferatu stills or any forged item, might provoke police interference.

The Collector

The Keeper should introduce this antagonist while the characters are deeply involved in their own machinations.

The megapolisomantic nature of the Odeon design wasn’t lost on Doris Bidwell. Bidwell is an amateur megapolisomancer with ambition, looking for something to use as a power base. Recent squabbles within the magical community have put Bidwell on the defensive, with an urgent need to strike back.

The Odeon looks to Bidwell like a chance at salvation – but for that to work Bidwell needs to avoid the attentions of the Vampire while at the same time getting close enough to the Odeon to start the working.

As it happens there’s a bookshop conveniently placed close by.

Bidwell poses as a customer, a moneyed collector, always poking around the shop, never buying. Bidwell’s after something special, and seems to have good Credit Rating in spite of her peculiarities. To look at, Bidwell’s the sort of person Scrooge might dream up after a bad bit of cheese: always dresses in black, down-at-heel, Bohemian without the charm. Bidwell clearly knows a lot about books, and can talk intelligently on public affairs and international relations, which makes Bidwell seem like a Radical. Bidwell does have Radical friends, and is often seen in Soho and North London fleshpots, but his real allegiance is to Crowleyite wannabe black magicians and offshoots of the occult group Ordo Templi Orientis. It’s thanks to arguments with this fraternity that Bidwell’s looking for a new power base.

Bidwell’s plan is to get enough material from the Bookhounds – bits of clothing, hair, even blood if possible – and make that into a lure, which Bidwell will hide inside the shop. That lure, Bidwell thinks, should be enough to draw the Vampire away. It doesn’t have to be distracted long; a few hours is enough. Or so Bidwell thinks; if Bidwell had any real intellectual acuity she wouldn’t be sniffing round the Odeon looking for a power base.

Bidwell has two problems. One is the Bookhounds, and the other is her former friends who now oppose her schemes. These Occultists have no love for the Bookhounds, but they may interfere, to frustrate Bidwell.

If Bidwell succeeds then her next step is to take revenge on her enemies, which may or may not include the Bookhounds. She sets up shop in the Odeon, going to the cinema night after night, sometimes in the company of a pale woman dressed in black.


Bookhounds of London is an award-winning setting for 1930s horror roleplaying game Trail of Cthulhu by Kenneth Hite. Bookhounds’ London is a city of cinemas, electric lights, global power and the height of fashion, as well as the horrors – the cancers – that lurk in the capital, in the very beating heart of human civilization. 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 Bookhounds of London in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

by Adam Gauntlett

This Thrilling Chase scenario comes courtesy of Ian Fleming’s Octopussy, in which a dead body found frozen in the mountains near Kitzbühel leads to death for a former wartime hero.

Location: Kitzbühel

Demographics: 3,200 (1890s), 5,500 (1939-45), 8,000 (1970s), 8,200 (2014). The majority are Austrians, often with Italian connections; in the modern day about 24% are foreign born, with Germans, Turks, Bosnians, Serbs and Romanians being the largest foreign born demographic groups. Standard Austrian German is the common language; English is uncommon.

Type: small mountainside medieval tourist town, heavily dependent on winter sports and skiing. In the summer there are mountain bike paths and hiking trails. There are over 10,000 guest beds, which means in season the tourists outnumber the locals, probably at a 2:1 ratio at least. The World Wars largely bypassed it, so its medieval heritage is intact. A river runs through it, the Kitzbüheler Ache, and there are rail connections. Before skiing and tourism took over, Kitzbühel was a mining town – silver and copper. Its ski season is mid-October to early May, and most of the tourists who go there are High Society 1 or more. The city centre is car-free. The crime show SOKO Kitzbühel, a modern police procedural, has run for 17 seasons since 2001. Recurring characters include a Michelin-star chef turned amateur detective, and a Countess.

Landmarks: Museum Kitzbühel located in former granary & medieval tower, comprehensive history of Kitzbühel from Bronze Age to present. Town Fountain designed in 1971 to celebrate 700th anniversary, with statues of town founder and famous Tyroleans. Death Lantern chapel in a cemetery, designed in the shape of a square death lantern, similar to wayside shrines. Built 1450. Lebenberg Castle hotel built in 14th century, has been a guest house since 1885.

Chase Scene elements: Road. Cows. Kitzbühel is still a farming community; cows outnumber permanent residents by 3:1. Horse-drawn carriages. Narrow, cobbled medieval streets with gaily decorated gabled houses either side. High-end classic cars, unblemished, as if they’d just rolled off the production line. Ski. Cable cars and ski lifts, over 57 of them. Snowcats, massive enclosed fully tracked vehicles designed for group tours. Treat as Speed 0 Manoeuvre -2. Over 32 km established ski routes, plenty of off-country opportunities and deep powder. Trails (summer). Gentle Alpine slopes. Hiker Huts and shelters. Adventure realms with dinosaurs, witches & spirits, perfect for driving through at high speed.

Inciting Incident

A corpse was discovered out on the mountainside, and best forensic evidence suggests the body’s been there at least ten years. The identity is going to depend on the era; 1890s, a Vatican exorcist and vampire-hunter. 1939-45, a German Communist and anti-Fascist suspected of having stolen information from the German vampire program. 1970s, a British pilot involved in flights in and out of Kitzbühel during the War. 2014, a Russian former KGB agent and fixer to the great and powerful. Whoever the person was, they had information on them when they went missing, and the question is, where is that package now? Was the McGuffin stuffed under a rock, hidden somewhere in Kitzbühel itself, something else? How did the dead man come to be there, and what killed him? The tip to the inciting incident can come from Tradecraft, Cop Talk, High Society.

OPFOR

The dead man was killed by a Conspiracy Node that is now non-functional or under new management. The reconstituted Node, or its replacement, is suspicious of this discovery, particularly since it comes at a time of crisis; one of its competitors is challenging its authority. The timing is too perfect to be a coincidence. It activates the Yojimbo option, sending an unaffiliated team to scarf up any information it can, and hopefully trigger any traps or ambushes. The Node also sends an agent of its own to monitor the situation, and step in if the Yojimbo team gets trounced.

Yojimbo Team: (N=agents+4) Thugs, all gym rats (expert skiiers/mountain bikers). Civilian High Society fixer with Athletics 6, Driving 6, effective Flirting 1, posing as a VIP. Led by former Soldier, Shooting 9, inhabited by an Adzeh who hates the cold and really wishes it were somewhere warmer. Armament will vary depending on era, but assume the Thugs have at least rifles and pistols, or the equivalent. The Soldier uses a crossbow, with the Sniping option.

Node Agent: Vampire, with Civilian High Society fixer, Athletics 4, Driving 4, Hand-to-Hand 4, effective Cop Talk 1, posing as a Michelin inspector and amateur detective working for a client who ‘prefers discretion over publicity.’ Equipment will depend on era, but their job is primarily surveillance, so they’ll have the best era-appropriate surveillance equipment. The Michelin Guide doesn’t exist prior to 1900, so in an 1890s scenario the Civilian is a travelling epicure.

It All Goes Boom Variation: Of course this wasn’t a coincidence. The rival Node placed Class 3 explosives at the target site, hoping to catch someone important. The Director may or may not use this variation, as required.

Arrival

Kitzbühel is, as always, full of life, but now it seems frenetic, frenzied, like something out of Poe’s Red Death. Mountains glower down on the little medieval outpost, and the shadows grow longer each night. The Ork, a Tyrolean ogre or demon, is supposed to live in those mountains, ever the enemy of man; on cold, dark nights like these, it seems plausible. The tourists seem happy enough, but the locals go home as early as they can, lock their doors, and refuse to come out till morning’s light. Tradecraft or Surveillance notices the Yojimbo team immediately; even with their fixer doing the best she can, they stand out. However they don’t seem to have realized the agents have arrived. A point spend sees that the Yojimbo team are being watched, by the Vampire’s Civilian fixer.

The Body

Cop Talk, Law, or Bureaucracy spends needed to get access to the body, or see the things found with it. Infiltration Difficulty 4 to get into the police morgue. The police station in Kitzbühel is close to the river and rail lines, far from anything glitzy or touristy. Autopsy notes can be found on computer (Digital Intrusion Difficulty 4) or the forensic medical examiner’s notes can be found at the station, in the doctor’s office. In any scenario at or prior to 1939 there are no notes; the body hasn’t been examined, and awaits an expert’s visit.

The dead man was knifed in a manner that strongly indicates military experience, possibly special forces. Medical report or Forensic Pathology study of the body needed to realize this. Some effort was taken to conceal its identity – face bashed, fingers cut off. However sufficient evidence remains (DNA analysis, giveaway tattoo, tailor’s marks, as needed) to tentatively identify the body.

Among the possessions is an Idaite fragment containing copper, iron and sulphur. Given the location of the shallow grave where the body was found, the likely source is a mine – Röhrerbüchel, one of the deepest medieval mining operations. It hasn’t been used in over 150 years. It isn’t a tourist site, though it is occasionally visited by geologists and rockhounds.

Chase #1: Yojimbo Rabbits

The Yojimbo team either interrupts or arrives ahead of the agents. It wants everything it can get its hands on, and will try to get away with something that seems valuable – the body, the autopsy report. However the real prize is the Idaite, which the Director should ensure ends up with the agents. How Yojimbo gets in depends on circumstances; Infiltration, or determined bluffing from the Civilian fixer, as she tries to smuggle Thugs through the front door. Road conditions: cramped, if the chase goes into historic Kitzbühel. The Thugs use an SUV, the Civilian fixer a sports car. The Soldier oversees this operation from a distance, and does not appear in the scene.

Röhrerbüchel

The abandoned mine shafts stretch on for miles, but agents spending Notice or Outdoor Survival find trail marks left behind by the dead man. Depending on the era this can be Latin tags (1890s), German (1939-45), old RAF marks (1970s), KGB symbols (2014). Not spending means the agents will have to follow the Yojimbo team.

The McGuffin is hidden deep in the mine, and may be booby-trapped with explosives that cause a cave-in. If the booby-trap option is used, an extra point spend of Notice or Outdoor Survival sees that the trail marks are too fresh to have been made by the dead man, warning the agents that the McGuffin is a trap.

Chase #2: Roger Moore

The surviving Yojimbo team pursues the agents down the mountain, either on skis or by mountain bike. The mountain is steep, with potential avalanche if the booby-trap went off. The chase ends in Kitzbühel, where the Vampire steps in to claim the prize. The Vampire will want either the McGuffin or a kidnapped agent to tell it what happened. If an agent is kidnapped, the Vampire can be traced via its Civilian fixer, allowing an escape attempt.

 


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.

by Adam Gauntlett

The BMW shot through a red light turning against the flow, missing oncoming traffic by the grace of God, ignoring angry, blaring horns.

The Serb, Karlo, gunned his Audi. So much for surveillance; Volkov would have his head if the bastards got away …

What makes a chase scene Thrilling? Well, Director, that’s largely up to you. Whether the agents are trying to recreate Bullitt’s famous San Francisco muscle car blowout, or skiing down the black slope like Roger Moore with a flock of AK47-toting goons on his tail, now’s the time to put the pressure on.

Though I’m going to concentrate on Driving chases, these techniques can be used for any Thrilling chase.

A film Director plans out each least element of a chase scene. A moment that flashes by in seconds might take up entire binders full of pre-prep, and on the day of shooting the chase environment is tightly controlled down to the least bump-and-scrape. In game, things are different. A Chase can blow up at any time, and you need to bring the Thrills.

How to do this?

First, use your camera.

DIRECTOR: cut to two junctions ahead. Water fountains many feet high from a broken main, and traffic slows.

KARLO: [groans]

Shift the POV to action, something that’s going to complicate the chase but which the agent hasn’t encountered yet. This allows the agent to factor the problem into the scene. Maybe Karlo uses this to his advantage, or maybe he saves his points because he knows trouble’s coming. Either way, the complicating factors you highlight now become action soon afterward.

The camera can look anywhere, which means you can look anywhere.

DIRECTOR: interior, BMW. The goon in the passenger seat looks over his shoulder at the Audi, as he slots the last few shells into his shotgun.

KARLO: Better get ready to duck, huh?

Or from any perspective.

DIRECTOR: Interior, National Police station. As the two cars flash across surveillance camera feeds, a dozen alerts go off, dispatchers scream down mikes, and every cop car in Baku gets the call.

KARLO: Well, there’s that Heat spike I wasn’t looking forward to.

Again, the point is to get the agent to focus on the immediate future, and plan accordingly. That shotgun isn’t going to get fired for another round or so, but Karlo knows it’s there. Those cop cars aren’t on the scene yet, but in a round or so …

When using the camera, never let the agent get complacent. Always cut to action, and never let up. The goon loads a shotgun. Water fountains. Dispatchers scream down mikes. It’s all action, and it all increases the urgency.

Second, cheat.

The players are encouraged to jot down some notes for those Thrilling Dialogue moments; so should you. If you know that one of your players chose to put more than 8 pool points in Driving, then you’d better learn the difference between a Bootlegger’s Turn and a Moonshiner’s Reverse, because the day will come when you want to throw that at your agents and watch their jaws hit the tarmac. The same goes for Parkour, or any other chase mechanic. Take notes, and deploy as necessary.

This also applies to landmarks. Every city has them, and cunning Directors use them. If you know the agents are going to be in Baku, Azerbaijan this session, a quick Google ‘famous Baku streets’ gets you some handy backdrops. After all, who doesn’t want to ram an Audi at high speed through Fountains Square? Gee, that pedestrian-only shopping street looks inviting – and there’s an achievement in Double Tap that looks doable.

Don’t worry about the city’s internal geography. Films never do. Bullitt certainly didn’t.  It’s not a good idea to slalom past the Eiffel Tower after blasting through Nizami Street, unless this chase scene was brought to you by Euro Disney, but otherwise, go nuts. Is Nizami Street near the Russian Flea Market? Do your players care? No? Then for the sake of this chase scene, it is. And if it actually is, well done – you look even cleverer than you already are.

Don’t put hours of research in. The agents might never see it. Just do a quick Google before the session, take notes as necessary, maybe save a couple of pictures if they add a bit of cool to a scene. Then you have it ready to go, if and when it becomes relevant to a chase sequence.

Finally, choose your words with thrills in mind.

The players aren’t going to get enthusiastic if you’re not enthusiastic. That means you need to use evocative language, which means you need to know a little about the subject. Not a lot. Nobody’s asking you to take a film course, but a few minutes down the YouTube rabbit hole wouldn’t go amiss.

Consider:

DIRECTOR: the BMW veers to the outside, wheels shunting up onto the pavement, sending pedestrians scattering. Brake, brake, quick shift and BANG! He swings at a 90-degree angle into the turn.

That’s a Swerve. It’s also (broadly) how you complete a 90-degree turn, which is less about the speed you go into the curve and much more about your speed as you come out of it – hence the braking at the start, and the veer to the outside to give a better turning circle. However if, as Director, you say ‘the BMW attempts a Swerve, using a 90-degree turn to do it,’ that’s boring. You need to make your language as compelling as possible, to spark the agents into doing something equally compelling.

Remember, this is all Improv, as has been said many times before. Improv uses the Yes, And, principle, so when you make an offer, the other actor has to accept your offer and run with it. That means there has to be an offer at the start – and if your offer is dull, the agents will have to work hard to make it less dull. Or, more likely, they won’t, and the chase scene falls flat.

Ideally, you make an offer, the agents accept and up the ante, bringing the thrills with offers of their own. Which you then accept, and up the ante again with more thrills.

Don’t feel as though every offer has to be earth-shattering. Even the best start small. That famous chase scene in Bullitt kicks off with a killer fastening his seat belt and a revving car engine. You didn’t need to know in-depth racing terminology to understand that fastening a seat belt and a revving engine equals wild times a-coming.

Equally, as Director, remember where you are and anticipate the obvious. If the scene is set at Val-d’Isère, one of the finest ski resorts on the planet, you’d better have a ski chase scene prepped. If the agents are in Monaco, home of the Grand Prix, one of the Triple Crowns of Motorsport, you’d better prep a car chase. It doesn’t automatically follow that there will be a race down l’Espace Killy, or high-powered muscle cars barrelling down the narrow streets of the most famous city-state in the world, but you’d be silly not to anticipate one.

It’s all about building up the offer. These are both evocative settings, known throughout the world for very specific things. It follows that the more you can lean on the setting for Thrilling elements, the better you can make your offer.

There’s no part of the world you can’t make Thrilling, even if you have to steal elements from somewhere else. It’s great when the chase scene’s set in Berlin, London, or San Francisco, where Thrilling elements are two-a-penny; but even if it isn’t, that’s no reason to cut back on thrills. Even sedate Guernsey has Neolithic monoliths, Nazi forts, and needle-thin roads with looming granite outcrops on either side.  Pick a spot, and I guarantee you can find something to Thrill over.

Not only do these elements make the scene more Thrilling, they can be written down beforehand and deployed when needed, which is a blessing. However don’t be afraid to invent elements as and when needed. Is there a Leichter Panzerspähwagen parked outside the Guernsey War Museum, perhaps as some kind of temporary exhibit? Would it make the scene more interesting if there was one? Then yes, there is. With a full tank of petrol, why not. After all, if James Bond can drive a tank through St Petersburg, there’s no reason your agents can’t ram an armoured car through St Peter’s Port.

Use your camera. Cheat. Choose your words with thrills in mind.

DIRECTOR: the BMW spins, sideswipes a fuel pump which immediately explodes, and careens into a parked car. The impact stops the now-burning BMW.

KARLO: I’ll just tell Volkov it was all their fault …


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.

confidential2Cthulhu Confidential, the flagship title for GUMSHOE One-2-One, is now available for pre-order! GUMSHOE One-2-One is designed for two players: a GM and a player who takes the role of a solo investigator, solving Mythos mysteries. In Cthulhu Confidential our PCs are hard-boiled shamus Dex Raymond, investigative journalist Vivian Sinclair, and private eye Langston Montgomery Wright.

We asked the Pelgranistas—as well as some friends of Pelgrane—which fictional characters they’d most like to have a GUMSHOE One-2-One mystery adventure with. This is Adam Gauntlett’s:

adam-gauntlett_400Merrily Watkins

‘Merrily Watkins has what is very much a night job,’ says Phil Rickman, creator of more supernatural mysteries and straight-up horror shows than you can shake a gnarled and twisted stick at. As Deliverance Consultant for her Diocese she’s been hip-deep in hauntings and conventional corpses since 1998’s The Wine of Angels, picking through evidence and ectoplasm to uncover the true culprits. My personal favorite is a shorter piece, The Magus of Hay, because it features book-lover’s paradise Hay-on-Wye, but it’s all good stuff.

She’s no physical powerhouse, and there are times when her faith wobbles or her family life blindsides her. As one of the few female Church of England priests she’d have a bullseye on her back even without her Deliverance baggage. But once she takes on that role she takes it seriously, shouldering that burden and making what ought to have been the straw that broke the vicar’s back a positive influence instead.

She fights the good fight even when nobody expects her to, sometimes when nobody wants her to. That’s the hallmark of a hero.

Plus it’d be fun to game horror with someone who’s been there and done it, don’t you think?

Preorder Cthulhu Confidential at the Pelgrane webstore, and get the PDF plus a preview of the first Dex Raymond adventure, straight away!

———————————–

GUMSHOE One-2-One retunes, rebuilds and re-envisions the acclaimed GUMSHOE investigative rules set for one player, and one GM. Together, the two of you create a story that evokes the classic solo protagonist mystery format of classic detective fiction. Can’t find a group who can play when you can? Want an intense head-to-head gaming experience? Play face to face with GUMSHOE One-2-One—or take advantage of its superb fit with virtual tabletops and play online. Purchase Cthulhu Confidential and future GUMSHOE One-2-One products in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

CoverFrequent contributor and friend of the Pelgrane Adam Gauntlett is here to talk about The Private Life of Elder Things.

———————

Right! Hello again. So nice to see you. I have something I’d like to tell you, about a short story collection I’ve been working on: The Private Life of Elder Things, due out this September.

It’s a Lovecraftian collection, a collaboration between myself, handless loon that I am, Adrian Tchaikovsky, who some of you may know as the Shadows of the Apt fella, and Keris McDonald, a regular at Ash Tree, Supernatural Tales, Weird Tales and other fun places. We all got together about this time last year and thought, yes, now’s the time to spread the madness. At first we wondered if self-publishing wasn’t the better way to go, but in the end we decided to work with Alchemy, an outfit that Adrian knows well. So here we are, with a book launch due at Fantasycon By The Sea in sunny Scarborough. Scarborough is sunny, isn’t it? I’ve never been.

Why me, and why these three?

Once upon a time I was much younger than I am now, which can be said of all of us. Adrian and I went to the same Uni, down in Reading. I’m not sure why. We must have done awful things in a former life. Any road, we were both members of the Drama society, and afterward Progress Theatre, where we wrote and directed short plays. Somewhere along the path we picked up Keris, whose enthusiasm for horror rivalled our own.

That’s how we met, and for many a month we geeked out over RPGs, movies, or what have you. All good things come to an end, which in this case means I moved back to Bermuda while the pair of them went up to Yorkshire. They really must have done something hideous in a former life, but I’ve never liked to enquire.

Working together was a lot of fun! I ended up being the one who put everything together and stitched it, Frankenstine-style, into EPUB format. It’s the first time I’ve done that. While it kinda-sorta worked, I’m glad the folks at Alchemy didn’t rely exclusively on my version!

I was also the one who did a chunk of the editing. We passed the stories around, each getting the opinion of the other. That’s always a sensitive subject, particularly when it’s writer to writer. I’d thought that since we know each other so well there’d be no real problem, but the overprotective instincts kick in when it’s your own stuff. Nobody came to blows over it, and we’re all still mates.

Then it was handed over to Peter at Alchemy. I wasn’t sure what to expect at that point. You know how it is: someone may recommend such-a-person to you, and say all kinds of wonderful things about such-a-person, but there’s still that residual suspicion. It’s like hearing someone praised for their honesty; after a while you start to wonder what they’ve been getting away with unsuspected all this time. That said, Peter and Alchemy have been a joy to work with. So this time the residual suspicion was way off base!

But what’s in this collection, you ask? Eleven chilling tales, that’s what. Each of them inspired by an aspect of the Mythos we’ve come to love. One of Keris’, for instance, comes to you in part because of the old ghoulish scenario Paper Chase. Adrian’s written stories about Deep Ones, Shoggoths and similar large and menacing things, which is about right for a fella who’s eight foot tall and growing every year. As for me, I’ve reminisced about strange dogs, rats, and derelict ships, as is my wont.

What are the stories like? Well, take a look at this excerpt from my tale Pitter Patter:

**

There were mice, mice, eating up the rice, in the stores, in the stores; there were rats, rats, big as blooming cats, in the Quartermaster’s stores.

Can’t get that out of my head. You know how you want to think about something else, anything else, but that one thing’s there, again and again and again?

Rats, rats, big as blooming cats, in the Quartermaster’s stores

They sung that in the War. It was up on one of the walls of the TAC, along with a bunch of other stuff. I remember seeing this documentary once, saying about the rats in the trenches, how they ate the corpses, grew fat on them. One bloke, his abiding memory was going to his new digs, hearing noises, shining a light on the bed and seeing two of the shits on his bed’s blanket, fighting for possession of a severed hand.

They went for the eyes first, you know that? If they found a corpse, they’d chew right through the eyes, then get into the head. After that they did as they pleased. Fuckers.

Rats, rats, big as blooming cats, in the Quartermaster’s stores. My eyes are dim, I cannot see, I have not brought my specs with me
**
If that excerpt has piqued your interest, then check out the Facebook page, and remember these words: The Private Life of Elder Things. Tchaikovky, McDonald, Gauntlett. September. Alchemy Press.

Mine’s a bitter, next time we meet. Be seeing you!

Edward_Bigsby_cover_350The flamboyant artist Edward Bigsby pays a call to the Investigators on the recommendation of a mutual friend, but dies horrifically before he can tell them what he needs. Soon afterward, the police question the PCs – another corpse matching Bisgby’s description has been found, with their address in his coat pocket. It does not end there; dead Bigsbys are being found all over London.

Follow the trail of Bigsbys through the bohemian streets of crime-filled 1930s Soho, dodging Chinese triads, Dope Kings, and the Metropolitan Police force to find out once and for all who Edward Bigsby is, and why he keeps dying.

The Many Deaths of Edward Bigsby is a stand-alone Trail of Cthulhu scenario from the pen of Adam Gauntlett (Soldiers of Pen and InkDulce et Decorum Est, and many more).

 

Stock #: PELGT42D Author: Adam Gauntlett
Artist: Pat Loboyko, Miguel Santos, Georgia Roan Type: 27-page PDF

Buy now

The_Long_Con_cover_350Sidney Pryce wants the protagonists’ help to set up a Big Store, to sucker a rich American into thinking he’s buying into a Burnt Auction. The rewards, Pryce promises, are incalculable; but soon after Pryce enlists their help, strange bird-creatures haunt the protagonists. How, they wonder, does Japanese folklore figure into it?

The Long Con is a new stand-alone Trail of Cthulhu scenario from the pen of Adam Gauntlett (Soldiers of Pen and InkDulce et Decorum Est, and many more).

Stock #: PELGT41D Author: Adam Gauntlett
Artist: Pat Loboyko, Eric Quigley Type: 32-page PDF

Buy now

BermudaAdam Gauntlett (aka Karloff), the author of Dulce et Decorum Est, Soldiers of Pen and Ink and a number of Trail of Cthulhu adventures, is creating fiction and RPG material over on his new Patreon page. As well as Pelgrane Press, Adam has written for the Escapist Magazine, Chaosium, Miskatonic River, Pagan Publishing and Atlas Games, among others. You can find his work online at the Escapist, or you can check out his blog Ephemera. To celebrate the launch of his Patreon, Adam has very kindly given us a sneak preview of the kind of work he’ll be creating for his Patreon supporters: Welcome to ‘D-Notice’, in which the shadowy world of British intelligence comes a little too close to the otherworldly.

Download the free preview of ‘D-Notice’ here, and get more exclusive fiction and RPG content from Adam Gauntlett over on his Patreon page here.

 

If you go down to the woods today…

The shadowy depths of the primeval forest are the ancient source of our collective fears. But there is worse in the woods than timber wolves and fairy tales; you can lose not just your way, but your mind, too.  This brand new collection of Trail of Cthulhu adventures explores hidden groves and endless avenues – the hideous soul of Lovecraft’s forest.

  • Midnight Sub Rosa: The diary of Ezekiel de la Poer, a colonial-era French necromancer hanged for child-murder in 1736 was stolen at the home of an emeritus professor in the small town of Rosa, Alabama. His house lives in the eaves of a forest of white ash. Can the Investigators find the book before its thief becomes something else entirely?
  • The Silence Mill: In a small village in Brittany close on the Arthurian forest of Brocéliande, a friend of the Investigators stands accused of serial murder, cannibalism and even lycanthropy. Can they ascertain the truth, or will the truth find them?
  • Dreaming of a Better Tomorrow for 30 Dollars a Month: Amongst crowded green precipices and muttering forest streams of Vermont, labourers from one of Roosevelt’s integrated Civilian Conservation Corps camps disappear. In an atmosphere fraught with political intrigue and Jim Crow laws, can a mixed bag of Investigators find the primordial peril which threatens more than just one camp, or even one state?
  • The Coldest Walk: Deep in Wisconsin’s northern woods lies the town of Four Pines – a quiet, almost forgettable community. However, whenever the aurora flashes in the sky the inhabitants have a terrible choice to make. Can the Investigators stop the inevitable, or must they take the Walk for themselves?
  • Trembling Giant: In 1937, the United States government transferred 300 acres to the newly recognized Koosharem Band of Paiute Indians. But this new land is throttled by distorted trees and stalked by unnatural beasts. Nightmares grip the shaman and warning totems shatter – what is the legacy of this ancient land, and can the tribesfolk fight this ancient evil?

Containing extensive handouts, maps and pre-generated characters for each adventure, Out of the Woods takes your hand and leads you gently through the eaves and into the darkness.

…you are in for a big surprise!

Stock #: PELGT43 Author: Adam Gauntlett, Lauren Roy, Chris Spivey, Ruth Tillman, Aaron Vanek
Artist: Stefano Azzalin, Jesús Blones, Nyra Drakae, Valentina Filic, Christine Griffin, Brittany Heiner, Dave Lewis Johnson, Rich Longmore, Olivia Ongai, Gillian Pearse, Miguel Santos, Ernanda Souza, Alicia Vogel. Pages: 168pg Perfect Bound

Buy now

Previous Entries Next Entries