The Stone Chamber

The round hills of Vermont roll across the landscape. Their raiment changes with the season: summer green, autumn red, winter white and springtime drab, but the hills themselves are as constant as anything seems to one possessed of a human lifespan. They are as close-mouthed and inscrutable as their inhabitants, not prone to sharing their secrets with just anyone who happens by.

But dotted here and there in the hills are oddities, stone chambers built into hillsides and hidden from casual view by foliage. Typically rectangular, they are lined with flat blocks of limestone or shale, the chambers give no indication of their function. Tradition holds these chambers were here when the first Europeans arrived, but they hardly fit with what is known about native Abenaki practices. In fact, surviving Abenaki oral traditions are conspicuously silent on the topic of the stone chambers.

Modern scholars maintain the chambers are surviving traces of long gone, unrecorded dwellings, probably storage rooms meant for keeping goods cool. Any instances of a chamber doorway aligning with sunrise or sunset on an astronomically significant date like a solstice or equinox is pure coincidence or wishful thinking on the part of the observer.

Shows what they know.

The Door to Otheryear

A realityquake is a quantum event. The raw stuff of space and time rips asunder. One section of reality drops below another as one tectonic plate subducts below another in an earthquake. And, as may happen, elements of that submerged strata may find their way to the top of the covering layer, incongruously out of place.

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Planning for Carnage the 13th

The cast of Dr. Nik's Celestial Decision 2006 at Carnage. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sponng/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It’s over nine months away, but playing at TotalCon — and knowing my long-ass development cycle — fired me up to start thinking about role-playing adventures for Carnage the 13th. Writing two separate adventures tend to be feasible for me — although as I’ve noted in the past, one tends to get a lot more time and attention paid to it than the other. I can toss an Arkham Horror session in there and call it a good weekend.

Yes, We Now Know Whom to Call

This year, I have a different kind of quandary over what to run. I know I want to do another Ghostbusters adventure, using the same group of characters, so that reduces time spent there. With all the plot seeds I’ve run across in the last year, I have plenty of resources to draw on for that one, too. I had a particular McGuffin in mind, but now I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be a good fit for another setting, one which I haven’t had the opportunity to run before, Northern Crown.

I’m tempted to switch over to Cinematic Unisystem, as well. I’m coming to think that at the complexity level I actually run GURPS — i.e., the lightest form of GURPS Lite possible — it could give some people the wrong impression. Besides, Cinematic Unisystem has Drama Points, which I like a lot. Decisions, decisions. It would mean rebuilding characters, but that’s less of a chore in Unisystem.

But Then What?

But I’m not sure what else to run. I have this notion of using one of the old school mega-dungeons floating around the internet, like Greyhawk Grognard‘s Castle of the Mad Arch-Mage in either a free fantasy retro-clone or Pathfinder, just ’cause I have that book. But that’s never really been my oeuvre. I don’t know if I’d do it justice or be sufficiently versed in a fantasy-based system by then — though I certainly could do it in Unisystem or even GURPS.

Given that Carnage has a horror theme, I could resurrect Band on the Run, which I ran a few years ago. Monsters hide in plain sight as members of a touring rock band. The game went wildly off the rails — as they do — for which I felt it suffered, but most of the people who played expressed their enjoyment, so I try to think of it as one of those “gone so gonzo, it’s fun no matter what” games.

I could take another stab at Unknown Armies, brave the intimidating depths of GURPS Cabal, try The Day After Ragnarok or hell, run my beloved Mage: The Ascension. I need to narrow these possibilities down, find what fires my enthusiasm. That’s what energized me last year and I spent so many enjoyable hours bashing out characters and plot seeds for Lurker in the Limelight and Highway to Niflheim.

At some point I will feel comfortable recycling previously written adventures — namely BPRD: The Celestial Legion — but for now, I want to keep building my stable of material.

Suggestions, requests or pleas, Carnage-goers?

The Aluminum Skull

The brazen head of Roger Bacon — among others — is one of those recurring widgets in supernatural fiction. It’s a source of prophecy, arcane wisdom and all that fun stuff. Whether or not such a thing existed or had any of the capabilities ascribed to it, the idea of such a thing is enough to inspire any number of mystics to attempt to craft their own.

The particular example pictured to the right is certainly a more modern expression of the concept. With a name like Egocentric Armillary, it puts me in mind of Unknown Armies‘ human-centric universe. Everything in the game world is the product, consequence or fault of humanity. There are no beings from beyond or aliens. It’s all humans and the things they do to each other. In that world, I can see the aluminum skull working as a sort of avatar detector, since avatars and the Invisible Clergy members they emulate are the underpinnings of the current universe. This armillary swivels to stare in the direction of the nearest avatar utilizing one of their channels within a range of three miles, three feet and three inches, while constantly shrieking “You did it! You did it!”

Needless to say, most members of the occult underground tend to pass this one off in trade sooner rather than later, or at least invest in some sturdy foam earplugs.

Thanks to Propnomicon for the link to Egocentric Armillary.

Who’s Afraid of Ragland Park?

An article posted by Phantoms and Monsters, in which a candidate for the Romanian presidency claims a “negative energy” attack caused him to lose the election, reminded me of a plot seed I once threw out on RPG.net, in the days when I thought IRC would be an acceptable substitute for face-to-face role playing:

Well, my most recent campaign idea for Werewolf involves Ragland Park, a charismatic Glass Walker philodox, resolving to become the United States of America’s first Garou president. The PCs would be his team of hatchetmen, doing all the things hatchetmen do: digging up dirt on opponents, conducting midnight raids on campaign headquarters, exterminating the Banes someone let loose in a state’s voting machines, etc.

Somewhat silly, but fun, I would hope.

I have yet to run or really even think about Who’s Afraid of Ragland Park?, as I dubbed it, but it sidles forth from the back of my mind now and then. Part of the challenge would be working around and playing with the expectation that werewolves and other were-creatures have difficulty fitting into modern life. Even in WitchCraft, many Ferals live on the outskirts of society because of their more animal drives. It doesn’t make the idea impossible, just unlikely, which is great when the PCs are meant to be exceptional people doing extraordinary things.

The bit about the incumbent candidate having a parapsychologist attached to the campaign has given me some glorious ideas about the secret wars of symbols and mysticism that drive the public faces of political campaigns.

Lincoln’s Blood

In an interview with paranormal investigator Linda Zimmerman on EERIE Radio, the conversation touched on a bit of history that caught my attention: the American flag that cushioned Abraham Lincoln‘s head after his assassination, stained with his blood, is held by The Columns, a museum in Milford, Pennsylvania. There are several possible adventures to spin out of this that immediately spring to mind. Continue reading

[Carnage 2009] GURPS Ghostbusters: The Lurker in the Limelight

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They ain't afraid of no ghosts -- just the client's credit card being declined.

Friday night at Carnage was my moment of truth. This Ghostbusters game was the one in which I invested the most thought and energy over the last six months of con preparation. It’s also the one that most inspired me. Usually I beat my head against the wall in coming up with adventure details, but everything just flowed with this one. I even had the time and opportunity to run a playtest session in September. Even with all that preparation, though, I felt most nervous because I felt like this was the one that could go most badly. In retrospect, it was a lock in every regard except the possibility of players who didn’t get the mood and concept, but that was rather remote.

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An Extended Ghostbusters Ludography

Over on Examiner.com, Michael Tresca, himself author of Who Ya Gonna Call?, posted a rundown of Ghostbusters‘ influence on gaming through years. It directly spawned two editions of an RPG itself and a number of homages and imitators, including miniatures sets and InSpectres. There are, however, a few takes on the concept Michael left out of his article, some of which I found helpful in preparing The Lurker in the Limelight for Carnage.

Spook Stoppers

David Goodner wrote up an entire PDF on catching ghosts in Cinematic Unisystem by the name of Spook Stoppers. It’s got all the essential widgets a ghostbuster could want, some sample characters and outlines on creating ghosts, with still more samples to use. It’s a great starting point for anyone for whom Cinematic Unisystem is their system of choice.

You’ll find another take on busting heads in a spiritual sense with the Cinematic Unisystem over at Morgan’s Unisystem page.

Ghost-breaking

In the anthology supplement GURPS All-Star Jam 2004, Ken Hite’s contribution was the article Ghost-breaking. It takes a more antiquated approach to spook hunting, with electric pentacles and other wondrous ghostbusting artifacts, but it’s got a widget you haul around on your back to zap and trap ghosts, so that counts in my book.

ExorSystems, Inc

Ranging further afield, we have Octavirate Games’ take on spook and monster hunting, ExorSystems, Inc. It’s a d20 Modern supplement that sounds like it plays up the humorous side of exterminating supernatural pests while working for a major corporation. I say “sounds like” because I opted not to buy this one on the grounds I already have too many PDFs I have yet to read.

Ecto Hunters

This one never made it to market, sadly. as Daring Entertainment announced in early September 2009 it was ceasing publishing on account of the current economy. Ecto Hunters was pitched as part of the Daring Action Block, a series of PDFs for Savage Worlds describing the series in a cartoon programming block, alongside “shows” with strong similarities to nostalgia properties like G.I. Joe and Transformers. However, at least one of Daring Entertainment’s properties, Hard Boiled, may still see publication, which leaves a glimmer of hope for Ecto Hunters as well.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

One of the resources I’m drawing on for my Ghostbusters adventure, The Lurker in the Limelight, is a fan supplement written for the d20 Modern system, Michael Tresca’s Ghostbusters: Who Ya Gonna Call? It’s a very elegant PDF, downloadable for free from his site.

Admittedly, I’m using GURPS as my system of choice, so the stats aren’t of immediate utility, but this PDF is really helpful as a guide to what might be useful to the average ghostbusting PC. Sure, we all remember the endless font of information that was Tobin’s Spirit Guide, but what about The Roylance Guide to Secret Societies and Sects or Who’s Who and What’s That?

The reminder that ghostbusting can easily become an extra-planar activity alone gave me some terrific ideas. So thanks, Michael, for taking the time to write your PDF and share it with the gaming community.

Beastmen of the North Country

The blog Phantoms and Monsters, which circulates stories of weird happenings and odd creatures, posted an article on the “wild man” of the North Country. It relates some of the stories told over the years, by native peoples and more recent arrivals, about Bigfoot-like creatures, often with a menacing taste for flesh, roaming both the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont. I see the beginnings of more than a few scenario possibilities in the idea of ape-like carnivores coming down out of the hills to terrorize the populace. It also puts me in mind of a Call of Cthulhu game I played at OGC in 2007, where the characters were lost scions of the Martense family from Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear.

Or, suppose an old spur off the Long Trail, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and mysteriously dropped off the maintenance schedule a few years later, is officially reopened to use in the modern day. The PCs are all disparate hikers who happen to overnight together in a trail shelter. As dusk falls, a lone howl pierces the gloom. And then it’s joined by others.

Are the wild men merely aggressive carnivores looking for dinner? Or are they protecting something more, maybe an outpost of their society previously undisturbed by modern humanity?

“In the Next World, You’re on Your Own.”

Following in the footsteps of the late Demonground, Protodimension Magazine is a new quarterly zine offering a grab bag of adventures, plot seeds, fiction and house rules for a variety of horror and supernaturally-oriented RPGs. The first issue, which you can find here, hit the site the other week.

Content runs the gamut, including some of the less-recognized horror games like Unknown Armies, so it’s nice to see representation for more than the big apes of the horror genre. I admit I only skimmed the issue, looking more closely at the stuff I recognized and found interesting, but that’s the point of a zine, really: pick out the stuff that grabs your attention and leave the rest. I did like those blueprints for an alien spacecraft. They’ll come in handy if I ever get around to running a Conspiracy X game.

In short, if you’re interested in the modern horror or conspiracy genres, page through Protodimension and see what they’ve got. The layout designer very thoughtfully arranged it in landscape format, so it’s easy to read on a computer monitor.