#RPGaDAY 19: Favorite Published Adventure

#RPGaDAY prompts.

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

A fast food restaurant worker floats cross-legged over the counter. Glowing french fries are piled in her open palms.

Mak Attax serves it up right.

The adventure I would most like to have run or played in has got to be To Go, an Unknown Armies campaign book in which the main characters are caught up in the creation of a mystical creature from the unconscious mind of the American population. Surprisingly or not, the creation of this entity begins in a meat-packing plant with a sacrificial beast. From there, frozen beef patties are delivered all over the country by a single trucker. The players embroil themselves in catching up with those deliveries, trying to shape the way the creature forms, while other interested factions do the same.

It’s been a while since I read the book — and I since sold off, so I have the double whammy of having spoiled myself and am unable to run it — but I recall a Tim Powers-style poker game where characters can wager intangibles like their memories and abilities, but an encounter with a modern avatar of Dionysus and the bacchae (all referred to as “Becky”).

Man, now I really want to rustle up a copy of To Go and Unknown Armies to break up the Pathfinder marathon going on these days in my circles. To Go was the companion work to Break Today, which detailed Mak Attax, a mystical conspiracy embedded in a fast food restaurant chain. I hadn’t paid them much mind until I read the book, and then the reach of their organization and their potential for positive change amazed me. Often Mak Attax gets written off as uninformed losers, but then they pulled off the safe and happy new year in 1999, and no one blinked.

#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.


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.”

Tales from the Fallen Empire on Carnagecast

Tales from the Fallen Empire splash art.

Tales from the Fallen Empire splash art.

As promised, the Tales from the Fallen Empire episode of Carnagecast posted earlier this week. Check it out to hear about an awesome sword and sorcery setting for old school sandbox role-playing.

The Kickstarter for Tales from the Fallen Empire has already funded. Now it’s all gravy and stretch goals.

Tales from the Fallen Empire Kickstarter

Tales from the Fallen Empire splash art.

Tales from the Fallen Empire splash art, used with permission.

James Carpio, proprietor of Chapter 13 Press, just launched a kickstarter campaign for Tales from the Fallen Empire, a sword and sorcery campaign setting for Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game.

As James tells us:

Join the struggle for survival in a war-torn land where new empires arise to impose their will upon the masses. Vicious warlords fight to control territories carved out of fallen kingdoms. Imposing magicians emerge claiming the legacy of the Sorcerer Kings. High Priests of long forgotten gods and goddesses amass wealth in the name of divine right while Warrior-priests, devoted to a banished god, patrol the lands bringing justice to people abandoned by their rulers.

In addition to providing a gazetteer to the sundered lands of the Sorcerer Kings of old, Tales from the Fallen Empires modifies some of Dungeon Crawl Classics‘ core classes, as well as adds a bevy of its own: Barbarian, Witch, Draki, Wanderer, Man-Ape and Pirate. Carpio cites Lieber, Howard, Lovecraft, Corman and Moorcock as his sources, so you know it’s going to be a flavorful melange of elements and tropes.

The kickstarter campaign concludes on July 18th, 2012 and is well on its way to funding. There are many backing levels, but the two key levels are $15 for a PDF of the book and $30 for the print edition ($45 for international shipping).

I recently interviewed James about Tales of the Fallen Empire for Carnagecast. Once that episode posts, I’ll pass the word along so you can hear direct from the designer about his inspiration and goals for the world of Leviathan.

6/8/2012: As promised, here’s the Carnagecast episode link. James talks about his inspirations for the setting, what makes Leviathan unique and some of the interesting elements of Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Conspiracies and Secret Societies: The Complete Dossier

While laid low over the past weekend with a cold, I took the opportunity to delve into some books that lay untouched on my bookshelf for too long. One of them was Conspiracies and Secret Societies: The Complete Dossier by Brad and Sherry Steiger. It’s a massive tome that I picked up mostly because I kept hearing ads for it on some podcasts and at the time, I had more Paperbackswap credits than I had uses for.

As it turns out, it’s something of an informal encyclopedia on none other than conspiracies and secret societies in history. Rosicrucians, the Trilateral Commission, the Rockefellers, the assassination of political figures throughout the centuries; it’s all in there. Hundreds of oddball topics get some page time in this book. It’s a great way to skip around subjects. You can read up on the Theosophy movement and Madame Blavatsky, then move on to orgone radiation before taking in the Knights Templar.

It’s all grounded in historical fact, mind you. There are no flights of fancy or bisociation. The Steigers’ short articles, typically drawing on Internet resources, but also many traditional works, present the real world perspective as their book is nominally non-fiction — in that they don’t purport that the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’s workings actually achieved anything, just that there was an order and its members did stuff like that.

Coming off Things That Never Were and my refresher course in Suppressed Transmission, this book reminded me that it’s not all about making stuff up for role-playing games. There’s still plenty of ideas to mine here, but it’s a sober testament to the fact this stuff changed real people’s real lives, for good or worse.

Conspiracies and Secret Societies: The Complete Dossier is published by Visible Ink Press and is available today.

Things That Never Were

“Call it speculative nonfiction, or cryptojournalism, or historico-literary ranting, or guided daydreaming or collective-unconscious channeling, or edutainment disinformation, or fabulaic mimesis, or polymorphously perverse media-jamming, or any other semi-oxymoronic term you care to employ, so long as the new phrase conveys the proper sense of daring, erudition, obstinate refusal to accept consensus reality, playfulness, willingness to go out on a limb then saw the limb away, and all the other qualities traditionally associated with humanity’s greatest rebels, outcasts, eccentrics, visionaries, saints, madmen and plain old bullgoose loonies.”

That’s just the start of a glowing introduction from Paul di Filippo to Matthew Rossi’s Things That Never Were, a collection of short essays that range across the fields of history, science and their pseudo-counterparts. In one, he cobbles together an expedition team including Ehrich Weiss, H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard among others who delve into the caverns of Pellucidar and Atvatabari to stop the dero threat once and for all. In another, he posits a war of espionage between Roger Bacon and Kubilai Khan, the greatest minds of the west and east, respectively.

Every essay is a freewheeling mish-mash of ideas ranging from the ultimate fate of the Library of Alexandria — hidden in a dimensional fold by genius mathematician Hypatia — to a bevvy of potential causes of the Tunguska blast of 1908 — too numerous to sum up. Rossi pulls from a wide variety of esoteric source of information without much discernment. The writing of Theosophists are as much fair game as The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. In short, it’s a smorgasbord of ideas ripe for the picking for a role-playing campaign.

As fun as Rossi’s rapid-fire, scattershot mingling of fact, fiction and supposition is to read and feel your brain prickle at the madness of it all, it can be daunting to pick out the one or two things one wants from an essay while the author pinwheels around, invoking as many geek touchstones as possible, particularly Lovecraft’s mythos. Rossi usually cites his sources, particularly with extensive quotes to set the stage, but I often found myself wishing for annotations expanding on a throwaway namecheck, references to other essays in the book — he often brings a name or topic up “as I’ve mentioned before” when they appear later in the book — and footnotes of further books to research.

It’s fun, it’s readable and it’s so similar to some of the plot seeds I’ve written here that I think we’ve both drawn from the same inspirational well, the Suppressed Transmission column by Kenneth Hite. But that’s fine. There’s more than enough weirdness in the world for everyone to write about. And I appreciated being reminded about this book on a recent RPG.net thread lamenting the unavailability of unpublished transmissions; it was a lot like stumbling onto Suppressed Transmission‘s cousin and being just as enraptured.

Things That Never Were is published by Monkeybrain Books and can be purchased on Amazon — and possibly conventional retailers; I didn’t check.

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.