#RPGaDay2015 20: Favorite Horror RPG

RPG-a-day-2015I feel like there are the games we call horror games, and the games that are truly horror games. People call Mage: the Ascension a horror game, because it’s a cousin of Vampire: the Masquerade and it has themes of the consequences of hubris, a la Frankenstein. And then we have the personal horror of Vampire itself, where the player’s character is the source of repugnance. Beyond that is the cosmic horror of Call of Cthulhu, in which characters discover the full dimensions of their insignificance in comparison to the true powers of the cosmos.

Which of those we find truly horrifying depends on the person. I have a friend who maintains Lovecraft’s conception of the universe is not horrifying, because as of the 21st century, we have assimilated what his characters dreaded to be the case as reality. It can’t be horrifying because it’s not unknown. My point of dissent with her argument is that regardless of what we think we know, there’s always a bigger issue, a bigger shell around what we know, that we don’t know. And the contents of that bigger shell are still unknown and still horrifying.

What that has to say about my favorite horror role-playing game is left as an exercise for the reader. If you’ve been reading Held Action for a while, you can probably figure it out.

Delta Green in Beta Test

Arc Dream Publishing opened the new Delta Green role-playing game to beta testing yesterday. You can add the playtest files to your Dropbox, or download a zip archive to your computer. The files include an introductory readme explaining the feedback Arc Dream wants from playtesters, and in what form. It also asks that people not redistribute the files, which is an interesting request in an open process.

I desperately wish I had the time and energy to read the rules and conscript a playtest group, as I’ve been listening to people like Adam Scott Glancy, Kenneth Hite and Shane Ivey talk about the development of Delta Green‘s very own role-playing game for what seems like years now, on podcasts like Role Playing Public Radio and Unspeakable! I will settle for skimming the documents when I have a few minutes with a computer.

The rest of you, though, have until November 23rd to run some sessions using the beta rules and existing free Delta Green material like Night Floors and Music from a Darkened Room. and then get feedback to Arc Dream.

[Hat tip to Paul of Cthulhu for sharing the news.]

#RPGaDAY 28: Scariest Game You’ve Played

#RPGaDAY prompts.

The #RPGaDAY prompt was concocted by Dave Chapman of Autocratik. Grab the list and join in!

The scariest role-playing game I ever partook in was not scary due to the adventure or other prepared material. Rather, it was the use of lights, music and sound effects that got me during the adventure’s climax. The GM did an excellent job of using rhythm and dissonance to get the heart pounding and me feeling off-kilter.

Once was enough for that sort of thing.


An investigator confronts a Dark Young.

Send more Drama Points.

The Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, or Cthunisystem for short, brings some of the classic elements of Call of Cthulhu role-playing to Cinematic Unisystem. Compiled by Salvatore Cucinotta and Jason Vey, it’s a great resource for adding mythos monsters and a different flavor of spell to your Unisystem games.

By default, it’s written for Cinematic Unisystem games like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, but it’s super easy to use the monster quicksheets with classic Unisystem rules, or extrapolate backward to a full stat block. Shave off any Drama Points the creature may have and call it good.

The Games of 2012

What did I play in 2012? Well, according to my log over at Boardgamegeek/RPGGeek.com, in 2012 I played:

  • Role-Playing Games
    • 36 sessions of Carrion Crown
    • 11 sessions of Skull & Shackles
    • 1 session of Fiasco
    • 2 session of Call of Cthulhu
    • 1 session of Qalidar / True 20
    • GMed 1 session of GURPS Ghostbusters
  • Board Games
    • 9 rounds of Betrayal at House on the Hill
    • 6 rounds of Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game
    • 9 rounds of Dominion — with attendant expansions I will not list
    • 4 rounds of Android: Netrunner
    • 4 rounds of Give Me the Brain!
    • 3 rounds of Pandemic
    • 2 rounds of 7 Wonders
    • 2 rounds of Arkham Horror — with attendant expansions I will not list
    • 2 rounds of Carcassonne
    • 2 rounds of Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers
    • 1 round of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer
    • 1 round of Castellan
    • 1 round of Chrononauts
    • 1 round of Chupacabra: Survive the Night
    • 1 round of Clue: Harry Potter Edition
    • 1 round of Cthulhu Fluxx
    • 1 round of Dungeon Petz
    • 1 round of Fealty
    • 1 round of Frag
    • 1 round of Guillotine
    • 1 round of IceDice
    • 1 round of Jungle Speed
    • 1 round of King of Tokyo
    • 1 round of Ligretto
    • 1 round of The Lord of the Rings Adventure Game
    • 1 round of Lords of Waterdeep
    • 1 round of Monty Python Fluxx
    • 1 round of Nefarious
    • 1 round of Small World Underground
    • 1 round of Smash Up
    • 1 round of Star Trek Deck Building Game: The Next Generation – The Next Phase
    • 1 round of Tales of the Arabian Nights
    • 1 round of Talisman
    • 1 round of Tobago

Ye Liveliest Awfulness

Reading The Case of Charles Dexter Ward this weekend — probably a re-read, as it’s all very familiar to me — a question struck me: given that one of the founding principles of life in Lovecraft Country is that there were all sorts of unnatural doings afoot during America’s colonial period, particularly in the darkly wooded hills of New England — including the deeds of Keziah Mason, as related by The Dreams in the Witch House — why haven’t there been more role-playing opportunities set in that time period?

Certainely, there was Noth’g but ye liveliest Awfulness in that which H. rais’d upp from What he cou’d gather onlie a part of.
— H. P. Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Maybe I’m not aware of the texts that do so or maybe it’s because one of Call of Cthulhu‘s key themes is the modern person’s realization the universe is vast, ultimately unknowable and uncaring, but given everything going on at the time that crept down through the years to plague the residents of 20th century Arkham and its neighbors, it seems like colonial America is a natural time and place for mythos-based action. Even in Charles Dexter Ward, there’s an archetypal coterie of community members who take it upon themselves to protect their local world from the depredations of an evil alchemist. That screamed “party of wildly disparate yet bound by a common interest player characters” to me.

I see there’s at least one Chaosium monograph on the topic, Colonial Terrors. Have you ever run a Cthulhoid campaign or one-shot in colonial America? How did it go?

The Acme of Research Laboratories

CoastConFan Blog shows us the elements you might expect to find in your modern 1920s investigator’s lab and attached facilities. The first four pictures are of Harry Price‘s own lab. Price was an actual psychic investigator active during the 20s, so everything you see in those photos is in-period and accessible to someone in that line of endeavor.

CoastConFan goes on to suggest some other resources your hardy group of investigators would find handy: a reference library, examining/consultation room for doctors and analysts, storage and a garage.

That may seem like a lot for amateur investigators to pull together and it is. CoastConFan presents those resources as “for a full blow[n] investigators lab that is fully funded and should be consider the absolute acme of a mid-20s lab and headquarters.” So this is a great resource for someone working for the Gilchrist Trust, a magical researcher of Cabal at Martense College, one of the Rosicrucians’ scientifically-minded Parmenideans in that era of WitchCraft, and so on. That vague itch to dig out Angel‘s organization rules has resurfaced. I could see where the acme of research labs falls in spending points.

[Link via Propnomicon.]

A Dark Gathering 2012

This past Memorial Day weekend, I went to A Dark Gathering and played a crap-ton of Call of Cthulhu, certainly more than I’ve ever played before in a 48 hour period. A Dark Gathering modeled itself on a troll hoot, a micro-convention of friends who descend upon a conveniently placed hotel to spend the weekend role-playing. In this case, we met about halfway between the furthest flung contingents, putting us just outside Syracuse, New York[1] for a weekend of horror gaming.

All the gaming went down in a pair of suites — really larger sleeping rooms with floorspace for a banquet table and ample chairs each. There was a rough schedule of who would run what when. Nothing before the afternoon, so there was plenty of time for late night socializing and long-running scenarios. This was a welcome change for me, because I usually find myself rushing around in the early morning, particularly when working Carnage. My body wakes up on its own schedule regardless of when I go to sleep the night before, but having the morning to myself each day was most welcome — and even then, I still took Saturday night off. Turns out surviving a weekend of ample socialization without becoming visibly cranky means I need to block out plenty of me time.

I myself played in three Call of Cthulhu scenarios, each with a different GM and style. Friday evening, Andre Kruppa ran “The Burning Stars,” a scenario from Chaosium’s Terrors from Beyond anthology in his super theatrical style with lighting, music cues and props that help set the mood for some grim role-playing. That was the first time I needed a flashlight to check my character sheet or read the dice. Saturday afternoon’s “Any Port in a Storm,” run by Robin Lea, was a palate-cleanser in that it was more of a whimsical set-up with investigators for a paranormal reality show getting caught up in extra-dimensional hijinks — mind you, more than half the group still died, two from in-fighting and one from failure to unplug first, but it was all in good fun. I was completely unsubtle about my character’s secret in this one and enjoyed it immensely. Sunday afternoon I played in Tom Loney‘s “Fever Dream,” where the traditional set-up of being called to your dying uncle’s house ends much as one might expect in the Call of Cthulhu milieu.

While I took notes on all three games I played because it’s become habit by now, I’m on the fence about recapping them in as much detail as I have been the Pathfinder campaigns. That’s a lot of recapping and I find myself being more sensitive to spoiling scenarios that aren’t readily accessible as purchasable products for some reason — and there’s a huge cult of secrecy around Andre’s games, even when they’re published scenarios.

The hoot model has a lot going for it: small, intimate, loosely organized, relatively easy to arrange and potentially more affordable than a typical convention weekend. The flip side of a closed gathering is there’s less opportunity for the serendipity of discovering new games by wandering by a table. The interaction of extended networks can replicate that, though.

A Dark Gathering was a fun, tiring weekend. I got to hang out with friends I don’t normally see, make some more and do way more role-playing than I normally get to.

[0] N.b. Tom’s written his own account of the weekend in five parts. Robin’s record has pictures.

[1] And home of the Dinosaur BBQ, a restaurant I adored in my college days. That was a strong motivator, I can’t deny.

The Gilchrist Trust in WitchCraft

Dennis Detwiller’s The Gilchrist Trust would make an interesting antagonist association for WitchCraft, to go beyond its immediate Call of Cthulhu applications. The goal of the Trust, proving the existence of life after death, would bring them directly into contact with the Twilight Order and the House of Thanatos.

Given their self-assigned mission of maintaining the boundaries between life and death, the Order is almost automatically predisposed to act as a foil to Trust investigators’ efforts. “Mundanes,” as most Trust agents would be, aren’t supposed to know about ghosts and the otherworlds. I can see Twilight members actively following Trust agents to muddy their investigations, stealing artifacts under study by the Trust and racing them to newly uncovered locations and materials to remove any traces of necromantic practices.

The Thanatoi’s position on the Gilchrist Trust would be murkier. The House of Thanatos is more about boundary crossers. Their membership is made up of revenants, phantasms, vampires and other sorts who either blur the line, or caper merrily on both sides. So they’ve got the information that can win someone the big prize of the Gilchrist Trust. Whether any Thanatoi would be on board with that information exploding out to the public seems fairly unlikely. The afterlife is their specialty. The thought of it being legitimized and rigorously examined by even a fraction of the scientific establishment of the 1920s should be terrifying.

Of course, this is the 1920s. The occult world of WitchCraft is still reeling from the mini-reckoning of the Great War and the Spanish flu. The Twilight Order and the House of Thanatos are not likely to be entirely on their game at the moment — though maybe the Thanatoi’s rolls have had an influx of revenants and relentless dead from the fields of France; perhaps even Gilchrist’s son, Alexander. Moreover, the prospect of a cool million, or a sizable share of the Gilchrist fortune by taking the big prize, would be awfully tempting to the Gifted necromancer down on his luck. With the self-appointed guardians and experts of the afterlife at an ebb, this could be just the right time for the Gilchrist Trust and its agents to crack the afterlife wide open.

[Masks of Nyarlathotep] A Letter from Beyond the Grave

Until such time as I can write up the events of last night’s Masks of Nyarlathotep session, enjoy this missive from Lothar von Fasselstein, attached to his last will and testament as a final message to his assistant, Sophie Hawkins, but somehow loaded with information revealed only moments before his death.

Also, who knew his outrageous German accent carried over into the written word?

Mein dear Miss Hawkins,

Now zat I haff left you alles of mein vorldly possessions, I can rest assured zat ze Professor Lothar von Fasselstein Memorial Library und ze Professor Lothar von Fasselstein Chair in Egyptology at ze unifersity of Oxford shall be in gut hands! Ven you hire ze sculptors und ze painters for ze artistic exhibition section of ze Memorial Library, please take care zat zhey capture mein likeness from ze right side, vhich is mein gut side. Alzo, ze Eternal Flame in ze courtyard memorial zhould be beneath the memorial arch, not before – I know, I know, ze plans show differently, but I haff changed mein mind. Zhe gardens surroundingk mein grave can be of any type you prefer, but I do like ze lilies und ze lilacs.

I am assured zat you zhall be ze very best administrator of mein legacy imaginable, you haff been ze best of research assistants, und zhese skills zhould serve you vell in dealingk viz ze unifersity administrators, ze city planners, ze legislatures of New York und mein native Nuremburg to establish ze Professor Lothar von Fasselstein Medallion to be given to ze most deservingk student of Egypt from ze city’s unifersities und alzo ze best enemy of ze cults. Ja, ja, in fact – uze zome of ze money to make sure zat ze cults get a gut punchingk in ze face. If you do not vant it, perhaps you can giff somevone mein shotgun – I sink Herr Spadowsky vhould like it, ja? For ze cult shootingks.

Alzo, und zhis is fery important! I vish to be buried viz ze head of Edvard Gafigan. Under mein foot.

I remain,

Very Truly Yours,

Prof. Dr. Lothar Otto Ferdinand von Fasselstein, B.A., M.A. (Heid.), Ph.D. (Oxon)

Thanks to Dan, Lothar’s player, for not only allowing this to be published on Held Action, but having the inspiration to write it in the first place. Lothar was easily the most colorful and amusing character in the campaign to date. He will be missed.