The following article for Fear Itself originally appeared on DyingEarth.com in November 2004.

 

AP Morton-Blunkett (1899-1921)

“A man, mortal, looks to the world to come…”

A little-known poet who may have become a great talent.. He was born in Forrest Court, Berwick, Scotland in 1899, the son of the Lochbridge Toll watchman. He was educated in the Public School, and frequented the library, where I fondly imagine he read the romantics and composed his first clumsy stanzas.

His best early work was a series of short love poems to Naomi, possibly Naomi Hay, daughter of the local policeman, although there is no record of an engagement or marriage.

In September 1921 he received a commission from a local landowner, possibly Sir Walter Hamilton-Dalrymple? to write a laudatory ode in praise of the Burgh Golf Club, to be engraved on the clubhouse plaque. He was offered the princely sum of one guinea, which must have been a cause of great excitement to him.

He took himself to the Isle of Islay, perhaps to seek inspiration, where he was found hanged in his room, having penned the poem below – a strange verse, greatly out of character. We know of no motive for his suicide. Perhaps Naomi rejected him, or perhaps there was a more sinister reason. The local waters are said to be infested with strange grey creatures, named after a dialect term for Satan – the Clooties.

The Sea Speaks Not and Yet…

I cannot sleep.  I hide my face
From surf and swell and blow
Since I have seen the queer grey men
That nightly come and go.

The village squats in sodden dusk
With sea-mist draped, and drear.
And aye the waves, and aye the waves
Come rushing far and near.

When every door is locked and barred
And every curtain drawn
‘Tis then they come, unseen, but heard.
Forsook.  Forgot.  Forlorn.

The old know better than to look.
The young are fast abed.
But I, with lonely cynic’s pride
And science in my head,

I looked.  I shall not look again.
For yet I see them pass,
The hollow faces of the drowned
In mist beyond the glass.

 


Fear Itself is a game of contemporary horror that plunges ordinary people into a disturbing world of madness and violence. Use it to run one-shot sessions in which few (if any) of the protagonists survive, or an ongoing campaign in which the player characters gradually discover more about the terrifying supernatural reality which hides in the shadows of the ordinary world. Will they learn how to combat the Creatures of Unremitting Horror from the Outer Black? Or spiral tragically into insanity and death? Purchase Fear Itself in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

A derelict superyacht hides a deadly secret in this adventure seed for The Esoterrorists

By Adam Gauntlett

Background

In 2004, Ukrainian billionaire Andrej Teresenko (oil exports) commissioned the superyacht Starfire from AS Knutsson shipyards in Florø, Norway. Over 130 ft long, with helicopter landing pad, gym facilities, a large bar (complete with Steinway piano), private movie theatre and luxury VIP as well as ordinary guest suites, this was to be Teresenko’s crowning achievement. He died before he could enjoy it. The media says it was natural causes; Ukraine’s government suspects assassination, probably by the Russians. Whoever did it saved Ordo Veritatis the trouble, as Teresenko was a person of interest in a Dollarmen investigation. With Teresenko out of the way the trail went cold, though operation BLUNDERHEAD was never officially wound up.

However, the research division discovered the yacht as part of its ongoing trawl of the internet, looking for anything that might indicate Esoterror involvement. They found YouTube footage of the yacht, now just a rusty hull in a Norwegian shipping yard. Records indicate it was part-furnished before all work stopped, but nobody’s bought it, moved it or removed any of the contents since Terensenko’s death in 2006. Nor has anyone offered it for sale; the shipyard seems content to let it sit there and rust itself to death. Operation BLUNDERHEAD has been reactivated, and the agents are tasked with infiltrating the shipyard, getting aboard Starfire, and ensuring that there’s nothing more sinister than a ruined Steinway in that decayed hulk.

Preliminary Investigation

The agents may look over the records of operation BLUNDERHEAD or study architect’s plans of Starfire. The plans are still kept on the architect’s servers, so they can be had with Data Retrieval (0 point).

With this, the agents can get a good idea of the layout (as designed) of Starfire, and what to expect. This grants a 2-point pool to Infiltration or Evidence Collection (or both) while aboard Starfire.

If the agents go one step further and spend 1 point Research, Forensic Accounting or similar, they notice that among the many invoices that went out as part of the build were some significant spends on medical equipment. Except there’s no indication on the ship plans that a state-of-the-art medical bay was part of the ship’s design. It’s not uncommon for a superyacht to have a sophisticated surgery ward, particularly if the owner has health issues. However, Starfire’s design doesn’t allow for one.

Heading to Florø

Florø is a pleasant-bordering-on-quaint island town, the most western town in Norway. It has a coastal museum, lighthouse, deer center and brewery. The agents can get there by car, ferry or plane.

Founded in 1860 when fishing was much more of an industry than it is today, Florø gets much of its living from North Sea Oil, though fishing is still important. It was one of the most prominent towns in the area when transport by sea was still vital, but as highways became predominant Florø’s importance slipped. These days it’s the kind of small-ish town with little serious crime and not much to do.

The Knutsson shipyard is well-regarded by anyone who bothers to think about it, which isn’t saying much, since most folk in Florø have little to do with it. A family-run business since 1873, the shipyard’s been moribund since the late 1990s, when old man Knuttson died and left the business to his sons Jostein and Martin, neither of whom have the go-getting spirit their father had.

Reassurance or similar (0 point) finds out that for the last four years large cars with tinted windows visit the shipyard two or three times a year. Locals gossip that the shipyard’s involved in organized crime, perhaps narcotics smuggling. Cop Talk (1 point) pours cold water on this theory. When it started happening the local cops sent word to the authorities in Oslo and there was a brief inquiry, but it turned out there was nothing to the rumor. The cars are just wealthy clients making enquiries about new ship builds. Though it is odd; for all these inquiries, no ships get built. It’s never the same client, either, always someone different, though the cars are always the same. They belong to the law office of Advokat Erik Helgesson, Oslo; checking reveals this to be a Dollarman front, though Helgesson will die before he gives up any useful intel.

A.S. Knutsson Shipyard

Though neat and efficient, the shipyard is clearly (Architecture 0 point) an outdated relic trying to get by on equipment that should have been replaced years ago. There’s plenty of safety code violations and a case could be made for illegal dumping of petrochemicals, but nobody in Florø cares that much. They feel too sympathetic to the Knutsson brothers, two local lads struggling to get by.

The Starfire is berthed in one of the furthest corners of the shipyard, out of direct sightline of the main offices. Almost as if the brothers didn’t want to see it if they could help it.

The shipyard has a dozen permanent employees, mostly skilled trades, perhaps a score or more temp-hires when there’s a big job on, and there are a couple dogs on site, but they aren’t security-trained; they’re just big and noisy. Infiltration difficulty 3 to get into the site, falling to 2 at night when there aren’t as many people. The Knuttson brothers sleep at the shipyard, but nobody else does. In the event of trouble, they call the cops.

One employee, Geir Blomhagen, has an unusual sideline. Every so often, always a week before one of the cars arrive, he picks up a package from the post office and takes it aboard Starfire, where he leaves it below decks. He’s never looked inside any of the packages, though he knows from the return address that they come from medical suppliers. He’s scared to talk about this, but he drinks heavily ever since his boyfriend left him, so he sometimes lets things slip. Reassurance (1 point) gets him to open up.

Getting Aboard Starfire

If the agents get into the shipyard without trouble, they don’t need to make another Infiltration check to sneak onto Starfire. She’s unmanned and unwatched.

She would have been impressive had she ever launched, but now she’s a rusty orange hull. The swimming pool on the upper deck is empty, save for a shallow puddle of rainwater. She has four decks above the waterline and two below, and for the most part she’s exactly what she appears to be: an abandoned superyacht, part-furnished. The Steinway rots in the bar, alongside leather bar seats and walnut fixtures that have long since perished. The en-suite VIP cabins with their luxury furnishings are ruined. Even the flatscreens, never connected, were left here, though at the time it would have been easy enough to remove and sell them to some deserving Florø household, no questions asked. It’s as if the workers were too frightened to touch anything after the commission fell through.

Evidence Collection (0 point) finds Blomhagen’s trail. He always goes to the same place – the bar – and leaves the package on the Steinway. This can easily be told by the marks in the rust and dust. What’s not so easily told is what happens after that. Whoever removes the package leaves no trail.

Evidence Collection (1 point) notices that although the ship ought to have two below-waterline decks, there’s no obvious way to access the second deck. Architecture (1 point) or another point spend Evidence Collection finds a concealed access hatch that leads to the second below-waterline deck.

It is immediately clear, on entering the second below-waterline deck, where all that medical equipment ended up, back when Starfire was built. This equipment wouldn’t shame a top-rated surgical facility. None of it is in good repair and blood and viscera are liberally scattered over every surface. The entire deck stinks like a midden and is slick with greasy fluids. The medical packages Blomhagen brought aboard are here, torn open, their contents presumably used – everything from plasma to harvested organs from China.

Also here is what’s left of Andrej Teresenko, impossibly, necromantically, still alive.

He’s just a torso , his eyeless head endlessly twitching, but he still has a tongue, so he can speak. Intimidation means nothing to him now, but Reassurance might work, if the agents promise they will kill him. He has no combat stats or relevant abilities, Health 3. If the agents try to rescue him to interrogate him later about Esoterrorism or the Dollarmen, the GM should decide what happens next. He probably won’t survive long without the Nurse’s constant attentions, or really specialized medical care.

Back in 2004, Teresenko was already aware that the authorities were coming for him. He wanted a way out, so he could enjoy his wealth somewhere sunny and peaceful. For that, he needed the best plastic surgery money could buy, and he spent a full year looking for someone to suit his exacting needs. That’s how he found the one he calls The Cutter, and The Cutter was his way into the Dollarmen. He promised the Dollarmen access to The Cutter, so their own people could enjoy new identities. In exchange, the Dollarmen would help him hide the loot. Teresenko built Starfire so The Cutter would have a safe haven, then faked his own death and delivered himself into The Cutter’s hands.

‘I didn’t know,’ he weeps with ruined eyes. ‘I didn’t know …’

What Really Happened

Teresenko found The Practice. Specifically, he found a Surgeon-Nurse husband-wife team, Ilya Litvin and his wife Yana, medics in the 1914-18 war fighting with the Austro-Hungarian army, shot by their own side in 1916 for reasons unspecified in the historical record – though as is so often the case, history lies. The Litvins made the transfer to the other side of the Membrane, and for decades afterward made hospitals in Kiev a living nightmare.

Teresenko offered them what he thought was safe haven, but the Litvins didn’t care much about that. However, the Practice wanted new victims and Teresenko offered a steady supply, without all the fuss and bother of having to look for them. So Teresenko got his Cutter, and the Litvins moved to Norway. The Dollarmen soon learned their tame plastic surgeons were nothing but. The Dollarmen decided to make lemonade from their lemons and now use the Practice as impromptu interrogation experts.

‘Tell us everything you know, or we will leave you here …’

The Litvins soon got bored of sitting aboard ship and have been making regular trips first to local medical facilities, then further abroad. They always return to Starfire. It’s their comfort zone.

Ilya and Yana Litvin

Stats as per Unremitting Horror, p. 81-90. The team has no Mortician, so nobody cleans up, which is why the surgery is in such a state. Both still wear military uniforms under their medical gowns, and Ilya has all his campaign medals. He’s also tagged on medals from every other military campaign he’s ever witnessed since 1916, not caring very much which army the medals came from. His skull is over-stuffed with brains, so his Alertness modifier is +3. He’s also grafted new, better hands onto Yana, so her Scuffling is 13. They treat Teresenko like a pet, but he’s also a useful guard dog. They don’t keep his eyes in his head, but in a handy liquor-filled jar so they can see the concealed entrance point. Anything those eyes can see, Yana can see. Infilitration Difficulty 8 somehow gets through that door without being spotted. Otherwise the Litvins know how many agents there are, what weapons they carry, and when best to ambush them.

This scenario seed was inspired by this YouTube video.

 


Adam writes, and writes, and writes. Among his credits are Pelgrane’s Soldiers of Pen and Ink, Dulce et Decorum Est, The Many Deaths of Edward Bigsby, and Silver Ennie Award winner The Long Con. You can find him on Twitter at @ag_Karloff, and online at http://karloff-shelf.blogspot.com/.


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The GUMSHOE Community program is now even bigger!

Earlier this year we launched the GUMSHOE Community program, making Ashen Stars content available to creators. We have now expanded the content available, and so the program now includes the following game lines:

If you’re not familiar with the Community Content concept, it means we’ve made some elements of these GUMSHOE games (e.g. some IP elements, art, and layout assets) open for members of the community (that is, you!) to write and publish your own GUMSHOE content on DriveThruRPG.

We’ve got a number of great Ashen Stars PDFs already available, to show you what’s possible. These include:

If you’re interested in learning more about the GUMSHOE Community program, check it out here.

A column about roleplaying

by Robin D. Laws

One of my core dicta for The Esoterrorists setting is that its good-guy, anti-occult covert agency, the Ordo Veritatis, never turns out to be have been the secret villains all along. Although this horror game draws heavily on the technothriller, where betrayals of protagonists by superiors remains an evergreen stock element, I recommend striking that particular chestnut from the scenario writer’s kitbag.

I do this for several reasons:

  • It punishes players for buying in. The setting and the case-of-the-week structure demand reliable Ordo contacts.
  • The setting’s hard horror is already bleak and horrible enough. As a counter to that I want players to feel that they can rely on the people giving them the mission—even if they mostly have to solve problems without calling in backup.
  • Thanks to Shadowrun’s Mr. Johnson trope, it lands as an even more common cliché in RPGs than in other media.
  • In an RPG context, the loyalty switcheroo particularly annoys players, who respond by vandalizing the fourth wall. They know the cliché, expect the cliché, and are probably talking about the cliché during the scene where they get their briefing from the GMC you need them to trust. Though in general I treat narrative tropes as useful tools for improvised storytelling, this one encourages the sort of out-of-character tactical discussion we disdainfully call metagaming.

Having said all that, you might be seeking s a way to take the familiar theme of betrayal and do it up right. Two simple principles allow you to to flirt with this motif without injuring the players’ trust in the Ordo, the setting—and you, the GM.

Don’t Make It the Twist

Characters in fiction might well be surprised when their allies turn out to be heels. Anyone who’s played more than a handful of RPG sessions expects this as the default. Avoid the dread deflation of unsurprising surprise by setting up a betrayal as part of the mission premise.

  • Mr. Verity, the briefer who gives you the mission, betrays you right away. She* shows up with guns blazing. After you neutralize her as a threat, learning why she tried to execute her team becomes the initial spur of your investigation.
  • In mid briefing, an alien parasite erupts from Mr. Verity, killing him. After stomping it into ichor, you have to find out how it infected him and what that has to do with his briefcase full of documents.
  • Mr. Verity assigns you a mole hunt mission. The Ordo has learned that a member of another team has been compromised—but they don’t know which one. You’re sent to shadow your counterparts and identify the agent who’s gone over to the Outer Dark. Since teams only come together when working a case, you also have to deal with the supernatural threat they’re tracking. Since you’re PCs and they’re GMCs, it goes without saying that you discover something crucial about their Outer Dark Entities that they need to know to save their lives, or those of others. How do you communicate your intel without blowing your mole hunt? Does their case connect to the double agent’s scheme, or is it a side complication?
  • You’re ordered to track down a former agent who has gone rogue and already now leads an Esoterror cell. A past personal connection links him to the team. He can identify them, complicating their effort to get at him. But for plot device reasons they’re the ones with the best chance of apprehending him.
  • Mr. Verity gives an apparently normal briefing, except the character with Bullshit Detector can sense that they’re lying their ass off.

Also, think thrice before saddling players with the unintentional betrayals of institutional incompetence. As Ken would quickly interject if this was a segment of our podcast, that’s unrealistic in the light of real life espionage, the history of which buckles under the weight of various epic blunders. If you’d like to explore that in your game, look at THE FALL OF DELTA GREEN, which bakes massive institutional failure into its premise, and thus the implicit player-GM contract. Let Ordo agents face a panoply of other awful obstacles, but spare them from being screwed by superiors’ stupidity or venal interference from the upper echelons.

Maybe that’s why the other agencies fail so often—the smart people all got recruited by the Ordo. As mundane agencies flounder, it operates on a lofty, world-saving plane above the rolling ineptitude epidemic of contemporary politics.

Leave the Ordo Like You Found It

Construct your scenario premise to avoid blowing the entire agency as a resource the PCs can trust in the future.

  • For your antagonist, use a single rogue agent or team, not the top leadership of the entire agency.
  • The conspiracy doesn’t go all the way to the top, but has only corrupted a particular field office or specialist department.
  • At the end of the scenario, a favorite past Mr. Verity steps in to confidently take charge, assuring the group that all the weeds have been successfully pulled.
  • Use the Bullshit Detector ability to your advantage. When a high-placed GMC makes a statement the PCs can trust, tell the relevant character that they can treat it as 100% reliable.
  • Treat betrayal as a one-off, not a staple. One betrayal from agents corrupted by perverse beings of unspeakable torment is misfortune. More than that is carelessness—your carelessness as a GM.

Players get overwhelmed easily in a horror mystery scenario. Preserve the benevolent yet distant hand of the Ordo Veritatis as a backstop they can resort to when you need to nudge them out of a hole they’ve dug themselves into.

* All briefers use this code name regardless of the honorific normally attached to their real identities.


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

Agents battling The Esoterrorists at the behest of the Ordo Veritatis receive their cases from a rotating roster of briefers, all of whom refer to each other under the same codename: Mr. Verity. Typically they meet their teams on site, near the eruption of Outer Dark activity at the heart of the present case. Mr. Verity never overtly reveals personal details about him, her or themself, but from accent, manner and attire investigators may infer a rich and unknowable life outside the horror-hunting business.

A case requiring extensive local logistical support work features a Mr. Verity from the local area. Unlike other briefers he may appear in subsequent scenes to translate, make introductions, and otherwise handle mundane arrangements.

The default Mr. Verity looks and acts like a mid-career FBI or NCA administrator. Others display a perhaps unexpected individuality.

Grab an unconventional Mr. Verity for your scenarios from this list,

  • A curly-haired, angular trans woman who wears a purple shawl over a black sweater and tweed skirt. Photorealistic stickers of fruits and vegetables cover her laptop.

  • A haunted-looking man of South Asian extraction with intense eyes and extensive burn scars. He unconsciously clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth when pausing to think.

  • A smiling, heavy-set man with Mediterranean features, shaved head, and large waxed mustache. He wears a Blackpool FC jersey. If asked about it, he says he actually prefers baseball.

  • A tall, frowning man whose accent identifies him as having grown up in Cameroon and then lived for perhaps a couple of decades in the present location. He sports a corduroy jacket and horn-rimmed spectacles. A buzzing fly, to which he directs angry glances, distracts him from his spiel.

  • A woman with close-cropped hair. She wears a suit jacket and a bolo tie shaped like the state of Texas. From her shaded glasses and white cane, agents can tell that she is blind. A glance at her hands reveals a fresh manicure.

  • A young, well-muscled man in a tight My Little Pony T-shirt. Acne scars spot his cheek. He wears a Rolex. Trivia clocks it as a fake.

  • The standard FBI-seeming Mr. Verity, except she has a long-haired tabby in a cat carrier.

  • The server at the diner where the team has been instructed to gather opens a manila envelope containing a partially unspooled cassette tape. He didn’t see the person who left it, but it came with a sticky note describing the agents, and a $50 tip for him.

  • The same Mr. Verity from a previous case, with long white hair, liver spots and other signs of advanced age. The team last met this briefer six months ago, looking decades younger.

An adventure hook for The Esoterrorists, by Adam Gauntlett

Who, or what, killed Larry and Paula Charters aboard the Nautilus Cruise Line ship Festival Allure?

Incident Report

Friday 8th June, Death (suspicious): Larry Charters, found in Ocean View stateroom, apparent suicide (overdose, prescription medication). Death (homicide) Paula Charters, found in Apollo Deck Sports Park 0340 hours, violent assault. Incident passed to local authorities, Bahamas, for further investigation.

This report, with a copy of security footage taken on the night of the incident and other evidence, is forwarded to Ordo Veritatis by an unnamed whistleblower, presumably one of the Festival Allure’s crew. After some initial study, the information is added to OPERATION VENICE BEACH casefile and assigned to the agents for follow-up.

The security footage (video, no audio) shows the approach to the Apollo Sports Deck, 0252 hours to 0259 hours. The sports deck, and its approaches, is off-limits to staff and passengers after 2000 hours, and the doors that lead there have keycard only access exterior, with emergency push-bar exit on the interior side. Judging by the footage, the door used was propped open, which suggests planning.

The footage shows Paula Charters entering the approach at 0252 hours. At that time she shows no panic or alarm. She carries an open bottle of champagne and two glasses, and by her gait and behavior is probably intoxicated. At 0257 she is alerted by an unknown event, possibly a noise, and looks behind her. Whatever she sees causes her to run, and she leaves shot at 0258. At 0259 the feed is cut off.

Initial report from the Bahamian forensics team indicates Paula died from repeated sharp force trauma, chop wounds, delivered by an implement similar to a kitchen cleaver. All such implements found in the Festival Allure’s kitchens have been taken for examination.

Reports from the Festival Allure’s security team suggest the likely avenue of investigation is the husband, a chef in a New Orleans restaurant, who, it is suggested, committed suicide after killing his wife in a drunken rage. No weapon has been found; the security team thinks it was thrown overboard from the couple’s Ocean View stateroom. Core clue, Electronic Surveillance:  if so, there ought to be footage of Larry Charters returning from the Sports Deck to his stateroom after 0259, but there is not.

Finally, there is a brief section of footage shot by persons unknown, taken by a UV smartphone camera. It shows the same section of approach corridor Paula ran down. There are trace signs of some substance that shows up in UV light all along the corridor, as if someone covered in that substance ran down it, touching walls and door handles as they went. There’s not enough here to determine what that substance is.

The agents’ backstory is that they are Federal agents carrying out preliminary investigation to determine whether Larry Charters can be linked to a string of offences in Louisiana and Texas.

Bajan Sharp

The agents may use Cop Talk, or Bureaucracy, to lean on the Bahaman Police via the American Embassy.

Larry suffered bruising indicative of a struggle before he died. It is likely he was force-fed the pills. The pills used were not his prescription nor his wife’s; the pills belong to an Ocean View passenger two staterooms away, who was unaware they were missing.  The injuries done to Paula indicate a left-handed attacker with considerable upper body strength. Larry was right-handed. Both Larry and Paula have trace elements of an unknown substance on their bodies, which can be seen under UV light. The substance has been sent to local labs for testing, but the Bahaman Government is very keen to end the investigation as soon as possible. It doesn’t want to upset Nautilus Cruise Line; tourism dollars are at stake. The Government will brush all this under the rug and ensure the lab ‘loses’ its samples, unless the agents intervene. If saved and sent to the OV for analysis, the report comes back within 24 hours: fungal substance, indicative of Glistening infestation.

Potential ally: Michael Digson, honest cop, wiry, greying, suspicious dark eyes, Athletics 8, Scuffling 6, Surveillance 6.

Security: Deliver The WOW

Guest Security Supervisor Dennis Anand and his team will only cooperate on sufferance; they work for Nautilus, and Nautilus wants this kept out of the media and as far away as possible from the US Federal Government. This is because the Government is considering changes to the Death on the High Seas Act that would be very disadvantageous to cruise lines, and Nautilus doesn’t want to give Federal agents any ammunition that a Congressman or Senator might use to harm them. Agents with Law realize this and can use it to Intimidate Anand. Without this, the security team nod politely and do very little.

Anand and his team stick to the Nautilus-approved story, that Larry killed Paula and then himself. Larry must have fixed things so they could get onto the Sports Deck after hours, probably using a wedge to keep the door open.

Evidence Collection, Cop Talk or similar notices that one of Anand’s team is missing. Security Guard Jennifer Yang is listed sick, though she isn’t in her cabin nor is she in the medical bay. Anand makes any excuse he can to explain away her absence, no matter how absurd. “Oh, you just missed her – she was here a minute ago,” even though there’s no way she could leave the room without the agents seeing her. Yang was the guard who first discovered Paula’s body. She ought to have submitted a written report, but that report is missing, as is all security camera footage for the Sports Deck approach.

Opposition: Dennis Anand, Glistening Slave, Athletics 6, Health 3, Infiltration 4 (increases to 8 with Master Access keycard), Scuffling 6, Shooting 6. Not all Anand’s team are Glistening Slaves, and can be persuaded not to follow his instructions, but only if Anand behaves erratically, or if significant pressure – Reassurance, Intimidation – is applied.

Ready To Take A Chance Again

The agents may try talking to the passengers, particularly those on the Ocean View deck where the Charters’ were staying. Reassurance, Flattery and possibly Flirting work best. Intimidation also works, but the passengers complain to ship staff, who pass on complaints to Security Supervisor Anand.

According to the passengers, the Charters’ were a happy couple who were having a good time. Paula attracted a lot of attention, particularly from one of the bartenders at the Tequila Bar. Larry liked playing on the Sports Deck mini golf course.

The pills used to kill Larry were taken from Fiona Nilsson’s Ocean View suite. She says she saw one of the Tequila Bar’s bartenders hanging around on the Ocean View deck, where he had no business being. She doesn’t know his name.

Tequila Sunrise & Whistleblower

The agents may follow up the bartender angle, or may try tracing Jennifer Yang.

The bartender, Richard ‘Ricky’ Ryan, has a sexual assault record. He’s worked for three different cruise lines and was fired from each, one step ahead of criminal charges. Law knows that cruise lines are quick to share information about criminal or sharp practice from guests, but never share employee records, allowing bad actors to skip from line to line without consequence. He works his regular shift at the Tequila Bar and, after hours, chases guests who catch his eye. Ryan is a Glistening Slave. He still has the cleaver he used to kill Paula.

Ricky Ryan, if Interrogated, admits he killed Paula and then Larry. His story makes very little sense; there’s no way he could have known Fiona Nilsson had the pills he needed to kill Larry, nor does he have the access needed to get past the card key system and into their staterooms. Yet Ryan has a Master Access keycard [Director: given him by Anand].

Opposition: Ricky Ryan, Glistening Slave, Athletics 8, Health 6, Infiltration 4 (increases to 8 with Master Access keycard), Scuffling 8, Shooting 4. When armed with cleaver, Damage +0.

Jennifer Yang is held in an unoccupied interior stateroom, portside, no porthole. She can be traced by following Anand, persuading uninfected security officers to talk, by using Data Retrieval to check which doors Anand has most often used his security card to access, or similar clever agent schemes.

Yang is being infected with Glistening, but the infection hasn’t progressed far and can be cured with a Difficulty 5 Medic test or a Chemistry spend. If found and cured, she says she’s distrusted Anand’s judgment for some time. She’s been conducting an investigation of her own, and is convinced that this can all be traced back to the disappearance of another passenger, Emily Alanis, eight months ago. Alanis was written off as a suicide who jumped overboard, but Yang thinks Alanis is still here. “I could hear her voice in my head.”

Agents who cross-reference the name Emily Alanis with other Esoterror incidents finds that Alanis was involved in Operation QUEEN PAWN, in which a Glistening outbreak was discovered in Tampa Bay, the home port of Nautilus Cruise Lines.

Sessile

The Sessile, formerly Emily Alanis, is hiding down in the bowels of the ship, close to the HVAC system supply. Almost all the ship’s HVAC engineers are Slaves, and defend the Sessile if necessary. The Sessile spreads its spore puffs via the air conditioning ducts, but has only been doing so for a few days. It knew it could potentially reach the entire ship and crew this way, but wasn’t sure it would work. Its preferred method is the old-fashioned way, by touch. However it is reaching the end of its cycle and needs a new host. It wanted to suborn one of the passengers, someone who could go missing without too much fuss.

The whole incident arose because of Ricky. He was supposed to spread the infection through his job at Tequila Sunrise, but his natural inclination led him to chase Paula, with catastrophic results. The Sessile coached him on what to do next. The Sessile wants to get rid of Ricky, but daren’t do so now, when everyone’s watching.

If not stopped, the Sessile can spread Glistening infection points along the liner’s route, and everywhere the passengers visit or call home.

Veil-out may potentially involve quarantining the Festival Allure, which allows the OV to thoroughly disinfect the ship and its passengers.


A combination of forensic examination and interrogation results have revealed a chilling new modus operandi of an Esoterror cell. This cell, known to us as the Murphy-Hanson-Crawford organization (MHCO), and to its participants as the Gee-Gnomes, has been using genetic testing as a screening device for the recruitment of new members.

Under the guise of a biotech start-up principals Ella Murphy, Rhonda Hanson and Deanna Crawford attracted curious young entrepreneurs, coders and scientific researchers. Using social media and word of mouth, they spread rumors of a paradigm-breaking new technology offering lucrative opportunities for those willing to penetrate their secrecy and offer themselves up as early sweat equity hires.

Their firm’s doorbell, with the whimsical message “Insert Finger Here For Assistance” employed an as-yet inexplicable transfer technology to record the DNA of any person who pressed it.

Servers inside the firm’s offices then automatically sequenced the entire genome of each would-be applicant—along with couriers, delivery drivers and curious neighborhood kids. Naturally no permission was sought for this egregious privacy invasion.

Those whose so-called “junk DNA” contained a particular property were then approached with offers of employment. In all eleven persons were recruited into the cell, eventually becoming fully complicit Esoterror operatives.

Under interrogation Hanson referred to this property only as The Potential. Throughout the process she remained frustratingly vague on the details—while fully cooperating in the provision of much more directly incriminating testimony.

Chief interrogator AGENT TRIBUNE has come to believe that none of the group fully understood what The Potential meant. Her tentative conclusion: it searched for ancient inhuman ancestry. This forces us to explore the hypothesis that individuals bearing trace elements of outer-dimensional DNA might have the latent ability to achieve the goal the Esoterrorists have so long hungered after: to perform acts of ritual magic with an efficacy beyond the mere summoning of uncontrollable quasi-demons.

Although the MHCO acted independently of other cells and does not appear to have shared technology outside its own tight circle, it would be unwise to assume that no other such group will follow in its footsteps. For one thing, key techniques in the DNA screening process appear to have been transmitted to Hanson psychically, from entities of the Outer Dark.

We recommend a tasking of SIGINT to detect telltale keywords related to The Potential emanating from biotech labs worldwide. It is only a matter of time before someone else seeks to continue what the Gee-Gnomes started.

Needless to say, we must also keep a close watch on each and every individual their sequencers identified as having The Potential. Including those they failed to recruit.


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

A creature for The Esoterrorists

The Outer Dark Entities known as sheeple slip through thin spots in the membrane caused by the belief that a dangerous contaminant or source of disease exists nearby. They enter our reality only in rural areas where domestic livestock roam. Sheeple feed on the fatal terror of farm animals. Cows, pigs, sheep and horses all instinctively fear these quadrupedal, pseudo-mammalian creatures. When a sheeple fixes its terrible gaze on its animal target, the poor dumb beast suffers an immediate, fatal heart attack. The psychic energy released by this sudden death nourishes a sheeple for weeks.

Though sheeple vary in appearance, investigating agents of the Ordo Veritatis can generally expect a demonic entity with the body of a sheep and the distorted face of a bat, snapping turtle, or ogre-like human.

Sheeple exude a psychic residue exerting a mind-control effect on humans exposed to it over a period of months or years. They employ this to command locals to defend against external threats. With glassy eyes, upturned pitchforks and outraged cries against outsiders messing in their affairs, these peasants, farmers and shepherds chase away anyone getting too close to a sheeple lair. Those who don’t take the hint get stabbed or shot.

Mostly interested in feeding and with no great boons to offer Esoterrorists, sheeple rarely take part in overarching conspiracies. When they do, they’re forced into it by more powerful ODEs. They hate to be rousted from a fruitful earthly habitat. Hikers, real estate developers and property surveyors stumbling into a sheeple lair may be killed by the entities or their human defenders. This can trigger a wider search, another influx of visitors, more killings, and a monstrous cycle of bloodletting that eventually leads to a briefing from Mr. Verity.

One area recently overrun by sheeple surrounds a US-sponsored disease research facility near Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia. Efforts of Russian propagandists to use the installation to fan anti-American sentiment are certainly paying off for the sheeple, who find it easier to come through the membrane with each passing month.

Abilities: Athletics 6, Health 7, Scuffling 8

Hit Threshold: 3

Alertness Modifier: 0

Stealth Modifier: +2

Weapon: +1 (Jaws)

Armor: +1 vs. Scuffling

No need to build a stage, it was all around us. Props would be simple and obvious. We would hurl ourselves across the canvas of society like streaks of splattered paint. Highly visual images would become news, and rumor-mongers would rush to spread the excited word. … Once we acknowledged the universe as theater and accepted the war of symbols, the rest was easy.

— Abbie Hoffman, “Museum of the Streets”

In the most American way possible, the biggest magical ritual ever performed in the United States (and possibly in the world) was essentially a marketing campaign. The activist (and former student of psychologist Abraham Maslow) Abbie Hoffman believed in the power of vaporware politics: create an image of the product you want and people will believe it already exists and buy into it. (The French syndicalist philosopher Georges Sorel had much the same realization in 1908.) In other words, Esoterror, although it may seem a trifle charged to use such a term for an action intended to convince the youth of America that the youth of America already opposed the Vietnam War, which in 1967 was by no means a sure bet. Hoffman would surely have preferred Esorgasm, or perhaps Esotrickery.

And what, specifically, was that action to be? Nothing less than the levitation and exorcism (or “exorgasm”) of the Pentagon during the March on Washington of October 21, 1967, planned and carried out by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. While folksingers bleated and lefties old and new orated, Abbie Hoffman orchestrated a Working, complete with a Hittite chant discovered or invented by the poet (and member of the counterculture house band The Fugs) Ed Sanders, in consultation with the occultist and musicologist Harry Smith.

The full ritual, as planned, involved sprinkling cornmeal in a circle around the Pentagon as 25,000 hippies held hands, the Powers were invoked from the four cardinal directions, and “a cow painted with occult symbols” looked on. After consulting with Mexican shamans, the painter and theosophist Michael Bowen added a further air element: 200 pounds of daisies to be dropped onto the roof of the Pentagon from a small plane. Hoffman somehow put the whammy on the Pentagon’s negotiators, who talked him down from levitating the Pentagon 22 feet in the air (other sources claim Hoffman opened at 300 feet) to three feet, and in what I can only consider a classic (but ultimately failed) troll attempt, issued the Marchers a permit to levitate the world’s largest office building three feet off the ground.

I remember after we’d done “Out, Demons, Out,” I went down under the truck and there was this guy from Newsweek trying to hold a microphone close to [Kenneth] Anger. It looked like he was burning a pentagon with a Tarot card or a picture of the devil or something in the middle of it. In other words the thing we were doing above him, he viewed that as the exoteric thing and he was doing the esoteric, serious, zero-bullshit exorcism.

— Ed Sanders, in “Out, Demons, Out! An Oral History

Ordo Veritatis, or DELTA GREEN, or whoever else was keeping an eye on things magical for the military-industrial complex, was on the ball that day. The Pentagon permit explicitly forbade a human chain surrounding the Pentagon; as Norman Mailer put it later, “exorcism without encirclement was like culinary art without a fire—no one could properly expect a meal.” Furthermore, the Park Police confiscated the cornmeal when Paul Krassner and some other hippies tried a “practice exorcism” earlier that day on the Washington Monument, a different police force stopped the cow, and the FBI grounded the daisy plane.

So at the moment of truth, 25,000 stoned hippies and other curious types read an abridged visualization ritual while regaled with the music of the Fugs on Indian triangle, cymbals, drums, trumpets, and finger bells. Standing in a truck flatbed, Ed Sanders did his best to invoke Zeus, Anubis, Aphrodite, Magna Mater, Dionysus, Zagreus, Jesus, Yahweh, the Unnamable, the Zoroastrian fire, Hermes, the “beak of Sok,” Ra, Osiris, Horus, Nepta, Isis, “the flowing living universe,” and the Tyrone Power Pound Cake Society in the Sky, apparently an early avatar of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Underneath the truck, Crowleian film maker Kenneth Anger crouched, burning sigils and “making snake noises at whomever should try to come near.” He had previously scattered 93 parchment-and-India-ink sigils in the men’s restrooms of the Pentagon, part of a personal campaign to tame and banish the god Mars, one more freelance ritual to snarl whatever ectoplasm or Od was left from the abortive Working. (One assumes DELTA GREEN rounded up most of those sigils. Most of them.) Finally, the Fugs announced the “Grope-In,” meant to put the “orgasm” in “exorgasm” and replace the hate-energy of the Pentagon with the love-energy of hippies having sex in the Pentagon parking lot. But by now the 82nd Airborne had deployed around the building, and enthusiastic marshals began hitting hippies with clubs, and the old left ran away and the new left got arrested.

The Pentagon, as far as anyone can tell, remained at its original altitude, and retained its original, or at least its full, demonic complement.

So, an exercise in the ridiculous, right? Well, maybe.

The Levitation and Exorcism made the evening news, and Newsweek, and more places than Abbie Hoffman could have dreamed of. Norman Mailer made much of his own tangential role in the affair in Harper’s, and then in the very very best-selling The Armies of the Night. (Its subtitle was the esoterribly clever “History as a Novel/The Novel as History,” which rather gives the game away.) Those daisies, redirected from the abortive Aztec aircraft abracadabra, wound up in the arms of the protestors — and a photograph of hippie Superjoel (or possibly a different hippie named Hibiscus) putting a daisy in the barrel of a soldier’s gun became the iconic image Hoffman had dreamed up but never imagined. Six months and ten days later, driven in large part by ballooning anti-war sentiment in his own party, President Johnson announced he would not seek re-election in 1968.

 

Carnivals have always exuded a faint fetor of menace. Itinerant strangers come to town, some of them dressed as clowns, and try to trick you or exploit the basest depths of your curiosity. They exist to break down boundaries, give you permission to indulge, and then move on, leaving you, the seemingly innocent townsfolk, to reckon with what you got up to under the garish light of the midway.

When you set a scene in a Fear Itself, Trail of Cthulhu, or Esoterrorists scenario at a sideshow or circus, the players know to expect creepiness.

You know what the real story is. But what are the rumors the investigators encounter before parting the wrong curtain and finally beholding that terrible truth?

Here are 7 rumors for townsfolk and carnies to spout at the PCs before the real horror surfaces.

  1. “They did a test on the corn dogs and found that 1% of the contents were human flesh.”
  2. “Last year when the carnival came by Mamie Jones just up and vanished. The sheriffs caught up with them down in Dixville but they said they’d never laid eyes on her.”
  3. “Before the authorities clamped down on the freak show, they had an alligator man who was a little too real, if you know what I mean.”
  4. “Some of the most prominent people in our town worship the devil. And their high priest and priestess are the owners of this carnival, who travel from place to place renewing the vows of apparently ordinary folk to Satan himself.”
  5. “They stopped using their old Ferris wheel. Ten years one of the cars came loose and a girl fell to her death. That old ride was haunted. People who rode by themselves would sometimes look over and see her, weeping gluey tears from her faceless head. I don’t suppose a ghost could transfer from an old Ferris wheel to a new one, could it?”
  6. “Last year one of the roustabouts lost an eye in a bar fight. Guys from the local mill started it. I wouldn’t be surprised if some bloody revenge broke out later tonight.”
  7. “A friend of my cousin’s went into that hall of mirrors back in the 90s. He stepped outside and he coulda sworn he was in the 1890s! He turned around and ran back in and says he can’t even look at a mirror nowadays.”

And as always, if the players care more about a tall tale than they do about the main plot line, why maybe it’s not so untrue after all…

Previous Entries