In episode 156 of my favorite paranormal podcast, EERIE Radio, the hosts mention the possibility of manning a table at Gen Con of all places. It makes sense. They’re based around Indianapolis and various members of the crew have made passing reference to role-playing games over the years. What’s more, so many people attend Gen Con that a good percentage of them are bound to share interest in paranormal topics.
Host and resident scientist Robfather mentioned one nose-curdling story from a trip he made to Gen Con Milwaukee some time back, in which card gamers were stationed in a skyway between hotels with no ventilation to speak of and hot dog vendors with bratwurst and sauerkraut stationed at either end. I think the implications of such an arrangement is obvious.
This isn’t the only instance paranormal interest and role-playing have crossed over, of course. Brad Younie has an Unexplained scenario in which the investigation team tracks down paranormal phenomena amidst the chaos of a gaming convention. Lake Morey Resort, with its numerous additions, slanting floors and wandering corridors, is a terrific venue in which to stage an investigation. Playing the adventure right there at Carnage gives the participants a powerful sense of the location they’re exploring — and how unnerving it might be to have to distinguish the eerie signs of paranormal activity from typical gaming lunacy of boffer swords and bellowed challenges.
I’ve awaited The Unexplained for years now, since I first heard about it at OGC in 2006. Back then, Brad Younie called it Strange World. He pitched it as a paranormal investigation game, for running games along the lines of television shows like Ghost Hunters and Paranormal State. This past February, I had the chance to not only play two Unexplained adventures run by Brad, but pick up my own copy of the book at TotalCon.
My primary interest in The Unexplained was as a go-to source for paranormal phenomena and their packaging for use in role-playing games. Powered as it is by FUDGE, I knew it would be easy to ignore the mechanical material while harvesting the ideas and information for use in my own campaigns and adventures. Paranormal investigation is something I’ve followed for a while, mostly in the form of podcasts like The Paracast and EERIE Radio, so the idea of a one-stop shop for role-play ready material really appealed to me. I was also interested in what ways The Unexplained would recommend running paranormal investigation games, as one of the hallmarks of the field in real life is the ever-hanging question of whether or not there’s any validity to the phenomena people experience.
While notable in many regards, perhaps this cryptid is most exceptional in its near blanket distribution of sightings across the globe. Despite the lack of hard evidence for breeding populations or an ultimate native biome, Homo viatoris waldensis has been sighted literally all over the world and throughout history. Bas reliefs in ancient Egyptian pyramids depict the cryptid lurking on the outskirts of construction sites. Ranchers in 19th century Australia tell fireside tales about the time they glimpsed an H. v. waldensis, or “striped ambler” as it’s more colloquially known, loping alongside the herd in the mid-summer twilight. And no neighborhood in a major urban center is complete without the legend of the skinny man someone’s brother’s sister’s cousin’s personal trainer saw one time striding down an alley with no exit, only to vanish from sight on turning the corner.
With such a plethora of oral traditions, how can photographic evidence of this nomadic hominid never been captured, particularly in this modern age of digital photography and a camera in every hand held device? Some cryptozoologists speculate that a striped ambler’s spectacular natural coloring acts as the camouflage equivalent of the big lie, overpowering the human visual cortex, so that it is seen only in bad light or out of the corner of the observer’s eye.
One parapsychologist with the Spengler-Stantz Institute theorizes that reports of H. v. waldensis seen wielding and using tools, particularly a walking stick, suggests the possibility of an advanced society of cryptoterrestrials living alongside or among humanity without detection, as Mac Tonnies hypthesized. Such a civilization would certainly need excellent camouflaging technology to go unperceived by the human race. Alternately, a small clique of self-proclaimed sensitives attached to the Mt. Shasta School for the Gifted of urban legend insist the Walking Man is not an unknown species of creature, but a single entity all throughout history, a physical expression of this sephiroth‘s basic essence of change and motion.
Whatever its motivation or origin, H. v. waldensis seems content to stroll across the earth in solitude, seemingly without purpose, destination or visible means of support. Only when provoked does the ambler become aggressive, as two amateur cryptozoologists found to their chagrin. As human settlement of the planet continues, it’s only a matter of time before someone stumbles upon a habitation zone or other physical trace of this peripatetic cryptid. The truth may prove far more surprising than anyone could imagine.
 Thanks to ThoseLilRabbits’YouTube video for the initial laugh and inspiration.
This, regrettably, is where Saturday unraveled for me. Back when I preregistered, I hadn’t considered the effect of scheduling three investigation-heavy role-playing games in a row. It got rather tedious to go through the steps of investigation three games in a row. Considering the last two adventures had been rather inconclusive, I was subconsciously looking forward to something more concrete and action-oriented. I’ll know better next time I’m planning my convention playing schedule.
I thought Spirits Among the Ruins was going to be my favorite of the weekend, too. The premise centered on a mysterious, possibly pre-Columbian lithic site in New Hampshire. I’ve always had a thing for Stonehenge and other mysterious arrangements of rocks for uncertain purposes. So I loved the idea of an ancient astronomical observatory with its very own set of ghostly presences.
Friday night of TotalCon was my first scheduled game: Abduction: CE4, a game using Brad Younie‘s The Unexplained to chronicle the activities of the Foundation for Paranormal Investigation. Brad’s worked on The Unexplained for as long as I’ve known him, and possibly longer. We met at OGC in 2006, where I played his Ghosts of the Lady Grace adventure. Then it was called Strange World — and, the Ogre’s Cave’s review tells me, apparently grew out of Brad’s prior game, Now Playing, which used “FPI: The Show” as a sample game framework. It particularly piqued my interest because at the time, and even since then, I hadn’t come across another role-playing game that took straight, real world paranormal phenomena and the study thereof — as in, the paranormal as we know it, rather than as game designers imagine it might be in a world of secret supernatural beings — as its primary subject matter.
In addition to finally checking out the game, I had the secondary purpose of revisiting FUDGE, the super light rule system Brad uses in his games. I had an absolutely miserable experience with FUDGE in Ghosts of the Lady Grace with a phenomenal run of poor rolls and wanted to give the rules another play experience. Abduction: CE4 billed itself as investigating the abrupt disappearance of a college student during the observation of a low flying UFO, a true close encounter of the fourth kind.
Sometime later this morning, I’ll embark down good old Interstate 89, southbound for Total Confusion, the elder statesman of the New England gaming convention circuit. It’s my first trip to this particular show, though I have a rough idea of what to expect, from others’ tales. Fingers crossed for getting into one, if not two, of Brad Younie’s adventures in The Unexplained and plenty of board games on the side.
I’ll have my trusty camera in hand, so you’ll get to see what the convention looked like, as best I can document it. If you attend TotalCon yourself, I’ll be — one of — the guy(s) in souvenir Carnage T-shirts.
In the spirit of carpe jugulum, this afternoon I spontaneously decided to tag along with a crew going to TotalCon next month. I just got done going through the online registration process. Fingers crossed I haven’t missed out on everything I signed up for.
My wishlist of games includes:
- Abduction: CE4, one of Brad Younie’s paranormal investigation adventures using his game The Unexplained.
- Curse of the Betrothed, a Call of Cthulhu adventure.
- Spirits Among the Ruins, another Unexplained adventure, centered around a lithic observatory in the New Hampshire woods.
- Palace of the Vampire Queen, a Basic Dungeons & Dragons game run by one of the venerable old men of the hobby, Frank Mentzer.
TotalCon uses a ticketing system, so apparently whatever games I don’t get into are substituted for by a generic ticket. I’ve never been a convention that uses tickets before, so we’ll see how that goes.