The Shanties of Hell

A tattered ghost ship sailing above a hellish landscape

Aboard the whaler "Sovereign Elaine," somewhere in the Atabean

In the middle watch, sky dark and clear, a boy sits high in the rigging and whistles a strange and mournful tune. He scarcely notices the gunner's mate climbing up from below until a heavy hand falls on his shoulder.

"Don't ye let the Skipper hear ye a-whistlin' that chanty there, boy," the man says, low and urgent. "That's one of the chanties of hell, that is. How d'ye come to know it?"

"Heard it from me father, sir."

"Aye, maybe ye did, but if he learn't it first-hand he'd never have let ye go to sea. Run away then, did ye?"

The boy nods. The man settles down heavy on the yard next to him, looking thoughtful. 

"Well, and in your father's house did ye ever hear him tell that he'd come by a partic'lar piece of silver?"

The boy glances down, as though he could see through the deck to his own little sea-chest below. 

"No sir, he never mentioned it," he lies. The man chuckles amiably.

"Just as well, that is. That silver's a valuable thing, to some. If ever I had one, sure I'd keep it close to me heart." The gunner's mate stares into a distance a moment, then rises with a groan. "Take care, lad, and mind whose ears can hear ye. This'll be our secret, for sure." 

In the dark, his eye gleams with something very like hunger.

New Ship Adventure: The Shanties of Hell

Every whaling sailor longs for Fiddler's Green, a fabled place of green grass and fair weather and not a sail nor a plank nor a bit of salt water to be seen. Some of them make it there, bless 'em, but more of them don't. The unlucky ones end up crewing the whalers in hell, fighting leviathans that can swallow the sun. 

Your crew ended up in a hellish otherworld, not a true place of damnation but a bizarre and frightening no-place that few but sailors ever speak of. Perhaps your ship fell through a hole cut in reality by Porte magic, or perhaps you were sent there by the Devil Jonah or a vengeful dievas

You encountered strange creatures and bested other trapped crews there. Everywhere the air was filled with sad and haunting songs. The experience left you haunted, and the shanty melodies come into your mind unbidden each night. Your crew were fortunate, though, and found one of the lost chests of the blessed silver that gives them shore leave to return to earth. 

Others would try to take your silver, if they can. Perhaps they don't know its true value. Perhaps they lost someone in Hell and are desperate to rescue them. Perhaps they have stranger motives yet. Best to keep it secret and secure, and speak of your adventures to no one.

Benefits: As long as they possess their piece of blessed silver, each Hero has the 3-point Advantage "Nerves of Steel." In addition, any character possessing a piece of the silver may spend a Hero Point and sing one of the Shanties of Hell. Soon after, they will learn the location of an entrance to hell. It may take several scenes, or even another session or two, to reach that entrance.

Drawback: Once per session, as needed, the GM may spend a Danger Point. Now, someone knows you have the silver. They may pursue you themselves, or pass that information along to other interested parties. From that moment on, your crew is hunted.

Mythos Magic is Not a Toy!


After suspending the game since, say, March, my Horror on the Orient Express group is finally back up and running, online. It doesn't feel as luxurious to run this campaign online (via Roll20) compared to sitting together at the table, but the benefit is we're much less likely to die of a hideous virus. So I think I'm OK with the trade. 

Last night, the group reached Belgrade, and they learned a very important lesson about casting an untested spell...

So... in the "mini-prequel campaign" before we started Orient Express, I ran the group through a loose adaptation of Dead Light, Edge of Darkness and Dead Man Stomp. At the conclusion of that, they picked up a mythos tome from a would-be sorcerer. (Check out the "Zone Rouge" tag for a recap!)

The investigator who was most interested in magic decided to try to learn what spells he could find from the tome. I didn't want to give him anything huge and powerful so early in the campaign - especially because he was already holding on to the Dead Light box! -  so I gave him a disguised version of the Voorish Sign. I called it something like "A Cunninge Method for Obtaining Safe Passage From Thine Enemies." I told him nothing else about the spell or what it did. 

This was, in real time, about 18 months ago. 


Flash forward to last night. The investigators get to Belgrade, and have some extra time to explore the city before meeting their contact. They go to the bazaar, and - too good to be true! - spot something that might be the Right Arm of the Simulacrum. A burly, mustached Turk snatches it and starts running, and the investigators give chase. He leads them into a weird ambush down a crowded cul-de-sac, as six of his buddies step out of the crowd to fight the investigators. 

...At which point the investigator with the spell says "I'm in trouble here. I'm going to cast that spell for protection." Remember that he picked this spell up a year and a half ago. By this point I had long forgotten what spell I *actually* gave him. So I went for something spectacular. 

The spell summoned "the Lurker" from the attic of Edge of Darkness. With a wet, ripping, popping sound, a boiling cloud of faint turbulence and color appeared behind one of the menacing Turks. It grabbed him, dragged him backwards, and popped his spine out of his neck like someone de-veining a shrimp. 

Everybody roll SAN. Everybody roll DEX to avoid being trampled by the crowd. 

I was cackling with glee. I love this game.

Dov Velvel: It's Beowulf, in English & Yiddish

On a lark, a little bit of fun with fiction. Thanks to @JustSayXtian on Twitter for the prompt.

If you enjoy this little story, please give some tzedakah. I would really appreciate it if you'd give generously to this GoFundMe, to help care for the family of a dear friend who could use the help.

Otherwise, any other charity is fine. 

Thanks! Enjoy!

Nu, in the old country we heard

how in the goldene medina 

they had a king who was mamash a mensch.

Scef's boy, Scyld, no, not the doctor, the other one,

He was davka a real shtarker. Every day he went out

and showed the nishtgoodniks what's for.

Such nachas they had from him!

Later, Scyld had a boychik,

A little vilde chaya, 

Ribbono shel Olam sent him,

because He knew the tzuris they had.

They called him Beow

(But his Jewish name was Mendele)

And when he grew up he was a baal tzedaka

and everybody spent Shabbos by him.

Scyld lived to a hundred and zwanzig,

And then he passed, and the Men's Club sat shiva.

They did a meal like you wouldn't believe

Corned beef, knishes, the whole shmear.

Then Mendele took over the family business.

He was a mensch. His son Halfdane

Merited three boys and a girl.

The middle boy, Hrothgar

Had a good name

He did very well for himself

And decided to build a shul

He raised funds and built it

And called it after his friend Hirsch Tzvi

And it was packed all the time

Not just on the High Holy Days

But this too shall pass,

And did they have tzuris? 

Oy, like a bad machatunim,

You shouldn't know from it.

That mamzer, that dybbuk

Called Grendel-

Ptui ptui ptui-

Decided to stir the pot.

He hated their davening

And their simchas.

This cossack, this Grendel-

He should grow like an onion-

Had such a bad yichus

That nobody would go near him.

At night he came to the shul,

After Hrothgar had a big tisch,

And it has to be said, everybody

Was a little schluffy because

They all got shiker.

And Grendel - his name should be erased - 

He came in and wrecked up the place

And snatched up 30 men, carrying them away 

Like a gonif.

In the morning everybody saw what happened,

And Hrothgar cried "Gevalt!"

This he needed like a lokh in kop.

Twelve years this went on,

Until the Hrisch Tzvi shul

Was empty.

It became the shul

That nobody goes to.

One day, though, b'ezrat Hashem,

Somebody came to help.

Built like a golem, strong like an ox,

But a Yiddishe kop too. 

He sailed over with a minyan

Plus a few extra men just in case.

The gabbai stopped them at the door,

And asked them: "Nu?"

The man said, "We are talmidim of R' Hygelac,

And maybe you heard of my father, Ecgtheow?"

The gabbai said he knew them, 

Had seen them at a wedding once. 

He opened the shul for them, 

Then wished them Aleichem Sholom.

They found Hrothgar there, 

With a couple of guys from the Kiddush Club.

Such a shanda, that a mensch like this 

Should look like such a shlimazel.

Hrothgar said he remembered this man-

Dov Velvel, he was called - from when 

Ecgtheow married Hrethel's daughter.

Dov Velvel said he came

To give Grendel such a zetz

And then they kibbitzed

And had coffee and cake.

That night, Dov Velvel and his minyan

Laid down for schluff. 

They thought this would be the end for them.

But Dov Velvel was a real frum Yid,

And trusted in Ribbono shel Olam

To take care of him.

Then Grendel - 

His mother should only know sorrow of him! - 

Stole in like a fox among the chickens

And grabbed up a man

And gobbled him up

Like the first man to the chulent pot at the kiddush.

Then Dov Velvel jumped up from the bed

Where he had been pretending to sleep,

And he grabbed on to Grendel

With all the strength he had.

The two of them banged around the shul,

They knocked over the chairs, 

They wrecked the shtenders,

But Dov Velvel held on tight,

Stubborn, an akshen. 

Then, with a wail like a shofar,

Grendel - all of our problems

Should go on his head - 

Cried out, defeated, but

Dov Velvel hung on still, 

To teach him a lesson, 

And he tore off Grendel's arm. 

Grendel - may the leeches 

Drink him dry - 

Turned tail and ran back to the swamps

To die there, and to be judged by the One above.

And Dov Velvel was made President of the shul.

And to celebrate, they had such an oneg, 

That people still talk about it to this day.

But this, too, shall pass...

7th Sea is skipping a week - here's a little behind-the-scenes peek!

We didn't get to sail the 7 Seas this week...

It happens. We're all of us busy people, and so, so, tired, and trying to have a game on Friday nights is ever a perilous venture. But we will press on next week, perhaps on a different night, with better results I'm sure. 

In the meantime, here's what I've been doing for prep! 

I'm learning less is more when prepping for 7th Sea

I've got (depending on the week) 5 or 6 Heroes in this game, they each have their own Hero Stories to pursue, I have *my* GM Story to pursue, and... it's a lot. So I have prepped exactly, and only, the following, and anything else will need to be made up on the spot - which, fortunately, is easy to do in 7th Sea:

  • The identity of the Inquisitor they're likely going to meet
  • A description of the sailor's inn they're likely to visit when they reach Carleon (7th Sea's stand-in for London)
  • A couple of events and leads that will give some of the Heroes a way to start their Hero Stories
  • A description of the Explorer's Society Chapter House in Carleon that will kick off the GM story
Beyond that? Not much. In the background, now, I've been working out some ideas of what the central quest, the McGuffin, will look like. Without giving spoilers, I've planned out a grand, continent-crossing adventure that unites several of the themes the Players had indicated interest in: Syrneth artifacts, runes, treasure-hunting, and a sense of cooperation and teamwork. 

More to come!

Take to the Seas! Introducing a new crew to 7th Sea (2e)

Roust 'er up, bullies, the wind's drawin' free. 

Lets get the glad-rags on an' drive 'er to sea!

For the first time in a year or so, last night I led a crew of valiant Heroes into the 7th Sea!

These players are all new to the setting and the system, so I wanted to ease them into the game with something that felt like a tutorial: straightforward challenge, no wrong answers, and a chance for everyone to experiment a little.

We have 5 Heroes in the crew:

  • Grace Paige, a Sea Dog, and Captain of the group's ship
  • Kieva, a Castillian Prince and, secretly, an Eclipse - a Yachidi who hides in plain sight as a Vaticine, to avoid the attention of the Inquisition.
  • Siobhan de Amilla del Rio, an Inish/Castillian duelist and physician, and Kieva's bodyguard on this journey
  • Vilhemina Seljesdatter, a Vesten scholar and vala, seeking runes and Syrneth knowledge
  • Kaius de Bello, Vodacce rake, would-be duelist, and thorough-going drunk
As the session started, I had them describe why they were all on a ship to Avalon, and asked them to name the ship. They gave the honor to the Captain who dubbed it the Marian. The Captain let us know that her crew are all named Jones, but she was coy about whether that's what their mothers named them, or only what she calls them.

We jumped immediately into combat - they were being pursued by a Castillian pirate!

To make it easy, I gave them a Group Objective first - the Castillians were far enough away that the crew of the Marian could pull off a difficult sailing maneuver, swinging around to present their broadside to the oncoming pirates. 

They needed 10 Raises all together, and each of the 5 Heroes described how they were helping: the Captain wrestled the wheel with brute force (Brawn + Sailing), and other Heroes helped by running out sails (Finesse + Athletics), or helping calm the nerves of a nervous young crewman so he could better do his job (Panache + Empathy)

They also had 2 Consequences to buy off: Big Jonesie, one of the foremast riggers, lost his footing and his hold on a rope, and was about to fall to the deck! 

The heavy block Big Jonesie was hauling was falling right towards Vilhelmina, the vala! She managed to dart out of the way of those 2 Wounds, then Siobhan tossed a rope to the falling Big Jonesie, and working all together they bought themselves a chance to rake the pirates before the enemy could board. 

The players really loved this group objective. It was an easy, low-stress way to get to grips with three important game mechanics: choosing an Approach, making a Dice Pool, and counting up Raises. It also stressed the importance of working together as a team, something we'll revisit in the next session when we talk about spending Hero Points to help each other out. 

Next, I gave Captain Grace a moment in the spotlight. Because the crew had successfully brought off the complicated maneuver, she had a chance to direct the firing of the guns, or fire one herself, and eliminate some of the enemy boarding parties - brute squads - before they could get to her ship.

She used the Leadership advantage to get her crew in line - I ruled that this would give her 3 bonus dice, as though another Hero had spent a Hero Point on her - and she then used Panache + Warfare to give her crew deadly-accurate firing commands. She faced 2 consequences: there were sharpshooters in the rigging of the Castillian pirate vessel, so she risked taking 1 Wound from their fire, AND losing her beloved, be-feathered hat into the ocean!

She rolled 2 Raises, and elected to sacrifice herself - and her hat! - for the good of the crew. (This earned an HP due to the Sailor quirk). I made a note that she'll be mocked mercilessly for the loss of her hat when she gets to the Burning Gyre tavern in Carleon. The cannon fire knocked down 2 Brute Squads before they could board, meaning only 4 squads would remain.

Next Round, the ships kerrrrunched together, and 4 Brute Squads of 5 boarders each came aboard, swinging over, climbing up, or hacking their way across the sides. The crew of the Marian swung into action, and here Siobhan had her moment to shine. She whipped out an impressive TEN dice (thanks to her dueling maneuver), pulled five Raises out of it, and laid waste to an entire squad in a whirling vortex of steel and death.

Siobhan's player said this was her favorite moment of the session. Getting to take out this huge pile of dice, and seeing everyone else's jaw drop, was a big highlight! So a good principle is: if your Heroes have something they're particularly good at, try to clear a path for them to deploy it at least once a session. It's really gratifying!

Kieve used his Yachidi amulet magic to wade into a clump of pirates without taking any Wounds from them, Vilhelmina used subtlety and a keen eye to direct fighters around her without drawing a weapon herself, the Cap'n leapt down into the fray, and Kaius...?

Kaius hid! He was expecting a smooth and easy voyage, and took a few Wounds on his way to the safety of a crate. Fortunately, the other Heroes bailed him out.

We closed the session with Captain Grace spending a Raise to take an Opportunity: she caught a glimpse of a tall, gaunt figure on the Castillian ship, clad in Inquisitor robes...

Will the crew take the pirate ship - and the Inquisitor - captive? If so, we'll have a chance for some social/dramatic Risks.

It's going to be great! More to come!

Want more of what I do? I have a number of best-selling Adventures and GM guides for the 7th Sea system at this link, available via DriveThruRPG! If the link doesn't work right, go to and search for me, "Evan Perlman."

Task Resolution! What to handwave, and when to roll dice in your TTRPG

Last month I participated in "RPG Theory July" on Twitter. Each day, the TTRPG community had the chance to mull over some aspect of creating and playing RPGs.

One of the prompts for discussion was "Task Resolution," which is something that, it turns out, I have some pretty strong feelings about. I am surprised, in fact, to find that I'm able to articulate a coherent philosophy!

Caveat: Of course this won't appeal to everyone, it won't work at every table, and it won't fit all games.

But - if you are looking for a cinematic feel to your game, you want to skip over fiddly details, or you're just looking to use your time at the table as efficiently as possible, I think this'll be useful to you. Let's take a look!

Task Resolution & Narrative Focus

This algorithm is going to help you decide:
  • Whether a task to be resolved deserves narrative focus, and
  • How you should resolve the task's uncertain outcome.
What does this mean? I'm using Task Resolution to mean any situation where something is going to happen in your role-playing game, and the outcome is not certain. A character wants to shoot a monster, seduce a noble, or learn a difficult incantation. A monster wants to bite someone or run away. A thunderstorm produces lightning which might strike a character.

An RPG character walking across a room is not a task to be resolved - in most cases, it just happens. An RPG character running across a room and dodging a hail of bullets while doing so? THAT's a task to be resolved.

For purposes of this post I'm assuming that the game you're playing uses a randomizer to resolve uncertain task outcomes (most games use a dice roll; some use cards, or a Jenga tower, or something else). If your game resolves everything through player actions/discussion, or in general doesn't use a randomizer, then the end of the algorithm doesn't apply. You can still use the first few boxes to decide which things deserve narrative focus, though!

I'm using Narrative Focus to mean anything that you spend time talking about in the context of your story. So an out-of-character discussion about the rules, or a recap of previous events in the game, do not count as receiving narrative focus. Describing what your character does, or role-playing it, or bringing out props, or rolling dice to see what happens - all of these are narrative focus.

1. Is it interesting?

If it's not interesting, don't even spend time on it! But - what makes a task interesting?
  1. It's important to a character. Your characters are the windows through which players (and GMs) experience the fictional world of the game. If a task doesn't matter to them, it's not going to matter to the player, and it doesn't merit any narrative focus. 
  2. It affects the character's goals. This is an extension of it being important. The task being resolved has to have a measurable impact on something the character is trying to achieve. Obviously this has a pretty wide range, anything from "I want to make myself happy" to "I want to help my friend find his family" to "I need to do this to stay true to my principles." But if it doesn't affect the goal the character is trying to achieve, then character has no clear motivation to do it, and it doesn't merit narrative focus.
  3. It matches the tone and genre of the story. Think about the genre of story you're playing in. What kinds of actions and tasks would be considered important in those genres? ANY task can be worthy of narrative focus if it's important and relevant to the character, but if it doesn't fit in the mood of the fiction you can handle it off-screen, or skip it. For example, consider the task "get lunch." If the character is hungry enough, this could certainly meet the first two requirements, but in most genres we would skip it. But if the character is a noir detective living paycheck to paycheck, or a punk on the fringes of society in a barter economy, the simple act of procuring a meal becomes interesting because of the challenges and themes associated with it. 
If it's interesting, it deserves some narrative focus. And keeping the idea of challenges and themes in mind, we go on to the next decision!  We're going to spend time on it, in-game. Now the question is: do we resolve it via role-play? Or do we use the randomizing/decision-making mechanics?

2. Is it hard to do?

If it's not hard to do, we don't have to have a conversation about how to resolve the task, right? If it's easy, you just... do it. For example:

Player: "I do this easy thing, e.g.: walk across the room; talk to a guard; buy a drink; look up the capital of Burkina Faso on Wikipedia..."
GM: "OK. Great. You do it."

Of course, "hard to do" is relative. You have to calibrate it to the setting, genre, and to what's going on in the game at that moment. Heck, you can calibrate it to the character themselves - if they have a lot of skill in a certain kind of task, they should be able to "just do" much more challenging things with it than an untrained person would. Some systems (like Gumshoe) build this in deliberately, where a character automatically succeeds in an action of baseline-level difficulty once they're trained up beyond a certain point. 

But a lot of the difficulty is in the context. If the character is impaired, hassled, running low on resources, rushed, or opposed, something that would otherwise be a walk in the park can suddenly become difficult - and thus, something that needs to be resolved mechanically. 

Please note: even if it's easy, it can still be worthy of narrative focus! The distinction - and decision - being made in step 2 is about whether we need to use a task-resolution mechanic to resolve it. If it's easy but interesting, resolve the task through role-play. Describe what the characters do and how they resolve their task. Enjoy the storytelling. Then move on to the next interesting thing worthy of narrative focus.

3. Is it risky?

If the task is hard, it means the outcome is uncertain: the character might fail! If a task is risky, that means something bad happens if the character fails.  Like everything else, bad is relative to the context of the game and the scene. 
  • If failure means that the character just has to try again, this is not risky. 
  • If failure means that the character has wasted some time, this is not risky.
    • UNLESS the character is running out of time! If they are being pursued, or if wasting time means they'll lose an important opportunity, then suddenly failure does have consequences.
If it's not risky, it may still be worth role-playing the outcome, but the player and GM can decide together whether the character succeeds or fails - and since we've stipulated in these cases that failure is not that interesting, the character should succeed most of the time, right? 

If the task's outcome is uncertain and there are important consequences to failure, it's time to use a task resolution mechanic: roll dice, draw cards, whatever. Success means the character has accomplished something hard to do, in service of their goals. Failure means something bad has happened, and their goal slips farther away. 

4. Bonus Question: Does the system support this style?

I noted above that this algorithm won't work perfectly with every game, and I want to highlight one particular game where that's the case. In Call of Cthulhu (7th and earlier editions), characters increase their skill by succeeding at skill rolls. Therefore, the players have an incentive to seek out opportunities to roll. It's then up to the Keeper (the GM) to provide opportunities to roll dice. 

Does this mean that Call of Cthulhu games should be filled with a lot of meaningless dice rolls? No! But it does mean the Keeper - and scenario writers - need to hustle a little bit harder to make sure that the game is full of meaningful, risky tasks that fit the Investigators' skills. It's a challenge to be sure, but it's rewarding, and if the risks are high enough it really starts to make the Investigators sweat - and their players, too.

Want more of what I do? I have a number of best-selling Adventures and GM guides for the 7th Sea system at this link, available via DriveThruRPG! If the link doesn't work right, go to and search for me, "Evan Perlman."

Want to see how this algorithm can help spice up combat in your games? My Electrum Best-Selling GM guide "The Good Fight" talks specifically about creating a variety of interesting and meaningful consequences in 7th Sea combat. Never again will you have an endless slog against an improbably tough villain! Instead, players will get to enjoy the feeling of total and overwhelming panic as everything goes to hell all around them. Enjoy!

Fixing Up the Old Corbitt Place: Some Notes on "The Haunting"

"Verulam," a house for sale for the first time since 1924. Source: HouseCrazy

Here is a house. It sits alone, in a largely commercial neighborhood that's long passed it by, brooding in the shadows of newer buildings.

This house has an unfortunate reputation. Its owner cannot sell it. Things have happened here. Things remain here. You stand at the threshold.

Will you enter?

Call of Cthulhu's Stalwart Introductory Scenario for 30+ Years

For many people, The Haunting is the introductory Call of Cthulhu scenario. Packaged with pretty much every edition of the game, its most recent version is available in the free Quickstart Rules for 7th Edition. This Scenario has been many peoples' first taste of what Call of Cthulhu is all about, and as such we want it to showcase the best and most exciting things the game has to offer. 

I ran it recently, for a group that had never played Cthulhu before. In preparing it for them, and in gauging their reactions and noting their choices during play, I started to think about whether this scenario really does everything we might want it to do as an introduction to Call of Cthulhu. 

Before we go further, let me note: for my money, "Edge of Darkness" is a better scenario to introduce people to the game, especially the version that appears in the starter set. Nonetheless, you really can't go wrong with The Haunting, but perhaps there are ways to tweak it so you can go a little more right. This post is absolutely riddled with spoilers for the Haunting, but I've tried to speak only obliquely about some of the more delightful surprises.

What's Wrong with The Haunting?

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that this scenario is meant to be an introduction. It's meant to be run, sometimes by a first-time Keeper, for players who are brand-new to the game, or nearly so. And so it has to account for a few things right away:

First, new Investigators (and some seasoned ones, honestly) may be too hung up on "What's my motivation? Why would I go into this obviously creepy house?" They may not yet have learned the valuable Scott Dorward aphorism, "When playing a horror game, engage with the fucking scenario!"

Second, they may be tempted to skip all that boring background research and go straight ahead to poke around in the old mansion. This is, technically, "fine," in that there aren't any Cthulhu Police who will kick in your door and force you to experience all the content available to you... yet. But in reality this cuts out half the gameplay and much of the archetypal CoC experience, so really, it's not fine.

Next: it may be played in a Convention setting, so keeping it at or under 4 hours is important. Mostly this is accomplished by clear signposting of clues and occasional Keeper interventions to help the Investigator stay on track. 

Then: some problems arise when the Investigators actually get to the house, especially if the Keepers are as new as the players. 

First, the description of the rooms leaves the Keeper to come up with many of the scares, and to decide how to pace them out. This is a good thing for more experienced Keepers, but may be a downside for a newer group.

Also, 7th edition CoC has a chase mechanic. And it's cool! But it's not featured in this scenario at all! Later on I offer an option for a chase.

So - let's take these problems in order. I'll talk about what I did, but naturally this is not authoritative. Feel free to address the problems in a way that works for you and your group, or to ignore them altogether as the ramblings of a paranoid madman with delusions of grandeur. You would not be wrong!

What's My Motivation? And Why Not Head Straight for the House?

Many of the issues I've heard people mention with this scenario come right at the beginning. What if they don't need the money? Why even go to all this trouble, even for the not-inconsiderable sum being offered by the landlord Mr. Knott? And once they've taken the case, so to speak, why not just go straight to the house and poke around in it?

As far as motivation goes, you - the Keeper, presumably - can and should take care of that before play even starts. Once everyone has their Investigator, just be upfront with them: "The game we're playing tonight revolves around exploring a haunted house. So, at some point, you're going to want to do that. OK?" Good - that takes care of that. And, in fact, the text in the Quickstart does advise you to do just that. But inevitably, someone would say "Wouldn't a rational person run away now, knowing what we know about the house?" To which the Keeper must respond "Indeed, but you are an Investigator, not a rational person. Now press forward!"

As far as the problem of making sure they go to the house eventually, but not without doing some digging into its history: I admit - I cheated a little. I wanted to set things up so that the Investigators *would* eventually go to the house, but that they would accomplish other things first. As Keeper - as someone, that is, with the ability to alter the narrative by fiat - I built myself a backdoor to use in case things were threatening to off the rails.

It is March 3, 1920, in Boston. You stand in front of an aging, abandoned brick house. This house holds tight to its secrets. Now - let’s flash back to a couple of days ago, and find out why you're here, and what you've learned about this place before you arrived.

Then we go straight into the meeting with Mr. Knott, a few days prior. Is this the most elegant thing ever done in an RPG? No. But it worked for me, and if the Investigators seemed to be stalling out or running low on session time, we could always have the option of "flashing forward" again, bringing them back in front of the house, and moving ahead with the investigation.

Of course, once they're sitting down with Mr. Knott, other pitfalls present themselves. The Investigators may quibble with Knott's real estate strategy - why not just lower the price and take the loss? I heard one Keeper wondering why Mr. Knott wouldn't just knock the place down and build an office building. Or, the Investigators may just say "All right, let's go check out the house. If we don't find anything, it's clean!"

The solution to this, I think, is to have learning the history of the house be an explicit objective given to them by Knott. In the case of my group, Knott told them:

"My wife is a member of the Boston Historical Society, you see. You know how the ladies of these New England historical societies are. Not so bad here as in someplace like Marble Head, of course, but as she tells it, you're no one until you've made a contribution to their quarterly journal. She's let me know, in no uncertain terms, that publishing a full and detailed accounting of the Corbitt House’s history would be just the thing to improve her standing with that group."

And with that we've established a key objective. It's not enough simply to investigate the house itself. The Investigators need to know the history of it: who lived there, what happened to it, how it came to be the way it is. This way, Mr. Knott has a stake in compiling that information - or rather, having the Investigators compile it for him. 

Having an explicit objective to find the history of the house also helps the Keeper and Investigators stay on track. They can focus on building out the ownership history of the house: from the original owner, to Corbitt, down to the Macarios and eventual acquisition by Mr. Knott. Then, once the history is established, the Investigators might reasonably wish to speak to the Macarios, or explore the Chapel of Contemplation. Or, they could just go to the house, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do at that point! So let's do that!

Stepping Up the Scares at the Corbitt House

As written in the scenario, the Corbitt house has a few decent scares in it, but almost everything is left up to the imagination of the Keeper to find ways to provide a creepy and unsettling atmosphere. Without getting too far into specific spoilers, the current scenario gives:
  • Some signs of decay downstairs
  • A potentially-lethal encounter upstairs
  • The final encounters with Corbitt and his weapon of choice
Now, if you're running low on time, that's fine! But if you have an hour or two left in your session, you can afford to luxuriate in some more creepiness. And an inexperienced Keeper may not have anything ready to go that is both effective and in keeping with the theme of the house and its history. 

(Unavoidable spoiler inbound in this paragraph!.......) Remember also that Corbitt has use of the Dominate spell, which can create hallucinations in the minds of his victims. Also recall that one of Corbitt's objectives is to misdirect the Investigators so they stay away from his biggest secret. All right? Here we go! Anything requiring expenditure of a Magic Point (for using Dominate) is listed in its own sub-section. 

Everyone is going to have their own favored tricks and haunts, but here are a few I added. Whether or not you call for 1/1d3 SAN rolls after each of these is up to you. See how your Investigators are faring, and whether they need the extra pressure put on them.

Living Room:
  • The radio begins playing by itself. If switched off, unplugged, or smashed to bits, it still will occasionally start up the same song. I took an instrumental song, slowed it down a bit, and added a bit of reverb. I posted it on Youtube, here.
  • If the Investigators have met, or seen a picture of, Gloria Macario, one of figurines of the Virgin Mary has Gloria's face, and has reddish tracks of tears on a face of genuine misery.
Dining Room:
  • Shattered glass crunches underfoot near the walls (remnants of thrown glassware)
  • Mahogany table has gouge marks in the wood
  • Pot with some scraps of rice soup (as written in the scenario)... except, wait, my mistake. That’s not rice, unless rice wriggles and writhes.  
  • The sound of scurrying, scratching  and chewing comes from inside a pantry. If opened, no rats are found.
  • This is also where I chose to start the sounds of thumping and scratching from the upstairs bedroom. Since the stairs to both the upper level and the basement originate in the kitchen, it seems like Corbitt would have a vested interest in making sure they don't go downstairs.

Macarios' Bedroom:
  • A [Listen] check draws attention the window, where children can be seen playing just down the street. This is a bit strange because there are only office buildings there, and it is more strange because the children's clothes are at least 10 years out of date (they date to the year the neighbors made complaints about their missing children.)
  • A crucifix rotates upside down while the Investigators watch. The figure of Jesus falls off, leaving no mark of glue or fastener. Closer inspection shows he has the face of Vittorio Macario, twisted in a snarl of rage.
Spare Bedroom:
  • There is a pool of blood on the floor... and water is dripping up to the ceiling, where it flows in a line toward the window. What's the deal with that window? Why not check it out!
Empty Coal Storage Bin: 
  • The inside of the door has long scratches and gouges on it, matching the pattern of human hands.

Dominate effects, that can mostly be used anywhere.
The Keeper should make a hidden roll of the Investigators' POW against Corbitt's; any Investigator who loses suffers one of the following at any time:

  • Smells smoke, hears crackling of fire - “We have to get out!”
  • Finds a picture of one of the other Investigators with the Macarios in happier times: “Why didn’t you tell me you knew them? What else are you hiding?”
  • Sees a tattoo of the Chapel symbol on another Investigator
  • Overhears two Investigators gossiping about them: “We can’t tell [X], he’s just not ready!”
  • Sees an Investigator glaring at them with naked, terrifying hatred.
  • Remembers that they’re here to find a huge cache of gold buried in the earth floor of the basement. Nothing else matters, they have to get the gold before the police get here, they have to get the gold get the gold!

Discovering that no one else experienced any given hallucination is probably worth a 0/1 SAN loss, wouldn't you say?

Special Option for Using Very Simplified Chase Rules: An Impossible Labyrinth in the House

(With thanks/apologies to Mark Danielewski whose book House of Leaves inspired this).

Within the confines of a two-level house, there isn't much room for a physical chase. However, within the confines of the mind, and given Corbitt's tendency to use Dominate... here's what I propose. This whole encounter should take no more than 10 minutes.

The storage rooms on the main level don't really have anything going on in them, just some piles of junk. So: the first time one or more Investigators enter, they all immediately make contested POW rolls against Corbitt (with Corbitt spending 1 MP per Investigator to be tested).

If the Investigator wins the roll (i.e. gets a regular success while Corbitt fails, gets a Hard success against his Regular, or Extreme against his Hard), they experience a brief wave of disorientation: their footsteps echo strangely, the room seems unnaturally dark if it was previously lit, the air feels cool and clammy, and there is a momentary smell of musk and sour breath. Then it fades, and the Keeper may choose to call for a 0/1 SAN roll.

If the Investigator loses the roll... the find themselves standing in a long, dim corridor. It stretches on ahead and behind them, with no clear end visible in either direction. This is definitely not the room they just entered, and in fact it cannot possibly exist within the physical space of the house. Give them a moment to wallow in their confusion and disorientation.

Then, from behind them, they hear a sound: a buzzing, chittering sound, squeaking and huffing, and the trod of heavy feet, all at once. Red eyes blaze from a cloud of roiling black. It is coming towards them. It is coming closer. It will be on them in a moment... the Chase is on!

There are 3 locations in this chase, 2 of which have a Hazard the Investigator must get past in order to escape the labyrinth. To drastically simplify and adapt the chase rules, this is how we'll do it:

  1. The Chase goes round by round, just like combat. Each round, every Investigator can do one (or more) of the following: move to the next location, or perform an action that doesn't require a check, or perform an action requiring a skill check.
    1. Every Round, the Pursuer may move forward 1 Location. It is not slowed by a Hazard. If it ends up in the same location as an Investigator, and the Investigator is out of Movement Actions, the Pursuer will use its Movement Action to attack the Investigator (see step 4 below).
  2. If the Investigator rolled 2 levels above Corbitt on their POW (e.g. Hard success vs. his fail), they get an extra Movement Action each round. Otherwise, everyone gets one Movement Action. To go from one Location to the next requires 1 Movement Action, unless there is a Hazard the way.
  3. When confronted with a Hazard, the Investigator(s) must make a skill roll to get past it. If they spend 1 or 2 Movement Actions, they get one or two bonus dice on the skill roll. If they run out of Movement Actions in this Round, they can still clear the obstacle but won't be able to move until the next Round.
  4. If at any point an Investigator fails to clear a Hazard, or if they wind up at the same location as the Pursuer and they have no more Movement Actions, then the Pursuer falls upon them. As their vision goes black, the Investigator feels a hot gust of stinking breath, the claws and tiny needle teeth of dozens of furry vermin, the stab of a knife in their guts. They take 1/1d6 SAN loss and "wake up" from their experience in the Labyrinth, standing at the entrance to the storage room, back in the real house. Only a few seconds have passed. Anyone watching them experience this might not know anything is wrong, until the Investigator regains awareness and suffers the effects of SAN loss.

Locations & Hazards:

  1. Seemingly-endless corridor. The floor is smooth grey stone, the walls rough wood, the ceiling shrouded in darkness. All sounds echo strangely here, and it is impossible to accurately judge distance by sound. There are doorways visible in the walls "up ahead" - the direction is unimportant.
    1. The Pursuer is at a hypothetical "Location 0" - it can be seen and heard, but it is always "behind" the Investigator, whichever direction they're facing. It can appear to be behind multiple people even if they are facing different directions.
    2. Whichever way an Investigator chooses to go, they will reach the next Hazard, and then (if they make it) the next Location. Directions and geography are subjective to each person experiencing the Labyrinth.
  2. Through the first doorway they enter, they find themselves in a hallway scarcely taller and wider than a crawlspace. The walls here are made of planks nailed to studs, with little space between them. At the far end - maybe 25 yards away - is a door. They briefly have a clear glimpse of the door: It is clad in old leather, thick and wrinkled, grey and sickly-colored.
    1. With a [Spot Hidden] roll they notice 2 things: first, that the door gently flexes in and out, as though breathing. Second, that flames dance just behind the wooden plank walls, and that the flames are growing.
    2. HAZARD: A fire has started, and the hallway is quickly filling with smoke. At Keeper's discretion, the Investigator must make a [Navigate] roll to find their way to the door, a [CON] roll to avoid succumbing to the smoke, [Dodge] to avoid falling fiery timbers, or any other appropriate challenge. If they fail the roll, or retreat back out to the corridor, the hallucination ends with SAN loss as described above. If they succeed, move to Location 3.
  3. Beyond the leather door lies a low-ceilinged stone chapel. 3 walls are bare stone, marked only by the presence of inverted crucifixes with blasphemous depictions on them. The fourth wall, impossibly, is a towering stained glass window in impossibly varied and subtle shades of black and gray. It depicts a man upright but positioned as if in the grave, thin, long-fingered hands crossed over his naked chest. Halfway up the window, a panel of glass is missing; it is large enough to allow a person to clamber through. His face is indistinct, but two red eyes burn fiercely in it.
    1. There are several rows of pews. They are made of the same stiff, grey leather as the door in the previous location, but they look hard and unyielding as stone. Sitting on them, 17 figures in tattered silk robes. As one, they turn to stare at the intruders, then rise and point accusing fingers. Their hands are skeletal; their hoods are empty, save for two blazing red eyes. 
    2. HAZARD: The robed figures will come for the Investigators. As the labyrinth operates under a sort of dream or nightmare logic, it's not necessary to have a detailed combat. Any reasonable approach should be allowed here, but each Investigator has time to make only one roll. [Brawl] would see them through the crowd; [Throw] would work to shatter the window; [Climb], improbably, would allow them to scale the stained glass and escape. One success is all they need; one failure is all it takes for them to fall to the robes, and then the Pursuer. 
    3. Either way, after this location, they wake from the Chase. If they escaped with a successful roll in Location 3, they take only 1 SAN loss. If they were caught, they take 1/1d6, as described above. 

Wrapping Up:

I hope this was useful to you! On my playthrough, my Investigators had had enough by the time they reached the basement. One was already nearly dead from the upstairs bedroom encounter, and another was down to a precious few SAN. After their encounter in the main room of the basement, they went back to the kitchen, turned on the gas, and send the house up in a fireball. Honestly, I can't blame them.

Oh, one more piece of advice: In the scenario, it mentions that Corbitt might summon a dimensional shambler if he gets into trouble. I don't love this idea, because it is not really thematically in line with the rest of the scares. It introduces something really out of context that, I think, would be more distracting and confusing than scary. With the added scares (and optional heavy SAN loss, especially in the Chase scene), you should have more than enough fuel to reduce your Investigators to quivering psych patients. You can mostly leave the Mythos out of this one.

Finally: My thanks to Jon Hook, of the Miskatonic University Podcast.  In addition to being a great writer and a patient discussant, Jon is also forever dreaming of the Old Corbitt House. He has some great ideas for increasing scares and making this doughty old adventure feel new again, and you should ask him about them sometime - or better yet, seek him out at a con and play through it with him!

Want more of what I do? I have a number of best-selling Adventures and GM guides for the 7th Sea system at this link, available via DriveThruRPG! (Edit: For some reason if you click the link on mobile it goes to the homepage, not the site I was aiming at. To find what I've written, go to and search for me, "Evan Perlman." Good luck!)  They are reasonably popular and inexpensive, so check them out! And now, it's been announced that 7th Sea will live under the same Chaosium roof as Call of Cthulhu - so there's some nice synergy for you!

Mythos Tomes Should Be Freaky, Right?

This is not going to be a dramatic revelation, I know, but: introducing mythos tomes (in a Cthulhu Mythos game), or even spellbooks (in a fantasy game) should be An Event.

I've had a tendency, until recently, to think of these books as simply in-game resources. In the case of Call of Cthulhu, it seemed at first like a simple transaction for the Investigator. They pay a certain cost in Sanity, they gain some terrible knowledge, maybe a spell or two, and they have a resource to use for later. Simple, right?

But man, does that elide a whole bunch of interesting role-playing and world-building opportunities.

At the conclusion of the Zone Rouge mini-prequel-campaign, the Vienna Club investigators picked up a very old book. The Latin title was clear enough: De Vermis Mysteriis. [Ominous thunder rolls in the background.] We didn't have time to dive into the book in-person, so we saved it for off-screen discussion via our FB group.

Here's how I framed it for the Investigator who was heading up the research into the book. Mechanics details come from the CoC 7e Keeper's Guide:

"First, the initial inspection:

The book is a great, hefty thing. It's bound in leather, though it's a strange sort of leather indeed. No visible pores, none of the usual crinkles common to products of the time. This is either exceedingly carefully bound, or else made of some other material... or both. 

Picking it up, the first thing you notice is that the cover feels... gritty, somehow? Like that time you went to Coney Island with Albert [ed. note: his brother] when you were kids, and you swam all day, and then you remembered your mom said to come home an hour ago so you went home without showering off, and all the rest of the night you felt gritty and uncomfortable. 

Despite being a little uncomfortable to hold, you really admire the raised lettering of the title: "De Vermis Mysteriis." It catches your eye, and you spend a full minute or two just following the curves and surfaces with your vision. 

You know enough Latin to puzzle it out yourself: "Mysteries of the Worm."

Only after a few minutes looking at the title do you notice a few splashes of blood - recent blood - on the left edge of the cover and the bottom edge of a few of the pages. That, you reason, belonged to von Sebottendorf, before your friend caused his head to become mist.

Flipping through it, you notice a few things:  
*It's mostly printed in a very ornate German Blackletter style. ******Reading this with any degree of speed requires a successful Language: German roll. ******Translating is possible - with the help of a fluent translator, it can be done in 1d10+4 weeks, If trying it yourself, without any German language, it's going to take 4d10+12 weeks, and will be full of errors. 

* Throughout, there are marginal notes written in a much more modern German hand. These are easier to translate, and can be done without a roll, but it will take time if you are not fluent. In some cases, a German term appears in the margin to be translated into both Turkish and Arabic. [ed. note: These notes are by von Sebottendorf, though I don't know if the players will pick up on that.]"

The CoC Keeper Guide urges you to make Mythos Tomes feel weird and dangerous, and that's absolutely right. This is, in a sense, what separates Mythos knowledge from Occult knowledge. This is not just having to think about things that seem strange to a rational modern mind. This is having a direct, tactile, emotional and intellectual experience of the strange. It may trigger memories. It may affect your ability to concentrate. It's going to throw you off a little bit.

They wanted to dig more into the history of the book:

"By asking around the Occult circles and checking in certain disreputable books, you learn the following:

* The book is credited to a man named Ludwig Prinn, and indeed that name appears among the blackletter Latin in the first few pages.

* The only printed copies the occult community is aware of were printed in 1542, in Cologne, Germany. The original text is supposed to be much older, though whether written by Prinn or someone else, no one can authoritatively say.

* It was vigorously suppressed by Church authorities at the time - you can infer what vigorous suppression looked like in 16th-century Cologne. 15 copies were known to have survived at the time, but some have since disappeared. It is not known what happened to the author.

It is known to discuss, in part, the Arab and near-East world of antiquity, and supernatural entities and occurrences of that time. One account by an 18th-century scholar in Yorkshire says that the part she was able to understand mentioned "the habits of creatures such as the famous djinn of lore, and how one might attract such a being." Other sources dispute this as a translation error."

Finally, as they turn their attention toward researching Ludwig Prinn, the likely author of the piece, I plunder liberally from the Wikipedia entry on the (fictional) book, and make a few tweaks to tie it more directly into the 11th-century Constantinople setting, where [SPOILERS FOR HORROR ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS] a gentleman named Sedefkar is being tutored by one he calls "The Skinless One..."

After much searching, following of fizzled leads, and chasing of circular references, you track down a copy of an English book currently held in the Swiss Academy of Art in Geneva. Written in Kent in the mid 1700s, it is titled: "Lives of the Lesser Magi: Being an Treatyse upon Severall Ockult and Heretickal Persons of Minor Repute."

In its two pages on Prinn, you find:

* An "alchemist, necromancer, [and] reputed mage" who "boasted of having attained a miraculous age" before being burned at the stake in Brussels during the height of the witch trials (in the late 15th or early 16th centuries).

* Prinn, maintained that he was captured during the Ninth Crusade in 1271, and attributed his occult knowledge to studying under the "wizards and wonder-workers of the Seljuks and Ottomans" before and during his captivity. 

* Prinn once makes mention of time spent in Byzantium or Constantinople in the 11th century, writing that "there are legends among the crusaders concerning my deeds and those of my fellow Seekers of Truth.

And that's where we've left it for now. The descent into terrible knowledge and madness awaits! As well as a pair of somewhat-but-not-devastatingly-useful spells, which may help out in the coming Orient Express campaign.


Want more of what I do? I have a number of best-selling Adventures and GM guides for the 7th Sea system at this link, available via DriveThruRPG! They are reasonably popular and shockingly inexpensive, so check them out! And now, it's been announced that 7th Sea will live under the same Chaosium roof as Call of Cthulhu - so there's some nice synergy for you!

After-Action Report: Dead Man Stomp

The Conclusion of the "Zone Rouge" Mini-Campaign Went Pretty Well

Just a quick update: I was finally able to run the conclusion of Zone Rouge! My Investigators finally caught up with the villainous Rudolf von Sebottendorf and his cadre of followers in Paris. Along the way, the encountered the cursed jazzman, trumpeter Leroy Turner, who lived in the close-knit African-American expat community in Montmarte. 

There were some very tense scenes in this scenario, and it was awesome! Some highlights: 

  • The Investigators getting a glimpse of how complex the web of 1920's occult secret societies actually is. At some point we drew a diagram.
  • Dr. Percy Fawcett, adventurer and intelligence agent, handing his gun to a barely-stable Leroy Turner in exchange for being allowed to look at the man's silver trumpet.
  • Confronting von Sebottendorf and a kidnapped Turner in an underground chapel to the martyrs of Paris, with only one way out. On top of that, the knowledge that a blast from that trumpet would bring dead saints climbing out of the walls.
  • A John Woo-style standoff in that chapel, which... could have gone worse, I suppose. von Sebottendorf ended up with his head dissolving in a cloud of red mist, and Percy Fawcett's life came down to a 60% chance on a dice roll. 
I think it's safe to say I've gotten over my reluctance towards endangering the Investigators. 

I still want to improve my descriptions of scenes, so I'll keep working on that. 

In two weeks, we head to London, to start out on the marquee campaign: Horror on the Orient Express! 

Zone Rouge Scenario 3: Dead Man Stomp!

In which I get to use the headline "MAN DIES THREE TIMES IN ONE NIGHT!" in something other than the opening of Horror on the Orient Express!

The scenario "Dead Man Stomp" originally appeared in 1989's "1920's Keeper Kit" - which I do not own, and have never had the pleasure of seeing - but probably received its widest exposure from being included in the 5th (and possibly 6th?) edition rulebooks.

Most recently, it was revised, updated, and included in the 7th edition's Starter Set - which you should buy! It's great! 

I chose Dead Man Stomp to be kind of a capper or climax to my "Zone Rouge" mini-campaign, which is itself a prequel to Horror on the Orient Express.

In the last two scenarios, the Investigators have been bouncing around the Verdun area of France, in pursuit of Rudolf von Sebottendorf and his nefarious efforts to overturn the political and occult situation in France. The Investigators are backed by Hugh "Quex" Sinclair, section chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service. von Sebottendorf is backed by a mysterious entity he encounters only in his dreams, an entity calling itself "En Kalif." Sharp-eyed anagram fans who are also familiar with Horror on the Orient Express will recognize that [SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!] En Kalif is a pseudonym for Fenalik, one-time owner of the Sedefkar Simulacrum and current (as of 1921) comatose vampire.

Twice now the Investigators have interfered in von Sebottendorf's activities, and now things are coming to a head. They are barreling towards a final confrontation in the Montmarte neighborhood, in Paris. 

There will be 3 parts to this post:
  1. A recap of the campaign timeline so far! 
  2. Converting Dead Man Stomp from Harlem to 1921 Paris, including a number of ties and call-forwards to the Horror on the Orient Express campaign
  3. Adapting Dead Man Stomp for use at the table!

Image from Pixabay; in public domain.

How Did We Get Here?

Briefly, here's what Rudolf von Sebottendorf's been up to, and how the Investigators have gotten up his nose so far! Note that historical events here don't line up perfectly with real history.


  • Late 1917, von Sebottendorf and some kindred spirits in Munich get together and found the Thule Society (wiki link).
  • Early 1918, von Sebottendorf arrives in Verdun.
He has been having vivid dreams. Most frequent of all are his dreams where he is taught by an enigmatic presence calling itself “En Kalif.” It appears mostly in the form of mist; he has never seen its real face. Sometimes it speaks to him in old Turkish, sometimes in French, sometimes in a language he does not understand. It promises to teach him secrets of the esoteric world.

In return, En Kalif asks that he help sow unrest in France. En Kalif's reasons are his own. 

  • Early 1918, he meets Marion Alard of the Alsatian Circle, and begins to tutor him. He refuses to introduce Alard to En Kalif, and by the end of the year they have broken off their acquaintance, and he hears no more from Alard. He does not learn of Alard's death.
  • 26 April 1919, German Communist forces in Munich break into the headquarters of von Sebottendorf’s Thule society, arresting - and eventually executing - a number of prominent members, as “right-wing spies.” Surviving members of the Society blame von Sebottendorf for betraying them; he does not deny this.
  • In the summer of 1919, he goes to Paris to establish a new society. Creatively, he calls this "the Paris circle." Based in vaguely Rosicrucian and Martinist traditions, they pursue occult knowledge and try to fight the emerging Communist factions.
  • In November 1920, several of von Sebottendorf’s Alsatian Circle agents in Verdun die or go missing: Marie LeCroix [in "Lumiere Morte"] and Rupert Merriweather [in Edge of Darkness] chief among them.
One of the Vienna Club's members, Percy Fawcett, goes temporarily mad after the events of Edge of Darkness. He is cared for in Charenton Insanse Asylum, and has an unpleasant encounter with a new nurse, Martin Guimart! (See Horror on the Orient Express, book 2.)

  • In the spring of 1921, the dream visits of En Kalif cease without warning and von S grows increasingly desperate to maintain and expand his authority.

This is because Fenalik the Vampire has been discovered and partially awoken where he was trapped in the cellars of Charenton Insane Asylum. His dream consciousness, which was scarcely holding it together before, now disappears entirely until Fenalik fully regains himself in 1922.

  • In April 1921, a German member of the Paris Circle, one Peter Mann, begins to conspire with surviving members of the Thule Society back in Munich. He has lost faith in von Sebottendorf, and the Thules want revenge.
  • In June 1921, von Sebottendorf learns of Mann's betrayal. He decides to keep him around for a while before destroying him.
  • In July of 1921, the Vienna Club Investigators arrive in Paris, advertising a golden sarcophagus with strange markings in it. von Sebottendorf is interested, and sends Mann to a jazz club, Le Grand Duc, to look it over. Here, he will have Mann killed. 
The sarcophagus is the same one that Marion Alard gave to Rupert Merriweather. Alard was killed in Paris a few years prior, when he was asking around in the Parisian occult community and "the wrong people" got wind of it. The "wrong people," in this case, were one of the Makryat duplicates, or perhaps Makryat himself, who was in Paris at the time. He stabbed Alard through the heart, but realized the box was not with him. He has learned patience and caution since then.

Converting Dead Man Stomp to Fit the Mini-Campaign

Spoilers, obviously, for Dead Man Stomp. Gratuitous spoilers. 

One of the virtues of "Dead Man Stomp," as written, is that it's not strongly tied to any particular place. It works pretty well in any urban environment that has a strong Jazz flavor - and for that, the Montmarte neighborhood in Paris works very well!

Montmarte in this era was the center of a small black American community. Many of the residents had fought for the U.S. in WWI, and then settled in France after the war. Montmarte was home to a number of soon-to-be-famous jazz clubs - le Grand Duc, Bricktop's, Chez Florence - and some other landmarks worth integrating into a game: the Grand Guignol theater, and several prominent churches and cathedrals.

The older of the two churches in the neighborhood, the Church of St. Pierre of Montmarte, (wiki link) is home to the "Martyrium of St. Denis," a chapel (built roughly on the spot of the original place to bear that name) that is associated with two significant church events. First, the martyrdom (by beheading) of Denis, the first Bishop of Paris. In the legend, he was beheaded, which failed to prevent him from standing up, picking up his head, and walking down the hill a while to a more favored dying spot. Second, the Martyrium is the place where the Jesuit Society was founded.

So - lots of history, lots of atmosphere! And, thanks to the bones of centuries' worth of saints and parishioners... lots of bodies who can be ripped from their eternal rest by the mad squeals of Leroy's trumpet. Could the climax of the scenario occur here? Reader - it must!

The only thing that's potentially a setting problem in this conversion is that Paris did not have Prohibition in the way that American cities did. Granted, there was a minor prohibition which forbade absinthe, but all other drinks were readily available - something that appealed to many of the famous American expats who made their way to Paris during the annĂ©es folles (wiki link).

The biggest issue when converting this for use in my campaign is that I need it to cap off the Investigators' pursuit of Rudolf von Sebottendorf. Therefore, I've taken the step of replacing the mob outfit in the scenario-as-written with von S's "Paris Circle."

The other thing I've done is foreground the threat (or opportunity) posed by the Paris Circle, as a secondary threat in addition to Leroy Turner's mythos-related trumpet that can raise the dead. This gives the Investigators opportunities to decide how they want to "deal" with von S, and it also adds some pressure and forces them to make some choices: will they go after the Paris Circle and ignore Leroy? If they pursue Leroy, will their quarry get away? Will they team up with von S to deal with Leroy? What happens then?

Changes to Names & Locations

In the next section you'll see me refer to some of these names. Here's a conversion list, to help forestall confusion!

Harlem -> Montmarte, Paris
Small's Paradise (jazz club) -> Le Grand Duc
Pete Mancuso (mob accountant) -> Peter Mann, German nationalist and Rosicrucian occultist
Joey Lawson -> Josephe Laurier, member of Paris Circle, combat veteran
Archie Bonato -> Rudolf von Sebottendorf, occultist, spy, general villain
Garage (mob headquarters) -> Martyrium of St. Denis (Paris Circle headquarters)

I did not change the names of the African-American characters, as it's reasonable that they could all be expats living in France.

I've had to do some wrenching on the mechanics of this scenario as well, for reasons of playability and design that I'll get into in the next section.

Adapting Dead Man Stomp for Use at the Table

Dead Man Stomp has a lot of good things going for it. Most particularly, it has: 

  • A lively setting, full of jazz and passion and danger and death
  • 3 really good set-pieces: the shooting at the club, the jazz funeral, and the climax with the risen dead.
But if there's a consistent knock on the scenario, it's that it is VERY railroad-dependent. Investigators are almost literally moved from one set-piece to another, where they witness things, and - unfortunately - don't have a whole lot of plot levers to pull. 

And - as sometimes happens in Cthulhu games - if the Investigators don't choose to pursue a particular lead, it can leave the group stranded without a functional scenario. Now - as written in the 7th edition Starter Set version, these clues and prompts ARE there in sufficient number to keep things moving. However, the way they are laid out in the text - which is almost exclusively done in big narrative paragraphs - makes them a little hard for the aspiring keeper to map out.

So I mapped it out! In the prior post I talked about how I format scenarios for use at the table - generally, a lot of outlines, bullet points and bold phrases.   But for this, I needed something a little more at the global scope. I needed - a MAP!


This is in 3 parts. In these maps:
  • Red boxes are settings, or overall activities (e.g. Le Grand Duc jazz club; "Looking into Laurier", etc)
  • Blue boxes are important clues or events that the Investigators need to witness/pick up
  • Unboxed text are generally methods or avenues for the Investigators to get their clues. 
These maps don't have every detail from the scenario as written, but they show the general relationship between people, events, motivations, and clues. They also show how messy the opening vignettes can be, which is where this system of mapping will really benefit a keeper choosing to run this otherwise excellent scenario. 

Finally, a few cosmetic changes: 
  • In the scenario as written, Turner's fiancee Marnie died when she was struck by a gray Packard. This is implied to be the same care that Joey Lawton drives. However, there's no explicit connection made and it's not implied that Leroy has any animus against the mobsters. So, I dropped it. In my version, Marnie perished from the flu, like many others of that time. 
  • The scenario relates a line of dialogue between "Louis Armstrong" and Leroy Turner which would be a big clue to the mystical nature of things, but it says "Leroy won't tell them this." If it's not available to the Players there's no real reason for it to be in the scenario. In my verison, Leroy WILL tell them this after a successful persuasion or similar roll.
I'll be running this in 2 weeks, and probably will wrap it up in a single session. I think it's going to be great! 

Next up - we head up to London for some good old-fashioned spy-vs.-spy action, in... THE AUCTION!


Want more of what I do? I have a number of best-selling Adventures and GM guides for the 7th Sea system at this link, available via DriveThruRPG! They are reasonably popular and shockingly inexpensive, so check them out! And now, it's been announced that 7th Sea will live under the same Chaosium roof as Call of Cthulhu - so there's some nice synergy for you!

I'll soon be working on writing my first-ever CoC scenario for publication, giving it the same "behind-the-scenes development" treatment you've seen so far - so watch this space for future posts on that topic!

Fresh Madness!

The Shanties of Hell

  Aboard the whaler "Sovereign Elaine," somewhere in the Atabean In the middle watch, sky dark and clear, a boy sits high in the r...