The Call of Chicago: Expediting, Ordering, Inquiring

Kenneth HiteI gotta say, it’s a good thing I already wrote GUMSHOE rules for expeditions. Because now I’m not surprised when everything takes longer and seems harder than it did when we planned this thing. Mythos Expeditions has, like its namesake, run into its share of excitement along the way. Promising paths had to be neglected, heroic comrades fell along the trail, and I can’t get the sound of those drums out of my head! The drums! The drums! Oh, hold on, I’ve got Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” on repeat on iTunes. My bad. I blame FX’ The Americans, which is giving me a Cold War nostalgia that is very dangerous in a man with an espionage RPG line. Very dangerous. Hmm. Oh, right. Where were we? Or, rather, when were we?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself as the adventures for Mythos Expeditions have come in. One or two are still out gathering firewood or looking for fresh water, but I’m fairly confident that we’ve got our table of contents right here, right after “GUMSHOE Rules for Expeditions”:

“The Gobi Sleepers,” by Steven S. Long

Maverick paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews is making one last trip to the wilds of Mongolia, to uncover primordial fossils revealing the true heritage of mankind. At the edge of the world, on the brink of an invasion, the expedition must sift the dust of the Gobi and survive the truth. Andrews’ last expedition was in 1930, but time tends to get weird out in Inner Mongolia.

“Ravenous Silences,” by Anthony Warren

Plague and rebellion grip Liberia in West Africa, but the brave scholars of the Miskatonic Medical Relief Expedition are undaunted. And, so far, undevoured! The Kru Rebellion ran from 1931 to 1936, and this adventure can run likewise.

“Lost on a Sea of Dreams,” by Adam Gauntlett

Oceanographer William Beebe has invented an amazing device, the bathysphere, that promises to revolutionize deep exploration forever. A team of Miskatonic scholars is bringing him an improved model … sailing on a course leading through the Bermuda Triangle. Beebe’s Bermuda expeditions ran from 1930 to 1934, opening up a vast horizon of chronological possibilities.

“An Incident at the Border,” by Kenneth Hite

Set in a Paraguay battling for its life against Bolivian invasion, this expedition takes Miskatonic geologists — and a helpful oil company engineer — deep into the desolate heart of the Gran Chaco. Artillery strikes, vampire bats, dust storms: Paraguay’s got it all during the Chaco War (1932-1935).

“The Jaguars of El-Thar,” by Tristan J. Tarwater

An unstable anthropologist in the wilds of Mayan Yucatan. The prestige (and expedition budget) of Miskatonic’s Mayan studies program is on the line, in a remote province thrown into turmoil by Depression, rebellion, and the return of unwelcome outsiders. Riffs off the Mayan “Caste War” ending in April 1933, as well as another event that year that might spoil the adventure if I revealed it here.

“Tongued With Fire,” by Bill White

The historical roots of the Prester John legend — perhaps of the beginnings of Christianity in India — draw Miskatonic scholars to the hills above the Punjab to uncover the true significance of an ancient artifact that may have been touched by John the Baptist! Flashing back to Kipling’s Raj and forward to Gandhi’s revolution, this expedition likely launches between 1936 and 1939.

“Whistle and I’ll Come to You,” by Emma Marlow

A mysterious stone whistle carved by an unknown tribe in the interior of a New Guinea island! Cannibals! Limestone caverns no human eye has ever seen! Errol Freaking Flynn! And I haven’t even teased the best thing about this scenario yet. If you have a single pulp-gamer bone in your body, you will run this adventure set in May, 1937. Trust me.

“A Load of Blarney,” by Lauren Roy

A curious shape in a cargo of iron leads Miskatonic’s finest on a tangled trail through Irish history, past rath and grange and standing stone, through the Moon-Bog of the Barrys, and into a mythic terror. It begins with the historical sinking of the steamship Annagher in December 1937, and ends … well, that would be telling, would it not?

“Cerulean Halo,” by Matthew Sanderson

President Roosevelt wants to return to Clipperton Island, an isolated speck in the Pacific hundreds of miles south of Mexico, an island legendary for its deep-sea fishing and haunted by its murderous past. Miskatonic University wants FDR to take along a Miskatonic naturalist who knows the island. There isn’t one, so the Investigators will have to do instead. The President did indeed visit Clipperton in July 1938, so you must have found nothing amiss before then, right?

Island approach revision

You’ll note I’ve put those adventures in rough chronological order. Why is that? I will explain, in the manner common to such things, by means of a rambling exposition. Mythos Expeditions is a collection of scenarios, not a campaign. The basic expedition structure is fairly inescapable: Investigators travel through danger, meet horror, escape/overcome it or die/go mad/both. When the only core clue you really need is marked with a big red “X” on the map, the advantage, the killer app (heh), the key to a good expedition scenario is the scenery: the setting, the horror, the sense of, yes, travel to a strange far place. Running all these adventures in a row strains those advantages. Fodor’s Disease sets in: “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgian Congo.”

Ideally, you’ll parcel them out over years of play, tossing an expedition into the middle of an ongoing series of urban Arkham adventures, rural Massachusetts bonfires, and campus intrigues. Putting these scenarios in chronological order, then, helps you plant seeds ahead of time. It lets you know when “sweeps week” might be coming for your campaign, and gives you big events to build up to. Sure, you can change things up — only a churl would cavil if you extended the Yucatan Caste War, or moved FDR’s second Clipperton fishing trip up to his first term. You’re not tied to the real history (which is oddly bereft of Yithians and blasphemous frog-people, anyhow) — but you can always play in it, if you want. I think that’s more fun. Maybe that’s just me.

And if you further differ with me, and want to run them all in a row, who am I to say you can’t? I say no such thing. However you want to play, spaced out or time-shifted, this book will also contain guidelines for using these adventures as the spine of an Armitage Inquiry campaign. Rules for bringing knowledge back to the Orne Library, so that everyone in the Inquiry can build up those dedicated pool points. If I have time, maybe a sub-system for playing through an academic career (student or faculty) at Miskatonic University, where “publish or perish” takes on a whole new meaning. Or maybe that will have to go in a later issue of Ken Writes About Stuff. It’s hard to say. I just have to keep striding forward, toward that big red “X” on the map. And somehow stop these maddening drums.

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