I have been “into” voodoo — the magical belief system, as distinct from Vodou, the religion — for decades now. I’ve got a shelf of books on voodoo that’s even long for one of my shelves. Macumba, obeah, palo, the whole shouting match. I’ve even got Michael Bertiaux’ Voudon Gnostic Workbook, which is even zanier than that title intimates. (It came out of a group of pre-Thelemite (and post-Crowleian) Golden Dawn-inspired voodoo theosophists right here in Hyde Park called the Monastery of the Seven Rays. My kind of town.) Of course, voodoo and Vodou (and Shango, and Santeria, and Candomble, and Umbanda, and 21 Divisiones, and …) are mighty intertwined, so onto that shelf go more books on the religion and its confreres from New Orleans to Rio de Janeiro. Plus On Stranger Tides is a hell of a novel.
I’ve run at least four separate campaigns featuring voodoo as a central theme. Yes, one of them was a straight ripoff of On Stranger Tides. Don’t judge me.
All of which is to say that I might have been a little ambitious, thinking I could fit all of that into one issue of Ken Writes About Stuff.
When last Simon and I chatted, I mentioned that I was about 8,000 words into this month’s issue of KWAS with no end in sight. A normal issue of KWAS is around 5,000 words. And then he uttered the words that only a bold and surefooted publisher who really wants to put this month’s issue of KWAS to bed can utter: “Is there a way to make this a two-issue series?”
The answer, my friends, was “Yes.”
Thanks to a fortuitous outline, the issue already split neatly between the magic system — which can be played “as is” with only your foggy memories of Live and Let Die and your lovingly dogeared copy of On Stranger Tides to guide you — and the Invisibles section, the writeups on the demigods themselves. That section, featuring lots of lovely loa just waiting to ride you and reveal things and give you superpowers and nightmares, can now expand to a better length, meaning more loa (or orisha, or orixa, or misterios, I’m not picky) for you. That issue can even stand on its own, if you just want to add flavor to another game with magic rules or thrust your Investigators into Haitian mythology or the New Orleans underworld (literally). But together, well, they do voodoo.
So what was the May 2014 issue of Ken Writes About Stuff, GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo, is now the May and June 2014 issues of Ken Writes About Stuff. Each one rather longer than an average single issue, to boot. Three issues in two! Specifically, and to wit:
- May 2014: GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo 1: Magic. The first of a new series of GUMSHOE Zooms looking at historical magic traditions — and giving you the tools and rules to evoke these puissant powers in your own game! This first issue in a two-issue series examines sympathetic magic and zombies, and Zooms in on the Afro-Caribbean magical-religious complex encompassing Vodoun, Candomble, Santeria, Obeah, and Palo Mayombe. The loa ride in May!
- June 2014: GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo 2: The Invisibles. The Invisibles, more than spirits and a little less than gods, can fit inside stones, trees, and their servitors’ heads — but not into just one issue of KWAS! Whether you call them Loa or Orisha, these mighty beings demand your attention and your sacrifice, but give you hidden knowledge and awaken your interior fires. This second issue of our two-issue Voodoo series gives you plenty of Invisibles to summon, battle, invoke, and ally with whether you’re hunting Dagon in Haiti or rogue programs on your starship.
All the other issues will stay the same, just pushed back an extra month. So now Hideous Creatures: Lloigor, for example, will be the September 2014 issue.
But lesson learned. The upcoming (early 2015?) GUMSHOE Zoom: Goëtia will be short, compact, and stay inside its pentacle. Just like medieval Christian demonology did. Maybe I should get some more books on the topic just to make sure.
I didn’t take any advanced statistics courses in college, so that title may not be precisely accurate.
Survey, survey. Oh, yes. Simon sent out a survey to all the current subscribers of Ken Writes About Stuff, upon whom may blessings shower without sensible restraint. We got about 180 responses back, which is a pretty good percentage, I’m told. Almost all of the respondents play both Night’s Black Agents and Trail of Cthulhu, which is very gratifying to me — and we have a good spread of all the other Pelgrane games as well. (About half of them are playing TimeWatch … perhaps it may not just be a game!!) In short, you guys seem to be pretty devoted Pelgrane players, which makes me feel much better about doing GUMSHOE Zooms going forward.
That said, only a third of the respondents rated the GUMSHOE Zooms so far a ’4′ on a scale of 1 to 4 for enjoyment and usability, although another 40% or so gave them a ’3′. So we need to tweak them a bit, apparently.
In happier news, better than 77% of the respondents rated my Mythos monster series Hideous Creatures a ’4′ on a scale of 1 to 4 for enjoyment and usability. (Almost everyone else rated it a ’3′.) So that’s golden.
See how this works? You respond, I carve this block of electronic marble in front of me a little closer to the PDF elephant you truly want. That’s how this works.
Of the eight mostly random suggestions Simon offered, we got the strongest response for more Looking Glass pieces (top four answers!), although each of them could also be read as “campaign frame” settings. (The settings got about 60% of you up to ’4′; a little stronger than the pure Looking Glass: Mumbai did.) So you like campaign ideas, probably in cities. It’s not a perfect science, and did I mention I only took basic stat?
And we got some lovely responses and specific requests — I only wish I could fulfill them all! Lots of people wanting settings, which tends to reinforce my previous deduction. One really good suggestion for a new “Ken’s Time Machine” type issue, about possible counterfactuals, what-ifs, or historical enigmas — once TimeWatch gets up to speed, I may try to construct something along those lines. The first of those might happen later this year. We had a number of completely fair and understandable requests for more SF-focused KWAS material to support Ashen Stars and Gaean Reach games.
And my favorite response, which I saw a gratifying number of times: “Whatever Ken wants.” As the man says in Joe vs. the Volcano, “Sir, may you live to be a thousand.”
So taking all of those responses — including the last one, ho ho — into account, here’s what the first half of Ken Writes About Stuff, Volume 2, is shaping up to look like:
April 2014: Hideous Creatures: Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath. “Worlds of sardonic actuality impinging on vortices of febrile dream – Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young!” Are they nameless horrors or numbered servitors, Druidic nightmares or ab-natural abominations? Where do they grow, and on what loathsome food do they thrive? Follow them to Hell and Hydra, or to Mormo and Monsanto.
May 2014: GUMSHOE Zoom: Voodoo. The first of a new series of GUMSHOE Zooms looking at historical magic traditions — and giving you the tools and rules to evoke these puissant powers in your own game! This one examines sympathetic magic and zombies, and Zooms in on the Afro-Caribbean magical-religious complex encompassing Vodoun, Candomble, Santeria, Obeah, and Hoodoo. The loa ride in May!
June 2014: Hideous Creatures: Serpent Folk. “The features mingled and merged in a seemingly impossible manner. Then, like a fading mask of fog, the face suddenly vanished and in its stead gaped and leered a monstrous serpent’s head!” They built Valusia before the dinosaurs, and lurk behind half mankind’s darkest cults. Are they extra-dimensional, extra-terrestrial, or just extra venomous? You won’t fool the Children of Yig, in any skin they wear.
July 2014: Exo-Archaeology! “No other ancient city on Mars had been laid out in that manner; and the strange, many-terraced buttresses of the thick walls, like the stairways of forgotten Anakim, were peculiar to the prehistoric race that had built Yoh-Vombis.” From the Face on Mars to Precursor artifacts orbiting dead quasars, the mysteries of space aren’t all astrophysical. For some answers, you have to dig. Ruins — of cities, starships, and planets — hold danger and horror, riches and knowledge. What a lost species or a cunning GM can build, bold exo-archaeologists and their players can uncover.
August 2014: Hideous Creatures: Lloigor. “You make the usual mistake — of thinking of them as being like ourselves. They weren’t.” God or monster? Species or phenomenon? Dragon or disc — or discontinuity? Invisible, invulnerable, inexplicable — the vile vortices of the lloigor encompass all and care for nought.
September 2014: The School of Night. “Black is the badge of Hell; the hue of dungeons and the School of Night.” Queen Elizabeth’s realm lies vulnerable, not just to the Spanish or the plague, but to occult forces perhaps more dangerous than either. You study those forces at the risk of torture — at the risk of your soul — but you must hold them at bay or see England destroyed. This GUMSHOE campaign frame sets the PCs on the stage with John Dee, Christopher Marlowe, and Sir Walter Raleigh … and perhaps with traitors in their ranks.
As always, every Ken Writes About Stuff issue will be available as a single-PDF purchase — but you save more when you subscribe for the year! Shakespeare and Shub-Niggurath, Baron Cimetière and barren planets, serpents and … er, ghosty uncaring cancerous serpents — they’re all waiting to play with you!
“The human blood on which it had fed revealed the hitherto invisible outlines of the feaster.” Invisible outlines that shall be expanded upon, extended even, into all sorts of dimensions. Are they summoned demons or feral predators? Are they kindred or competitors to Colin Wilson’s Space Vampires? Herein we trace the Shambler From the Stars, with bonus Night’s Black Agents statistics and a scenario seed.
Hideous Creatures: Star Vampires is the eleventh installment of the Ken Writes About Stuff subscription, or it’s available as a stand-alone from the store. If you have subscribed to KWAS, Hideous Creatures: Shoggoth is now on your order receipt page, so all you have to do is click on the new link in your order email. (If you can’t find your receipt email, you can get another one sent to you by entering your email address here).
|Stock #: PELH12D
||Author: Kenneth Hite
|Artist: Jeff Porter
||Pages: 11pg PDF
This is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful GUMSHOE Zoom I’ve ever known in my life. Presenting detailed rules for brainwashing, memetics, telecontrol, and brain hacking, and for gear from the Microwave Auditory Effect gun to subliminal flashers to tinfoil hats, it brings the fight inside your head.
GUMSHOE Zoom: Mind Control is the tenth installment of the Ken Writes About Stuff subscription, or it’s available as a stand-alone PDF from the store.
What is a GUMSHOE Zoom?
Not everything can support a game of its own, or even a big sourcebook. For those things, we present the GUMSHOE Zoom, a sort of supplement focused on a key game mechanic and its possible applications. In general, Zooms are interesting potential hacks, or intriguing adaptations of the main rules. Some apply to one specific topic or sub-sub-genre. Others cross all manner of GUMSHOE turf; you can slot them in and adapt them to tales of Cthulhuoid investigation, mean superpowered streets, or alien colonies alike.
Zooms are experimental. That does mean that they haven’t been playtested, necessarily. (If something in here is really really broken – and it’s not, as this ain’t our first rodeo – we’ll fix it in post.) But that also means we encourage you to experiment with them. Changing the cost, or prerequisites, or point effect, or other mechanical parameters of a given Zoom changes how often it shows up and how much drama it drives. The dials are in your hands.
Zooms will change the focus of your play if you use them. Putting a mechanic on the table puts it into your game. Adding a Zoom means more actions, possibly even more scenes, using those rules. Since the Zoom mechanics are intended to encourage specific actions or flavors, to force a card in your storytelling hand, they aren’t “balanced” against “normal” actions or rules. In general, if you don’t want to see more of it, don’t Zoom in on it.
Zooms are optional rules. You can and should ignore them if you don’t want them, or change them at will. After all, if a given Zoom turns out to be crucial to an upcoming GUMSHOE game, we’ll change it to fit that specific genre or form of storytelling.
|Stock #: PELH11D
||Author: Kenneth Hite
|Artist: Jérôme Huguenin
||Pages: 12pg PDF
With the dying of the year, it’s time to read “The Festival” and to think of 2014. In this space, specifically, about the next year’s Ken Writes About Stuff installments. To get the good, or rather the known, stuff out of the way:
- January 2014: GUMSHOE Zoom: Mind Control. This is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful GUMSHOE Zoom I’ve ever known in my life. Presenting detailed rules for brainwashing, memetics, telecontrol, and brain hacking, and for gear from the Microwave Auditory Effect gun to subliminal flashers to tinfoil hats, it brings the fight inside your head.
- February 2014: Hideous Creatures: Star Vampires. “The human blood on which it had fed revealed the hitherto invisible outlines of the feaster.” Invisible outlines that shall be expanded upon, extended even, into all sorts of dimensions. Are they summoned demons or feral predators? Are they kindred or competitors to Colin Wilson’s Space Vampires? Herein we trace the Shambler From the Stars, with bonus Night’s Black Agents statistics and a scenario seed.
- March 2014: Lilith. “Satan here held his Babylonish court, and in the blood of stainless childhood the leprous limbs of phosphorescent Lilith were laved.” Lilith as Queen of the Vampires, Lady of the Night — or as First Rebel and First Heroine? We look at the many faces of Lilith, as a Trail of Cthulhu titan (Elder Goddess or Great Old One), Night’s Black Agents vampire queen, Mutant City Blues super-Typhoid Mary, and at her role in the center of the First Esoterror Operation.
- April 2014: Hideous Creatures: Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath. “Worlds of sardonic actuality impinging on vortices of febrile dream – Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young!” Are they nameless horrors or numbered servitors, Druidic nightmares or ab-natural abominations? Where do they grow, and on what loathsome food do they thrive? Follow them to Hell and Hydra, or to Mormo and Monsanto.
- Bonus Stuff: Hideous Creatures: The Un-Numbered Ones. For subscribers only, this free issue of Ken Writes About Stuff opens the books on Lovecraftian monsters that have never taken stat-block form before in any game!
For any Ken Writes About Stuff installments you may have missed, go back to the main KWAS page.
You may note that the last two regular Hideous Creatures — and indeed the whole series — followed the results of our Esteemed Reader Poll on the topic fairly closely. The monsters in the Bonus Stuff will likewise track our Esteemed Reader Poll on that subject. (Although rather than do a whole HC workup on one of these essentially unattested monsters, I’m more likely to include a few creatures in more like normal Trail of Cthulhu creature writeup style.) It’s as though we care about what you want!
And so we do! Should the Gods of the Copybook Headings smile upon us and KWAS return for another year, what would you like to see us cover? By now, I think I’ve mapped out most of the possible things I can do in the format, although I’m always open to new suggestions.
Hideous Creatures: This category will definitely continue, as I’m hardly out of the Lovecraftian woods yet. Headliner monsters left to do include the Colour Out of Space, the Great Race of Yith, the Hunting Horror, and the Serpent Folk — but I could easily be persuaded to change things up with a few flavorful B-listers like the Dimensional Shambler, the Lloigor, the Rat-Thing, and the good old bad old Tcho-Tcho. Or maybe you have some favorite I haven’t mentioned here. We’ve already got a request in for the Elder Things, for example, to accompany the shoggoths.
GUMSHOE Zoom: Are there specific rules thickets you’d like to see me dive into? With physical and mental combat out of the way, what strikes you as rich in story possibility, and thus worth zooming in on? I promise, no vehicle building systems.
Campaign Frames: I’m still possibly happiest (or perhaps slap-happiest) with Moon Dust Men of all the issues of KWAS so far, so I’d love to do another campaign frame. I’m still trying to crack the “sitting” mechanism for a Carnacki campaign frame, so we’ll probably get that in 2014/15. I’ve also had a couple of requests for an Elizabethan setting, which might just be adapting Night’s Black Agents to the age of Walsingham and Marlowe, or it might be a full-on “School of Night” occult adventure frame. But what else cries out for GUMSHOE besides wide-lapel UFOs and steampunk ghost-breaking?
Looking Glass: Our city-in-a-PDF framework format got off to a rousing start with Mumbai, don’t you think? In the next year, I’m most likely to try and tackle a 1930s city to show how it can be done, but I’m happy to change planes on your whim.
Nighted Tomes: With monsters under the microscope, how logical is an “expanded look” at one of the major Mythos tomes? Expect to see a Necronomicon piece next year — but should it replace a Hideous Creatures entry or not? How much Cthulhu is too much Cthulhu? Shriek your answer to the stars, below.
Special Subjects: This is the “everything else” sort of category, but it boils down to one subject, so far mythical or folkloric or eliptonic, that can be spun for multiple GUMSHOE games. Lilith will go here, as does Die Glocke — what other mysteries should we plumb with our Investigative pools a-quiver? We already have one request for the Axe Man of New Orleans, so famous crimes might make another topic to plunder.
In short, fill up the comments below with what Stuff you’d like to see Ken Write About. And then I shall fill up your in-boxes with that very Stuff, or Stuff very much like it.
Over on RPG Geek, Paul Baldowski has read through the latest edition of Ken Writes About Stuff, Looking Glass: Mumbai. He describes how “Rather like getting someone else to read Rough Guide or Lonely Planet on Mumbai, and then digesting the executive summary. Looking Glass: Mumbai boiled a fascinating city down to a thick lightly seasoned sauce and allows you to apply the resulting condiment however you see fit.”
He goes on to point out that “Sometimes, it’s good to have someone else do the legwork for you in finding somewhere interesting and potentially exciting to run your next adventure.”
We completely agree, Paul, which is why we got Ken to Write About Stuff in the first place. ;)
He concludes that Looking Glass: Mumbai is “A brief and very focussed taster of a complex and vast city with potential to be used in innumerable games, not just Gumshoe-powered ones.”
You can read Paul’s complete review over on RPG Geek here.
Simon says I need to have grabbier headlines on these posts, so I went a little Buzzfeed up there. Hope you like it.
The Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition corebook contains 38 monsters. I’m not including the Great Old Ones, Outer Gods, or such, just monsters. When you add in the similar creatures, races, servitor beings, what-have-you from the magnificent Malleus Monstrorum, you get 136 total monsters. They’re not all from Lovecraft — the talented teratologists of Chaosium have trawled everyone from William Hope Hodgson and H.G. Wells to Clark Ashton Smith and Brian Lumley to get that many.
And yet, some honest-to-Yog Lovecraft monsters are still out there. Lurking. Un-adapted to a Cthulhu-themed horror game. I’ve adapted two of them myself, so far. First, I put the reptile-things from “The Nameless City” into the Trail of Cthulhu corebook. William Hamblin adapted them for the Chaosium adventure “City Without a Name” but didn’t wind up compiled somehow; I re-adapted them from the story and from actual Bedouin folklore, from which I took the name “masqut” as being catchier than “reptile-things from ‘The Nameless City’”. Then, I adapted (for the first time ever, so far as I know) the titular hound-lich from “The Hound” for Bookhounds of London, as it is all of those things.
But I’m not done. I’ve got 20 more fiends, all of them at least as well-attested as the ludocanonical Dimensional Shambler or Sand-Dweller, that I’ve combed out of Lovecraft’s stories, collaborations, and poetry. (I should give a shout-out to the obsessive illustrator Michael Bukowski, whose Yog-Blogsoth series is one of my prettiest and finest combs.) And, as it happens, I’m writing a bimonthly series of expanded Lovecraftian bestiary entries called Hideous Creatures, nestled within the Ken Writes About Stuff schedule. Which leads, ineluctably, to our Buzzfeedish title.
As a special bonus for subscribers to Ken Writes About Stuff, I’ll be preparing an exclusive subscriber-only PDF. (Probably in December. For the Festival season.) This PDF will expand, adapt, and otherwise ring changes — for the first time in Lovecraft gaming history — on one of these untouched monsters. From those 20, I’ve sorted out seven promising candidates for this special PDF — and you get to vote on which one KWAS subscribers can enjoy. So let’s meet our finalists!
“But in respect of generall Infamy, no Report more terrible hath come to Notice, than of what Goodwife Doten, Relict of John Doten of Duxbury in the Old Colonie, brought out of the Woods near Candlemas of 1683. She affirmed, and her good neighbors likewise, that it had been borne that which was neither Beast nor Man, but like to a monstrous Bat with humane Face. The which was burnt by Order of the High-Sheriff on the 5th of June in the Year 1684.”
– “Of Evill Sorceries Done In New-England Of Daemons In No Humane Shape”
“All denied a part in the ritual murders, and averred that the killing had been done by Black Winged Ones which had come to them from their immemorial meeting-place in the haunted wood. But of those mysterious allies no coherent account could ever be gained.”
– “The Call of Cthulhu”
“199-Black winged thing flies into one’s house at night. Cannot be found or identified—but subtle developments ensue.”
– Commonplace Book
“When he began those night-howls we declared
He’d better be locked up away from harm,
So three men from the Aylesbury town farm
Went for him — but came back alone and scared.
They’d found him talking to two crouching things
That at their step flew off on great black wings.”
– “The Familiars”
“Surpassing all in horror was the streaming black hair – which covered the rotting body, but which was itself not even slightly decayed. All I had heard of it was amply verified. It was nothing human, this ropy, sinuous, half-oily, half-crinkly flood of serpent darkness. Vile, independent life proclaimed itself at every unnatural twist and convolution, and the suggestion of numberless reptilian heads at the out-turned ends was far too marked to be illusory or accidental.”
– “Medusa’s Coil”
“‘Do you remember,’ he shouted, ‘what I told you about that ruined city in Indo-China where the Tcho-Tchos lived? You had to admit I’d been there when you saw the photographs, even if you did think I made that oblong swimmer in darkness out of wax. If you’d seen it writhing in the underground pools as I did. . . .’”
– “The Horror in the Museum”
“Things are hunting me now — the things that devour and dissolve — but I know how to elude them. … My pets are not pretty, for they come out of places where aesthetic standards are – very different. Disintegration is quite painless, I assure you — but I want you to see them. I almost saw them, but I knew how to stop.”
– “From Beyond”
“Out of the fungus-ridden earth steamed up a vaporous corpse-light, yellow and diseased, which bubbled and lapped to a gigantic height in vague outlines half human and half monstrous, through which I could see the chimney and fireplace beyond. It was all eyes — wolfish and mocking — and the rugose insect-like head dissolved at the top to a thin stream of mist which curled putridly about and finally vanished up the chimney. I say that I saw this thing, but it is only in conscious retrospection that I ever definitely traced its damnable approach to form. At the time, it was to me only a seething, dimly phosphorescent cloud of fungous loathsomeness, enveloping and dissolving to an abhorrent plasticity the one object on which all my attention was focussed.”
– “The Shunned House”
“Amid these hushed throngs I followed my voiceless guides; jostled by elbows that seemed preternaturally soft, and pressed by chests and stomachs that seemed abnormally pulpy…”
– “The Festival”