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''Are we the baddies?"/ investigators and ''evil'' organizations


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#1 EihortBroodling

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 04:55 AM

In another thread, some forumites expressed strong preference never to use the KKK as anything but an antagonist in a Jazz Era game. (Fair enough. Every Keeper should run as he likes.)

I brought up Cold Harvest, in which the PCs are NKVD men in the time of Stalin's purges. Even if they are all unusually decent sorts for the NKVD, they are on the side of the human monsters.

Would you run/play a game in which the investigators are ''the baddies", or working with an ''evil'' group? How dark will you go?

Just for a one-off? In a longer campaign?


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#2 Travern

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 05:19 AM

First, why are you using scare quotes around evil when you introduce this topic?

 

Second, why do really you want to play a in real-life evil campaign?  Himmler's Ahnenerbe?  SMERSH death squads?

 

Seriously, why?  Think very long and hard about this.

 

There's a quote from Vonnegut that's apposite: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."



#3 EihortBroodling

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 05:19 AM

First, why are you using scare quotes around evil when you introduce this topic?

 

Second, why do really you want to play a in real-life evil campaign?  Himmler's Ahnenerbe?  SMERSH death squads?

 

Seriously, why?  Think very long and hard about this.

 

There's a quote from Vonnegut that's apposite: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

 

I'm using scare quotes to avoid a tedious moral debate.

 

It's a game, not real life.



#4 Travern

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 05:24 AM

Why are you raising this topic if you want to avoid moral debate?



#5 EihortBroodling

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 05:27 AM

If I didn't use scare quotes, some ''cosmic horror forever/nihilism rules!" fan would come on and give us a long lecture about the utter meaninglessness of all human moral conceptions in the face of the Mythos.

You know it's true.

But since you've shared your thoughts about the question, I'll go ahead and give mine.

I'm interested in running Cold Harvest.

But I don't think I'd enjoy a long-running game in which the investigators were NKVD men. It would easily reach the point where the cultists trying to blow everything up look like the good guys. And I think the very real horror of Bolshevism would detract from the imaginary supernatural horrors of the campaign.

PWhy are you raising this topic if you want to avoid moral debate?


I'm asking about player and Keeper preferences, not "do you think the NKVD was horrid?"

If you don't, we couldn't possibly have such a debate. There'd be no common ground.

#6 Travern

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 05:30 AM

Fair enough, so you're not interested in running a campaign in which real-world horrors overshadow the (fictional) Mythos ones.

 

Why then do you want to ask this forum about this?



#7 EihortBroodling

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 05:39 AM

Fair enough, so you're not interested in running a campaign in which real-world horrors overshadow the (fictional) Mythos ones.

 

Why then do you want to ask this forum about this?

 

Because I am interested in running an adventure in which the investigators are part of a bad guy organization. 

 

 

And I'm curious to know what other Keepers and players think about set-ups like the one in Cold Harvest.

 

Or, say, a Delta Green game that includes a lot of illegal and unpleasant stuff done by the self-designated ''good guys'', for something dark but not grimdark.



#8 Travern

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 05:52 AM

When you say "a bad guy organization" what did you have in mind?  There's the "grimdark" of fantasy roleplaying, the "dark" of edgy escapism, and then there's real-world morality.

 

Delta Green, as a milieu as much as a setting, works hard on the tension between the organization's ends-justify-the-means ethics and the toll it inevitably takes on the characters, even as cosmic horrors threaten to destroy the world.  The players are confronted with awful choices and sometimes no-win situations—and worse, the bond mechanics of destroying the things they value in their lives are often their only recourse to staying in the game, so to speak.  But it's not an exercise in evil role-playing.



#9 EihortBroodling

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 06:05 AM

When you say "a bad guy organization" what did you have in mind?  There's the "grimdark" of fantasy roleplaying, the "dark" of edgy escapism, and then there's real-world morality.

 

Delta Green, as a milieu as much as a setting, works hard on the tension between the organization's ends-justify-the-means ethics and the toll it inevitably takes on the characters, even as cosmic horrors threaten to destroy the world.  The players are confronted with awful choices and sometimes no-win situations—and worse, the bond mechanics of destroying the things they value in their lives are often their only recourse to staying in the game, so to speak.  But it's not an exercise in evil role-playing.

 

I'd say the Mafia,  Reds, bomb-tossing anarchists, Crowley-type occultists, and Nazis would all count as (non Mythos) bad guys. 

Your list may differ from mine.

 

Further notes on bad guy groups:

 

 

Because I generally run 1920s games (and not set in Germany), the Nazis have pretty much never come up. Too minor and distant.

If I did 30s stuff, I'd probably be tempted to use them.

Indiana Jones!

 

Reds and anarchists work well as a foreign menace or enemy within. I've seen it done well in the relevant literature and it very much fits the tenor of 1920s America.

 

I haven't really used gangsters in games I've run, but I have played in a couple of adventures that did. In one game, a PC was a mechanic and driver who also worked as a bootlegger, but the rest of us were not playing criminals. It was fun. Details are a bit foggy--this was nearly two decades ago.

 

Crowleyan types and Satanists can make interesting villains, IMO. I've done this once, with devil-worshippers. I'm not a 'Mythos purist' so the supernatural horror does not always have to be the Mythos for me. 



#10 Oncorhyncus

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 06:14 AM

In another thread, some forumites expressed strong preference never to use the KKK as anything but an antagonist in a Jazz Era game. (Fair enough. Every Keeper should run as he likes.)

 

I brought up Cold Harvest, in which the PCs are NKVD men in the time of Stalin's purges.  Even if they are all unusually decent sorts for the NKVD, they are on the side of the human monsters.

 

 

Would you run/play a game in which the investigators are ''the baddies", or working with an ''evil'' group?  How dark will you go?

Just for a one-off? In a longer campaign?

 

This is a touchy subject of course, and I am sure that it could be and has been uncomfortable for me as well as others.  But, it seems to me that a conceit of the genre is that mythos evil transcends human misconduct.  To oppose the schema of mythos antagonists, alliances with even the most vile of human monsters is allowable.  I would never make my players be members of the National Socialist Party of Germany, but I might put them in a situation where one way to prevent a mythos apocalypse would be to save Adolf Hitler from an assassination plot (I say one way both because I despise scenarios with only one solution and because of I was a player in such a scenario I have doubts I could stomach working to keep Hitler alive regardless of the consequences).



#11 EihortBroodling

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 06:23 AM

I should add Fu Manchu style Triads/Tongs to my baddies list. 

 

This is a touchy subject of course, and I am sure that it could be and has been uncomfortable for me as well as others.  But, it seems to me that a conceit of the genre is that mythos evil transcends human misconduct.  To oppose the schema of mythos antagonists, alliances with even the most vile of human monsters is allowable.  I would never make my players be members of the National Socialist Party of Germany, but I might put them in a situation where one way to prevent a mythos apocalypse would be to save Adolf Hitler from an assassination plot (I say one way both because I despise scenarios with only one solution and because of I was a player in such a scenario I have doubts I could stomach working to keep Hitler alive regardless of the consequences).

 

Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

 

I think a Keeper needs to know his players. 

 

I wouldn't run something like Cold Harvest with a group that included guys who would balk at playing communist secret police, even for a limited scenario. I really like the scenario, but I wonder if the premise is a hard sell?



#12 Travern

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 06:28 AM

But, it seems to me that a conceit of the genre is that mythos evil transcends human misconduct.  To oppose the schema of mythos antagonists, alliances with even the most vile of human monsters is allowable.


The only drawback to such Faustian pacts in terms of the Mythos is that, at the heart of HPL's stories, human victories are meaningless on a cosmic scale. The return of the Great Old Ones can't be prevented, only postponed. What does it mean for the players if they have to make extreme moral compromises for a temporary remedy?
 

I'd say the Mafia,  Reds, bomb-tossing anarchists, Crowley-type occultists, and Nazis would all count as (non Mythos) bad guys.

 
Did you have a particular one of those in mind?  How much research into their history did you plan to do?  How much of their genuine historical activities would feature in the making of your adventure?  How would the Mythos figure in such a fact-based setting, and what would its significance be compared to the real-world malevolence?

 

Going down this avenue raises a lot of questions, and all the more the farther one goes.



#13 EihortBroodling

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 06:56 AM

Did you have a particular one of those in mind?  How much research into their history did you plan to do?  How much of their genuine historical activities would feature in the making of your adventure?  How would the Mythos figure in such a fact-based setting, and what would its significance be compared to the real-world malevolence?

 

Going down this avenue raises a lot of questions, and all the more the farther one goes.

 

Yep! :)

 

(Note: I trimmed your post only because the first part is not addressed to me.)

 

I think of all the groups I listed, the ones that interest me most are:

 

  • Dark occultists/Satanists 
  • Mafia
  • Triads/Fu Manchu style baddies

 

I think the Mafia has potential to be a bad guy group that sometimes helps and sometimes hinders the investigators. It's violent and secretive, but it does have certain rules. Its basic goal is not so bad. Make money. It's the means that are bad. Crime. 

 

The men running it are generally sane, if ruthless. I could see a gangsters versus cultists scenario develop very easily, if the cultists are engaged in criminal enterprise to fund their group's activities and cover  necessities.

 

A capo who uses supernatural aid to make a power play might work well as a villain in an adventure.

 

I haven't read or run King of Chicago, but I understand it involves gangsters.

 

 

Dark occultists/Satanists are by definition villainous. I like them. I think not all supernatural evil needs to be cosmic horror and alien fungi/tentacle monsters.

 

Of course, with witch covens and 'The Black Man' actually being part of the Mythos, it's easy-peasy to make a Satanic cult that is also a Mythos cult. The cultists just think they are worshipping demons and fallen angels. They are loons, anyway, so it doesn't really matter if they are correct in their theology or demonology. 

 

And, hey, maybe they are right! It's not as if player characters will know everything in the rulebooks, and it's not as if there's only one way to run a CoC game. The Mythos and other stuff depends on the Keeper.  One might run the Purist/"Cosmic Horror" Cthulhu Mythos, a game with or without Dreamlands, a Derlethian cosmic struggle, a game that mixes the Mythos with classic horror stuff like werewolves and vampires, whatever.

 

RE Research:

 

I'm fairly well read on European and Colonial witch trials in the Early Modern Period, the fatal shift in thinking about witchcraft reflected in works such as the Malleus Maleficarum (I own a copy, in English), and related matters.

 

 

And I'm familiar enough with modern occultism and black magic to know where to find more information in constructing a scenario. 

 

Gangland lore isn't my forte, but again, I know enough to know where to find more of the details I'd want.

 

 

With any of this, I approach research as a question of fun. Am I having fun? Will this work result in more fun in play? It's not a journal article. I don't need to stress over it.

 

On a related note, did you ever notice how the CoC rulebook indicates a ludicrously high number of executions and killings sparked by the Malleus Maleficarum? 

 

I can only assume somebody flubbed his History and Library Use checks.

 

Or maybe, in the Chaosium CoC universe, the witch trials raged longer and hotter?  



#14 Travern

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 07:31 AM

I think the Mafia has potential to be a bad guy group that sometimes helps and sometimes hinders the investigators. It's violent and secretive, but it does have certain rules. Its basic goal is not so bad. Make money. It's the means that are bad. Crime. 

The men running it are generally sane, if ruthless. I could see a gangsters versus cultists scenario develop very easily, if the cultists are engaged in criminal enterprise to fund their group's activities and cover  necessities. 

A capo who uses supernatural aid to make a power play might work well as a villain in an adventure.

 

To take up the Mafia, there's the popularized version with its operatic omerta ethos, à la the Godfather; the mundane deconstruction of that, à la Goodfellas or the Sopranos; and lastly, the real-world organized crime composed mainly of brutish, not-too-bright clinically antisocial types.  The next issue is how it makes its money, which is, invariably, by exploitation, intimidation, and extortion. Coppola glosses over this entirely, Scorsese and Chase capture it neatly, and otherwise there are plenty of true crime works that go into the grubby, unexciting details of actual mob life.

 

So, how does contrasting an organization like that against cultists and the Mythos work thematically?  Is it a case of enemy-of-my-enemy for the players?  Is it like "The Horror at Red Hook", in which the urban environment hides a criminal underworld, which in turn conceals supernatural corruption?  What are the actual moral stakes for the players themselves in this situation?  What does dealing with this organization cost them? And there's always a cost to dealing with the Mafia.



#15 ElijahWhateley

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 07:31 AM

I've done this many times, and seen it done well many more times, both in published games and online actual plays. "What do you think of?" is a bit of a general question.

 

Even in normal groups, I tend to have someone play an organized crime type at least once a campaign, so I'm going to skip over that as pretty par for the course. There are probably close to a hundred Mythos/Mobster mashup scenarios, including Dead Man Stomp, Missed Dues & Blackwater Creek, Call of Duty (free on Dennis Detwiller's website), and, yes, King of Chicago. If you're going for Arkham, one of the most fleshed out additions that Chaosium has made to the original world of the Mythos has been the O'Bannion Gang, the branch of the Irish Mob that currently controls Arkham, and over the course of several of their adventures gets some ideas about the existence of the Mythos and even makes some efforts to fight it (they even show up in the CoC collectible card game!) Satanists are a bit boring, and afaik there have never been organized, evil Satanists on any significant scale - historical Satanism is more sad than anything else.

 

Getting back to the original question, it seems to be about playing as members of either vigilante hate groups like the Klan or the more ruthless police organizations, like the NKVD or SS.

 

Obviously, you need to talk to all your players ahead of time, figure out what they're comfortable with, just like you would with any possibly sensitive topic. Do a bit of research, and make sure everyone fleshes out their characters beyond caricatures. Once you get started, you might find that playing really despicable people helps players enjoy the high lethality of CoC a bit more, and they'll be more willing to lean into horror tropes that they know will get their characters killed or horribly maimed. Nobody gets upset when the torture expert goes out to beat that idiot native who won't stop screaming and comes back without a head.

 

Role Playing Public Radio has done some pretty good games along these lines. Check out their website - I won't spam links, but you can find games where they play as Western youths who left their countries to join ISIS, NKVD officers, I believe SS officers at least once, Yakuza members, and probably some other things I'm forgetting.

 

I'll also just repeat some thoughts on this I've mentioned before on YSDC:

 

Your average group of investigators is already very close to becoming villains in multiple ways. To the world ignorant of the Mythos, they're a domestic terror cell, murdering the innocent, blowing up buildings, and burning books. With the right failed sanity rolls, they could still become that, seeing Mythos threats where none exist and murdering random people in the attempt to end nonexistent (or non-Mythos) cults. And if they turn to supernatural means to defeat the Mythos, they can easily become the entryway for the same inhuman threats they tried to combat.

 

The behavior of the average investigator group has a lot in common with the worse hate groups of history - or, if they're an organization like Delta Green, the worse secret police. They act in total anonymity, serve as judge, jury, and executioner, then cover up their killings. They often conduct mass slaughters. They have no respect for any sort of human rights - and while this is all justified by the threats they face, it should give the average investigator a SAN check every so often when they think about what they've become.

 

It does seem likely that those human organizations that, in the real world, strive to seek out and destroy minority religions, would come into contact with the cult side of the Mythos more often than other organizations.


In the Mythos, there is no such thing as cannon.

#16 ElijahWhateley

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 07:37 AM

To take up the Mafia, there's the popularized version with its operatic omerta ethos, à la the Godfather; the mundane deconstruction of that, à la Goodfellas or the Sopranos; and lastly, the real-world organized crime composed mainly of brutish, not-too-bright clinically antisocial types.  The next issue is how it makes its money, which is, invariably, by exploitation, intimidation, and extortion. Coppola glosses over this entirely, Scorsese and Chase capture it neatly, and otherwise there are plenty of true crime works that go into the grubby, unexciting details of actual mob life.

 

So, how does contrasting an organization like that against cultists and the Mythos work thematically?  Is it a case of enemy-of-my-enemy for the players?  Is it like "The Horror at Red Hook", in which the urban environment hides a criminal underworld, which in turn conceals supernatural corruption?  What are the actual moral stakes for the players themselves in this situation?  What does dealing with this organization cost them? And there's always a cost to dealing with the Mafia.

 

The Mafia of the 1920s, and the Irish Mob and other bootleggers in the business, were a bit different than modern organized crime - although exactly what they were like will still get different answers depending on which historian you ask or period account you read. At worst, they were indeed a mix of thugs and genuine psychopaths. At best, they provided the funds for an entire generation of immigrants to go legit.


In the Mythos, there is no such thing as cannon.

#17 EihortBroodling

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 07:45 AM

To take up the Mafia, there's the popularized version with its operatic omerta ethos, à la the Godfather; the mundane deconstruction of that, à la Goodfellas or the Sopranos; and lastly, the real-world organized crime composed mainly of brutish, not-too-bright clinically antisocial types.  The next issue is how it makes its money, which is, invariably, by exploitation, intimidation, and extortion. Coppola glosses over this entirely, Scorsese and Chase capture it neatly, and otherwise there are plenty of true crime works that go into the grubby, unexciting details of actual mob life.

 

So, how does contrasting an organization like that against cultists and the Mythos work thematically?  Is it a case of enemy-of-my-enemy for the players?  Is it like "The Horror at Red Hook", in which the urban environment hides a criminal underworld, which in turn conceals supernatural corruption?  What are the actual moral stakes for the players themselves in this situation?  What does dealing with this organization cost them? And there's always a cost to dealing with the Mafia.

 

These are very good questions.

 

I'm inclined to portray the Mafia and similar groups in a negative light, not glossing over the extortion and other activities you mention.

 

But as you suggest, such criminal organizations might become investigators' allies of convenience if the investigators are up against a Mythos threat that also threatens the mobsters' interests. 

 

I like that you brought up The Horror at Red Hook. While not my favorite HPL story, I find some of the criticism of it off the mark. It has some really effective scenes and passages. 

I'd love to run a game with the same feel of urban decay, crooks and cultists mixed up together, teeming crowds of foreigners with suspicious faces (secret enemies or just strangers? Who knows?) , etc...


Edited by EihortBroodling, 02 December 2017 - 07:46 AM.


#18 EihortBroodling

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 08:00 AM

Elijah

 

I won't quote all that. But thanks for sharing.

 

I tend to agree with you on all points, except for Satanists being boring.

Yes, most real world Satanists are not interesting from  a game perspective, for me.

 

But fictional Satanists and the sort of witches imagined in works like the Malleus Maleficarum don't strike me as boring. They sound like a blast. 

 

With these baddies, I'm definitely leaning toward 'print the legend'. 

 

This particular tangent ties back into the parent thread.



#19 Travern

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 08:21 AM

At best, they provided the funds for an entire generation of immigrants to go legit.

  
That's the Coppola gloss, which doesn't bear up to historical scrutiny.  It's a case of "in spite of", not "because of".  There's a moral issue at the heart of what making a deal with criminality costs, but that veers off into social realism and away from Mythos adventures.
 

I'm inclined to portray the Mafia and similar groups in a negative light, not glossing over the extortion and other activities you mention.
 
But as you suggest, such criminal organizations might become investigators' allies of convenience if the investigators are up against a Mythos threat that also threatens the mobsters' interests. 
 
I like that you brought up The Horror at Red Hook. While not my favorite HPL story, I find some of the criticism of it off the mark. It has some really effective scenes and passages. 
I'd love to run a game with the same feel of urban decay, crooks and cultists mixed up together, teeming crowds of foreigners with suspicious faces (secret enemies or just strangers? Who knows?) , etc...

 

In that case, if the Mafia are going to be as bad in the scenario as they were historically and are in real life, what does it mean for the players to take them on as even temporary allies?  How do the Mafiosi feel about their alliance with the investigators, and what advantage do they think they can leverage from the bargain?  How much are the players going to come to fear them, even as the confront the Mythos?

 

"The Horror at Red Hook" definitely has a lot of material that one can mine for scenarios.  As far as the urban horror goes, unfortunately in HPL's case, it springs as much from his antipathy of "the herds of evil-looking foreigners" as the occultism he cribbed from the Encyclopedia Britannica.  That's something to bear in mind going in.  As for the players, would they be out-of-towners, like HPL, without any frame of reference for who they can trust but with whatever assumptions of their own they bring along?  How do the ordinary people there view the players, the mob, and the cultists—are they oblivious bystanders, unwilling accomplices/victims of the mob, or gradually corrupted by the cultists?  If the players encounter people actually grounded in the setting, one way or another, then the horror can channel consequences the players will be able to wrestle with, instead of going with  "the dynamite solution".

 

The underlying issue is how the thematic elements balance with historical fidelity when horror addresses questions of real-world morality.  If there isn't enough, then the horror is simply for shock, the historical details only a backdrop, and the moral ambiguity just titillation.



#20 EihortBroodling

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Posted 02 December 2017 - 09:00 AM

Real-world morality? 

 

I'm not quite sure I  know what you mean. 

 

Do you just mean your own moral ideas, in the real world, and the way those affect how you enjoy or don't enjoy various things that might come up in a CoC game? That's relevant, sure. Some people dislike playing characters whose values  differ much from their own. It's a game. Play what's fun for you.

 

 

But I strongly prefer we not get too deep into abstract philosophical arguments or discussions of personal religious and moral views as these relate to things outside the context of gameplay.  If I mention Cold Harvest and note that I see the NKVD are ''bad guys'', and somebody out there disagrees and wishes to defend Stalinism, we really don't need to debate Soviet history. It's both pointless and off-topic.