by Steve Dempsey
Fearful Symmetries contains tools and support for the Keeper who wants to run a folklore-inspired magical campaign in 1930s England.
The first part of the book is about setting up the game and running a Campaign. This is the long view of the drama as it develops across several Series and the Episodes they comprise. Some campaigns might only last for one series, or you might play one series and then return to it at a later date.
A campaign has:
– a Mythos Threat, the main antagonist;
– Themes, elements of the narrative which link it together, inspired by Blake and Lovecraft;
– a History, the secret story of why things are how they are at the start of the game;
– a Hook, a reason for the player characters to get and stay involved; and,
– an End Game, the horrible thing which awaits if the player characters do not succeed.
The Keeper is shown how to create each of these elements and then bring them together in a satisfying whole.
One of the tools is the Folklore Engine which helps create a story for the Keeper to explore with the players. Generally, at a location, some people witness an event involving apparitions which leads to traces such as customs or myths about that place, recorded in folklore as stories, songs or celebrations. The event may also leave physical traces on the people, wildlife, plants or landscape.
The overall schema is that in a location some people experience supernatural actors doing something strange leading to a singular outcome which has lasting consequences:
Location -> People -> Actors -> Event -> Outcome -> Recurrence (Trace/Customs)
There are look up tables for each item in the schema. From these I chose: a little island, a laborer and a squire, faerie, dark magics, the land is scared, legends and calendar customs.
Putting these all together I came up with the following folk tale:
The Sylli Tewal
A long time ago, a laborer was sent to work on a little island in the Tresillian River in Cornwall. The local lord wanted to build a bridge across the river and so the laborer went with a squire to see if the island would support the weight of the bridge. The chap took his pick and dug a hole on top of the island to see whether there was rock beneath. Sure enough, a few feet down he hit something hard, but he gave it another whack to make sure. The was a terrible cracking sound and the bottom of the hole collapsed. He barely scrambled out in time. Looking down he could light and fields and trees. He had dug clean through into another land. His companion seeing what was happening took fright, jumped in his coracle and rowed back to the bank. The laborer leaned over and … that was the last anyone heard of him. The next day, after a few drinks in the local inn and an uncomfortable night’s rest, the squire got his courage back and returned to the island. Of the laborer, and the hole, there was no sign. However, standing proud at the top of the island was a stone column, which the squire swore had not been there the day before. The bridge never was built but the local ferrymen and fishers each year leave gifts of bread, salt and eels at the stone at Imbolc (1st February), to curry favor with whatever lies below.
This could be an entrance into Faerie, which will open if the right rhyme is said. It could be a place of weakness between the worlds where an Aethyr might be reached. Or perhaps it is a place sacred to Yog-Sothoth where gates might be opened to anywhere or when.
There is still a local cult here amongst the eel fishers. Each year the eels return in April. When the mist is on the river between Imbolc (February 1st) and April 1st, anyone wandering the banks or crossing the river at night is likely to be caught and sacrificed. The locals know not to chance this. The ferrymen talk of the Sylli Tewal, the Dark Eel in Cornish, that takes its due. There is a local festival to celebrate the eels return each year. A giant papier maché eel is paraded through Tresillian and floated off into the river, to show the elvers the way.
There are further sections which show how to use each of four different magical specialisms: Alchemy, Magick, Spiritualism and Witchcraft. There are rules and descriptions of each and many examples of spells. For example, here’s a spell for scrying.
This is scrying with ink in a bowl to see another place or person. The ink floating on the surface of the water creatures the image from a single point of view near the place or person. The spell creates a link with that place. This also allows the target if they are magically aware and spot the point of view, to send magic back towards the viewer. It is also possible to protect some places against scrying. Some magicians scry from within a protective shell to make them less prone to backlash.
Other methods of scrying include crystal balls or candle flames.
Stability Test Difficulty:
4, 3 if something form the person or location is available. If the area is protected, the difficulty can be much higher. The spell can also be cast as a ritual with the inertia equal to the protection of the area.
For example, McMath has no wish to be spied upon when performing his alchemical experiments. He has created a barrier of solid air that blocks scrying. It has a pool of 8 and so the inertia to overcome when scrying into the area is 8. Even if successful, McMath is likely to notice that his defenses are under attack.
No extra cost, unless the duration is extended.
A few minutes to set up, a minute to divine. Each extra minute costs another point of Stability.
Finally, the bulk of the book is taken up with an example campaign with many NPCs, locations, hooks and threats from Mythos and Folklore. Here’s on such location:
St Margaret’s Well
A well just outside Oxford at Binsey. It is inhabited by a grindylow, Jenny Greenteeth. She particularly likes children and does almost any service for one, but she can be tricked with a swaddled pig. She tries to mother children but they invariably drown, and then she eats them for being naughty. The bones of many of them can be found at the bottom of the well.
The well water was blessed by St Margaret who once escaped from a dragon. As such it can be considered an important ingredient in preventing damage from flame.
If you’re interested in learning more about William Blake, the latest episode of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff serendipitously features an item on Blake. And watch out for an excerpt from the companion book to Fearful Symmetries, The Book of the New Jerusalem, coming on Monday!