- Arriving at the Putnam House, they meet the family and begin to experience the “hauntings.” Geology, or Idea Rolls in a pinch, reveal the haunting symptoms could all have underlying geological causes. There was an earthquake in this part of the country just three weeks ago, before the haunting started. Of course Geology is necessary to confirm this theory, and if no one has it, an NPC geologist will need to be brought it.
- At some point before they conclude at the Putnam House, stage an atmospheric scene at night where suddenly all the crickets, the peeping frogs in the marsh, and the birds just suddenly fall silent.
- After they have confirmed the geological source of the haunting, have them stop for fuel on the way out of town. Here Constable Goodman stops them and asks for help. The timing of this is the day after Mary Crane and Paul Rudlidge go missing. To sell it, have him tell the players he has the coroner’s journal, which is full of “weird, spooky nonsense.”
- Reading the journal reveals Crane’s dreams of the well, the voice in his head, and the sudden obsession with divine snakes.
- Speaking with his distraught wife (Persuade, Psychology) reveals Crane’s odd behavior and the existence of the leather ball.
- Following the hints in the journal and exploring the property will lead to the well. To discover more, someone will need to descend into it. The darkness, cold, and stench grow greater the further the Investigator descends. At the bottom of the well the earthen floor is covered in a weird, sickly white mold that looks suspiciously like veins and capillaries. Half concealed in this filth is a skeleton. Medicine or Biology identifies it as male and at least 200 years old. It has recently been disturbed. A wrought iron stake lies beside it (SAN roll 0/1d3). There is evidence this was in the skeleton’s chest. Examining the weird mold more closely requires Spot Hidden and triggers a second SAN roll (1/1d4). The mold covers a vast carpet of bones and insect carapaces…rats, birds, snakes, desiccated beetles. It is almost as if the mold was feeding on all this.
- Shiloh has nothing resembling a library. The nearest one is twenty miles away in the county seat of Arkham. Using the Library there turns up the volume Towns and Tales of the Miskatonic River Valley. Shiloh is mentioned in this book, as is the “witch scare” of 1683. It includes rumors that the town minister, Andrew Morton, enlisted the aid of Cotton Mather, Edward Garrison, and John Lich to investigate rumors of witchcraft behind the mutilation of livestock and the disappearance of young boys.
- The first night after they interviewed her, Mary Crane will come to her mother and vampirize her. She will vanish like the others. If the Investigators are with her that night, they will encounter their first vampire.
- The next day, two local boys—Jack Draper and Rummy Boyle—will also be discovered missing.
- Towards the end of his life, Andrew Morton (d. 1716) built a home in central Shiloh that still stands. It is now owned my the town doctor, Stewart Hughes. There are papers in the attic dating back to Morton’s lifetime, and these can be found with Library Use or Spot Hidden. In very poor condition, badly faded and with many missing pages, they tell the same story as Towns and Tales above but from Morton’s point of view. He mentions Samuel Cartwright by name, and mentions he hails from London. He also mentions Garrison and Lich discovering the “nature of this fiend” in “the book of one Ludvig Prinn.” There is a strange passage about the “wyrms of the Earth having their origins in the Stars.”
- Miskatonic has a copy of Prinn’s De Vermis Mysteriis of course, but this will require Credit Rating, Persuade, Fast Talk, or something similar to be allowed to see. It cannot be removed from the library. It would take weeks of study to read and comprehend. However, Library Use and a period of 2d4 hours will track down Prinn’s references to “the blood drinkers” and “the leeches from the Void.” It describes these as “demon wyrms coiled round the heart of corpses giving them horrible life and hunger for blood.” SAN loss 1/1d4, Cthulhu Mythos +03%. Apparently the “traditional remedies” have basis in truth, but Prinn warns not to “put your faith into the devices of the Church.” He advocates staking, decapitation, and burning, lest “the wyrm survive the corruption of the flesh, coiled into a ball in slumber.”
- Library Use, either at the town library in Arkham, the Miskatonic University library, or the Miskatonic Valley Historical Society (also in Arkham) can track down the location of Samuel Cartwright’s old farm. It once stood adjacent to Martin Crane’s funeral home. The farmhouse is long gone—it is all woods now—but conducting a search of the forest beyond the well (which once stood on the edge of the property) will reveal (with Spot Hidden) a set of stone steps that descend into a hole in the ground. This is partially covered in brush, and the steps themselves are carpeted in leaves. Descending reveals a root cellar hewn into the rock with a dirt floor. This was the cellar of the Cartwright house. It is here that the vampire lairs, surrounded by his Thralls. Between the hours of 9 AM and 3 PM, all will be completely immobile. Beyond those hours, the vampire will appear to sleep but can awake and attack instantly.
"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."
THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.
Sunday, October 22, 2017
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Despite having visited the Bright Empire several times the last three and a half decades of my existence, I never really understood Melniboné...until now.
Like Elric--maybe secretly spurred on by him, for I have always felt the same affinity that Neil Gaiman expresses in "One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock"--I left Melniboné before the end fell upon her. I set sail out into the Young Kingdoms, the wide world that my people had so long ruled and so long taken for granted, knowing that nothing outside our own borders could be of any worth. By this time, of course, the decadence had already set in; Melniboné was already finished. The world was secretly sick of Melniboné's oppressive arrogance, the sorcerous stench of "exceptionalism" that its populace marinated in. There had been an attempt, just prior to my departure, to sack the Dreaming City, but while two of our proud and unearthly towers fell, the impenetrable sea maze nevertheless thwarted the barbarians, and the golden battle barges and venomous dragons had been sent out for vengeance. This only had the effect of increasing the world's antipathy, for Melniboné had begun to see her enemies everywhere. Nations tumbled. Sacrifices were made. Demons and Chaos unleashed.
Over the course of my travels, a new figure took the Ruby Throne, one considerably darker than the Albino (or anyone who had claimed the throne before) but who offered the world a reprieve, a possibility that Melniboné may not yet be wholly damned. I settled in the Unmapped East, an island beyond even Phum, and wondered if the Bright Empire really could be saved. Like Elric, however, too many in the imperial court felt this emperor was "not one of them." He did not, apparently, show the proper respect for Melniboné's byzantine and ritualistic traditions. He stank to the pureblooded Dragon Princes of the outside world--the most heinous of all Melnibonéan crimes. One of these princes in particular rose to prominence the way so many like him do... by peddling the most outlandish and inane lies, lies that only a invalid and disintegrating people could possibly believe. Endlessly, he taunted and jeered his boorish insults, and like Elric the emperor did nothing. Until, again just like Elric, this emperor finally left and this Yyrkoon took his place.
I suspect the previous emperor is out there, somewhere, sailing the seas of fate. We are already well past the fall of Quarzhasaat, that much is quite clear to me. Imryrr seems ever more eager than ever to dream, to ignore the warning signs that the end is near. Beset by Straasha and the Lasshaar in the east, with islands drowned and coastlines ravaged, and by the unleashed fury of Kakatal in the west, the omens are easy to read but they do not. Here in the Unmapped East, a particularly noxious Pan Tang seethes, infuriated by Melniboné's pointless and endless taunting. There is no diplomacy--what need has Melniboné for it? Who could dream of assailing her! Let the Young Kingdoms try.
So the armies of Chaos stir, the Balance swings widely, and the rest of us can do little but wait for Roland's Horn.
Here's hoping the next world is somewhat closer to Tanelorn.
Monday, September 25, 2017
Of course there is diversity; the two senior officers are women, one Asian and one Black, and we will have the first openly gay couple on Trek played by gay actors. But frankly we expect by now Star Trek to beat the drum for diversity. Diversity is just assumed to be part of the genre package, and we know Trek will always champion it, despite the noise made by Internet trolls. Fortunately Discovery goes much further and is more specific in wrestling our present demons. Nor does it waste any time. Right there in the first two minutes it jumps right in.
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
It so impressed TSR, the publishers of D&D, that with Barker they released a second edition of the game shortly thereafter.
For a public still trying to wrap its brain around the whole new "roleplaying thing," Empire of the Petal Throne was probably a step too far. The plot of those early D&D campaigns was painfully simple; here is a dungeon, go inside, kill monsters, get treasure. EPT by contrast asked players to navigate the social complexities of an alien culture, to role-play etiquette and hierarchy. It was a world in which diplomacy and subtlety often eclipsed brute force. More difficult, perhaps, was that players had no immediate access points. If you had read Robert E. Howard or J.R.R. Tolkien you had a general idea of what to do in D&D. In EPT you were going into it blind.
There were other factors as well, but Barker and publisher TSR parted ways leaving Tékumel once more a world without a rules set. Undeterred, M.A.R. Barker pressed on, and ten years after EPT had first been published, Barker had the first novel set in Tékumel (Man of Gold) and a second, two-volume roleplaying game (Swords & Glory).
The novels kept coming. 1985 saw the publication of Flamesong, followed later by Lords of Tsámra, Prince of Skulls, and A Death of Kings. 2004 brought what might best be described as Barker's Silmarillion, the two-volume compendium of religion and culture known as Mitlanyál. By that time, Tékumel had been growing and deepening for over sixty years, explored mainly by Barker, but also by hundreds--possibly even thousands--of hardcore Tékumel fans.
Unfortunately, none of the roleplaying games ever really seemed to last. Empire of the Petal Throne had been too ahead of its time, while Swords & Glory suffered from the obsession with complexity that hounded gaming in the early 80s. Certainly the most comprehensive game ever published on Tékumel, none but the most diehard had the patience to climb this dense Everest of text. In 1994, the third Tékumel RPG, Gardásiyal, made the opposite mistake, publishing a rules set with very little background at all. Indeed, you needed to by several additional books just to make a complete character. This was a pity, because by the 1990s, the gaming industry had finally come around to the idea of deep, fully realized settings. EPT was ahead of its time, Gardásiyal was behind it.
For me, 2005 was a sort of high-water mark for Tékumel. Mitlanyál and just been published, and Guardians of Order, a game company that had published the award winning anime RPG Big Eyes, Small Mouth, took an interest in Barker's world. Using a modified version of their "Tri-Stat" rules system, they brought us Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne. This lavish, hardcover rulebook brought a popular system and a streamlined, very accessible approach to Tékumel's histories and cultures. For someone who had never heard of Barker's world before, this was the perfect entry point.
But the gaming industry is a cruel one, and just a year after Tékumel's publication, the over-extended and deeply in debt Guardians of Order closed its doors. Ironically, the same year they published Tékumel they had published another RPG set in a relatively obscure fantasy world...it was called A Game of Thrones.
M.A.R. Barker left this planet on March 16th, 2012. Part of me likes to think he returned home, enjoying a cup of chumetl on the terrace of a clanhouse in Pálla Jalálla. Tékumel lives on; in 2014 the fifth official RPG Béthorm: The Plane of Tékumel was published, and his army of fans are keeping the world alive. But as great as Tékumel is, I don't think this is the legacy we should remember him for. Not exactly.
Barker was to my mind a pioneer of the imagination. We all live and operate in the wake people like he and Tolkien left. The most popular program on television right now is set in an intricately detailed created world, putting to bed the lie that the general public lacks the attention span for such things. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine a modern computer or console RPG succeeding without a compelling and consistent setting characterized by unique cultures and great depth. When you play something like Dragon Age, the Elves and Dwarves are obviously Tolkien, but the Qunari--and the Qun--are definitely Barker. And with other pen and paper RPGs, exotic stopped being a bug and became a feature. There would be no Talislanta or Legend of the Five Rings or Numenera if Barker hadn't gone there first.
In the end, no one will ever dispute the power of Tolkien's legendarium, but when it comes to imagined worlds Barker might have even been a little ahead. After all, Tolkien was not creating so much a re-creating--taking scraps of ancient European folklore and literature to weave together as a masterful patchwork. Barker did everything from scratch.
And that is fantastic.