#RPGaDAY 3: First RPG Purchased

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Galael: There's a reason they call him "Heaven's legbreaker."Depending on your criteria, there are several candidates for the first RPG I purchased. For full, self-contained games, there’s WitchCraft, an urban fantasy and horror game in the vein of the World of Darkness. I’d spent downtime during my academic endeavors devouring reviews of various games on RPG.net and the first time I walked into Quarterstaff Games, years after my last visit for Magic cards, my eyes stumbled across the WitchCraft core book — the whole line, in fact — tucked away on the bottom shelf of those rickety, sideways-leaning wooden shelving units that longtime customers of the store may recall. Clearly, this was fate to see something I’d been reading about right there on the shelf, however cunningly obscured, so I grabbed it and the companion Mystery Codex. And that purchase really set a theme for me, picking up games that sounded interesting, but didn’t have enough of an existing following for me to find interested people locally.

To this day, I haven’t successfully run or played in a single game using the WitchCraft materials in a substantive way, though they certainly proved useful when I brought my Ghostbusters convention series over to Unisystem last year at Carnage on the Mountain. And with the arrival of Madness Dossier, Conspiracy X 2.0 seems like a great starting point for a less crunchy implementation of neurolinguistic brain hacking and warring timelines.

Dragons of Winter Night cover art.Now, if you want to be really strict, the first role-playing book I ever bought was the player’s guide to the Dragonlance setting, without ever realizing it was a supplement to a game — really, without ever realizing there was a game attached to the series of novels I devoured voraciously at the time. And the first mechanical game thing I ever got was the Spelljammer box set, which is another lousy entry point into role-playing for someone who isn’t necessarily aware what Dungeons & Dragons is and how it ties to the myriad of products scattered around a Waldenbooks of the late 1980s, early 1990s.

Wardens of the Rosy Cross

Through a sufficiently skewed lens, the Rosicrucians of WitchCraft can be the jailers of Creation, locked in with the inmates. Think about it. They’re one of the major adherents of the belief system that there is a single Creator responsible for the nine sephiroth. Only the Creator’s gone off somewhere, leaving Kether vacant.

At the same time, the Rosicrucians are very concerned with protecting Malkuth from the depredations of the Mad Gods, beings from outside Creation entirely. Sure, the Mad Gods look like appalling transgressions of fleshcrafted nightmare and what they do to their mortal worshipers is no less pleasant, but in a well-built prison of the mind, wouldn’t it be sensible to turn the imprisoned’s very senses against them?

With such a decisive command of the laws behind the universe, particularly any number of angels and other spirits, it doesn’t take too much to start wondering just how in charge the Rosicrucians really are — and whom they truly serve.

The Rendlesham Incident

An artist’s depiction of the Rendlesham Forest Incident.

Balor of the Burning Eye is a Mad God of the WitchCraft universe that’s lived in the back of my mind for the last few years. It manifests in Malkuth as an enormous red eye, usually wreathed in flame, sometimes dripping blood. The original concept for Balor was a Mad God whose frequent incursions into Creation drove a cadre of Gifted to found the Brotherhood of Argus, dedicated to combating the Mad God and its minion’s efforts wherever they may be.

In this depiction of the Rendlesham Forest Incident, think of Balor as a manifesting ultraterrestrial. Balor has sent portions of its being to probe into the material world for many long aeons, for as long as there has been something on interest for it to probe. Long ago, Balor’s appearance was interpreted by locals as a relentless, burning eye. As time progressed, so did the interpretation of its appearance. These days, the ill-informed would call it a UFO, assuming it’s a vessel from another world piloted by beings of some form of flesh and blood.

But what they think is a ship is really still a four dimensional extrusion of an entity from a external space-time continuum that may not as few or as many dimensions as that. Balor’s appearance in Malkuth has no relation to however it may appear in its Creation of origin. It may not even realize how it seems to us, as the Mad God’s own perceptions are warped by the translation of four dimensional phenomena into its own sensory elements. The goals and motivations of such an ultraterrestrial may be even more opaque and unintelligible.

Consider the archetypal alien abduction encounter. An abduction victim recalls a sterile location, often white or some other neutral color. Small beings perform any manner of tests on their victim. In the ultraterrestrial hypothesis, these beings are from another dimension, rather than another world, maybe one coterminus with Earth as we know it — following the notion that it’s easier to step sideways into another world than cross interstellar gulfs. With the Mad Gods as ultraterrestrials of an extreme extra-cosmic order, maybe all those little beings are different expressions or manifestations of a larger being. Its natural state might be distributed across multiple organisms — as in Peter Watts’ short story companion to The Thing, the aptly-titled “The Things” — or it might be the translation to this Creation’s physics that cause a fracturing effect. In the latter case, an interesting twist would be different portions of the Mad God’s being working at odds with each other. Maybe one even founds the group that works against the Mad God’s ineffable goals.

In the case of Balor and the Brotherhood of Argus, the brotherhood may trace its founding to an encounter with the “true” Argus Panoptes, the watchman with one hundred eyes, which traces its existence back to the moment when the Balor entity first intruded on Malkuth-space. A portion of its being sheared off as the probing limb entered four dimensions, taking the appearance of a hundred-eyed giant. Lost and confused with no frame of reference, Argus associated the entity behind the now-truncated probing limb with danger and pain. Then it somehow pulled itself together sufficiently to use the overweening awe of local witnesses to sow the seeds that became the Brotherhood of Argus.

[Via Stochasticity.]

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.]

The Immortal Codex for WitchCraft

Immortal Codex cover

The cover of the Immortal Codex.

Discussion last week on RPGnet about WitchCraft and other urban fantasy games has got my thoughts turning around that game again. First the Gilchrist Trust crossed into the WitchCraft world. Then a passing reference to a self-published game called Immortal Invisible War led me to the Immortal Codex, a fan supplement for WitchCraft.

Claudia Silva took the format of a typical WitchCraft supplement and ported over wholesale the background and set-up of the Himsati immortals for use in Unisystem. I’m not familiar with the Invisible War, but it looks like a pretty gnarly, gonzo sort of urban fantasy with the resurgence of gods and dragons erupting into modern day as the shards of the mad god called the Sanguinary still lurk within mankind.

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.

The Dilemma of Supplements

There is a dilemma in which I find myself trapped again and again when it comes to new role-playing games. A new game comes out whose premise I dig, so I pick it up. It turns out I like the game and then I look forward to picking future supplements expanding on that game. Only . . . the supplements get trapped in the pipeline or they don’t cover topics of interest to me.

In the first case, I’m a fan of WitchCraft and Conspiracy X, two games published by Eden Studios. Both have had chronic issues with Eden getting supplements through development and into the market. As I’ve seen it related on web forums, they need an infusion of cash to pay the printer for a run of a supplement, so they knock out an All Flesh Must Be Eaten book to generate that sum. But somehow that doesn’t work out due to time and energy concerns, so books like The Book of Geburah and Grace & Guidance linger in development hell.

In the second case, consider The Day After Ragnarok, published by Atomic Overmind Press. I love the primary setting book. It’s awesome stuff. The published supplementary materials available so far which I . . . don’t really care about. Sten guns? Monster Island? Not for me.

The quandary for me in both situations is this: I want more books to do with the game in question. I understand I need to vote with my dollars to make that happen. But buying the things available seemingly sends the wrong message. In the case of WitchCraft and Conspiracy X, there is nothing to buy; supporting them would mean buying All Flesh Must Be Eaten books; and an uptick in sales for that line isn’t going to help its beleaguered siblings. Similarly for The Day After Ragnarok, if I buy the existing supplements, it tells Atomic Overmind two things: I am interested in those topics — when really I am not — and I buy PDFs — when really I do so only under duress. Additionally, my luxury cash is not so plentiful that I can buy books willy-nilly without having any interest in the content.

So it’s a bit of a bind. Buy stuff I don’t particularly want in the hopes that the rising effect somehow affects the products I’m really interested in — or could be, if they existed — or buy nothing but the books I want and watch the line quietly taper into “Sure do wish they’d published some more books that . . . what was it called again?”

(There are the other options of buying extra copies of the core books, which leads back to needless waste of limited cash, and running the game to get other people into buying the books. Grassroots promotion is probably the best route, but it’s so time intensive compared to buying a book, you know? Really though, that’s probably the way to go, so long as the books are actually still available for purchase.)


The ancient kingdom of Mustang, in present day Nepal, mirrors stories about hidden kingdoms in Asia, like Shangri-La and Shambhala. National Geographic has an article about a series expeditions to Mustang in recent years. In caves carved into sheer cliff faces, investigators found wall paintings, religious texts and human remains.

Researcher Broughton Coburn is quoted saying that hidden valleys “were created at times of strife and when Buddhist practice and principals were threatened . . . The valleys contained so-called hidden treasure texts.” A remote location like the cliffs of Mustang could be just that kind of refuge for dangerous or threatened knowledge. The article notes that not only were Buddhist texts found, but also those relating to Bön, an earlier tradition that died out after the spread of Buddhism.

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[Casting Call] This Man

A book from the library at Dilmun.
CC BY-ND 2.0

As the time draws closer to the next great Reckoning, more and more people across the world wake with vivid memories of long, involved conversations with a man whom they instinctively think of as “This Man.” Who he is and what they spoke about remains unclear to those who dream of him. They only remember his lack of a name and the urgency with which he spoke.

This Man’s tale, say those who know it, began long ago and in another country, in Hod, the dream kingdom of Morpheus. Then and there, he served Rex Oneiros in his White Tower in the city of Dilmun. He rose in influence and estimation, coming closer to family and confidante to Morpheus than the dream lord allowed ever before. One day, however, something happened; This Man committed some terrible sin in the eyes of his liege. No two tellers of the story agree on how or what. The eighty-seventh oracle at Delphi said he betrayed Morpheus for the love of a garden nymph. The carvings of Machu Picchu relate how This Man loaned a forbidden book from the library of unwritten works. Or maybe he told Morpheus what he really thought, as Mad Hetty insists.

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[Casting Call] The Ghost Writer

Flashback! I originally conceived and wrote this back in the winter of 2008, posting it to UniFans.org. I decided to relocate it here for the sake of completeness. Jenny was written with C.J. Carella’s WitchCraft, published by Eden Studios, in mind, but her story is vague enough to fit into most urban fantasy or horror settings.

The Ghost Writer

Every Tuesday night for the last two months, Jenny Torres has sat down at her kitchen table at exactly 6:59 PM. When the clock strikes seven, her hand grabs a pen from the coffee mug full of them and starts writing in a fresh composition book. The curious thing is Jenny has no idea what she’s going to write. Something else controls her hand and it won’t let go until midnight.

It began when Jenny got in a car wreck. Driving home from her waitressing job late one night, Jenny’s car was T-boned by a drunk driver. The driver got a broken arm and two points on his license. Jenny got a coma. So the doctors were amazed when she woke up three days later. All Jenny could recall was leaving work, and then some vague impressions of a gray land, where people blew around like leaves on the wind, and the sense of having just had a very long conversation.
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