#RPGaDay2015 26: Favorite Inspiration for Your Game

RPG-a-day-2015Cover of Suppressed Transmission: a collage of conspirators and high weirdness elements centered around the trifecta of Kennedy, Shakespeare and a grey alien.It can’t be anything but Suppressed Transmission. We’ve talked about this Pyramid column of Ken Hite’s before. I agitated for the release of the still-uncollected bulk of the corpus. Regrettably, nothing came of that, which is a crying shame because what was published was so damn good as an idea mine of utter weirdness to build into your game of choice.

There have been spiritual successors, like Matthew Rossi’s Things That Never Were, a collection of essays that feel like they could be a Third Broadcast, right down to using the neologism “bisociate.” Hite went on to write a similar-sounding series for a Swedish magazine, and then kicked off Ken Writes About Stuff for Pelgrane Press, which was rather more mythos- and GUMSHOE-focused when I was subscribed, but it still felt like kin to Suppressed Transmission.

Pound for pound, though, Suppressed Transmission is where it’s at for finding all kinds of crazy ideas and oddities of real world history to seed into your games, whether they’re modern gonzo conspiralunacy or a traditional fantasy campaign in need of some new, previously unknown monsters and antagonists. Someone out there has to have taken up Hite on his suggestion of Justinian I as a demon, right?

The Initiative: Superhero RPG Appendix N Blog Challenge

Theron of My Dice Are Older Than You turned me on to Barking Alien‘s Superhero RPG Appendix N Challenge:

I challenge you, the Superhero RPG GM, and/or player, to list between 5 and 10 Superhero comic books, and 5 to 10 Superhero live action or animated shows or films, that typify your style of Superhero RPG campaign.

 

Minimum is 5. Maximum is 10. This means you have to really think about the ones that best embody the type of Supers gaming you prefer. Who’s up for the challenge?

I feel like this could devolve into listing my favorite comics, rather than highlighting titles that convey the superhero ethos I want in the campaign I run, but let’s give it a try.

Comic Books

  • Starman: The Robinson and Harris series, in which Jack Knight is reluctant heir to his father’s legacy as Starman. One of the recurring motifs was a loving embrace of the goofiness of the Silver Age, and treating it straight-facedly. The straight face is key. The idea may be ludicrous, but the characters treat it as a credible threat all the same, not unlike a giant Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.
  • New Mutants: A school is always a useful campaign frame for superheroes. The player characters may not necessarily be students, but a school or training facility setting offers so many options for supporting characters, interwoven story lines and a home base to contrast the familiar with new locales.
  • Excalibur: The early days of the comic felt more like investigating weirdness with a sense of whimsy than the soap opera of the other X-Men books at the time. And whatever happened to W.H.O., the Weird Happenings Organization, led by Brigadier Alysande Stuart, speaking of useful frameworks that give the right mix of structure and leeway to player character groups?

TV Shows and Films

  • Heroes: It was riddled with plot holes and idiot balls, but the basic concept of every day people “breaking out” with astonishing powers is a solid hook, and puts the players on the ground floor of a new era in history.
  • X2: This was the X-Men film that had the right mix of the sensibility of heroes in the contemporary world and the sweet point in their development, beyond having just broken out, but still developing and making new allies

Other Resources

  • Paragons: Green Ronin’s toolkit setting book for Mutants & Masterminds needs a shout-out here. It includes so many different approaches to modern heroes, from the explorers of weirdness that early Excalibur exemplified to the classic superpowers appearing — or reappearing after an absence — in the everyday population. And it heavily influenced my Paragons of Freedom campaign.
  • Suppressed Transmission: Once weirdness is on the table, you have to deal in Suppressed Transmission. It’s a trove of McGuffins and sources of superpowers.

#RPGaDAY 11: Weirdest RPG Owned

#RPGaDAY prompts.

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

The weirdness of my role-playing game library expresses itself in more subtle ways than, say, your Maids and your Creeks and Crawdads. Check out my friend Joe’s list of really atypical settings for that kind of thing. No, the oddities of my library are far more occulted to the unsuspecting reader. The prime candidate is, of course, the Suppressed Transmission collections. Not a role-playing game, per se,[1] but columns by Kenneth Hite that are near paens to the high weirdness of history, bunk science and mystic traditions. They’re a glorious goldmine of tidbits like the possible true identities of Shakespeare, the effect Dr. Frankenstein’s research may have had on history and the cavalcade of forms that ultraterrestrials have taken over the years. Riding shotgun with the Suppressed Transmission collections is, of course, Mage: the Ascension, which also drew from, and spindled more freely, occult traditions to populate its factions of will-workers.

Consider also the weirdness of “What on Earth was the designer thinking?” There’s no end to that question in role-playing games, where half the time the writing of a book seems to be so intensely personal a process that the designer maybe doesn’t share their thoughts out loud with neutral observers until they feel the project has progressed too far to make any sweeping changes. The example that first comes to mind is Time Lord, the Doctor Who role-playing game published by Virgin that famously lacked suitably robust character creation rules to serve the breadth and depth of types of people the Doctor travels with.[2] This lack was made up for an appendix release some time after publication to the internet, and you can usually find it appropriately appended to digital versions of the text in circulation.

And finally, an honorable mention goes to Deadlands Reloaded, as it is literally set in the Weird West.

Weirdness: it’s where you least expect to find it. That’s what makes it weird.


[1] Though Hite discoursed occasionally on tying the disparate lunacy of his columns together into overarching campaign frameworks.

[2] Particularly in an era when the property’s ongoing materials was purely novels, which had a limitless budget, so far as make-up effects went.

Link

Some great thoughts on the Suppressed Transmission columns by Kenneth Hite, and why you should check out the collections: “Ken Hite’s Suppressed Transmission reviewed, with a couple of long excerpts to illustrate and a dip into Charles Fort at the end.”

Free the Suppressed Transmissions

Suppressed Transmission was a column written by Kenneth Hite for Pyramid, Steve Jackson Games’ role-playing magazine. For more than 300 columns, Hite frolicked through the fields of history — real and alternate — the occult, paranormal and high weirdness. It was time traveling reptoids one week, the six faces of Jack the Ripper the next. It was a little bit historical fact, a little bit delirium and conspiranoia. Plot seeds, characters, campaign frames, you name it, Hite made them out of the oddities of human civilization for your inspiration and role-playing pleasure. It went on like that for years. And it was most enjoyable. Then Pyramid‘s format changed, the column ended and — this is the important bit — the archives became unavailable as subscriptions ended.

You can still get a taste of Suppressed Transmission through the two collections sold through e23, including the previews available for both. The collections comprise about three dozen columns each from early in the run. The material is heavily annotated and cross-referenced, so those two books have a lot of value added in compared to the columns as they were originally published.

I bring this up because a little over a year ago, I and some other ardent fans of Suppressed Transmission — Chris Helton, Jürgen Hubert and Stéphane Gallay, among others — kicked around the prospect of a grassroots effort to convince Steve Jackson Games it would be worth their time and energy to collect and release the unpublished columns in some format or other.

Jürgen in particular began a “Where I Read” thread on RPG.net in which he read through and commented on theSuppressed Transmissioncorpus. He’s up to number 123 as of this writing. And that’s out of just over 300 columns. Skim that thread. Look at the panoply of madness those columns cover. If those ideas tickle your mind, just remember there are so many more to be uncovered in a full collection.

As is the nature of topics of conversation on the internet, the fate of Suppressed Transmission has come round again. The state of affairs hasn’t changed much. The publisher has to see that releasing the rest of the columns in some form is going to be a money-making proposition. For that to happen, there has to be a rise in sales of the existing collections — both in PDF, only the second still in print.

Rally round the flag and support the movement to show there’s a market for a complete Suppressed Transmission collection. Hop in forum threads, talk it up with your friends and most importantly, buy the books! At the very least, they make for entertaining reading and at the very best, they offer oodles of ideas to cram into your role-playing games.

Rebroadcasting the Suppressed Transmission

Last week, I extolled the virtues of Suppressed Transmission, a cornucopia of mad and wonder plot ideas for the discerning GM. Chris Helton concurred. Jürgen Hubert started his “Where I Read” thread of the whole Suppressed Transmission corpus on RPG.net. Then the RPGGeek community chimed in. That constitutes grassroots movement, in my opinion.

Now the movement’s come to the Daily Illuminator, Steve Jackson Games’ in-house blog. Phil Reed and Steve Jackson both articulate how much they’d like to publish the full collection and sum up who’s been talking about the transmissions so far. Hello to all of you who came to Held Action via that post! They also reiterate that it’s going to take sales of the two existing collections to show there’s a market for further such products.

Again, my only stake in this is getting access to the Suppressed Transmission archive in some form or another. And that’s something of benefit to every GM who wants to inject some high strangeness into their role-playing campaign.

You Know About the Suppressed Transmission, Of Course

Or do you? In addition to “proving” the USA had been on the moon since the 1950s in the film Slacker, Suppressed Transmission was an on-going column by Kenneth Hite in Pyramid that veritably romped through the fields of conspiracy theory, occultism, alternate history and any other bit of general weirdness that caught the author’s eye. Every column was literally jam-packed with plot seeds, campaign frameworks and non-player character ideas. They’re a GM’s delight, as the content is all eminently usable in any number of role-playing genres. Any time your game has a call for secrets, curious artifacts of unknown provenance and inexplicable happenings, you’ll find something interesting. I drew on Suppressed Transmission for my Mage: The Ascension campaign, going so far as to name the game after it. I still flip through columns regularly for adventure hooks and inspiration.

In addition to their utility as role-playing inspiration, the Suppressed Transmission columns make fascinating reading in their own right. Hite freely mixes and matches science fiction with history, conjuring up conspiracies and secret origins of the oddities of history: the mystical significance of Coca-Cola, the meaning of the Voynich Manuscript and six alternate time lines of the Roswell UFO incident, to name a few. Suppressed Transmission tickles the “what if?” spot of the brain of anyone into general purpose weirdness. The columns are free of role-playing rules or numbers. It’s all prose that you can read for sheer entertainment even if you’re not a role-player.

Why am I shilling so hard for someone else’s product? While there are two collections of Suppressed Transmission, wonderfully annotated and cross-referenced, currently available in print and PDF, there are many more columns’ worth of material not available. Pyramid volume 2 is no longer available as it once was. When the topic of the unavailable columns came up in a discussion forum, the answer from Steve Jackson Games came down to: there needs to be a significant increase in sales of the Suppressed Transmission material available for sale to prove spending the time on the Pyramid archives is worthwhile.

In a world where people are willing to pledge money to Nathan Fillion to buy Firefly, it doesn’t seem too unreasonable to raise some grassroots awareness about something as awesomely entertaining as Kenneth Hite’s work on Suppressed Transmission. I love the two collections I currently own. I would dearly like to be able to read the rest. The PDF version of volume one is eight bucks. That’s less than a quarter per column, plus a bibliography!

Check it out, won’t you? And if you need more of a taste than the preview PDFs offer, check out Jürgen Hubert’s “Where I Read” thread on RPG.net.

What are other people saying about Suppressed Transmission?