In the latest episode of their high-rolling podcast, Ken and Robin talk Vegas 68, writing dramatic scenes, pad thai politics & saving both Garfield and his assassin.

HC_Wendigo_350“In spite of his exceeding mental perturbation, Simpson struggled hard to detect its nature, and define it …” Cannibal spirit or arctic ogre? Wind-walking demigod or folie a faim? Hunt the Wendigo down — or up into the skies, where mad auroras roll.

Hideous Creatures: Wendigo is the fifth installment of the third Ken Writes About Stuff subscription and is now available to subscribers – it will be available to buy in the webstore in August. If you have subscribed to the third KWAS subscription, Hideous Creatures: Wendigo is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).

Stock #: PELH32D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Amanda Makepeace
Pages: 11pg PDF

Well, it’s almost that time, the turning of the Ken Writes About Stuff volume year. If you’ve been a subscriber in the past, many thanks for your support. If you’re a subscriber in the future, future thanks — the first issue of KWAS Volume Three is Hideous Creatures: Tcho-Tchos, which you should get by April 1. (The “bonus content” for KWAS Volume Two subscribers, Foul Congeries 2, is coming after we get Dracula properly staked and in his coffin.) I didn’t have the word count in that issue to cover all the possible varietals of Tcho-Tcho, so here’s another shoot from that dubious vine.

In his 1931 novella “The Horror From the Hills,” Frank Belknap Long mentions a tribe of abominable (and amphibian) dwarves who worship Chaugnar Faugn on the hideous Plateau of Tsang in Tibet, implying their descent from the “Miri Nigri,” a black, stunted tribe of the Pyrenees dreamed up (literally!) by H.P. Lovecraft. I believe it was William Barton (in his Call of Cthulhu adventure “The Curse of Chaugnar Faugn”) who decided that Lovecraft and Long’s black, “squinty-eyed” tribe and Derleth’s Tcho-Tchos were one and the same people, at opposite ends of their migration, in a sort of conservation of cannibal pygmies principle.

If we take, for the time being, this insight as useful, what we need to go looking for is some indication of the Tcho-Tchos among the peoples of the Pyrenees. Millennia before Lovecraft’s beloved Indo-Europeans got to the western edge of Europe, those hills were home to the Basques, whose antiquity can be judged by the Basque saying: “God made man out of bones from a Basque graveyard.” And what do we find up in the Pyreneean hills, shunned by even those ancient folk, but an even more obscure people called the Cagots — a word multiply etymologized, often from gahets meaning “lepers,” although I like cas Got or “dogs of the Goths” best, as having that inhuman touch we need for our Tcho-Tchos. The Cagots were shunned and persecuted by their Basque and other neighbors for reasons nobody seemed to be able to articulate (although they were accused of being Cathars 300 years after the fact).

Elizabeth Gaskell of all people wrote an essay on the Cagots, enthrallingly titled “An Accursed Race,” from which we learn wondrous facts like the Cagots’ reputation for sorcery and alarming body heat (even withering apples by their touch), their reputed cannibalism and tainted smell, and the near-universal prohibition on allowing the Cagots to drink from town water supplies or even use the same holy water fonts in the churches — which Cagots had to enter through special, lower doors. They also had to wear a red duck-foot symbol, or even the webbed foot of an actual duck. The laws in some towns forcing the Cagots to remain shod at all times likewise imply their webbed or inhuman feet, and perhaps more Deep One ancestry than Tcho-Tcho, although there’s no reason not to link Cthulhu and Zhar-Lloigor, for instance. As a point in our favor here, I’ll mention that the suggestive Basque word txoko means both “cuttlefish” and “angle,” which gets us not just Cthulhu but Lloigor, the Many-Angled One. Similarly, the Cagots’ cultural role as woodworkers and carpenters might tie them to Shub-Niggurath cultism.

The best thing about the Cagots, from a Tcho-Tcho adventure design utility standpoint anyhow, is that they can infiltrate Basque, Spanish, and French populations and from thence travel to America in the 15th century. (Basque sailors served with Columbus, and Basque fishermen almost certainly found Newfoundland’s Grand Banks by 1475 and just didn’t say anything about it. While I’m inside this parenthesis, Basque whalers traded with the Greenland Inuit in the 17th century, another possible Cthulhuvian cult connection.) You can thus put Cagot-Tcho-Tcho (Tchogot?) clans in Quebec, Boston, and Boise, Idaho (home to the largest Basque population in the U.S.). They’re also pretty unmistakably white (indeed sometimes described as pale compared to their Basque neighbors), which can take some of the sting off the Tcho-Tchos’ “yellow peril” origins.

True, the Cagots are sometimes described as taller than average — although those little doors might indicate otherwise — but I think we can let that pass. They’re also described as red-haired and bristly-haired, as sickly and as stocky, as dark and as grey-eyed, as thin-fingered and as thick-footed. This only shows the Tcho-Tcho tendency to blend in, or the truly amphibian nature of their Miri-Nigri DNA. The only true test of the Cagot (besides the tainted aura and the “invisible leprosy” they carry) is this: Their ears are “differently shaped from those of other people; being round and gristly, without the lobe of flesh into which the ear-ring is inserted.” The Comtes de Bleuville in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (born without earlobes, as Blofeld discovers) are thus exposed as ancestral Tcho-Tchos — and if Blofeld’s imposture bears even a hint of truth, perhaps the next Tcho-Tcho villain in your campaign can run a network of master criminals from a hidden modernist fortress while petting a white (Saturnian?) cat.

In the latest episode of their revelatory podcast, Ken and Robin talk F20 entheogens, Rahm’s run-off, status quo first acts, and Goetia.

In the latest episode of their ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and Robin talk School of Night, whiskey war, scene transitions, and the Illuminati hotel room.

I know what you come here for. For Dracula or Cthulhu or in some cases both. So that’s why this month we’re going to give you a different kind of both. Yes, it’s time for that Moon Dust MenSchool of Night crossover that you demanded! Maybe not you, specifically. Maybe just Michael Grasso. But anyhow, settle in for the amorphously-demanded thriller skeleton to Celestial Spheres, or, The Immanence of the Holy Sputnik. As an added bonus, this is what a Ken-designed scenario looks like before I run it the first time.

Part One: Moon Dust Men: Right Around Now

Hook: The Moon Dust Men get spotty telemetry on an incoming object with a spherical radar reflection, heading for the Tyrrhenian Sea near Elba. A quick stage to an American aircraft carrier in the Med, a hop to Elba, and they’re ready for recovery duty.

Wakeup: A Soviet submarine is on site, with a team competing for the object. Perhaps it’s their opposite numbers in Setka-MO!

The First Reveal: The Moon Dust Men defeat the Soviets and recover the object, which is a surprisingly intact — almost as though the object didn’t actually fall through most of the atmosphere — replica of Sputnik 1, which supposedly burned up in orbit in 1958. Weirder yet, it has a large-caliber (.60) bullet hole in its lower quadrant. (Possibly, the metal of the object doesn’t quite match the original: iridium instead of titanium, that kind of thing. Or not.)

Blowback: A KGB “Blue Star” psychic heads up a team of Directorate 13 wet-workers to ice the Moon Dust Men and take the sphere back. This is not normal procedure: the Soviets must really want this thing. Perhaps the Russians even get it back, though not without leaving some clues behind.

The Twist: Further investigation (dying words of the psychic, ticket stub found in the KGB safe house, Ufology spend, Interpersonal ability with a lovely guest-star art historian) leads the Moon Dust Men to nearby Montalcino, Italy, where they discover “The Disputation of the Eucharist,” by Ventura Salimbieni. Painted between 1595 and 1600.

Part Two: School of Night: Sphaeris ex Caelis

Hook: The Night Scholars hear that the Jesuits in England have begun communicating with a “sphere from heaven” and receiving their marching orders through it. This presents a clear and present danger to the realm!

Curtain: Art History notes that the “celestial sphere” or “sphere of heaven” is a common motif in Renaissance art, indicating God’s control of, and complete knowledge of, the world. Often God (or sometimes Christ) are shown with slender scepters to control it with. No sightings of this “sphere” in England can be found.

Wakeup: The Jesuit network pushes back, sending bravos and pursuivants after the Night Scholars. They seem oddly able to predict where the Night Scholars will be.

The First Reveal: Having found the Jesuit mastermind by serially defeating his minions, the Night Scholars ransack his lodgings (either after killing him or after his amazingly lucky hairs-breadth escape) and find one of the slender scepters. It shortens in upon itself in an ingenious way that not even Thomas Hariot knows will be called “telescoping” in 200 years. This scepter provides magical connection enough to try summoning the sphere of heaven to see what blasphemy the Jesuits are dealing in.

The Twist: The summoning works, in a way — but the sphere is both more and less horrible than the Scholars imagined. It floats of its own and beetles into their minds. It seems to have an inhuman intelligence behind it, revealing uncanny future visions to them — although it addresses them in Russian! During the ceremony, it seems weirdly able to pass the magical barriers around it, vanishing only after a pistol shot wounds it.

Part Three: Epi-Logos?

The Moon Dust Men are left with an enigma. They can further investigate the possibility of the time vortex or rift that sent Sputnik back to 1595 and forward again to 1979. Is that the only Sputnik duplicate out there? Did the Soviets get time-travel telemetry in 1958 from Sputnik 1 and now need only a third data set to triangulate it and develop temporal technology themselves? Are there temporal aliens among us? (If the sphere’s metal was different, perhaps they built a duplicate Sputnik of their own and sent it back as a message.) The GM can introduce plenty of weird time-slip stuff to indicate that the sphere has opened a bit of a wound in reality by coming through — something like a bullet-hole in reality’s lower quadrant, perhaps.

The Night Scholars may never know what they’ve stopped, or they may start seeing other strange mechanical devices and lights in the sky infest their world. The artistic community discovers Salimbieni’s sketches when he makes them in 1595, and they reach the Scholars — perhaps a trip to Italy is in order? Salimbieni is closely tied to the powerful Cardinal Bevilacqua and the Knights of the Golden Spur, the pope’s mysterious Golden Militia selected from artists, courtiers, and soldiers alike — is this the opposite number to the School in the Vatican? Many threads lead off this tapestry.

It’s up to the GM whether the Sputnik time-loop is a one-off mystery or the opening gun of a new series arc for either campaign. Perhaps the links continue — did Anthony Blunt (royal art historian and KGB spy) send the Soviets the secret artistic keys to time travel or demonic prophecy or both? He’s still in Britain in the 1970s after his secret confession in 1966 — perhaps the Moon Dust Men can break him down and get him to reveal the real truth.


VeveI have been “into” voodoo — the magical belief system, as distinct from Vodou, the religion — for decades now. I’ve got a shelf of books on voodoo that’s even long for one of my shelves. Macumba, obeah, palo, the whole shouting match. I’ve even got Michael Bertiaux’ Voudon Gnostic Workbook, which is even zanier than that title intimates. (It came out of a group of pre-Thelemite (and post-Crowleian) Golden Dawn-inspired voodoo theosophists right here in Hyde Park called the Monastery of the Seven Rays. My kind of town.) Of course, voodoo and Vodou (and Shango, and Santeria, and Candomble, and Umbanda, and 21 Divisiones, and …) are mighty intertwined, so onto that shelf go more books on the religion and its confreres from New Orleans to Rio de Janeiro. Plus On Stranger Tides is a hell of a novel.

I’ve run at least four separate campaigns featuring voodoo as a central theme. Yes, one of them was a straight ripoff of On Stranger Tides. Don’t judge me.

All of which is to say that I might have been a little ambitious, thinking I could fit all of that into one issue of Ken Writes About Stuff.

When last Simon and I chatted, I mentioned that I was about 8,000 words into this month’s issue of KWAS with no end in sight. A normal issue of KWAS is around 5,000 words. And then he uttered the words that only a bold and surefooted publisher who really wants to put this month’s issue of KWAS to bed can utter: “Is there a way to make this a two-issue series?”

The answer, my friends, was “Yes.”

Thanks to a fortuitous outline, the issue already split neatly between the magic system — which can be played “as is” with only your foggy memories of Live and Let Die and your lovingly dogeared copy of On Stranger Tides to guide you — and the Invisibles section, the writeups on the demigods themselves. That section, featuring lots of lovely loa just waiting to ride you and reveal things and give you superpowers and nightmares, can now expand to a better length, meaning more loa (or orisha, or orixa, or misterios, I’m not picky) for you. That issue can even stand on its own, if you just want to add flavor to another game with magic rules or thrust your Investigators into Haitian mythology or the New Orleans underworld (literally). But together, well, they do voodoo.

So what was the May 2014 issue of Ken Writes About Stuff, GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo, is now the May and June 2014 issues of Ken Writes About Stuff. Each one rather longer than an average single issue, to boot. Three issues in two! Specifically, and to wit:

  • May 2014: GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo 1: Magic. The first of a new series of GUMSHOE Zooms looking at historical magic traditions — and giving you the tools and rules to evoke these puissant powers in your own game! This first issue in a two-issue series examines sympathetic magic and zombies, and Zooms in on the Afro-Caribbean magical-religious complex encompassing Vodoun, Candomble, Santeria, Obeah, and Palo Mayombe. The loa ride in May!
  • June 2014: GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo 2: The Invisibles. The Invisibles, more than spirits and a little less than gods, can fit inside stones, trees, and their servitors’ heads — but not into just one issue of KWAS! Whether you call them Loa or Orisha, these mighty beings demand your attention and your sacrifice, but give you hidden knowledge and awaken your interior fires. This second issue of our two-issue Voodoo series gives you plenty of Invisibles to summon, battle, invoke, and ally with whether you’re hunting Dagon in Haiti or rogue programs on your starship.

All the other issues will stay the same, just pushed back an extra month. So now Hideous Creatures: Lloigor, for example, will be the September 2014 issue.

But lesson learned. The upcoming (early 2015?) GUMSHOE Zoom: Goëtia will be short, compact, and stay inside its pentacle. Just like medieval Christian demonology did. Maybe I should get some more books on the topic just to make sure.

Horror in the Museum_FinalI didn’t take any advanced statistics courses in college, so that title may not be precisely accurate.

Survey, survey. Oh, yes. Simon sent out a survey to all the current subscribers of Ken Writes About Stuff, upon whom may blessings shower without sensible restraint. We got about 180 responses back, which is a pretty good percentage, I’m told. Almost all of the respondents play both Night’s Black Agents and Trail of Cthulhu, which is very gratifying to me — and we have a good spread of all the other Pelgrane games as well. (About half of them are playing TimeWatch … perhaps it may not just be a game!!) In short, you guys seem to be pretty devoted Pelgrane players, which makes me feel much better about doing GUMSHOE Zooms going forward.

That said, only a third of the respondents rated the GUMSHOE Zooms so far a ‘4’ on a scale of 1 to 4 for enjoyment and usability, although another 40% or so gave them a ‘3’. So we need to tweak them a bit, apparently.

In happier news, better than 77% of the respondents rated my Mythos monster series Hideous Creatures a ‘4’ on a scale of 1 to 4 for enjoyment and usability. (Almost everyone else rated it a ‘3’.) So that’s golden.

See how this works? You respond, I carve this block of electronic marble in front of me a little closer to the PDF elephant you truly want. That’s how this works.

Of the eight mostly random suggestions Simon offered, we got the strongest response for more Looking Glass pieces (top four answers!), although each of them could also be read as “campaign frame” settings. (The settings got about 60% of you up to ‘4’; a little stronger than the pure Looking Glass: Mumbai did.) So you like campaign ideas, probably in cities. It’s not a perfect science, and did I mention I only took basic stat?

And we got some lovely responses and specific requests — I only wish I could fulfill them all! Lots of people wanting settings, which tends to reinforce my previous deduction. One really good suggestion for a new “Ken’s Time Machine” type issue, about possible counterfactuals, what-ifs, or historical enigmas — once TimeWatch gets up to speed, I may try to construct something along those lines. The first of those might happen later this year. We had a number of completely fair and understandable requests for more SF-focused KWAS material to support Ashen Stars and Gaean Reach games.

And my favorite response, which I saw a gratifying number of times: “Whatever Ken wants.” As the man says in Joe vs. the Volcano, “Sir, may you live to be a thousand.”

So taking all of those responses — including the last one, ho ho — into account, here’s what the first half of Ken Writes About Stuff, Volume 2, is shaping up to look like:


April 2014: Hideous Creatures: Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath. “Worlds of sardonic actuality impinging on vortices of febrile dream – Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young!” Are they nameless horrors or numbered servitors, Druidic nightmares or ab-natural abominations? Where do they grow, and on what loathsome food do they thrive? Follow them to Hell and Hydra, or to Mormo and Monsanto.

May 2014: GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo. The first of a new series of GUMSHOE Zooms looking at historical magic traditions — and giving you the tools and rules to evoke these puissant powers in your own game! This one examines sympathetic magic and zombies, and Zooms in on the Afro-Caribbean magical-religious complex encompassing Vodoun, Candomble, Santeria, Obeah, and Hoodoo. The loa ride in May!

June 2014: Hideous Creatures: Serpent Folk. “The features mingled and merged in a seemingly impossible manner. Then, like a fading mask of fog, the face suddenly vanished and in its stead gaped and leered a monstrous serpent’s head!” They built Valusia before the dinosaurs, and lurk behind half mankind’s darkest cults. Are they extra-dimensional, extra-terrestrial, or just extra venomous? You won’t fool the Children of Yig, in any skin they wear.

July 2014: Exo-Archaeology! “No other ancient city on Mars had been laid out in that manner; and the strange, many-terraced buttresses of the thick walls, like the stairways of forgotten Anakim, were peculiar to the prehistoric race that had built Yoh-Vombis.” From the Face on Mars to Precursor artifacts orbiting dead quasars, the mysteries of space aren’t all astrophysical. For some answers, you have to dig. Ruins — of cities, starships, and planets — hold danger and horror, riches and knowledge. What a lost species or a cunning GM can build, bold exo-archaeologists and their players can uncover.

August 2014: Hideous Creatures: Lloigor. “You make the usual mistake — of thinking of them as being like ourselves. They weren’t.” God or monster? Species or phenomenon? Dragon or disc — or discontinuity? Invisible, invulnerable, inexplicable — the vile vortices of the lloigor encompass all and care for nought.

September 2014: The School of Night. “Black is the badge of Hell; the hue of dungeons and the School of Night.” Queen Elizabeth’s realm lies vulnerable, not just to the Spanish or the plague, but to occult forces perhaps more dangerous than either. You study those forces at the risk of torture — at the risk of your soul — but you must hold them at bay or see England destroyed. This GUMSHOE campaign frame sets the PCs on the stage with John Dee, Christopher Marlowe, and Sir Walter Raleigh … and perhaps with traitors in their ranks.


As always, every Ken Writes About Stuff issue will be available as a single-PDF purchase — but you save more when you subscribe for the year! Shakespeare and Shub-Niggurath, Baron Cimetière and barren planets, serpents and … er, ghosty uncaring cancerous serpents — they’re all waiting to play with you!


HC Star_Vampires-1

“The human blood on which it had fed revealed the hitherto invisible outlines of the feaster.” Invisible outlines that shall be expanded upon, extended even, into all sorts of dimensions. Are they summoned demons or feral predators? Are they kindred or competitors to Colin Wilson’s Space Vampires? Herein we trace the Shambler From the Stars, with bonus Night’s Black Agents statistics and a scenario seed.

These loathsome, hovering things are normally invisible, their presence signaled only by a sort of ghoulish tittering. A star vampire is roughly ovoid, a pendulous stomach surrounded by tentacles, each tipped with needle-toothed suckers. Two cartilaginous stalks hold razor-sharp talons, with which it grasps and slashes open its prey. It then maneuvers its large central mouth to drink the spurting gore. As a star vampire feeds, the blood it drinks or splashes on itself remains visible, revealing the form of the bloated obscenity.

Hideous Creatures: Star Vampires includes:

  • Two unique scenario seeds: We Can Dismember It For You Wholesale, and The Unteleported Monster
  • Night’s Black Agents scenario: Zvezdy Vampir, the Shambler from the Tsars, with GUMSHOE statistics
  • Keeper clues for every GUMSHOE investigative ability
  • Five mythic echoes from across the world
  • Sixteen Star Vampires variations
  • And new powers, like Interstellar Cold, Yearling, and more, with GUMSHOE statistics

Praise for Hideous Creatures:

“a brief injection of Hite-ian awesome … they’re just about the right length to digest in a single sitting, and full of amazing ideas that will make anyone’s game into a flavourful occult gumbo.”High Trust, High Drama Blog

“I consider this series a wake-up call to the lacklustre, to remind them tales of the Mythos, using whatever system, should instill uneasiness, upset and fear. Grasp the potential of the unearthly and inhuman…” Paul Baldowski

Hideous Creatures: Star Vampires is the eleventh installment of Ken Writes About Stuff Volume 1, or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store.

Stock #: PELH12D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Jeff Porter Pages: 11pg PDF


Mind Control_350

GUMSHOE Zoom: Mind Control

You are growing very interested.

This is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful GUMSHOE Zoom I’ve ever known in my life. Presenting detailed rules for brainwashing, memetics, telecontrol, and brain hacking, and for gear from the Microwave Auditory Effect gun to subliminal flashers to tinfoil hats, it brings the fight inside your head.

The GUMSHOE Zoom: Mind Control is intended to model the sorts of stories in which mind control – and especially the contest in and over human minds – takes center stage. This might be a single novel such as George du Maurier’s Trilby or Dan Simmons’ Carrion Comfort, or a film like Scanners, Push, Inception, Videodrome, or Invaders from Mars. Mind control is a powerful, core trope in science fiction, fantasy, and horror; specific aliens, wizards, or monsters might use these rules even if the player characters aren’t psionic. Individual mind-controllers might be malevolent, like Dracula or Rasputin, or heroic, like Dr. Xavier or Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Hite introduces the Mental Battlefield system, presenting a single mind as the battlespace. With this system, the host mind struggles against the invading mind (or minds) through the Superego, Ego, and the Id. Full GUMSHOE statistics included.

It’s usable in any GUMSHOE setting, and includes styles for Trail of Cthulhu, Ashen Stars, Gaean Reach, Fear Itself, Night’s Black Agents and Esoterrorists.

Praise for Ken Writes About Stuff:

The content of KWAS is top-notch, as one would expect from a RPG luminary like Kenneth Hite” – Daniel D.

 brief injection of Hite-ian awesome … they’re just about the right length to digest in a single sitting, and full of amazing ideas that will make anyone’s game into a flavourful occult gumbo” – Bill Templeton

GUMSHOE Zoom: Mind Control is the tenth installment of Ken Writes About Stuff Volume 1, or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store.

What is a GUMSHOE Zoom?

Not everything can support a game of its own, or even a big sourcebook. For those things, we present the GUMSHOE Zoom, a sort of supplement focused on a key game mechanic and its possible applications. In general, Zooms are interesting potential hacks, or intriguing adaptations of the main rules. Some apply to one specific topic or sub-sub-genre. Others cross all manner of GUMSHOE turf; you can slot them in and adapt them to tales of Cthulhuoid investigation, mean superpowered streets, or alien colonies alike.

Zooms are experimental. That does mean that they haven’t been playtested, necessarily. (If something in here is really really broken – and it’s not, as this ain’t our first rodeo – we’ll fix it in post.) But that also means we encourage you to experiment with them. Changing the cost, or prerequisites, or point effect, or other mechanical parameters of a given Zoom changes how often it shows up and how much drama it drives. The dials are in your hands.

Zooms will change the focus of your play if you use them. Putting a mechanic on the table puts it into your game. Adding a Zoom means more actions, possibly even more scenes, using those rules. Since the Zoom mechanics are intended to encourage specific actions or flavors, to force a card in your storytelling hand, they aren’t “balanced” against “normal” actions or rules. In general, if you don’t want to see more of it, don’t Zoom in on it.

Zooms are optional rules. You can and should ignore them if you don’t want them, or change them at will. After all, if a given Zoom turns out to be crucial to an upcoming GUMSHOE game, we’ll change it to fit that specific genre or form of storytelling.


Stock #: PELH11D Author: Kenneth Hite
Artist: Jérôme Huguenin Pages: 12pg PDF


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