Halloween is drawing near, and you might be looking for appropriately spooky games to run for your players. Here’s a quick roundup of seven Pelgrane Press games and adventures that might fit the bill:

  • Night’s Black Agents by Kenneth Hite – The designer of this mashup of the spy thriller and horror genres describes it as “The Bourne Identity, if Treadstone were vampires.” The Zalozhniy Quartet by Gareth Hanrahan is a Bourne-style Night’s Black Agents run-and-gun adventure in four parts that can be played in any order.
  • Ashen Stars by Robin D. Laws  – An ENnie Award-winning science fiction game where the players are freelance troubleshooters and law enforcers in a rough sector called the Bleed. Tartarus is an adventure with a setup that strongly resembles a sequel to a recent SF/horror blockbuster movie: an interstellar corporation hires the players to investigate the disappearance of a survey team  on the notorious Bad Planet of Tartarus.
  • The Book of the Smoke: The Investigator’s Guide to Occult London by Paula Dempsey – 2012 Gold ENnie award winner for Best Writing, this supplement to the horror RPG Trail of Cthulhu takes the form of a guidebook to the actual (if somewhat fictionalized) occult landscape of 1930s London. In addition to being a rich source of horror adventure hooks, the book itself gives readers an opportunity to unravel the mysterious death of its fictional author — though nobody’s succeeded yet.
  • Fear Itself –  A game of psychological horror, where ordinary people face the terrors of the Outer Black.
  • The Esoterrorists – Elite investigators take on occult terrorists bent on tearing open the fabric of reality.
  • The Book of Unremitting Horror  – A supplement for Fear Itself and Esoterrorists that’s so unsettling a reviewer on RPG.net deducted a star from his rating because it crossed too many boundaries. Not for the faint of heart.
  • Invasive Procedures – 2012 ENnie nominee for Best Adventure. In this adventure for Fear Itself and Trail of Cthulhu, players are patients in a hospital where something horrible is happening. There’s no chance to stop it — all they can do is try to get out alive. Listen to an Actual Play session on Role Playing Public Radio in which everyone who played the game died of terror. (Possibly. I haven’t listened to the whole thing, yet.)

Have fun rolling the bones…

By Mike Drew

Given the central position Verity Dyse occupies in the events leading to Augustus Darcy’s death it is odd there is so little about her in the Guide. This article is an attempt to suggest some further background, and a possible timeline, based on the hints given by Darcy.

It is not possible to find any Dyse family in the UK Census forms in the period when Verity would have been born. However the name Dyse  appears as an Anglicisation of the German Deiss. There are members of the Deiss family listed in the 1891 census – especially in Yorkshire. Some parts of Yorkshire grew fat on the wool trade in the nineteenth century so this might be the perfect place for Verity’s upbringing.

The house of Deiss started from humble origins in Switzerland and grew in importance during the medieval period, spreading out from Switzerland into Germany before splitting into various factions and cadet branches. It is possible that Sir Roland’s father came from Germany to Yorkshire at some point in the middle of the nineteenth century and entered the wool trade, breeding sheep in Yorkshire and exporting the wool to Europe using family connections. Roland entered the family business and took advantage of the movement of the Deiss family to the US to expand across the Atlantic. He built the business in power and prestige and received his K. Like a certain Royal House he changed his name during the Great War, in his case to Dyse – the American branches in addition changed their name to Dice.

Verity would have gone to a decent school, not one of the top tier perhaps, but one befitting the daughter of a rich magnate of gentle, albeit foreign, blood. I might posit Bradford Girls’ Grammar, given Bradford’s place in the wool trade of the area. BGGS students were mainly the daughters of professional men and merchant families and it fought hard to have its girls recognised as on a par with boys and to get them into Oxbridge colleges. After school she would have gone to university and I suggest Girton would have the right air of determined attitude for her as well as giving her another element of the right kind of background to attract the well-to-do and thrill seeking of 1930s London.

I must say at this point that I realise this is all total supposition and people are free to disregard it all as unconfirmed and possibly irrelevant but I think it is interesting to attempt to place Verity in her position in society to try to understand how she ended up where she did.

She must have come to London at some point and it is likely this was after Cambridge. She will have met the fast set and found that looks, money and the right sort of background fitted her very well for society. As well as this, her quest for occult knowledge would be much better served with the bookshops and libraries of the capital than those of Bradford or even York. At this point she would have been about 22. My guess is, based on Darcy’s various descriptions of her, that she is in her late 20s, early 30s at most, when he meets her for the first time. She will have been born around the start of the 20th century and her graduation would have been mid-‘20s, probably 1926 given the rest of the timeline.

At some point her reading, her membership of strange societies and her growing knowledge of the City of London make her realise something is wrong. She decides first to investigate and then attempts to make things right, coming rapidly to the conclusion that she needs further help from experts. It is at this point she goes to stay with the Dice family in California to speak to the man who wrote the book on magical cityscapes. She travels to see de Castries.

How would she know of de Castries? The most obvious answer, given her occult interest, is that she owns a copy of Megapolisomancy. If she owns a copy why might she need to see the man himself? De Castries wrote that although paramental forces give great scope for operating at distant times and localities he did not intend to fully record the method of utilising them. In other words his paranoia kept her from the details she needed. She would have to speak to him for those. As well, his destruction of his own book and the deaths of his former circle meant that she would have had trouble finding practitioners to teach her.

Verity must have gone to San Francisco after Ashton Smith as she is not mentioned in his account. I believe she was there in 1928 into 1929, a couple of years after graduating. At this point de Castries was in his paranoid final days, living in hotels and ignoring much human contact. Although Byers’ story does not mention any women in de Castries’ life Klaas does let slip that he thought de Castries occasionally hired a prostitute. This seems very unlikely. He is described as being fanatically loyal to his mistress, the Lady. Perhaps the person who Klaas saw was in fact Verity and similarly Verity was the woman who Hammett saw at de Castries’ funeral. Whilst it would seem that she would be much better known about if she were his pupil it should be remembered that de Castries regularly changed hotel by the end, and that although Klaas and Ricker were the closest thing to friends he had, they were not bosom companions. Dyse could easily have slipped through the cracks. So, what might she have been after? Whilst she could not have taken the Grand Cipher away, as it ends up in the wall of 607 Rhodes, she may have taken advantage of her proximity to make a copy.

After de Castries death in the summer of 1929 she returned to London. It is likely that she began to investigate the City Seal using de Castries’ theories. She must have noticed the Cabbalistic aspect to the City design as well as the diagonal streets – the significance of which was mentioned in Ashton Smith’s journal. This design would have led her naturally to Wren and the Royal Society’s involvement. We know she spends time in the British Museum and could have read the private papers of the Society’s founders and thus discovered Ashmole’s Dee manuscripts. If she came across Enochian workings seemingly linked to the City she will have needed someone’s help interpreting and implementing them. There is of course one man in London capable of formulating a full Enochian working. One man could take old ritual and make it modern and relevant. One man who could fuse together the Cabbalah and Angel magic. One man who we have seen crop up again and again in this investigation. The one and only Great Beast, Edward Alexander ‘Aleister’ Crowley.

Crowley’s movements in the last years of the 20s and first of the 30s are difficult to pin down at best but it does seem likely that he was in London during winter 1929-30 sorting out Mandrake Press before heading off to Berlin. It would be most likely that Verity approached him at this point. Crowley was always happy to indulge those would pay for his drinks. She would have been able to get training in Enochian magic, the Cabbalah and sex magics before he departed. At this point she began gathering her coven and planning her new expanded Seal.

Crowley leaves Germany in June 1932 and for various reasons returns to Britain. He needs to deal with his wife, now in Colney Hatch asylum. He may well have still been involved in intelligence activities. He definitely renewed his acquaintance with Nancy Cunard, and it is not impossible Verity Dyse, at this point. At this stage his fortunes were on a relatively high plane until spring 1934 when he suffered a major setback. He attempted to sue Nina Hammett for libel over her memoir, The Laughing Torso. Unfortunately for him he lost spectacularly and was plunged into bankruptcy and humiliation. This might explain why he and Verity were seen arguing. I wonder if she went to him for help and he rejected her because of his own problems?

Whatever the nature of her relationship with Crowley there is one thing we know she did around this point. She began a campaign to have the Battersea Shield and other artefacts returned to their original resting places in order to gain the benefits of their protection again. Given that the Shield came from the British Museum I would guess that the other artefacts include the Wandsworth Shield and the Waterloo Helmet. These are other votive offerings left at river crossings by Celtic inhabitants of London. Given what we now believe about Byatis and Nodens it is possible that these were put there to defend one side of the river from the other. This all fits with the theory that Dyse was working to re-seal something beneath London and was using any means she could find.

Darcy first meets Dyse at a sherry party, I think in late 1933. She mentions her desire to contact the spirit of John Dee, supposedly to find his treasure. At this point she must have decided that she needed more help. She had consulted two of the greatest living minds in magic and had followed the work of the Royal Society. She had formed a plan using megapolisomancy and Enochian aethyr. This was not enough however. She needed to go back to the original source of the plan. It may be that she told her followers there would be treasure to get them to help her, but I think her real plan was to talk to the genius behind the original Seal. We know that she did attempt the ritual, we can only assume she made contact, and I believe that what she was told led to her move to Blackheath.

The background of Blackheath has been discussed on the Limited thread. As Byatis was worshipped in the City so Nodens was, in the form of the horned god Cernunnos, under the area around Blackheath and Greenwich. When the Romans came they destroyed the worship of both entities and bound them using new temples. Over Greenwich and Blackheath a network of barrows was built using great heroes to guard the rift in death. Cernunnos returned when he was bound to the Keeper Herne at Windsor by the sorcerer Urswick, collecting the first members of his Wild Hunt. He reappeared in 1714 as Herne the Keeper at Greenwich, defiling ancient barrows weakened by remodelling of the Park. Jack Cade apparently worshipped here and offered to take London for the creature in the shadows with his rebellion. The same cavern was later fed by the mystical bridal offering of 19-year old Lucy, after the caverns had been reopened for tourists, and then by the ghoulish proclivities of degenerate pleasure seekers resurrecting dances for Freyr in The Cavern Club. Nodens has been using the weakening of the Seal to feed and regroup awaiting the chance to strike at the old foe Byatis.

Verity Dyse buys her house and sets her followers to digging – ostensibly for treasure but really to disrupt the barrow seal further –  and this is the tunnelling mentioned in the Guide. She returns to Crowley for advice but he has been ruined and refuses to help, leading to their confrontation. Darcy is told by his source that the ritual took place in winter. I would take this to be the winter of 1934. Dyse and her followers take part in a mystical dance ritual (like those to Freya many centuries before) in an effort to summon up the spirit beneath. It comes. Verity is ridden, perhaps fully possessed, but maybe just energised by it. Her quest to save the City now takes a darker twist. She terrifies her followers and hunts down those who oppose her.

Darcy meets up with one of these followers before the young man’s flight to France. This must have worried Verity. She could not risk someone opposing her and likely investigated Darcy futher. Now since the Cipher was broken we know that the Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh was attempting to recruit Darcy. This connection would be all the reason that Dyse/Nodens needed to strike. She could not know how involved he was and could take no risks.

The likelihood is she remembered her old teacher at this point. Megapolisomacy is described as a form of mathematics which can manipulate minds and big buildings – the ‘suicide’ of George Sterling shows the possible ends to which it could be put. Darcy’s death is described as drowning but there is little information on which to go. The thread’s belief is that Darcy committed suicide, driven to leap into the Thames by a powerful working. The Guide was published in November 1935. It will have taken time for Greville to find out about Darcy’s death and then retrieve and polish his manuscript so it is likely that his death was early 1935. With his death Verity believes she is safe to continue her working.

But is it her working? She must at least have been visited by Nodens on Blackheath. Her actions may well fit with Nodens’ desire to see Byatis chained but will the Seal have any effect on Nodens? It is unlikely that humanity will benefit from a fully unleashed god awakening in the middle of London. If the Nodens/Cernunnos/Herne connection is valid then Dyse’s lighting of this wendfire may very well release the Wild Hunt in a psychic darkness driving the inhabitants into madness. Given the previous effect of the Seal – shutting down magic and bringing in the Age of Enlightenment and Science into London –  then a fully powered Seal may have the same effect again, reducing Nodens power, but with Dyse so clearly in thrall that is not something upon which anyone can rely. Perhaps the only hope now is for the IPC to take over the working, uniting it with their own, and thus ensure that both entities are returned to slumber.

A positive review of the Occult Guide by Andrew Brehaut

…the book is an entertaining read – if you are like me, you might find yourself puzzling over facets of the mystery for hours.

The Occult Guide300pxThis work is a primer for players of Lovecraftian roleplaying games set in the dismal streets of 1930s London.

 

The Guide is replete with contacts, rumours and clues which will guide you on your quest for forbidden knowledge. Written as the companion volume to Bookhounds of London for Trail of Cthulhu, it can be used as a Keeper’s resource as well as an in-game artefact for players in any Mythos game.

In 1933 a mysterious secret society commissioned Augustus Darcy to compile a guide to occult London. By the end of that year, Darcy was dead. Within these tales of The Smoke’s legendary past are scattered clues to its future. Was a magical war brewing? Were forces from other dimensions breaking through into our own? Who were the mysterious Brotherhood? Who killed Augustus Darcy and why? After eighty years Darcy’s book is here for you to make up your own mind. Use it as a guide as you venture into Darcy’s world and may your gods be with you in the days ahead.

It is a work of fiction, an autobiography, an occult miscellany and a murder mystery, a book which should not be read, and yet cannot be cast aside. It is all these things and more, but most of all it is a guide for your own journey through the streets of the Big Smoke.

Stock #: PELGT20 Author: Paula Dempsey
Artist:Sarah Wroot Pages: 146 page perfect bound book

Buy

I’d like to thank Matt over at Flames Rising for organising Pelgrane week, and all the contributors. Here is a summary of the content for the week.

The new reviews they posted during the week:

Black Drop

Castle Bravo

Cthulhu Apocalypse: Dead White World

The design essays:

The Origins of the Occult Guide by Paula Dempsey

Following the Money (about his forthcoming Esoterrorists adventure) by Matthew Sanderson

Writing the Big Hoodoo by Bill White

As part of Flames Rising’s Pelgrane Press week, they offer an article by Occult Guide author Paula Dempsey on its origins.

This issue of RPG Countdown has interviews with four Pelgrane writers

In at #7 Paula Dempsey with the Occult Guide

#4 Robin D Laws with the Dying Earth

#3 Graham Walmsley with Cthulhu Apocalypse: The Dead White World

and #1 Ken Hite with Bookhounds of London

Dan Harms reviews The Investigator’s guide to Occult London.

…this is an enjoyable and entertaining read for anyone interested in one or another aspect of the Bookhounds universe.

Nominated for Best Setting and Gold Award winner for Best Writing in the 2012 ENnie awards

This work is a primer for players of Lovecraftian roleplaying games set in the dismal streets of 1930s London.

 

The Guide is replete with contacts, rumours and clues which will guide you on your quest for forbidden knowledge. Written as the companion volume to Bookhounds of London for Trail of Cthulhu, it can be used as a Keeper’s resource as well as an in-game artefact for players in any Mythos game.

In 1933 a mysterious secret society commissioned Augustus Darcy to compile a guide to occult London. By the end of that year, Darcy was dead. Within these tales of The Smoke’s legendary past are scattered clues to its future. Was a magical war brewing? Were forces from other dimensions breaking through into our own? Who were the mysterious Brotherhood? Who killed Augustus Darcy and why? After eighty years Darcy’s book is here for you to make up your own mind. Use it as a guide as you venture into Darcy’s world and may your gods be with you in the days ahead.

It is a work of fiction, an autobiography, an occult miscellany and a murder mystery, a book which should not be read, and yet cannot be cast aside. It is all these things and more, but most of all it is a guide for your own journey through the streets of the Big Smoke.

The hardback edition of The Occult Guide will be available only with the Limited Edition Bookhounds of London.

Status: Pre-order the hard copy, for May release, get the PDF now.

Here is a detailed review of Bookhounds by Lowell Francis over at RPG Geek. One point the reviewer raised was of particular interest – he mentioned that he was expecting more Armitage Files like handouts, and guessed, correctly that the Occult Guide will fulfil this role. If you want to run a player driven occult mystery set in the London in the style of Armitage Files, hand the players the Occult Guide and let them get on with it.

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.


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