Just as DramaSystem characters are torn between two dramatic poles, we as roleplayers may find ourselves torn between two roles: character and co-author.
Certain games and play styles encourage us to think only of what our PCs would do. Some players who prefer this approach take a semantic leap overboard and declare any game where you do anything other than that as definitionally not an RPG.
(Really they mean it’s not the kind of RPG they like, but hey. Without hyperbole, we would all be thrown into the sun and instantly incinerated by the screams of a million super-demons.)
Focus only on the character as decision-maker can become a challenge if the player is also intensely self-protective. The extreme version of this player requires the GM to petition him for permission to insert the group into a genre situation. “Why would I go down the basement into the old house? My character would just stay home and call the police!”
GUMSHOE players will recognize that as the problem Drives address. They put the onus of engaging with the premise on the players. GUMSHOE assumes engagement and asks you to specify the flavor of it that suits your investigator’s personality.
Most of us move fluidly between character and co-author states without having to think about it. Your character might talk over everyone else if given the chance. As a player you know enough to establish her as relentlessly verbal, then step back and allow your fellow participants equal time to speak. Your character might want to murder that hobo, but as player you rely on the other players, talking in character, to convince you otherwise. That way you get to show a key point about your character, but the plot doesn’t go in a direction you don’t actually want.
An equivalent disjuncture occurs in our experience as audience members for fiction. We may identify with a character and hope that everything works out for them. At the same time, we might see that the goal they’re pursuing will actually lead them to ruin. So we are rooting for them in general but against them on the specific, tactical level. That’s a type of dramatic irony. You can find it everywhere from Washington Square to “Better Call Saul.”
In a recent DramaSystem session, one of the players bumped into this. His character wanted to solve the problem at hand. (Something about a vat of unicorn blood.) However, as co-author he saw that there was still plenty of tension and story development to be had out of this plot device. If the problem got solved too quickly it would disappoint everyone at the table. As he groped for the right scene to call, I suggested that he come up with one that explained why his character would be unable to do what he wanted. He invented an obstacle in his own character’s way, called a scene around it, and the unicorn blood vat was preserved for another day.
That shows how far DramaSystem takes you onto the co-author side of the continuum. Where procedural games are all about problem-solving, Hillfolk may well encourage you to protect, nurture and cosset your characters’ problems.
Hillfolk is a game of high-stakes interpersonal conflict by acclaimed designer Robin D. Laws. Using its DramaSystem rules, you and your friends can weave enthralling sagas of Iron Age tribes, Regency socialites, border town drug kingpins, a troubled crime family, posthuman cyberpunks and more. Purchase Hillfolk and its companion Blood in the Snow in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
My booth pitch for Hillfolk describes its rules engine, DramaSystem, as emulating the structure of serialized cable TV shows. So let’s take an example heavily watched in geekland, “Game of Thrones.” Here’s a scene breakdown of the first episode of the fifth season with an eye toward identifying the petitioner and the granter and seeing who earns the drama token at the end. “Game of Thrones” presents so many featured characters that it would need an unworkably huge player group. Leaving that aside, I’ve treated only obvious foil characters, who exist only to highlight the main protagonists, as GM characters. I’m also leaving out scene snippets that in the game would be narrative bits at the head of a scene, or show us what would otherwise be revealed in dialogue. Unsurprisingly, the scene calling order doesn’t match the rotation you’d see in a game either.
You’ll want to watch the episode before reading.
And yes, I had to look up half the character names to do this.
In a flashback to childhood, Cersei seeks to establish her power over a witchy oracle, who denies her with an ominous prophecy. Cersei ‘s petition is denied, so her player gets the drama token.
An attendant petitions present-day Cersei to be considerate of the nobles gathered at Tywin’s funeral. She imperiously shuts him down, giving the GM a drama token.
Jaime petitions her to be more cognizant of politics and less worried for vengeanc towards Tyrion. She shuts him down hard, and he gets the drama token. (With her father dead, Cersei now has an easy shot reclaiming her spot as the show’s most prolific refuser of petitions.)
Safely on another continent, Varys petitions Tyrion to get himself together. He’s more interested in staying drunk so Varys gains the drama token.
Daenerys’ courtiers petition her for caution regarding the slaveowner’s resistance movement. She favors boldness and the GM gets the drama token.
Missandei (Daenerys’ translator) seeks a hint of intimacy from the Unsullied leader Grey Worm; he remains stoic and gives the GM, playing her, another drama token.
Meanwhile, back in the snowy bit, Gilly petitions Samwell for assurance that they will be safe; he tries but fails to assure her so she gets the drama token.
Melisande tries to establish her power over Jon Snow by weirdly coming on to him; her enigmatic smile at scene’s end suggests that she got what she wanted, so he gets the token.
Stannis asks John Snow to talk to Mance Rayder; he agrees and gets the token.
Brienne wants to dump her self-pity on self-appointed squire Podrick. He takes it, giving her what she wants and gaining a token to the GM, who has to be playing this classic sounding board character. character.
Sansa seeks information from Littlefinger and kind of gets it, so he earns the token.
Lancel, one of Cersei’s former minor paramours now turned penitent, asks for Circe’s forgiveness. She’s not interested so GM gets the token.
Loras Tyrell’s new boyfriend seeks for intimacy from him and gets it, so Loras gets the token.
Margaery Tyrell petitions Loras, her brother, to be cautious about his love affairs. Apparently unaware that characters who lead with their hearts don’t last long on this show, he’s not having it and his player hands hers the token he just earned in the previous scene.
Varys tries again with Tyrion and this time gets him to very reluctantly concede his interest in staying in the titular game. So the drama token goes to Tyrion.
We cut back to Daenerys’ court, where the rep for the rebelling former masters asks for a concession in exchange for peace. She denies it, giving the GM a token.
Later, in bed, Daario counsels her to reverse her decision on that, and also to regain her mantle as Mother of Dragons. Although we don’t see it here, in the next scene we realize that she has agreed to try and so she gets the token.
She then petitions the dragons for reconciliation and they breathe fire at her, transferring a drama token from the GM to her.
Jon Snow begs Rayder to bend the knee before Stannis but he refuses, so the token goes to Snow.
Finally, when Rayder is burned at the stake, Jon Snow answers his wordless petition for a more merciful death by shooting an arrow into his heart, earning the final drama token of the episode.
As you might expect in a game with twenty or so player characters, some of whom only get to call one scene per session, the GM playing all of their foils enjoys an advantage on the drama token front. She winds up with 5 of them.
Running a close second is Jon Snow, with 4.
As the galactic vengeance-seekers of The Gaean Reach Roleplaying Game, you may from time to time find it necessary to invoke the legal system as a tool in your hunt for Quandos Vorn. Naturally you will not in the end turn this arch-villain over to the proper authorities, but rather exact your own revenge. Still, to earn the reluctant cooperation of foot-dragging local enforcement officers, a claim to connections in the Interworld Police Coordinating Company may prove essential.
Officials of various sub-jurisdictions take an interest in particular crimes that might best be described as capricious. You will thus be well-served to be able to cite a wide range of charges lodged against Quandos Vorn, especially those of recent vintage. Parochial constables may react differently depending on the planet making the charge. For example, an officer of the Connatic knows well to exercise skepticism regarding criminal offenses alleged on Copus, as these are frequently made to obtain leverage in disputes over bar tabs. On the other hand, planets heavily engaged in the pold trade take warrants issued on Nion quite seriously, lest their traders face a commercial disadvantage at contract renegotiation time.
With this in mind, pay heed to these recent charges laid against Quandos Vorn, sorted by jurisdiction. Some may be spurious, but is that your concern?
Capella IX: Assault, Aggravated Assault, Murder, Torture, Excessive Blinking.
Fallorne: Assault, Imposture, Reckless Operation of an Aerial Vehicle, Reckless Operation of a Ground Vehicle, Reckless Operation of a Space Vehicle, Reckless Inhabitation of a Stationary Vehicle, Murder.
Jimper’s World: Slander, Libel, Counterfeiting, Trademark Violation, Consumption of Unlicensed Entertainment Content, Encouraging Intellectual Property Violation By Minors, Murder, Cannibalism.
Ladaque-Royale: Theft of an Animal (under 10 kg), Theft of an Animal (over 100 kg; multiple counts), Interference with an Animal, Ecosystem Shock, Murder, Forced Trepanation.
Mossambey: Possession of Distilled Essence, Skin Theft, Hair Removal, Grandiosity, Murder (Involuntary), Manslaughter (Voluntary.)
Tacityl: Genetic Despiraling, Petty Theft, Grand Theft, Macroeconomic Theft, Murder (Direct), Murder (Sociological.)
Unicorn: Assault, Ritual Mockery, Sumptuary Violations, Importuning an Aristocrat, Kidnapping, Murder, Social Mobility, Intent to Commit Poisoning
Wittenmond: Aggravated Disrespect, Crimes Against the Reinheitsgebot, Murder, Improper Disposal of Human Remains, Improper Contamination of a Beer Vat.
Xion: Assault, Organ Trafficking (Human), Organ Trafficking (Inhuman), Overage Drinking, Murder.
Zeck: Murder (Economic), Murder (Recreational), Murder (Economic with Recreational Overtones.)
The Gaean Reach, the Roleplaying Game of Interstellar Vengeance, brings to your tabletop the legendary cycle of science fiction classics by the great Jack Vance. This ingenious hybrid fuses the investigative clarity of the GUMSHOE system with the lethal wit of the Dying Earth Roleplaying Game. Purchase The Gaean Reach in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.
A flood of vintage NYPD crime photos will be resurfacing digitally, thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Many date from the prime period of Lovecraftian horror, making them ideal handout fodder for your Trail of Cthulhu games. These images, including crime scene images from murder investigations, bring real-life grit to a time we often imagine in a prettier, Hollywood studio production design.
First of all, this jury-rigged combination knife-gun-brass knuckles is a wonder to behold. If your investigators aren’t soon discovering it on the body of a murdered thug, there’s really nothing any of us at Pelgrane can do for you.
A prior batch of these are already available online, licensed for viewing but not commercial use. The big images have been watermarked into uselessness for home handout purposes. But if you hit the link for printer-friendly versions you’ll get a smaller but large enough version to pass around to your players. At this scale the watermarks are absent or can be mistaken for photographic imperfections. Keepers with high Credit Rating abilities might decide to spring for actual prints.
Right now most date from 1916-1920, but the grant covers a much longer period.
You will find plenty of actual murder images, who in your version weren’t bumped off by spouses or criminal accomplices but no doubt by tcho-tchos, cultists, and perhaps a star vampire or two.
Each Keeper will have to judge for herself whether the use of very old pictures of very real murders lie within the bounds of horror fan tastes. Poll your group before springing any graphic death photos on them.
However, not all of these pix can be overtly identified as the work of crime photographers. This evocatively empty tenement courtyard shot could easily represent the home of an urban witness your investigators have to find.
Want to see the badge your NYPD inspector might flash?
What creature did this damage to some unfortunate’s unfortunate living quarters? Felonious assault? That’s what they want you to believe.
Surely your characters will sooner or later find themselves in the dispiriting confines of the police psychopathology lab.
You can improvise your way to an urban period investigation by picking out a handful of shots you find evocative, then constructing a mystery that will take the characters there. For an improvised, Armitage Files-style game, have a bunch on hand to spark ideas during play.
Trail of Cthulhu is an award-winning 1930s horror roleplaying game by Kenneth Hite, produced under license from Chaosium. Whether you’re playing in two-fisted Pulp mode or sanity-shredding Purist mode, its GUMSHOE system enables taut, thrilling investigative adventures where the challenge is in interpreting clues, not finding them. Purchase Trail of Cthulhu and its many supplements and adventures in the Pelgrane Shop.
A Column about Roleplaying
by Robin D. Laws
With my nearly year-long Feng Shui 2 series properly ushered to its exploding, juncture-rattling big finish, and my days currently occupied by a mobile game project I don’t have to playtest, I thought the Thursday night game should slip back into the familiar waters of DramaSystem. Its nonexistent GM prep demands make it a perfect fit for my current work schedule. This also affords me the opportunity to see the game played with a group that is now well accustomed to its style and able to grab the steering wheel from the first scene and keep on roaring.
I started by picking seven of the Series Pitches found in the core Hillfolk book, Blood on the Snow, and the Pitch of the Month Club and presenting them to my players to choose from. This follows the famous rule of seven, which says that once you give the human brain eight choices it shuts down completely and asks for a mug of hot tea.
By email the players found a quick consensus for “Alma Mater Magica,” Angus Abranson’s pitch about magicians who saved the world as young students, now in disappointed middle age and back as faculty at the school where they learned wizardry. Look for it on p. 159 of Blood on the Snow.
Players had the choice of specifying whether their characters been working at Concord University for a while, or would be returning in the course of the first episode. Concord, by the way, is less like Hogwarts than it is like Durham in Newcastle. Albeit with a layer of weirdness below its quotidian veneer.
Characters who were already on staff as of the start of the first episode were:
Dr. Jacobson, aka, “Doc” (played by Paul Jackson.) No one knows his actual first name. Head of the Department of Theoretical Thaumaturgy, Doc typifies the stuffy, arrogant, out-of-touch academic. Dramatic poles: Arrogance vs. Altruism. Desire: Recognition.
Ann Snooks (Rachel Kahn), assistant at the uni library. She wants to keep her head down, advance in her modest career, and forget the craziness of her nearly world-ending youth. Dramatic poles: Assertive vs. Doormat. Desire: Agency.
Einar Halverd (Justin Mohareb), aging party animal and Professor of Troll Studies. Eager to relive the glory days before he got so battle-scarred, he’s the who looks forward to seeing the band get back together. Dramatic poles: Domesticity vs. Action. Desire: Vitality.
Just now returning to Concord University are:
Earl Pudgely (Chris Huth), once unflattering nicknamed “the Earl of Pudgely.” Bullied as a shy, awkward student, he abandoned sorcery for a mundane life as a musician in the Manchester scene. Now nearly unrecognizable as a haggard recovering addict, he has taken a post as a Counseling Psychologist in the trenches of the uni’s threadbare student support system. Dramatic poles: Respect vs. Loathing (for self and others.) Desire: Sobriety.
Professor Stephen Kim (Scott Wachter.) A hotshot on a downward trajectory, the brilliant but erratic Kim has accepted a post teaching High Energy magic. A gift to any GM, he is the sort of reckless figure who gets plots moving. Dramatic poles: Action vs. Reason. Desire: Stability.
As DramaSystem requires, players established character relationships to one another as they created them. Given the premise of the pitch, the players described the relationships they had back in the day, which would then evolve or revert to form when the cast began to interact in the grim gray present. So far there’s been a lot of reverting.
- Ann was his surrogate sister
- Earl was his disappointment
- Stephen was trouble
- Einar is a gnat, beneath contempt
- Doc was her alpha
- Earl was her project
- Stephen was a creep
- Einar was the group weirdo
- Stephen was beloved sidekick
- Earl was best friend
- Ann was his frenemy
- Doc was his rival (the head butting was literal)
- Ann was his confidant
- Doc was the one you wanted respect from
- Stephen was the bully he’s struggling to forgive
- Einar was fear object
- Earl was his target
- Ann was his crush object
- Doc was his academic rival
- Einar was his partner in crime
Note the asymmetrical nature of certain relationships. Ann dismissively remembers Einar as the group weirdo; Einar thinks of her as both friend and enemy. Einar remembers Earl as a best friend, but Einar frightens Earl. And in a classic unequal relationship, teenage Stephen was sweet on Ann, who thought of him as a creep. This mimics real life and provides grist for the conflicting needs that generate dramatic scenes.
The next stage of DramaSystem group character creation takes these relationships and renders them active by asking players to specify something emotional they need from other players’ characters. The character named as the object of the want then explains why the desiring character can’t have it.
Doc wants Stephen to admit he’s right; Stephen doesn’t buy that.
He wants Ann to be happy; she doesn’t admit she’s sad.
Ann wants Stephen to get over his creepy high school crush; he doesn’t want to have to tell her that he no longer finds her attractive.
She wants Earl to stand up for himself and make his life better; he doesn’t want to be her project any more.
Einar wants Ann’s forgiveness; he can’t have it because she didn’t care in the first place.
He wants to relive his wild years with Stephen; he can’t have that because Stephen’s gotten too old for this shit.
Earl wants Doc’s respect; he can’t have that because Doc feels he doesn’t deserve it yet (and won’t until he admits he was wrong to renounce wizardry.)
Earl wants Einar to stop being intimidating; Einar doesn’t admit that he is.
Stephen wants Einar to not act like they’re teenagers; he can’t have it because for Einar to admit that would be giving in to entropy, which is death.
Stephen wants Earl to forgive him. Earl doesn’t trust him.
Next month we’ll look at how these elements came into play (or didn’t) during the series’ early episodes.
Forget your shrooms, your blotter dots. For me the opener to the gateway of creativity was always speed. Gobble a handful of bennies and work through the night boom flash bang. Only problem I faced or so I thought was making sure I had enough canvases on hand to last through a period of explosive muse channeling. Crank up the Skrillex, grab the paintbrushes and go. At the time I was going through a real surrealist phase. Giorgio de Chirico in particular. I was looking at so much of his work so intensely that his subject matter, those puppet-like figures, the vast empty vistas, started to creep into my own work. But what the hell call it remix culture, call it appropriation and keep painting man, that’s what I kept telling myself.
At some point the zone of chemically pure work flow takes a left turn, or at least it did for me, and the lines between sleeping and waking got blurry. I’d come to, lying on the floor in a pool of my own drool, and all over my images the wooden puppet men danced. Faceless and staring out at me, like expecting me to let them loose from the canvas. I got mad at them and repainted all of their hands to look kinda like dicks but they seemed to like that.
I take a commission to mural a door at the Cafe Arabica. So I paint the penis-handed dolls on it, piloting a ship. As I painted the finishing touches I somehow realized I’d given them permission to take me somewhere.
A couple of days later I take a turn on Queen West and all of a sudden I realize I’m dreaming. One minute I know I’m in Paris. Only not the Paris of today, but way back before World War II. Then I’m somewhere else again, on a windswept plaza. Sitting at a cafe table under a Greek statue wearing shades is this woebegone dude. I realize it’s my hero, de Chirico. Who died in the seventies. I sit down next to him to quiz him, and he’s all, oh no, now I’m bring them back in time. It was bad enough already.
That’s when my Dreamlands adventures began. It was the 21st century in my waking life but the early thirties when I dreamt, in this weirdo place, haunted not only by de Chirico but all these other platinum names from the art history books.
When Kuranes blasted my brain and I couldn’t dream any more, I woke up that morning and standing over me were the members of my old band. Gez, Marcos and Sarah. I said you were there, you were there, and you were there. You were Buñuel, Éluard and Gala.
They laughed said I was still high, and I was. But for the last time. The same magic of Celephaïs that stole my ability to enter the Dreamlands took away my body’s response to mind altering substances. Not even caffeine works on me any more. And my work’s nothing now, a boring retread of what used to be great.
Tomorrow I start my first shift at Starbucks.
The following memo was found in the archives of the Russian Academy of Sciences. It sheds light on the complicated relationship between the surrealist Dreamhounds of Paris and both the French Communist Party (PCF) and the intelligence arm of its Soviet masters.
July 6, 1932
To: Trofim Lysenko, Russian Academy of Sciences
From: Konstantin Strezhakov, Inostranny Otdel, NKVD
Regarding your request for information arising from my office’s ongoing operation against the French so-called surrealists, I am authorized by my superiors to share the following.
First, our office agrees with your assertion, in your memo of June 21st, that the sealing of the Dream Zone remains an utmost security priority of the Soviet state. The threat of supernatural forces becoming manifest in this world undermines the dialectic and our officially held doctrine of materialism. In particular the prospect of workers being able to depart this realm for another of infinite color and wonder is one which, as your message underlines, a threat to productivity we can ill afford as we struggle to increase crop yields.
We continue to work through a valued asset in the field, Elsa Triolet. Now married to surrealist poet Louis Aragon, she encourages him to undermine and discredit the group. Once it has burst apart it is our hope that its members will, unable to form a psychic collective, lose the ability to transmit themselves into the Zone. This will, we predict, close it off and eliminate it as a danger.
Unfortunately Aragon’s new-found dedication to Stalinism has decisively parted him from the group, when we would prefer him to weaken it from the inside. In January Aragon attempted to republish a poem, “Red Front”, advocating the shooting of police. This led to his indictment on sedition charges. Local party officials unaware of this office’s aims and activities repudiated Aragon’s gesture as an act of childish stunting. They further scolded him for a pornographic daydream by the Spaniard Salvador Dalí, published in a recent surrealist propaganda organ. (Dalí is the most potent of surrealist magicians, against whom we may soon contemplate decisive action.) Aragon conveyed to surrealist commandant André Breton the PCF complaint that such obscene sexual fantasy complicates what should be simple relations between men and women. An inexplicably amused Breton then mockingly included this phrase in one of his publications. (Though also a PCF member, Breton has long marched to an unacceptably eccentric beat.) Aragon has now split from Breton, blaming him for revealing internal party communications.
In short, a rupture has now opened between Aragon and Breton. Triolet pushes him toward reconciliation but the long-fraying bonds of friendship and rivalry between the two poets may well preclude this.
It is this office’s contention that relations between the local party and surrealists be taken out of PCF hands and placed in ours, preventing further unfortunate tactical confusion. If you could use your influence to recommend this transfer of authority, I am confident that our position against the Dream Zone and its art magicians would be strengthened considerably.
Enter the graveyard of doomed ships
Experienced seafarers know better than to risk the dangers of the Stranglesea: that terrible place where castaways cling to existence in the rotting hulks of trapped ships, and deadly creatures feast on the unwary.
Now a band of adventurers must enter the Stranglesea and attempt to rescue the enigmatic engineer Inigo Sharpe from his imprisonment. But Sharpe is both more and less than they were prepared for — and the forces of an enemy icon want him for their own sinister purposes.
The Strangling Sea is a seafaring 13th Age Roleplaying Game adventure by Robin D. Laws for a party of 4-6 1st-level adventurers.
|Stock #: PEL13A09
||Author: Robin D. Laws
|Artist: Joshua Calloway
|Pages: 40pg saddle stitched
The Tearing of the Veil Is Nigh
An Appalling Summoning…
Demons of the Depths, Awakened…
Slaughter on Your Mapping App…
…and, of Course, Murder Clowns
For decades, the Ordo Veritatis has fought the occult operations of the Esoterrorists, occult operatives bent on ripping apart the membrane between our reality and the demonic vortex of the Outer Dark.
Now that threat directly looms. A barbaric ritual in an underground club touches off a series of coordinated assaults designed to break our world forever.
In this world-spanning campaign of interlocking scenarios, your agents conduct the high-stakes investigations required to stop them.
Until now, Esoterror’s cosmic endgame has been described in background material but never taken center stage in adventures your agents can take part in.
They’ve read the training manuals. They’ve attended the briefings. Now it’s time to deploy their knowledge in the field, staking life, limb and mental stability against those who would destroy everything we know.
After a gore-spattered prologue, Worldbreaker gives your players the choice of four harrowing scenarios they can tackle in any order.
From caverns deep below Belize to an arm’s dealers warehouse in Transnistria, from Silicon Valley offices to haunted, rebel-held forests of Nigeria, your agents unravel the schemes of monsters both metaphorical and literal. Battle deconstructed animals, opportunistic demons, body-stealing parasites and otherworldly PR agents.
Put together the pieces leading to the climactic intervention against the conspiracy’s mastermind and the mightiest, most destructive Outer Dark Entity to ever squeeze through a hole between realms.
All adventures written by Robin D. Laws, creator of GUMSHOE and the Esoterror setting.
Can you keep the world unbroken? And how many agents will you lose along the way?
Status: In playtesting
Dreamhounds of Paris already stretches Trail of Cthulhu’s default time frame by covering events of the surrealist movement from the 1920s. While researching the book I found some details ripe for Lovecraftian parallel that fell on the other side of the time divide.
Although the surrealist movement never recovers from the Occupation and the flight of key figures out of Paris, their lives don’t end there. André Breton, the stuffy, bullying chief ideologue of surrealism, winds up in New York City in 1941. He does not enjoy it there. He makes little attempt to learn the language. In the face of American informality, his ultra-serious, parliamentary way of running surrealist meetings seem patently ridiculous, even to him.
One pleasure occupies his unhappy days in the Big Apple. Throughout his career he has been fascinated by non-Western artifacts, venerating the superior wisdom of the cultures that created them. Rare ethnographic objects litter the shelves of New York antique shops. No one else yet shows much interest in them, so he is able to amass an impressive collection of authentic pieces for a pittance.
Breton, never been able to travel to the Dreamlands, now denounces dream imagery as useless. He declares that surrealism must return to the magic of its earlier automatism period, when the group met to conduct seances. Can this be anything other than the influence of ancient items of power among his tribal antiquities?
In 1942, he declares the need to create a new mythology. He proposes the existence of the Great Invisibles, undetectable beings who surround humanity at all times. Without clearly spelling out whether they’re a metaphor or a force he literally believes in, he describes them as “insubstantial nodal points of human desires and aspirations toward the marvelous.”
Investigators steeped in Mythos knowledge, who bump into Breton and his new myth maybe in a one-shot sequel scenario, feel their hackles rising at the sound of this. Is this Yog-Sothoth posing as a positive force? A fresh scheme of Nyarlathotep’s?
Shortly after the war, Breton’s inquiries take him to Haiti, where he witnesses a voodoo ceremony. Something he sees changes him.
After returning to Paris, he announces that surrealism is no longer about ending the world as it is known, and that the apocalyptic voices they once followed lead to a path of destruction. He delves further than ever into alchemy and the esoteric. In 1953, he starts work on L’Art magique, a book on the connection between magic and art. He finds it tough going, in part because one of his voodoo dolls doesn’t want him to write it, and keeps staring him down from its perch on his office shelf. Acknowledging in 1956 that his tribal fetish objects control his life, he keeps trying to rearrange them in hopes of restoring himself back to health and mental focus.
This might inspire another one-shot sequel investigation. Do the PCs free Breton from the bondage of these objects, or decide that he must be contained by them in order for the world to go on living?