World Ocean Day is June 8, 2022! In celebration of the oceans and the weird little monsters that live in it, all week I'll be sharing a variety of strange creatures and people to encounter below the waves in 7th Sea.
7th Sea - Weird Encounters to Have at Sea: Boneflower Worms
7th Sea - Weird Encounters to Have at Sea: Dmitri the Fish
All across Théah, the weather is warming, and thoughts turn to summer. Why not go for a swim, and see what we find?
What Have I Done?!?! (A resume of my TTRPG work)
Hi! I'm Evan.
I create and develop TTRPG projects focusing on people who stand up against horrors both mundane and supernatural.
Best-Selling Community Content for Call of Cthulhu [Chaosium's Miskatonic Repository]:
Best-Selling Community Content for 7th Sea [JWP/Chaosium's Explorers Society]
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 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.
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
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
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...
I'm learning less is more when prepping for 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
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
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!
Task Resolution! What to handwave, and when to roll dice in your TTRPG
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
- Whether a task to be resolved deserves narrative focus, and
- How you should resolve the task's uncertain outcome.
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
2. Is it hard to do?
3. Is it risky?
- 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.
4. Bonus Question: Does the system support this style?
Fixing Up the Old Corbitt Place: Some Notes on "The Haunting"
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
What's Wrong with The Haunting?
What's My Motivation? And Why Not Head Straight for the House?
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.
Stepping Up the Scares at the Corbitt House
- Some signs of decay downstairs
- A potentially-lethal encounter upstairs
- The final encounters with Corbitt and his weapon of choice
- 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.
- I shamelessly stole this bit from the How We Roll podcast. Thanks to you folks!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- The inside of the door has long scratches and gouges on it, matching the pattern of human hands.
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!
Special Option for Using Very Simplified Chase Rules: An Impossible Labyrinth in the House
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Mythos Tomes Should Be Freaky, Right?
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.
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!
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