by Steven Hammond

Gen Con was a blast this year. I played a few games, talked to people I only see at Gen Con, and spent several hours helping out in the Pelgrane Booth. I had fun chatting with all the GUMSHOE and Black Book fans that stopped by. If you picked up a flyer in Indy, the discount codes on it will work until October 1. If you missed Gen Con, we love you too. The discount code WeDontAllFitInIndy will give you 20% off a 1-year Player subscription and it’s also good until October 1, 2019.

Summer wasn’t all play though. A couple of interns joined us and we cranked through the GM tools to get them ready for beta testing, which launched this week.

What are the GM Tools? They are a set of tools designed to help the GM offer a more immersive experience. Modeled after the GM matrices in the back of most GUMSHOE games, they

  • Help the GM keep track of characters’ ability ratings and pools, updating in real time as points are spent.
  • Remind the GM of character connections like Sources of Stability, Bonds and Network contacts.
  • Show the GM who’s been getting spotlight time recently, helping to keep the fun moving around the table.

Below is a short video that shows how the GM tools work in play.

 

The Tools currently support Trail of Cthulhu (and Bookhounds of London), Night’s Black Agents (and the Dracula Dossier), and The Fall of DELTA GREEN. The Yellow King RPG is coming soon with support for Shock and Injury Cards — we still have a couple tricky things to work out there.

Participating in the beta is easy. All Player level subscribers have access to the GM Tools via the “Campaigns” link on the left. Click that, then click “New Campaign” at the top menu to get started. Now you can invite anybody you want to play with. Anybody with a Free account can use the Play mode features when connected to a campaign.

Anybody who provides helpful feedback during the beta will get a free 1-year upgrade to the GM level. You can use our contact form to submit feedback. We are not only looking for bugs and usability issues, we are also looking for feedback on parts you like and new features you’d like to see added.

Take a look at the video and let us know what you think in the comments below.

A Bookhounds of London adventure seed by Adam Gauntlett

The Bookhounds are asked whether or not some broadside ballads found by a builder really belonged to famed diarist Samuel Pepys, only to discover that the ballads might get them killed.

Broadside Ballads

This information is a 0 point spend, Bibliography, History, Library Use or similar:

So called because they are printed on broadside sheets, these single-page narrative poems tell gossipy stories, spread political news, and promulgate scurrilous lies. Broadsides are early children of the printing press, popular from the 16th century, and reach their apogee in the 18th century. They’re cheap to make and easy to distribute, and though they’re very disposable some collectors prize them. Samuel Pepys was one.

Also a 0 point:

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was Chief Secretary of the Navy and a Member of Parliament, but he’s most famous for his Diaries, which tell a colloquial tale of London life during the Restoration. His book collection is justly famous, and was donated to Magdalene College, Cambridge, after his death. He once lived in a house on Axe Yard, near Downing Street; the exact address is unknown.

This information is a 1 point spend:

Pepys had a passion for order and conformity. He wanted a definite aesthetic look for his collection, and to achieve it he cut down ballads to the appropriate size for his albums, arranging his finds in identical album sets. He obsessively catalogued everything he collected, and his broadside collection was given to Magdalene College, along with the rest of his library.

Also a 1 point:

The Pepys Club, founded 1903 by a small group of Garrick Club members, is the best place to find out odd and obscure facts about the life of Samuel Pepys. Cultivating a member, say through a 2 point Flattery spend or similar, creates a 2-point dedicated pool concerning the life, times and loves of Samuel Pepys.

Bob Chapman’s Lucky Find

Bob’s a builder, a subcontractor for Bentley’s, a general contracting firm. While on the job – a renovation at Axe Yard, in Westminster – he ‘recovered’ some items from the rubble skip, including this old bag with funny papers in it. Is it worth anything?

Assess Honesty (0 point): Bob’s not lying, exactly, but he’s being very careful with the truth. He did get it from the Axe Yard job site, but not from the skip. It was hidden behind the wall he was meant to be repairing, and one careless swing with the sledgehammer revealed the hidden alcove. He knows his boss, Mr. Bentley, would take it for himself, if he knew about it. Bob admits as much, if pressed.

Bob Chapman, Lucky Builder: Athletics 6, Fleeing 6, Health 4, Scuffling 4; Architecture 1, Craft (Bricklaying) 1. Tall, slim, shock of curly black hair, eager as a puppy. “Well I’ll be blowed!”

Broadsides: This collection doesn’t conform to the Pepys standard. Pepys cut his sheets down to fit inside a leatherbound book approximately 340 by 358 mm, usually about 70 mm thick. Most of Bob’s find are older broadsides, which would have gone into Volume 1 of Pepys’ bound books. Bob’s find is unbound, uncut, stuffed loosely inside a battered leather folder. They could be papers Pepys didn’t bother to put into his main collection, but it’s difficult to imagine why, since Pepys was an obsessive collector. Condition’s not good, not after several centuries stuffed inside a damp wall alcove, but the ballads are interesting. Some are quite scurrilous tales about prancers [highwaymen], lascivious pricklouse [tailor, pejorative], roaring boys, and rigges [wanton women] playing with correl [toy dildoes]. Law (0 point): It’s just on the edge of prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act, but it would have been tame stuff for Pepys’ generation.

Document Analysis, Evidence Collection 0 point: Some of the sheets have been annotated, whether by Pepys or someone else is anyone’s guess. Still, if it could be proved it was Pepys, the price goes up. Not that Bob realizes this …

Document Analysis, Evidence Collection 1 point: The paper’s genuine and of the period. There’s odd insect pattern damage on some of the sheets, as if a collection of small spiders got caught between the pages and decayed there. No solid matter, just liquefied imprints on the paper.

Bargain gets it from Bob, cheaply. No spend, no broadsides. Filch gets the most interesting sheets, without Bob noticing.

Axe Yard

If the Hounds go to Axe Yard, they find the house Bob’s working on. Some of the twenty-five houses on this lane have already been swallowed up by the Government for offices, but the general outline of the Yard can still be seen. Nobody’s sure which of these would have been Pepys’ ‘poor little house.’

Streetwise or Sense Trouble Difficulty 5 notices a beggar hanging round near the skip, a pasty gent in ragged clothing, who retreats as soon as someone notices him. In a Fleeing contest his parting trick is to vanish down a drain or sewer outlet, leaving his clothes behind. There’s an odd, wet residue on the skip near where he stood – and a tiny, spidery creature that runs off quick.

Bentley’s Drama

However the negotiation with Bob goes, Bentley’s finds out about it, somehow. If Bob sold the papers, it’s because Bob talked too freely at the pub. If Bob didn’t sell, it’s because he blabbed to his foreman, bragging about how he’d get rich from his find.

Mr. Bentley is outraged. He thinks the Hounds put one over on Bob, and stole property that rightfully belongs to Bentley’s. Mr. Bentley is a devotee of the Pepys Club; one of the reasons he took this job was so he could work at Axe Yard. If Bob didn’t sell to the Hounds then Mr. Bentley now has the broadsides, and accuses the Hounds of stealing the best ones, when they inspected the bundle. If the Hounds have the broadsides, then he demands their return.

Mr. Bentley: Athletics 3, Filch 3, Health 6; Architecture 3 (Restoration era). Melancholic, pipe smoker, unkind to animals, especially cats. “Dear me! My solicitor will be here any second, and then you’ll be for it!”

If things get unpleasant. Mr. Bentley knows a lot of builders willing to do him a favor. Treat them as Rough Lads for combat purposes.

Further Examination

Several of the broadsides deal with Mythos subjects, in particular a series called ‘The Beggar’s Daughters.’ This is the most insect-stained and annotated set of broadsides, and there are four of them, all variations on the same theme. A pale, blind beggar has four daughters, all of whom wish to marry. They go out in search of swains, but their chosen beloved – the gallant young knight, the gentleman’s son, the merchant and the publican – are horrified on their wedding night, when they discover their pretty maids are not what they seem. The scenes at the church during the wedding are gruesome, but water damage makes the worst bits unreadable. Study confers 1 Mythos, concerning Eihort and its Brood.

Whoever collected this was making a study of variant Beggars in different broadsides, and drew a map on the back of one of them. The Knowledge realizes these are streets near the Hoop & Toy pub, Kensington. The Hoop & Toy, built 1760, is said to be haunted by five specters; priests, according to the legend. Their crypt, in the Hoop & Toy’s basement, was long forgotten until rediscovered, and destroyed, during the construction of the Circle underground tunnel in the 1870s. The ghosts wander eternally, looking for a way back to the church they once served. Occult spends can work out where the ghosts are most often seen, and what they look like – pale, nondescript people, with skin like wax. They leave a strange, wet residue wherever they go. The basement of the Hoop & Toy, it’s said, is alive with peculiar spiders.

The map on the broadside shows a church, where the Hoop & Toy currently stands.

The Ghastly Brood

Eihort’s strange children are the ‘ghosts’ at the Hoop & Toy. The crypt that the underground workers disturbed all those years ago once belonged to a blasphemous church which held strange ceremonies in its crypt, in honor of the Pale Beast. Those who wished to learn hideous secrets sought to parley with the creature, but Eihort is only interested in its Bargain, and spreading its Brood.

After the destruction of the church Eihort no longer visits its Fane, but its Brood remain. They use it as a kind of meeting place, where hundreds of thousands of Brood gather in the basement to mingle, and share secrets. Seeing this massive wave of Brood in one place is a Stability 5 challenge, possibly going as high as Stability 7 if the Brood attack.

The Brood are very interested in the broadsides, for one of several reasons:

  • They want to establish a final link with those of the Brood whose physical form became imprinted in the broadside paper.
  • They want to see if humans are still interested in making a Bargain with Eihort, as they did before.
  • They want to prevent anyone from finding the location of the Fane.

They will seek out the Beggar’s Daughters broadsides, injuring or killing the ones who have them, as needed.

The Last Word

It’s impossible to determine beyond question whether the broadsides, and their annotations, are Pepys’. However it’s a nice find, and counts as 1 point book stock, History (Restoration London).

Though Pepys was superstitious, he’s not known for being anything other than conventionally superstitious. Charms for luck, or against disease, yes. Rollicking battles against the Mythos, no. Still, they had peculiar notions in Pepys’ day. Perhaps that library at Magdalen is worth a visit, to see what Pepys really did believe …

The basement of the Hoop & Toy is a Fane, a place of power, and can be drawn on by necromancers and would-be magical power places. See Rough Magicks for further details. If not using Rough Magicks, assume the place provides 1 point of Magic potential/year, and can be used as a Megapolisomantic lever. Of course, the Brood will have something to say about that …

Bob the brickie would never bargain with Eihort, but Mr. Bentley might.

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.

A Bookhounds of London rare tome by Mike Drew

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

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

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

The book didn’t sell.

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

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

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

But away with mere fact!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

300px-horsleydown

The (former) Church of Little St Hugh, a partly Hawksmoor-designed church. (Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_John_Horsleydown)

A resource for Bookhounds of London, by James Haughton and Bret Kramer 

Just off Charterhouse Street in Smithfield is a vacant lot adjacent to the newly built power station. There are the charred remains of a slate floor, a few cracked sandstone blocks, and a wrought iron plaque stating “Here stood the Church of Little St. Hugh, destroyed by German aerial bombardment 8 September, 1915.” A little bit behind is a locked metal grate enclosing a narrow flight of stairs. Behind this locked grate is the Crypt…

The Church of Little St Hugh was once located in Smithfields on the north side of the city, next to the meat markets and slaughteryards. The site is quite ancient, having originally been a Templar chapel dedicated to St Bartholemew, attendant upon their tourney ground and stables. The crypt contains a number of Templar graves. Following the dissolution of the Templars it was turned over to the Knights Hospitallier, who rededicated it to Little St Hugh, and then passed to the Church of England during the English reformation. The church was burned down during the Great Fire of London and was rebuilt as part of the Wren/Hawksmoor/James building effort. Hawksmoor died before the church was completed, so it was completed by John James, leading to it frequently being left off lists of “Hawksmoor” churches.

On the 8th of September, 1915, shortly after the Reverend Poole (see below) had been appointed to the parish, the church was hit by a Zeppelin bomb and burned to the ground a second time, only the underground Templar Crypt surviving. The Church was not eager to rebuild the church because with the passage of time, the expansion of the slaughteryards and the construction of the City of London Power Station next door, the area had become industrial rather than residential and there were few people residing in the parish. Furthermore, antisemitism had become a bit déclassé in reformist Church circles, and a church based upon a Blood Libel was felt to send the wrong message. The site is now bare ground (the graves having been moved to the London Necropolis) with a plaque commemorating the bombing and a locked grille leading to the old crypt.

To Reverend Poole’s muted annoyance, the peculiar history of the church has led to “Rebuild Little St Hugh’s” being taken up as a cause by quasi-respectable pro-fascist elements in Society, as a way of being covertly anti-Jewish without being overtly pro-German.

The Crypt and the “Heretic’s Library”

The site’s interest to Bookhounds lies in the contents of the Crypt. Smithfield is the traditional execution ground for heretics and traitors, and so historically, a certain amount of the vicar of Little St Hugh’s income came from giving last rites to these unfortunates and often became the receiver of the deceased’s items (as means to pay for their services). Sadly, this source of income has dried up a bit in recent centuries. However, gifts from these (usually) men as payments in kind to the vicar included a fair number of books, often concerning their odd political and religious beliefs. Generations of criminals and heretics books were disposed of in this manner; for some reason, these books were kept rather than destroyed, possibly over a centuries old dispute over the division of moneys gained between the priest of Little St Hugh and the Archbishop of London. Over time, the deposition of heretical and treasonous publications in the Church of Little St Hugh became one of those things that are done because they have always been done. This impromptu library of the unorthodox, heretical, and quite possibly valuable was stored within the Crypt, and consequently escaped destruction in the bombing.

The books, which were being surreptitiously being catalogued when the church was destroyed, are in no particular order, beyond a rough one of size, with books of like size being kept together in one box for ease of storage. An index for the books does exist, kept by Rev. Poole in a vest pocket at all times. Sadly many books are in poor condition, centuries of enclosure in damp stone having taken their toll.

The Library of Little St Hugh acts as a 2 point pool for research into heresies and treasons in English history, if Reverend Poole’s assistance and/or index is used; 1 point otherwise owing to the difficulty of finding resources within it. Although many of the books possess little resale value as collectables owing to damage from damp and mildew, enough aged endpapers and partial copies survive to make them valuable to forgers and breakers, not to mention the odd modern heretic who may care less about condition than content.

Owing to its underground location and comforting smell of mould, the library is occasionally consulted by the more literary members of London’s Ghoul colony. The Reverend Poole remains desperately, resolutely, ignorant of this fact.

The Crypt: Physical description

The only surviving portion of the Church, the cruciform vaults beneath the old church were excavated during the time of Richard de Hastyngs (c. 1165) and used as a burial site for Templars in London until the construction of the new Temple, about 1185, and from time to time thereafter, though why burials continued is unclear. Within the vault, the air is cool and stale, a result of poor circulation. The low arched ceilings suggest most of the work dates from the 12th century with a few high Gothic touches added later. Walking is possible in the center of most aisles, but one should watch their heads to avoid injury.

To the north are the remaining Templar crypts, including several carved sarcophagi depicting the resident knights. To the west have been jumbled a mound of ‘important’ stones rescued from the ruins above, including several elaborate keystones, fragments of statuary, the hastily framed remains of several stained-glass windows, and, a worn Sheela-na-gig sits on one side. Some wag has placed a packet of Pall Mall within her stony cleft.

Occupying most of the east and south ends of the vault are stacked boxes containing the old library of the Church of Little Saint Hugh.

A few modern niceties break the gloom; there are an assortment of small oil lamps for which to provide light to readers who can make use of a small table and a mismatched set of wooden chairs. Atop the table are a variety of writing supplies, several half-empty biscuit tins, and a small camp stove topped by a tea kettle.

The Reverend Oliver Garrand Llewellyn Poole, poverty-stricken guardian of Little St Hugh

Occupation: Clergy (Church of England)
Drive: Ennui

Rev. Poole, as he is most generally known, is a drawn-looking man, probably in his early forties, with thinning blond-brown hair, always clad in a careworn black suit and clerical collar. He is the vicar to the (non-existent) congregation of the Church of Little St. Hugh, and the sexton of its (relocated) graveyard. Rev. Poole is responsible for the library, which he allows scholars to examine from time to time. As a result he has met a number of notable authors of esoterica, including Elliot O’Donnell, Margaret Murray, Dennis Wheatley, Rev. Montage Summers (whose claim to clerical status is even dodgier) and Augustus Darcy, whom he remembers was most unwilling to pick up the lunch tab. An air of fatigue surrounds him like a cloud of bees. He deflects any questions about why he remains the vicar of a non-existent church, hinting at family legacies, codecils and obligations. More probably, he fears that if the Church bureaucracy were to notice his existence, his meagre position would be abolished without a new one materialising.

Rev. Poole is most well-known (by those very few who know him) for his unique social habit, one borne from the necessity of having extraordinarily low wage. Normally parish vicars were paid for by their congregants. Lacking any, his income solely consists of his wages as the Sexton (less than £40 annually) and a hodgepodge of Medieval rights granted the Church in centuries past (including but not limited to as many fish as he can catch on the Fleet, a salted ox leg every Christmas, 3 inches of silver chain, a black rooster, and a pot of ink). To supplement this salary (he is apparently unwilling or unable to call upon his extended family, a well-to-do bunch from Kent) the Rev. Poole has become a serial club and society member, particularly those which provide lunch, gather over coffee, or even have a few tins of biscuits and tea. If there is a society, club, association, fanciers group, aficionado gathering, or league in or near the City (so long as its politics aren’t too extreme) Rev. Poole has attended a meeting, if not a regular attendee. Few question him, thanks to his position as a cleric (though a more than a few clubs know to hide the good edibles when he darkens the door), and he is generally regarded as harmless. In those groups where he has some actual interest (including astronomy and architecture) he is actually something approaching helpful. In any gathering, he is at least charming, even if his eyes never leave the refreshments table.

Bookhounds may be aware of his lesser-known talent regarding the procurement of small batches of blank paper, dated as per customer request, most likely taken from the Little St. Hugh library. On a handful of occasions he has provided “graveyard copies” of books from the Church library, in exchange for a cut of the sale, as well as plates from several “breakers” in the library… but only when his finances are very poor. He is, very rarely, a customer at the shop, often swapping something of his for a book. His tastes tend toward the physical sciences, history, and London architecture.

He lives in a mean cold-water flat in a building otherwise wholly populated by Indians and Arabs, causing him to sometimes given off the aroma of their sundry dubious cuisines and tobaccos.

Health 9
Sanity 10
Stability 10

ACADEMIC ABILITIES
Architecture 1
History 4
Languages 2
Library Use 2
Occult 2
Document Analysis 1
Theology 2

INTERPERSONAL ABILITIES
Assess Honesty 2
Credit Rating 2 (social standing only; he’s otherwise very poor) Treat this as Social CR 3, Monetary CR 1
Flattery 4
Reassurance 2

TECHNICAL ABILITIES
Astronomy 1

GENERAL ABILITIES
Auction 1 (I’ve been to a few.)
Conceal 4 (Nothing up my sleeve…)
Electrical Repair 1 (He has built a crystal radio.)
Filch 9 (Where did those biscuits go?)
Firearms 1 (Why yes, my father did like to hunt.)
First Aid 4 (Why yes, I was a terrible shot.)
Fleeing 5 (Run!)
Preparedness 3 (I do have a plumb bob, why do you ask?)
Psychoanalysis 3 (Tell me more…)
Riding 1 (And we had horses… vile creatures…)
Scuffling 2 (There were also older brothers.)
Sense Trouble 4 (He knew that enlisting in 1914 was a bad idea after all…)
Shadowing 2 (That chap has a bag simply full of sardine tins. After him!)
Stealth 2 (I swear that the vicar went into the pantry a moment ago…)

Bookhound_coverBookhounds of London

Kenneth Hite

An Ennie- and Golden Geek-award-winning supplement for Trail of Cthulhu.

These cycles of experience, of course, all stem from that worm-riddled book. I remember when I found it – in a dimly lighted place near the black, oily river where the mists always swirl.
– The Book

Forbidden Tomes

Bookhounds of London is a brand new campaign setting for Trail of Cthulhu, packed with period detail, where the Investigators seek out books about horror and strangeness and become, seemingly inevitably, drawn into the horror themselves. It provides in-depth material on London in the 1930s, carefully slanted towards Mythos investigators.

An Ancient City

Bookhounds’ London is a city of cinemas, electric lights, global power and the height of fashion. It’s about the horrors – the cancers – that lurk in the capital, in the very beating heart of human civilization. A Templar altar might well crouch, mostly forgotten, in the dreary Hackney Marshes, but altars to false gods tower over the metaphorical swamps of Fleet Street and Whitehall. And as for lost, prehuman ruins … who’s to say what lies under London, if you dig deep enough?

Terrible Choices

The PCs aren’t stalwart G-men or tweedy scholars exploring forbidden frontiers. Instead, they acquire maps (and maybe guidebooks) to those forbidden frontiers from fusty libraries and prestigious auction houses. They are Book-Hounds, looking for profit in mouldy vellum and leather bindings, balancing their own books by finding first editions for Satanists and would-be sorcerers. They may not quite know what they traffic in, or they may know rather better than their clientele, but needs must when the bills come in. This volume includes:

  • 32 authentic full-colour maps with unique new street index of London in the 1930s, and plans of major buildings.
  • A Mythos take on London in the 1930s, packed with contacts, locations and rumours.
  • New abilities such as Document Analysis, Auction and Forgery, as well as new occupations and Drives.
  • Full statistics for a host of new and horrible Mythos creatures to pit against the Bookhounds.
  • Whitechapel Black-Letter, a brand new adventure which takes Bookhounds through the bleak East End of London on the trail of a powerful 15th century grimoire.

With Bookhounds, Kenneth Hite creates a rich sandbox full of dusty tomes, crooked dealers and dark alleys, a perfect setting for any Mythos investigation.

A Detailed Guide to London in the 1930s

Bookhounds of London also features  a complete, indexed street map of London, recreated and adapted from original sources, packed with over 200 locations essential to Investigators. Whatever system you play, this is an essential resource for Mythos roleplayers. The PDF version is fully cross-referenced. The cartography in Bookhounds won a silver ENnie award.

Page XX Map Close Up

See the complete reviews to date here

Not only does Bookhounds make me want to run a game, it makes me feel confident that I could run that game well. Many supplements place the burden of extracting a game from their contents on the Keeper; this book does not. As an unconfident and less experienced Keeper, this is excellent. If you only get one supplement for Trail of Cthulhu, this should be it.

Whomever, decides to buy it will certainly get their money’s worth and more. This is a beautifully and hauntingly illustrated book, in which the graphics are not horrific but do instill a certain sense of dread. I would commend Pelgrane Press once again for creating yet another beautiful product that is both attractive, functional and serves a multitude of purposes.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a gamebook which so carefully integrated the character of the city with the character of the play. It is an imaginary London, but one vivid and playable … Bookhounds could obviously be easily used by a traditional Call of Cthulhu GM and I’d recommend they pick it up. Anyone with an interested in London or England in the first half of the 20th Century should consider it as well.

To the usual Trail mix of Pulp vanilla and Purist chocolate, we now get rainbow sherbert Arabesque, rocky road sordid, and disgustingly neon Technicolor. We can only hope that Pelgrane provides more support for this line so as to give us more of what is otherwise an impressive and inspirational book.

Stock #:PELGT16 Author: Kenneth Hite
Art:Jerome Huguenin Format: 184 pg case bound with colour plates

Buy

HandofGlory“Look! It burns clear, but with the air around,
Its dead ingredients mingle deathliness.”

— Robert Southey, Thalaba the Destroyer, a.k.a. “The Other Other Romantic Vampire Poem, You Know, The One That Gets No Respect”

From Gerard de Nerval to Harry Potter to the pub-rockin’ Smithereens, the Hand of Glory knocks so sneakily at our culture that of course I had to let it in. Also, unkind and waspish sorts might suggest that this is yet another Thing We Left Out of the Dracula Dossier, when in fact it is of course great fun for all games of horror and creeperie but yes okay fine there’s a Hand of Glory in the Whitby Museum (DH, p. 177) so it might indeed be handy to have written up as a Director’s Handbook-style Object. But you can also use it in a properly occult Trail of Cthulhu game — the Minor Artifact version below fits right into the skeevy world of Bookhounds of London, for instance. And since it began as a cool-sounding mistranslation, it’s clearly ready for the Esoterrorists, to boot.

Quick Esoterroristic Diversion: Early modern magicians, caught in a game of one-upmanship with competing rogues and cunning-men, had to deploy ever more outré magicks to keep their clients happy. Digging through a grimoire one day (probably) in the mid-16th century, such a warlock stumbled over the Greek word mandragora, meaning mandrake-root, which brings sleep (because it’s actually the same thing as opium poppies) and grows beneath the gallows (because eww, which is to say, cool) and shines at night (see opium poppies, supra). He transliterated it into his native French as main-de-gloire, or “hand of glory.” Since that’s obviously not the same thing as a root, it had to be something else: the hand of a hanged murderer (gallows!) that you burn like a candle (shines!) to put people in a house to sleep (!) to rob them. And once warlocks started offering such things for sale, inquisitors started asking witches about them under torture and hey presto genuine occult legend is born. So thus in our early postmodern era, an eager-adopter Esoterrorist with only broken English reads about the Hand of Glory on the Internet. He (it’s always a he) decides it’s actually Hangloria, the possessed demon hand of someone who dies of autoerotic asphyxiation that glows like a computer monitor and puts your chosen stalker target into a trance. And then he tells all his Esoterrorist creepster buddies and sure enough Hanglorias come crawling out of closets all over Bangkok and Macao and Sochi.

Okay, now back to the Hand of Glory in the Whitby Museum.

Hand of Glory

Appearance: Blackish-gray mummified human right hand. Forensic Pathology types it as severed after death, likely from a working-class man given the degree and type of bone deformation and callusing. Occult Studies might twig to the weirdness of a right hand being used as a Hand of Glory when traditionally the left, or sinister, hand was preferred. Of course, other traditions considered the handedness of the hanged murderer more important: the right hand of a dextral killer would be the “murder hand,” and thus more imbued with occult evil.

Supposed History: Research can trace this Hand of Glory back to 1935, when one Joseph Ford donated it to the Whitby Museum. Ford, a local antiquary, supposedly found it inside the wall of a cottage in Castleton in Yorkshire while repairing the stonework. More generally, a Hand of Glory (Occult Studies) is a magical thieves’ tool. Cut from the wrist of a hanged murderer (or thief, ideally at midnight in total silence) the hand is pickled with niter, salt, peppers, lime or borax, and an ingredient called zimat (possibly verdigris or iron sulfate) then sun-dried or oven-dried with vervain and fern. In some traditions, the Hand is potent enough now; in others you need a candle made from the fat of a hanged man, wax, and ponie (possibly one or all of: soap, horse dung, or sesame) to activate its magic. If you have the correct ingredients and a workable recipe, you can make a Hand of Glory in 28 days (17 if making the Hand during the dog-days of July-August) and a Candle in the night of the new moon. (2-point spend for all the ingredients, etc.)

Major Artifact: When the fingers of the Hand close around the Candle and the Candle is lit, the Hand has the following powers:

  • Any locked door, gate, portal, safe, etc. in the Candle light unlocks itself when the wielder spends 1 point (or 2 points for clearly impossible or advanced locks) of Stability.
  • When the wielder utters an incantation (usually given as “Let all those who are asleep be asleep, and let those who are awake be awake.”) everyone asleep in the building remains completely asleep regardless of noise or even attack. A Hand more suited to the world of 24-hour security might force a Difficulty 8 Stability (or Athletics) test to remain awake, or at least allow a +3 bonus to all surprise tests against those inside.
  • The Candle flares up blue in the presence of secret doors, buried treasure, etc. and its light reveals the invisible, including vampires. Vampires with Magic or Necromancy may of course be able to animate or otherwise control the Hand.

Seeing a Hand of Glory work inspires a 3-point Stability test in all witnesses, including the thieves. The Hand must be held in the wielder’s hand to activate the first two powers, although it can be set down upright and continue keeping sleepers somnolent, revealing the invisible, etc.

The Candle burns for 4-6 hours, and can only be extinguished by blood; the Hand lasts until destroyed.

Minor Artifact: To use the Hand, soak the fingertips in unguent or lighter fluid and light it up. When lit, the Hand has the following powers, depending on the number of Fingers (F; fingers including the thumb) it has remaining:

  • Adds +F to all the wielder’s tests of Mechanics, Infiltration, etc. to open a lock or door. Grants the Open Sesame cherry (NBA, p. 31) regardless of wielder’s Infiltration rating. (In Trail of Cthulhu, grants +F points of Locksmith.) The exception: doors warded with owls’ blood.
  • After the wielder utters the incantation, those asleep in the house remain asleep unless attacked. If someone is awake in the house, one finger goes out for each wakeful person. This does not diminish F unless the Director is feeling cruel.
  • Adds +F to the wielder’s (or anyone else watching) tests of Sense Trouble, Conceal, etc. for the purpose of finding hidden treasure, secret doors, the invisible, etc. Counteracts invisibility, e.g.: an invisible vampire adds +6 to the Hit Threshold to shoot her, but with a three-fingered Hand burning, that advantage is down to +3 to Hit Threshold.

Seeing a Hand of Glory work inspires a 3-point Stability test in all witnesses, including the thieves. The Hand must be held in the wielder’s hand to activate the first two powers, although it can be set down upright and continue keeping sleepers somnolent, revealing the invisible, etc.

The Hand burns for 30 minutes per Finger remaining on the Hand, including itself. So a Hand down to one Finger burns for 30 minutes. It can be extinguished by milk or blood; when it goes out it cannot be relit. After each use, one Finger no longer lights, so each Hand has only five uses.

Telluric Artifact: The Hand must be cut from the body of someone infected by the telluric bacteria, like a vampire. (Using the hand of a Renfield is only half as effective; use half F rounded up.)  The pickling, drying, etc. feeds the bacteria while (partially) shielding the wielder from infection. Until you light the Hand and inhale activated bacterial ash, of course. Its powers are the same as the Minor Artifact version, with a few tweaks:

  • The bacteria heighten the wielder’s hand-eye coordination and senses of touch and hearing, improving lockpicking, etc. tests by +F but also similar abilities such as Explosive Devices at the Director’s discretion.
  • The carbonized bacterial-zimat cloud puts everyone who inhales it to sleep except the quasi-infected wielder. If she has friends, they need gas masks or the equivalent to avoid the Difficulty 4+F Health test to stay awake in the same room as a burning Hand.
  • The bacteria also heighten the wielder’s predatory pattern-matching skills and awareness, adding +F to her Sense Trouble, Conceal, etc., and counteracting invisible (including tellurically invisible) targets as a Minor Artifact. Add F points of Notice to the wielder’s pool.
  • The bacteria also imbue the wielder with a rush of self-confidence bordering on the sociopathic. He must make an F-point Stability test to withdraw from the room, avoid touching the valuables, or generally not act like he owns the place.

Using a Hand of Glory requires an immediate 4-point Stability test.

It can be extinguished by anything that might normally put out a fire except milk or blood (or other high-protein or iron-rich fluids), which feed the bacteria and increase its effect on the wielder. (Wielder can now spend Health or Stability on any test improved by the Hand; the Stability test to resist its predator confidence is now Difficulty 4+F and costs F+2 Stability if failed.)

Fraudulent: The hand may have been mummified by actual thieves, or by a homeowner superstitiously trying to guard his cottage from thieves, or by a local antiquary who wanted his name in the paper, but it doesn’t have magic powers.

Connections: The formula for a true Hand of Glory might appear in Le Dragon Noir (DH, p. 273), or in another grimoire owned or coveted by the Bookseller (DH, p. 106). A true Hand makes an ideal target (or resource) for the Caldwell Foundation (DH, p. 160), Extraordinary Objects Department (DH, p. 161), or for the Psychic (DH, p. 96), Enigmatic Monsignor (DH, p. 114), or Online Mystic (DH, p. 126). As an early modern magician, Elizabeth Báthory (DH, p. 63) or her assets (DH, p. 135) may make use of the things. If the Sniper (DH, p. 131) has one, that could explain her ability to come and go from her hits; if Edom has one, it’s part of Pearl’s (DH, p. 52) kit. If Edom uses Minor Artifact Hands as standard field issue, that might put an intriguing spin on the origin of the term Lamplighter (DH, p. 123). In the latter case, if Pearl doesn’t keep tight hold of the stock, a Hand may turn up at Carfax (DH, p. 185) or buried inside the wall at the thieves’ target Coldfall House (DH, p. 188).

 

In Bram Stoker’s original Notes for Dracula, we find the following cryptic line:

Lawyer – (Sortes Virgilianae) conveyance of body

Stoker originally thought perhaps the “lawyer” character Peter Hawkins, mostly written out of the book, would perform the sortes Virgilianae, literally the “Virgilian lots,” to find out how his new client would work out. Both pagan Romans (who thought poets divinely inspired) and medieval and early modern Christians (who found a prophecy of Jesus in Virgil’s fourth Eclogue) considered Virgil a prophet. The sortes Virgilianae thus refers to a form of bibliomancy in which the querent randomly opens a copy of Virgil’s Aeneid (or sometimes the complete works of Virgil) to receive prophetic guidance on some venture.

Sortes Virgilianae Virgilianae *INCEPTION sound*
Sortes Virgilianae Virgilianae *INCEPTION sound*

The “conveyance of body” seems like Stoker’s legalistic joke on the dual meaning of “conveyance”: both transportation and transfer of property rights. Anyhow, the phrase points us at Book VI; line 530 of the Aeneid (Dryden’s translation):

“My boat conveys no living bodies o’er”

Which pretty neatly prefigures the doomed Demeter’s voyage from Whitby, which is why I put it right back in Dracula Unredacted.

Later on in the Notes, Stoker suggests maybe Harker performs sortes Virgilianae in Dracula’s library, or discovers that Dracula has been using this medieval magic system, or perhaps Seward does it while feeling blue and neurotic. Eventually Stoker tossed the whole idea. But you don’t have to!

The Bibliomancy Option

Either in your Dracula Dossier game or in a Bookhounds of London campaign it can be creepy fun to introduce a bibliomantic element. The trick, of course, is to pre-load the prophecy. Go to one of the many searchable Aeneids on the Internet and search for the thing you want to show up in the next session.

Gutenberg has the whole poem on one page, and you can search for word fragments (searching on “blood” finds “bloody”); Bartleby has line numbers if you value such things or want to add a numbers-code feeling, but the poem pages are broken up by books so you can use only whole-word searches from the main page.

Or genuinely randomize it: Roll a d12 to select the Book and then a d2000 (d20, d100) to pick the Line (count a 20 result on the d20 as 0). In Dryden’s translation, no Book is longer than 1400 lines, so prepare to re-roll that first die a lot. If you’re more digitally minded, John Clayton’s Two random lines from Virgil does just that, but does not yet support a search.

Then, when the characters decide to sort out a sortilege, you can spring the right creepy line on them. Or, you can read the whole poem looking for naturally awesome couplets like this (Book II; lines 212-213):

“Reveal the secrets of the guilty state,
And justly punish whom I justly hate!”

And then come up with a neat scene that tag can retrospectively be seen to have predicted. Characters that bring about or otherwise invoke that prophecy can claim an Achievement-style 3-point refresh, if you’re feeling generous.

The following perhaps-magic item can appear in either sort of campaign, but it’s written up for the Dracula Dossier.

Hawkins’ Aeneid

Appearance: An copy of Virgil’s Aeneid, in Latin and Dryden’s English translation, on facing pages, with numbered lines. Octavo, bound in pale yellow buckram, published by “Faelix Press, London, 1864.” It gives every appearance of heavy use; many pages are marked with pinpricks or brownish ink checks. It is autographed on the frontispiece, “From C. to ‘Mr. P.H., the onlie begetter.’”

Supposed History: This was the copy of the Aeneid used by Peter Hawkins to cast the sortes Virgilianae during the 1894 operation. Art History suggests the inscription is a literary joke, after the dedication of Shakespeare’s Sonnets to “Mr. W.H., the onlie begetter.” The inscription implies that “P.H.” created Edom, and hints that his real initials are W.H. “C.” might be “Cyprian” Bridge, Director of Naval Intelligence, or the not yet officially on the clandestine books Captain Mansfield Smith-Cumming, or someone else entirely.

Major Item: The book allows the accurate casting of sortes Virgilianae, with a proper knife (the Jeweled Dagger (p. XX) or something from the Knife Set (p. XX) perhaps). Riffling through the book and striking a page at random reveals a line or two of Virgil that provide prophetic insight or warning into (usually) the next session’s events. (This lets the Director think a little about how best to work the prophecy in.) During that session, each forewarned agent gains 1 pool point that can be assigned retroactively to either Sense Trouble or Preparedness.

Minor Item: This is indeed Hawkins’ desk copy of Virgil, but it only provides possible leads to Hawkins’ identity or that of his mysterious supervisors in the murky prehistory of British intelligence. Whether either clue points to the current “D” or anywhere else in Edom is up to the Director.

Fraudulent: It’s an authentic 1864 edition of Virgil, but has no connection to Hawkins or to Edom.

Connections: Could turn up in the library at Ring (p. XX) or the Korea Club (p. XX), in the Exeter house (p. XX), or if meant as a clue to the real “Hawkins,” on a dead GMC, with his finger pointing to lines 870-871 of Book II:

“Make haste to save the poor remaining crew,
And give this useless corpse a long adieu.”

Player handouts for Bookhounds of London

These rumours are player knowledge: the sorts of things eager Book-Hounds are likely to hear as they wander the streets, drink a pint in the pubs, and gossip with their cronies and rivals. Their degree of truth, and their potential for danger and profit, remain in the Keeper’s hands until the Book-Hounds follow the scent to its source.

We reproduce them here as handouts to be distributed to your players. Give each Book-Hound his own “turf” worth of rumours, or let the whole party know “the word on the street” everywhere from Hammersmith to Hockney. Black out rumours you really don’t want to follow up on, and write in new ones you really do. Feel free to add more rumours as you think of them, or as your own research into London (or grimoires, or Arthur Machen, or anything else cool) turns up story hooks.

See p. 92 under “Player-Driven Adventures,” “Plot Hooks,” for how you can use these rumours to generate scenes, and eventually plot spines and whole scenarios.

The rumours can be downloaded from here.

 

Bookhounds of London offers three different kind of campaign settings: Arabesque, Technicolor and Sordid. This time out I’m going to go Sordid, and discuss the crime of murder.

Murder was an obsession of the Thirties. People read about them all the time – Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers made their careers out of murder – but apart from the fictional variety there were plenty of real killings to occupy headlines. Men like Doctor Crippen, who killed for money and finally fled, bloody-handed, with his lover Ethel le Neve, only to be caught on the SS Montrose while fleeing to Quebec. Or Doctor Buck Ruxton, who bludgeoned his wife and her maid, cut up the bodies, and then lied and said she’d left him. Then there’s Alfred Rouse, the blazing car killer who picked up a hitchhiker and set him on fire in an attempt to disguise Rouse’s own disappearance. Or Nurse Hopton of Gloucester, the poisoner, and any number of trunks with torsos – and other parts – shipped off to railway stations, the better to delay identification.

And when the murderer was safely arrested, there were other murderous celebrities to occupy people’s attention. Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the famous British pathologist who worked on so many bodies, was always news. Detective Chief Superintendent Edward Greeno was making a name for himself collaring some of the most notorious criminals of the age, as was Fabian of the Yard, aka Superintendent Robert Fabian whose memoirs became fodder for a BBC series in the 1950s.

We sometimes forget this, but the reason why writers like Sayers and Christie could make a living from writing crime novels was that their contemporaries were utterly obsessed with crime. It was what they saw every day in the news, which brought them stories of people – it might be your next-door neighbor – who’d sliced up their spouses, or been sliced up themselves. The criminals and those who caught them, all celebrities, clamored for attention every day. Then of course there were the trials, with their attendant photographers, reports, juicy transcripts full of gossip-fodder, and so on and on.

A truly Sordid campaign has to include murder. The Sordid London is the London of “prostitution, drugs, poverty, desperation, extortion, and cruelty”, as the rulebook puts it, and you can’t conceive of that kind of London without there being murders every day. Not the kind of killings that wind up in the comfortable stately homes of old England either; no, these are the brides in the acid bath, the abortionists with dead children in the basement, the elderly beaten to death for their jewellery and whatever cash can be looted from their bank accounts. These are the stories that will be on the front page of every newspaper, with the photo supplements that helpfully point out exactly where the body was found.

But how to introduce these murderers to the campaign? Well, there are at least two options. First, as background noise. If the Keeper is going to present a living world for the players to inhabit, that means there’s going to be a lot of things going on around them which they’re aware of, but do not necessarily directly affect the game. Income tax will be going up, up, up, for a start, and there will be rumblings of trouble in Europe. Yet another Council for Peace will try to persuade everyone to disarm or to compromise on war reparations, and be rudely told where to stick the notion. There will be roadworks and gas explosions, advertising campaigns and sermons. No doubt the Duke of Windsor is in the news again, as he and Wallis Simpson hob-nob with Hitler. All of these things will be going on all the time, and if the Keeper uses this as background then the players ought to be reminded of it all the time. Extra, extra, read all about it, the newsboys call, or perhaps the BBC drones on in their offices during the off hours. It can be something to mention at the beginning of a scene, or as part of an important moment.

Say for instance that the character is due to find something in the newspaper. Well in that event it isn’t just a newspaper, it can be something like: ‘buried on page 12, underneath a photo array showing exactly where the Battersea Torso Killer hacked up his victim, you find …’ Or alternatively something like ‘the radio announcer is describing the crowd outside Birmingham Prison, where baby killer Victor Parsons is about to be hung, as the jingle of the doorbell announces the entry of a customer.’ Yes, it’s flavor text; but it’s text of a very deliberate sort, intended to reinforce the style of campaign you intend to play.

The other way is to make the killer a customer. There are any number of chemically or medically inclined murderers of the Twenties and Thirties. Aside from the doctors and nurses there’s people like Rouse, trying to use modern methods to disguise their crimes, and Haigh wasn’t the first acid bath killer by any stretch. People like that are going to have disposable income and a desire to spend it. Some of them, no doubt, will want books. They may not be particularly interested in Mythos tomes, of course, but that does not matter. What does matter is their usefulness as NPCs, either by supplying knowledge or services that the characters do not themselves possess, or by providing a non-Mythos hook to a horror-themed scenario.

Consider:

Ethel Pratt

Abilities: Athletics 4, Biology 1, Bargain 4, Credit Rating 1-4 (varies), Chemistry 3, Flattery 3, Filch 6, Health 8, Law 1, Medicine 1, Oral History 3, Preparedness 6, Reassurance 4, Scuffling 9, Weapons 4

Damage: -2 (fist, kick), -1 (knife)

Special: dose of arsenic always handy by (nausea, vomiting, convulsions, coma, death); Health Difficulty 7 or suffer +1 damage for 4 rounds. There would be no treatment in the Thirties for severe arsenic poisoning.

Occupation: Lady’s Maid

Three Things: Perpetually shocked at the wickedness of the world; addicted to thrillers and crime novels of all kinds including true crime accounts; odd chemical odor seems to follow her wherever she goes.

Notes: Ethel is the guiding mind in the Pratt partnership; Mister Pratt, a habitual drunkard, is either in her good graces and therefore allowed to come near her, or driven off with curses and blows if not. Mister Pratt was once a butler in a great household, but his addiction put paid to that and all other forms of permanent employment. Ethel moves from employer to employer every six months to a year, and usually has excellent references. Some of her employers – old Miss Willets, crumbling Miss Jefferson, aged and deaf Mrs Fowlkes-Willoughby – went missing soon after Ethel went into service with them, but in each case the old ladies were without family or friends and their disappearance went unremarked. As far as the neighbors are concerned they went abroad for the good of their health, on doctor’s orders, and their loyal, helpful maid kindly stayed behind to lock the houses up. They’ve stayed locked up ever since. Were the police to check Mister Pratt’s tumbledown East End dwelling, particularly the acid-flecked drains in the yard, they would find something greatly to their interest. Ethel’s fortunes seem to flourish and die remarkably quickly; for a brief time she is flush, and goes to all the best places, but soon afterwards is stony and looking for another job. Ethel picked up some of her knowledge from her experiences as a nurse during the War, and the rest from books. She’s always keen to add to her body of knowledge, and never fails to pick up the latest crime novel.

See also: Ephemera

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