[spoiler alert - do not read if you intend to be a player in TERROR]
I always liked the TERROR scenario: the idea that players are being tested for their loyalty prior to being erased from the living and turned into special agents investigating the mythos that reaches into the very heart of the Soviet state has such pulpy overtones. but the scenario does not take this potential further (after all it's a one-shot) and instead drops it altogether by having the characters executed at the end. much worse, it suffers from so many historical inaccuracies that even players without much knowledge of the Soviet union would feel their suspension of disbelief breaking if it was played out as written.
what i set out to do was the following: 1) fix some of the historical mistakes and adjust the tone of some other scenes; 2) provide some historical background that can be used to add more realism to the setting; 3) integrate GRU SV8 into the narrative and set it up as a starting point for a campaign.
Most obviously, 1932 is not the time of the purges yet. However the terrain is being prepared and this is something the keeper can build on. Martemyan Ryutin was expelled from the party in 1930; he was released from prison in Jan 1931 and allowed to rejoin the party but remained in silent opposition to Stalin. He was allied with Nikolai Bukharin, a well-regarded figure in Soviet politics also opposed to Stalin. Bukharin confided to Lev Kamenev (another well-regarded Soviet revolutionary, former husband of Trotsky's sister Olga Kameneva) that Stalin was "Ghenghis Khan" and "evil genius of the Russian revolution". Bukharin, Kamenev and Zioviev lead a clandestine anti-Stalin platform, and Stalin is aware that this is the major threat to his leadership. Trotsky is more of a threat from the background - in 1932 he lives on Buyukada island in Turkey, thereby geographically still fairly close. So the atmosphere can be portrayed as politically ominous, and it is especially helpful to have one character who may be affiliated with Bukharin, Kamenev, Zinoviev and Ryutin.
The second problematic aspect is that the scenario assumes that the Tunguska explosion was common knowledge in 1908, so much so that the reports of a meteor in the swamp soon followed. In fact, the expeditions were only conducted in earnest at the end of the 1920s. In the scenario, Stalin is meant to have been imprisoned for revolutionary activities in the Krasnoyarsk region in 1912 and subjected to experiments with the meteor. For those who are familiar with Stalin's revolutionary years, this doesn't really fit in well. In Dec 1916 however, Stalin was made to travel to Achinsk (a place on the trans-siberian railway one mile from Karsnoyarsk) with assorted enemies of the state (including Kamenev) by dog sleigh. It makes sense to have Dr Chervyakov as a geneticist drafted as an army doctor who comes into possession of a piece of the meteor which at that point is used in witch-healing rituals by a local tribe, observes its mutagen properties, and commences on his own to conduct experiments on communist prisoners to learn more of its properties. This also allows a tie in with Kamenev: he can be involved into the story at a later point as he would presumably know about Stalin's strange experience with the meteor fragment.
The third problematic apsect is the timeline - if the meteor was so important, the cover up of the monstrous events in the wagon would be enacted very quickly. I pushed everything forward, so that the pick up of the meteor was on the day of arrival at 7pm, Berger stumbling onto the scene at 9pm (in a panic that ensued after the monster massacred the prisoners, the wagon was just closed and left unattended while the meteor was driven away) and the murder of Potakov and the start of an earnest cover up at 2am. The investigators have a window in which they can conduct some investigations at the wagon depo - after 2am, the wagon is taken away as if it was never there, Lupova gets murdered after speaking with them, the ominous black car (a NAMI-I) appears in front of buildings where important NPCs live and attempts to follow the investigators to their base. The recruitment of the investigators is orchestrated by Major Strudnikov of GRU-SV8 and comrade Rubeshkov is a friendly who fought with Strudnikov in the same unit and can be trusted. The investigators are given a disused building in Krasnoselski district to use as a base, as well as a car and some basic supplies. If the investigators manage to complete the mission but their base is discovered, the ending as written ensues, with the real OGPU waiting there for their report. If they manage to complete the mission without their base being discovered, they will be sent on the next mission for GRU-SV8.
There's also a few historical inaccuracies: the NKVD is called OGPU in 1932. Head of OGPU between July 1931 and Oct 1932 is Vyacheslav Rudolfovich Menzhinsky, although some say that his predecessor (and soon to be heir again) Henrik Yagoda is in fact in charge. Head of the anti-religious section of the OGPU is Yevgeniy Alexandrovich Tuchkov. The transport section is called GTU - Glavnoye transportnoye upravyenie. Together with the Narkomput it is in charge of transport, which is serious business: saboteurs on the railways are a big issue and are blamed on the worker-peasant party, industrial party and menysheviks. There are big tranport developments in Moscow itself - the plans for the underground have just been approved in Jan 1932. Metrovick (metropolitan-Vickers electrical company) from London is advising on the building, which leads to additional paranoia about foreign spying. Similar deals with the west were not unheard of in this period: e.g. in May 1929 a deal was signed with Ford to open the NAZ car factory, which duly happened in Jan 1932, with Ford's sign on the factory logo and its engineers contracted to provide advice. Mayor of Moscow (aka first secretary of Gorkom) at the time is Lazar Moyseyevich Kaganovich, with Nikita Kruschov as his deputy who is very much connected with the moscow underground project.
In terms of railway yards in Moscow, it is best to put them in Krasnoselski district, which contained multiple railway interchanges and stations (Yaroslavsk, Kazansk & Kursk stations) around Komsomolski square, where a big underground station will be built (to open in 1935).
Finally, in terms of Soviet science, in 1931 OGPU did purge a number of scientists. The academy of sciences itself is to relocate to Moscow from Leningrad in 1934. Soviet scientists have been known to indulge in a few wild projects and I envisioned Dr Chervyakov as a mad scientist whose experiments included production of the Soviet super-soldier by crossing gorillas and humans, with a Dr Demikhov-style monkey with two heads in one of the cages. I did not think it sensible that he should have a meteor thing captured in a cage - the way these things are described, they could easily break out of a cage at any time, and I thought it best if he had a dead meteor thing from M. Kalinin for autopsy. I think it also makes sense that if Dr Chervyakov is engaged in state sponsored top-secret experiments, his lab should be in a protected compound into which the investigators would need to sneak in or fast-talk their way through.
To follow this up, I plan to send the characters on a mission pursuing the Shokptsi who escaped to Shanghai from Vladivostok. That will give me the opportunity to use some of the marvelous material in the Masks of Nyarlatothep companion. Alternatively, tie ins would also be possible with Cold Harvest or MTS-37. I am not terribly fond of Secrets of the Kremlin, but it serves well as a prequel from the official DG:Countdown history for GRU-SV8, wherein it is said that in 1928 Stalin had found Ivan Grozny's secret library but that by April 1931 his experiments had failed. This presents a nice lead-in to him wanting to acquire the meteor fragment again.
Finally, no one should be called mister, as it says in the scenario, unless you're a pro-western subversive - it's for each comrade according to their needs, and from each comrade according to their abilities!
Please do not read on if you intend to play/run the game as this post contains some thoughts on possible additions/changes to the scenario to make it run better. ************************************************************************************************************************************************
I've recently played through this scenario with my group and we thoroughly enjoyed it. While preparing for the game, I was a bit concerned about the disaffection/hope rules: I did not like the idea of running it mechanistically, in a tit for tat overt way of using theology/politics spends that the players would presumably need to announce, so I wanted to see if the characters themselves will be able to pick up during the flow of the game that politics is a way of protecting their own and other people's sanity. this did happen but only towards the very end of the scenario, after one of the PCs had gone permanently insane, become Disaffected and then got shot by the other PCs as a traitor (conveniently, that PC was the only Trotskite, the rest were Stalinists). This shook them up quite a bit and after that they regularly sang communist songs and made proclamations to maintain their own stability. But in terms of "solving" the problems posed by the scenario, my group went along with working for the Soviets to find and eliminate 5th column agents "the Author", "the Radiooperator", and "the Kinematographer".
One thing I realised while running the scenario was that I should have perhaps not given my 4 players a choice of the characters they want to play and then just given them the characters as they are: they chose Meyer, Thomas, Fellowes and Bennett, but this left them without some crucial skills for collecting clues as Kovar has medicine/pharmacy/biology and Schepens has electrical repair,craft and photography. Crucially, these are the only two characters that have psychoanalysis. In retrospect, I should have redistributed these skills among the other characters before running the game and perhaps in that case my group may have followed a more psychological approach to the scenario, instead of the political take they took. Finally, physics and occult could also be added to some pregen PCs, as both are important skills for obtaining clues.
now when it comes to the scenario, it all played out fairly well and i only added or changed a few things to do with the background feel and historical accuracy. i had to do that as some of my players are quite a bit into history so i did not want them nagging about whether hemmingway was or wasn't there.
Ramon: I fleshed out his background in order to make him more controversial at the start. I named him Ramon Beltran Alfonso de la Huerta y Osores, with his father being the Duke of Mandas and Villanueva. This is a region where Carlism is rife. His brother is a colonel in the Carlist army outside of Madrid. I also changed it so that he was in LA and not NY, as that's where the film moguls were, and made him an associate of Karl Lemle from those days (Lemle was pronouncedly anti-Hitler). I also made it that he worked for TASS as a translator, as that seemed more logical.
Instead of Hemmingway, I used Andre Malraux. He led the "Spain" squadron while wearning a haut couture uniform, spent time in Russia in 1934 hanging out with Stalin and was an adventurer and mythomaniac, so he seemed like a perfect addition to add some desperate colouration to the game.
For a bit of atmosphere in the hotel Florida, I added the Yankee squadron pilots Bertrand Acosta, Eddie Schneider and Frederick Lord. They were Malraux's buddies.
For Dos Passos, I changed it so that he is writing Ramon letters about what his friend Rables has learned while working as a translator for Vladimir Antonov-Ovseyenko, the Soviet consul general in Madrid. This involves the Stalinist/Trotskist conflicts and will require Rables to be purged as well as he's learned too much.
Operacija RUJNA ZORA
Predmet: Slucaj broj 88897-889-0033 Revolucionarna Ulamali Partija, Demokratska Republika Kongo, 1997
Oznaka: Strogo poverljivo
Otkako je poceo gradjanski rat u Demokratskoj republici Kongo, izvestaji agenata ukazivali su na alarmantni rast broja kultistickih organizacija i njihovo povezivanje sa razlicitim zaracenim stranama. Posebno interesantna je REVOLUCIONARNA ULAMALI PARTIJA (RUP) (Ulamali na svahiliju znaci Crna magija). Pod vodjstvom kapetana DZONATONA MADZUA, Tutsi vojnika koji je obuku prosao u Kabilinim snagama, sumnja se da je RUP obnovio kultove KRVAVOG JEZIKA i UVIJENOG CRVA koji obozavaju bozanstvo AHTU (videti slucajeve broj 33418/779 i 14568AD45).
U Aprilu 1997 tim 13tog padobranskog odreda (13eme Regiment de Dragons Parachutistes), predvodjen agentom DST-a i DB-a Majorom ZERAROM (ALIJAS DRAGANOM) MARKOVICEM, ubacen je u saradnji grupe 69 i DGCE u istocni deo DRK u pokusaju da se unisti RUP i likvidira MADZU. MARKOVICEVE trupe izvrsile su seriju napada koje su rezultovale velikim gubicima na obe strane i dovele do MADZUOVE pogibije. MARKOVICA i neke njegove ljude zarobio je RUP, ali je MARKOVIC uspeo da pozove vazdusni udar na polozaj RUPa 2 dana posto je zarobljen. Pretpostavlja se da se MARKOVIC zrtvovao da bi eliminisao RUP, i mada se tim 13tog RDPa i dalje vodi kao nestao u akciji, smatra se da je vazdusni udar eliminisao sve borce na obe strane.
A couple of years ago, I adapted Tatterdemalion for use in a modern setting. It was not a hard thing to do, as the scenario is not specifically grounded in the 1920s through historical or technological references.
I loved the scenario but felt that my players would enjoy it more if it was played out in the contemporary art/theatre/fashion setting, due to increased familiarity with its mores and I felt that this would add more depth to the characters when they would be played out. I also felt that I could have more fun treating the proliferation of semi-talented hangers on, ruthlessly ambitious and well-connected divas, commercialism in art and the contemoprary tendency to encourage everyone to consider themselves an artist, which I felt would fit nicely within the trippy Hasturian setting of this scenario if I were to set it in the 2000s.
Here are the backgrounds of the four characters and some of the handouts, I can provide character sheets made in byakhee upon request. I hope you will find them to be truthful adaptations of the excellent characters from the scenario.
Signorina Bianca Vindici
Signorina Vindici is descended from an old and noble Italian lineage. Her grandfather, Pierpaolo Vindici, chose to emmigrate to America during the postWWI political upheavals. With his family, he settled in the â€˜little Italyâ€™ part of New York and through his connections set up a business importing Italian wine to USA. Bianca grew up in a typical Italian environment of communal, family life, enamoured of great romantic operas of Verdi and Puccini, imagining herself as the great diva of the Met. Through her family connections and wealth, she managed to get into Julliard, and ruthless ambition did the rest. Her rise to fame was rapid, not so much because of her actual skill, more because no other American singer could rival her conviction and natural flair in performing the Italian romantic operas, well suited for her colorative soprano. Quickly, she rose through the ranks to become a soloist at the Met, and now she is the Prima Donna herself. Heavens help those who stand in her way, for she has seen to the ruin of many rivals who dared question her talent and competence. The strain of fighting to keep her position at the top has taken itâ€™s toll, however. Her voice is starting to show the effects of prolonged stress and age. Rather than be pushed out by some up-and-coming young starlet, she has decided to step down while the going is good. Two years ago, she began her â€œFinal Farewell US Tourâ€. This proved such a success that she staged another one last year, and plans for a third are already under way. One of the many ways in which Bianca maintains her standing is to keep both ears on the ground; she collects rumours, and isnâ€™t adverse to spreading a few of her own devising. With a network of trusted friends always ready to talk (Biancaâ€™s Library Use skill is used to tap into this particular network to find out gossip), she combs the musical and theatrical world for any snippets she can find, and her meticulous memory stores enough tasty titbits to ensure she can always get the better of just about everybody. One never knows when they will be useful â€“ to help a friend, or crush a rival; for example, that irksome little playwright, Anthony Carmichael. More than anything, Bianca hates being upstaged.
Herr Volker Rheinhardt
A German-born artist living in New York, Volker produces hermetic conceptual art using many modes of expression (video art, installations etc.), dealing with topics reflecting contemporary detachment from moral discourse induced by technologisation of reality. Or rather, he did. Since coming to the US, Volker has been forced to prostitute his Art, painting â€˜prettyâ€™ portraits and landscapes in order to make any money â€“ food is, alas, a habit which has proved a necessity. His hoped for â€˜big breakâ€™ came last year, when the â€˜enfent terribleâ€™ of the New York theatre scene, playwright/director Anthony Carmichael, comissioned scenography for his latest play Sodom. Hoping the playâ€™s assured success would bring him fame, Volker created a multimedial scenography that embodied his artistic â€˜credoâ€™, reflected his heart and soul. Unfortunately, the play bombed, and he was instead ignored. After weeks of brooding in his spartan garret, he began to paint again: the popular way, the succesful way. A hateful way. At least Carmichael, with his hauntingly perverse style of writing, stayed true to himself in the face of failure. Now Volker hopes to find a new patrion similar to Carmichael (or even the man himself, should things get better for him), and escape the bastardised corner which he has painted himself into.
Mr Algernon Chambers
As a young man, Algernon burned with a desire to write a Great American Novel, to follow in the footsteps of Faulkner, Scott Fitzgerald, Pynchon... He honed his skills, studied the work of others, and geared himself up for the task. However, when he actually embarked on the project, he found that he had raised his standards to such a point that it was impossible for his own writing to match up to them; disillusioned, he gave up. However, his years at college doing literature left him with a pretty mean capability to assess other peopleâ€™s work, and so he turned this skill into his career. By and by he drifted into the most lucrative and glamorous area of the field: Theatre Criticism! His brutal, vitriolic, yet insightful style proved popular with the readers, and before long he was writing for The New York Times. Through his work, he made the acquaintance of many of the rich and famous; actors, directors and playwrights flattered him with gifts. One of the few who sincerely enjoyed his company, rather than merely toadying to him, was Anthony Carmichael. Algernon followed the plays Carmichael wrote and produced with interest, managing to see past the superficial outrageousness to the true genius beneath. Carmichaelâ€™s work was a postmodern outtake on the turn-of-the-century decadence theatre of Oscar Wilde, bringing the 1890s topics and atmosphere into the 1990s,with campness, cynicism and conviction that made them truly timeless. Beloved Dead was first, shocking the crowds with its necrophiliac theme. His Masterâ€™s Voice dealt with Satanism (â€œan inspired work, rising above the tawdry subject matterâ€), and was followed by Heartâ€™s Blood (â€œlushly paganâ€), then Poisonâ€™d Love (â€œRomeo and Juliet deconstructedâ€), and most recently (last year) Sodom. This last play however Algernon found banal and tiresome. Carmichael, it seemed, had lost his touch, and Sodom closed after less than a week. With the failure of the play, his friendship with the man broke up, and he has heard nothing of him bur rumour since then. But there are plenty more theatrical fish out there to be friedâ€¦
Miss Jessica Barnfield
With the death of her parents when she was six, Jessica was reared by her Grandfather on a small farm in upstate Massachusetts. A fervent â€œfire and brimstoneâ€ Catholic, he brought the girl up with a stong awareness of good and bad, sin and righteousness. However, after her Grandfatherâ€™s passing, the firm religious beliefs wore off a little, as the world proved itself not to be as cut-and-dried as he would have her believe. The best vow that Jessica could make was to maintain her own scruples.
Creditors claimed the farm, and for a climactic change of scenery she moved to New York. After many trials, she began work as a typist. Being in the city though gave her a chance to try out something sheâ€™d always wanted to do: appear on the stage. Ever mindful of her promise, and in memory of her Granpa, she took care to only take part in productions which were good and proper. She loved it, and happily and steadily worked her way from the chorus to minor speaking parts. The excitement of rehearsal contrasted with her quiet home life. Last year, in what was in fact her last production, she caught the eye of Anthony Carmichael, the famous playwright. Coming backstage afterwards, he offered her a fair-sized part in his new work, Sodom. Imagining it to be some sort of a religious parabole, Jessica accepted. A reading was arranged soon after, but to her horror, she discovered that Sodom was extremely immoral, positively oozing with licentiousness. She quit of course, and the play itself was punished with failure; but this revenge was too late for Jessica, who was so upset that since then she hasn't had the courage to seek out another part. So for her nowadays it's five days in the office, and back home to sit in an armchair and dream of the footlights...
Review of 'Unduying Leaders', which I wrote 2 years ago but never got round to posting.
â€˜Undying Leadersâ€™ is a book of two parts: the initial section covers the essentials of succesfully incorporating Lovecraftian sorcerers in a CoC roleplaying campaign; the latter section provides a campaign centred around the undying leaders of Tibet.
Plenty of background information is provided in the first 14 pages, covering all the important aspects necessary to flesh out an immortal wizardâ€™s life and extend it into the past with information on medieval literacy centres, secret societies and mythos races â€“ all of potential interest to a wizard bent on acquiring secret knowledge and gaining personal power. This section wouldnâ€™t be out of place as rulebook or keeperâ€™s sourcebook material, although parts of it that refer to possible relations of undying leaders and mythos races are quite derivative of the CoC rulebook.
*warning: from this point on, review contains spoilers for the campaign part of the book, please read on only if you are a Keeper*
The second part is 60 pages long and contains the campaign, consisting of three scenarios. It is much more hit and miss â€“ the campaign kicks off from an interesting quote about undying leaders of the Cthulhu cult in the mountains of China taken from the â€˜Call of Cthulhuâ€™ story, which I thought was a great inspiration. However the campaign develops into a story with a very uneven flow and a lot of internal inconsistencies and illogical twists. For example, the author states accurately in the introductory section that the Mi-Go no longer seek conquest; but then in the first scenario, he introduces their plan to breed to such proportions as to overrun the whole of north Vermont. Similarly, in the second section, there is an incident with an undercover agent following the characters who then animates the mummy in order to discretely (?!) dispose of them. Unmotivated events such as these make suspension of disbelief somewhat hard to achieve. I also had a problem with the fact that the author seemed to want to include as many mythos races and creatures as possible: Mi-Gos, Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign (with tcho-tcho agents and agents with yellow-sign tatoos), byakhees, an animated mummy and a ghoul, together with the focal Cult of Cthulhu. The style of the campaign is very firmly rule-based, with plenty of game mechanics included, e.g. generating random encounters while travelling through Tibet. I do not particularly enjoy such style and would have preferred if the text included just a list of possible events that the author found atmospheric. Thereâ€™s also a great deal of railroading.
On the positive side, the author excels is in incorporating a lot of local detail into the background story â€“ for example, thereâ€™s fascinating information about Tibet scattered through the campaign. The same author wrote the â€˜Mysteries of Tibetâ€™ monograph, and it would be nice seeing him possibly getting together with some co-authors and hammering out a nice â€˜Secrets of Tibetâ€™-like volume containing the best of both of these books. More local mythos elements could be added and the central adventure in Tibet fleshed out. Iâ€™m thinking about Leng and Sung plateaus, Nikolas Roerichâ€™s Tibetan visions, Mme Blavatskyâ€™s ramblings about dugpas, nazi explorers with secret mythos agendas, or any of the ideas introduced in the excellent â€˜Secrets of Japanâ€™ which would be relevant to Tibet, such as the Brotherhood of the Black Lotus: worshippers of mythos entities with headquarters in Shamballah. Other creatures with Tibetan tie-ins would be the Emerald llama, feared by the sherpas, and his dark tome of the Forbidden Sutra. Tscho-tschos and their own Mythos-worshiping exploits could also make an appearance if necessary. Any of those would bring the much needed mythos juiciness to the story without seeming out of context and devoid of local flavour. Finally, a magnificent palace of the undying leaders could be described at the end â€“ I certainly wouldnâ€™t be spending my time sitting perpetually in a damp cave in the Himalayas if I was an immortal omniscient wizard. Even if thatâ€™s where he receives his audiences for maximal effect, there must be a somewhat more wholesome place to withdraw to at the end of the day.
Overall, my impression of the monograph is more positive than negative, as Chaosium monographs are supposed to be a series of books akin to rough diamonds. With additional work and some diligent editing, â€˜Undying leadersâ€™ could become an excellent campaign and a part of a wonderful CoC book on Tibet, a mysterious area of the world with extensive mythos connotations. I hope the author will find time to improve the book and look forward to reading this second edition.
Operation OKTOBERFEST, continued
To this end, they went to the Yugoslavian consulate; however once in there, they blew their covers when the second secretary asked them why had they been so negligent to loose their passports and to accompany him, agent Decko said "What passports???" while agent Dida said even more idiotically "lets just go to the deaf room and then we can talk." Mr Petrovic was unimpressed. While he was happy to get the surveillance materials so far, and delighted with the idea of blackmailing Dr Popivoda into becoming a mole, he was now worried that the BND, which must have the consulate building under surveillance, will be alerted that something was afoot. Therefore he banned agents Dida and Decko to make contact with the others, and informed them that from now on they must maintain a cover of tourists with a nationalistic agenda. He warned them that as soon as they exit the building, they will most likely be under surveillance of the BND. He also critisised them for their inferior surveillance techniques, which puzzled them as they wondered how he had found these details out and whether there was a snitch within their team. Upset at their stupidity, the agents decided to go again to Oktoberfest, as that would maintain their new cover; all the while, they felt they were followed by a fat Bavarian in lederhosen sporting a big mustache; on one occasion, agent Dida actually saw him taking over from a blonde big-breasted lass with a glazed heart around her neck. Cornered, they decided the best line of action must be to go and ask for lodgings with father Simon of the local Serbian Orthodox Church.
Meanwhile, agent Fata observed Bostanovic's arrival, his nervous looks and the fact he carried his briefcase everywhere he went were soon noted (as she was particularly keen to have a look at it while he was out to breakfast!). Tapes from his room indicated that he was also cold with Sijakovic, but seemed quite friendly with Dr Popivoda and set to meet up with him for dinner and drinks. Surveilance indicated wheezing sounds from his room, and frequent visits to the toilet. Surveillance was continued, as his behaviour was deemed to be very suspicious.
The following morning, agent Reuss monitored Sijakovic as he went to work, spotting that, as he went out of the building, he was looking unnervedly around while holding something under his jacket; he was again adjusting that object as he went into the car. Reuss realised it must be a gun. He immediately alerted the police from a nearby payphone that a certain Mr Sijakovic from such and such an address was carrying a gun outside. Meanwhile, Krasnici obtained the tapes recorded at Sijakovic's flat, the only interesting bits were him talking to a certain "Bobby" (who responded by hushed barks and squeals) telling him how he knows the SSS must be after him, now more than ever, that they called him to work but he knew better than to fall for it etc. It was decided that agent Krasnici would break in again, and take photos of all the files and copy the entire HD. This led to the discovery of the Linz correspondence. The database of the "New Congregation" membership also proved invaluable; and agent Jovanovic, the team's techie was hard at work trying to break the code. However, all his efforts were futile, cause he lacked the source text for the encryption; many hours were spent trying out different Serbian nationalism classics, until they suddenly had the right idea, and used the Nacertanije by Ilija Garasanin. The cracked "Sundries" file, even more than the Linz correspondence, revealed the extent of Sijakovic's paranoia, and pointed out that the awaited occult contact was to be made soon, directly to him. Meanwhile, agent Reuss was contacted by the solicitors he had hired, and found that the former Mrs Sijakovic (now reverted to her maiden name Braun) lived in Hamburg. He bought the train tickets and decided to go there, believing that if he could manage to obtain the pictures of the boys, and plant them on Popivoda's person, he might cause Sijakovic to completely crack and the ensuing slaughter to spell out the end of "The New Congregation".
After they managed to escape the attentions of the priest and visiting nuns, who required them to do penance for indulging in the sin of gluttony (i.e. coming back to the church lodgings late at night smelling of alcohol), agents Decko and Dida (only slightly scarred by the experience) visited the Fast food shop in the Serbian community of Munich; together with some nasty smelling burgers, in takeaway bags they received the copies of documents Mr Petrovic had acquired for them. Then they proceeded to observe Dr Popivoda from a safe distance, assuming he would soon make a move to meet with his beloved Reiner. After hours of idleness, observing him going for drinks with Bostanovic (overhearing their conversation slightly - Popivoda was telling Bostanovic how he feels he's under SSS' surveillance), finally the evening they've been waiting for came; Dr Popivoda came out, dressed in a tuxedo, and went to the Opera where he met a handsome young man. After struggling through the performance of the ballet "Spartacus", which was definately not their cup of tea, the agents followed the two men across Munich, and straight into the gay district, where they visited a late night bar. The bouncer fancied them, and let them in; they acted as a couple, to blend in easier. They spotted Rainer and dr Popivoda and photographed them candidly, then managed to evade the attentions of the bouncer and his big boyfriend from the USAF and run away through the toilets. After Popivoda and Reiner left, they went for Reiner's flat; the agents followed them there, and then burst in on them - while Dida was holding Reiner, Decko was threatening Popivoda that he'll reveal his 'depravity' and ruin him, showing him the pictures from the bar. He again introduced himself as a representative of the newly created monarchist movement of the history students at the Uni of Belgrade, and said he'd have to cooperate and publish materials on Ljotic's collaboration with the Vatican and similar issues, which they will proceed to send him, if he doesn't want to see Reiner dead and the pictures sent to all the leaders of the "New Congregation" and all other Serbian nationalist institutions. Dr Popivoda was bawling and crying, screaming 'I don't care what happens to me or my reputation; just don't harm Reiner, let him go!' After they felt that the intimidation was strong enough, they left them and walked out. Their mission was accomplished.
Meanwhile, Agent Reuss visited Hamburg, where he managed to locate Frau Braun, a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown due to her sons' behaviour, living in a downtrodden flat in Altona. Her older son, Peter, had ran away from home to West Berlin, so that he wouldn't have to serve in the military as a conscript - he played in a rock band and lived in some kind of squat. The younger one, Alexander, was bad at school, listened to rap music and smoked. Reuss could easily negotiate with him - he bribed the boy to behave and then have a couple of pictures taken, his excuse was that the relatives in Croatia need it as proof of identity, together with the documents she was to sign. Frau Braun was extatic about the inheritance; she felt they deserved something from Sijakovic, who indeed payed his alimony on a regular basis, but did nothing more - didn't even make an effort to see the kids for the last two years. She said he used to be different when they married, before he got himself hooked up with those nationalistic Serbian movements. She was hoping, with the money from the inheritance, that she could send Peter to a good boarding school so at least he grows up to be a decent man. And there, agent Reuss left for Munich.
Meanwhile in Munich, something odd was going on; after regularly going to work, Sijakovic stayed home; then he made a move, quickly out of the building and into the car. The entire team was ready for a proper vehicle surveillance; agents Leonardo & Krasnici in one car, and agents Fata and Jovanovic in the other. They followed him to Frottmaning, a grubby part of town close to the big bus/rail terminal. He parked and quickly went for the shop with a "closed due to renovations" sign. The street was deserted, other than a cab which was parked on the other side of the street about 50 meters down the road, and the driver was lazily reading the nespapers. Fata and Jovanovic parked close to the shop, facing the taxi and waited. Leonardo and Krasnici (who had meanwhile had something resembling an affair) drove around and found the alley with the back entrances. They approached it, and then they heard a coarse old voice saying: "And now you shall see!" Followed by some chanting, which made the air all chilly and dense with static even outside the door where they were crouching. They backed off in fear; Krasnici stayed in the car in the alley, while Leonardo went around to come to the front door. In the meantime, shots were heard; then rapid series of events proceeded: Sijakovic ran out, clutching a gun in one hand and some kind of book in the other, straight in the road looking bewildered beyond insanity; at that very movement, the taxi geared up and with a screech ran straight into him, then backed off and ran away; agents Jovanovic and Fata gave chase, but they lost him. Leonardo ran in through the front door, seeing there a skinny old man, distiguishedly dressed with a ww2 decoration on his chest, dragging himself to the back door with a wound in his leg, and a scar on his forehead. He thanked Leonardo for coming, saying he was attacked by a lunatic while he was repairing his shop. Agent Leonardo, who later felt as if he was magically charmed by the old man, called him the ambulance. Agent Krasnici had meanwhile picked up the book Sijakovic was carrying and gave him first aid while waiting for the ambulance. He was in a severe condition, but the doctors thought he might survive.
Later, when agents enquired, they were told that the old man had disappeared from the hospital; while Sijakovic had died, apparently of a post-surgical heartattack. But at least the agents now had "Mein Triumph". Agent Reuss studied it a little bit, then sent it to the superiors.
The next day, Bostanovic very nervously tried to pull off his drug deal, and the agents saw through him easily and set him up with the German police.
After all these events, iguman Grigorije cancelled his arrival and the conference itself was called off.
The agents had accomplished their mission in full. Agent Fata asked for a permanent transfer to Munich and stayed working in the hotel; all the other agents were promoted and gained reputation in important SSS higer circles.
More details on the cast:
-Dragica Samara. From Bosnia, lives with her family in a flat in one of the suburban residential blocks in New Belgrade. Prone to bouts of violence (especially of the domestic kind), of borderline intelligence and an avid fan of folk music, the SSS considers her extremely valuable; she is highly skilled at extracting information and a nondescript working class individual perfect for undercover surveillance. Codename: Fata. [mythos encounter: nervous breakdown induced by visual and auditory hallucinations of a peculiar sort: she perceived her flat to be a XVII century French palace and members of her family as sly, arrogant courtiers whose speech she could not understand].
-Slobodan Milosevic. From Belgrade, studies Political Sciences at the University of Belgrade and is the chief agent for monitoring artistic life, youth activities and student bodies and institutions (i.e. The Student Cultural Centre, SKC). Has to indulge in the bohemian habits of the Belgrade contemporary/modern artists, which often take place in his grimy flat just across the street from SKC. Codename: Decko. [mythos encounter: nervous breakdown induced by alcoholism that led to him believing there were 2 moons in the sky, one of which was trying to assassinate him].
-Jan Prohaska. 31 years old; from Backa Palanka, member of the Slovakian minority. An obese man verging on alcoholism, research assistant to Kosta Cavoski at the Law School and personal friend of father Zarko Gavrilovic. His duties include monitoring the activities of the Serbian Orthodox Church and their liasing with the nationalistic elements at the University of Belgrade. His mother is a naive painter of some reknown, who is particularly fond of signing her paintings with names of other, more prominent artists. Codename: Dida. [mythos encounter: nervous breakdown induced by repeated persecutive manifestations of a beggar-like creature dressed in layers of torn rags, which he had named 'Old Woman with No Face']
-Dario Simic. 29 years old; Italian from Istria, art historian, research assistant at the Department of Art History of the University of Belgrade. Chief SSS operative at the Faculty of Philosophy. Codename: Leonardo. [mythos encounter: nervous breakdown induced by being persecuted by a giant Scaramoush-like marionette, who would point at random at people and declare them to be 'King's men'].
-Domagoj Reuss. 36 years old; From Zagreb, Croatia. Lawyer by profession, had worked for 5 years as an assistant district attorney, spent 3 next years in the Military Intelligence of the Yugoslavian National Army. For the last two years, works in the Croatian Security State Service in the department for monitoring the activities of the anti-yugoslavian elements abroad. Codename: Ustasha. No previous mythos encounters.
Last week I ran 'King of shreds and patches' with my regular gaming group.
I always liked the scenario but wanted to change some aspects which I felt where a bit internally inconsistent. Recently, I felt even more the need to modify it in order to bring it a bit more in line with the contemporary views of Hastur, as presented in the 'Delta Green' and 'Tatters of the King'.
The game played out really well so I thought I'd share the changes here on the forum, in case they may be useful to other keepers.
The main problem in 'King of Shreds and Patches' is that the place of worship is underground, when in the Tatters of the King it is stated that any Hastur-related spell can only be cast with Aldebaran visible in the sky. I didn't really like the D&D-ish aspect of crawling about caves anyways, so I switched the ritual to outdoors. I decided to put it downstream from London, in Greenwich, and that the village was the original site of worship in Roman times. This led to a few cosmetic changes in other bits of the scenario: no key to be found on van der Wyck, no problem of where the 200-odd cultists would come from (villagers as cultists indocrinated by Barker) and how no one would notice the visits to the site described in diaries.
Another major change involved the scene where Lucy is taken away by Barker: I had him there alone, with a Byakhee on hold to fly away, with the fogy St James Park providing a great settting for the players to get really spooked by Barker's power.
Lastly, I noticed a lot of incosistencies in the plot and ironed them out:
-why would Marijn Berents visit van der Wyck first and stay for 2 weeks without contacting Lucy? Why wouldn't they meet immediately? How did Lucy manage to send a message to troubled Holland and get a reply so quickly about Marijn having departed as planned? To eliminate these problems, I changed the story so that there was no direct connection between the Berents and van der Wyck. van der Wyck was a goldsmith and jewelry merchant who ran his own ship between Amsterdam and London to get supplies. Berents wanted to send Marijn away to live with Lucy due to the unrest in the Netherlands but when Marijn was not arriving when expected, Lucy sent word to her father who replied that she had left as planned, securing transfer on the ship of a respectable merchant called Van Der Wyck, with a shop on London Bridge.
-why would van der Wyck kill Marijn in his cellar just prior to the ritual when they need 3 victims, especially if she was akin to Lucy who was deemed very powerful and a great potential sacrifice? I had the characters find a pile of female clothes and Marijn's pendant, but upon inspection of the cameo they could see that the dead woman was someone else (a village-girl van der Wyck found trading on south bank and tricked into following him). This obviously necessitated van der Wyck leaving with two big chests...
-the timeline of Barker's life, in particular his study with Dee is inconsistent with historical facts. He cannot both be in his early 30s and a student of Dee and Kelley 12 years ago - at that time, Kelley was in Bohemia, separate from Dee, their research into Enochian through crystal scrying over a long time ago. I made Barker 38 years old and that he came to study with Kelley and Dee in 1582 and their falling out may have led to Dee and Kelley leaving for the continent in 1583.
-The story of the throne in Barker's house needed a bit of historical spicing up: I re-wrote the handout so that the author says how he had the Chocho sent to him as he wanted to reassert the importance of Rome and how upon revealing his evil worship he tortured him and got out the secrets of the jewels. Then you can see he ordered his servant Leonardo to fashion the jewels. Signature: Cesare Borgia, in 1503.
-Why would Barker get Dee to be merely among the cultists, which Hastur picks up with his tentacles and rips to bits throughout the ritual? More importantly, why would Dee accept such a lame deal? I had Barker and Dee (who was intimidated by Barker) conduct the main ritual, with van der Wyck likely to get killed or apprehended during the attack at the Globe. The perceived betrayal by Dee had a really strong impact on the players. The three sacrifices were Lucy, Marijn Berents and a third woman of similar beautiful and dignified looks that Barker had also courted and then kidnapped.
I also changed some aspects of the characters and gave them somewhat different tie-ins to some story elements.
I removed all aspects of the characters personality and just left their histories, in order to give the players more freedom to define them as they see fit. I removed the servant character and had the characters connected as a group of bachelors who are art-lovers and spend a lot of time together. In order to add a bit of quirkiness, I made Simon Page to be typecast as playing the female lead, which he resents and wants to get out of. I also made Henry Russel an amateur composer, to make him a bit less dour. Fletcher was best friends with Simon Page, whos poetry he published, while Simon Page was friends from Cambridge with Henry Russel and Matthew Holland.
The scenario worked a treat and the outcome was quite fun: they saved Lucy who then married Fletcher, Simon Page joined the Globe and got the role of Ophelia, while Will Page and Henry Russel robbed both van der Wycks and Barker's houses (sadly, not the throne... they ran like hell when the King started forming out of smoke) and invested it in the east India trading company.
We were greatly helped in our game by Liza Picard's excellent, detailed book 'Elizabethan London' which I got off amazon second-hand at a very good price and whose section on medicine was particularly invaluable in fleshing out the current practices for the benefit of the player who had Matthew Holland as character.
If anyone wants to run the game in Serbian and would like my translated handouts, please drop me a message.
Hope this helps and enjoy the gaming!
OPERATION "OKTOBERFEST", part 1
(Based on the scenario "See No Evil" by Adam Gauntlet, published in UO16/17)
"See No Evil" was quite an inspiring scenario - an idea of a team of agents following around a bunch of immoral right-wing fanatics during the days before their organisation's conference, with the Karotechia in the wings, is a mouth-watering treat.
However, being from Serbia, I find the American extreme right-wingers dull and simple, Delta Green too corporate and monistic in its anti-Mythos agenda, and NY as merely a background decoration that has been totally overused. Also, I have a general problem with the Delta Green setting: the players rely too much on their official status of govt agents, and the 1990s and 2000s hi-tech equipment, unlimitedly available to them whilst on an official assignment, often ending up as a shortcut that bypasses inventiveness. Therefore, I twisted the story so that the agents belonged to the Serbian State Security Service (SDB) within the Yugoslavian security system and were sent on a mission to Munich, where a much more ominous event coincided with the famous Oktoberfest: an international organisation of Serbian reactionary emmigrees was organising a conference. I named the organisation "The New Congregation" (serb. "Novi Zbor") and based each of the characters on one of the main NPCs in the scenario; the organisation itself was devoted to historic revisionism which would reveal the dirty dealings of Tito's Partisans, while showing the Serbian reactionary movements as the real heros of WW2. Their rethoric was a mixture of rabid antisemitic nationalism represented by certain elements of the Serbian Orthodox Church (vladika Nikolaj Velimirovic) and of Serbian fascist ideology (Dimitrije Ljotic). I also changed the year to 1986, when the enmity between the Croatian and Serbian emigrees and the SDB agents abroad was again intesifying, due to the rising nationalistic feelings in the republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The task of the SDB was to prevent contacts between people who were resident in Yugoslavia as well as the gastarbeiters in Germany with the reactionaries, and to discredit and if necessary assassinate the leaders of the reactionary organisations. So the constelation of events, as set, was optimal for an exciting game. To spice things up a bit, I also had an introductory bit, in which the characters had a previous encounter with the Mythos, that made them ideal to be chosen for operation "Oktoberfest".
Note: My handouts are based on the excellent materials for "See No Evil" from yog-sothoth.com, made for Graham Kinniburgh's use of the scenario in his campaign. I can provide them on request, they are useful in case anyone wants to run this game in Serbian.
And now, here's the story of how the game played out...
A team of Serbian Security Services officers (agents code-named Dida, Decko, Fata and Leonardo) was consigned to shuffling papers in the Information Bureau after an abortive anti-reactionary operation "King's New Clothes". This hasty information was based upon misguided informational data, which indicated that Serbian monarchist emigration has established contacts and was feeding decadent and subversive materials and trying to recruit the most progressive elements of the youth avantguarde in Belgrade during the early 1980s. Some of the involved youth were children of important communist party officials, which pushed the SSS into a hasty operation against the alleged drug dealing networks and underground printing operations responsible for unauthorised artistic fanzines "Landscapes in the Mist" and "The Coming of the King". However, ultimately this was no work of the emmigration, but an influence of Hastur which was at that time spreading through the European avantguarde; but the rigid communist bureaucrats could not comprehend this, and in the iconography of the "King in Yellow" perceived a threat of the Serbian reaction. The operation was aborted as no further lines of investigation were unearthed, other than that the materials had originally been shipped from Germany; even the unmasking of the printing operation and confiscation of all existing material (including a translation of a play called "The King in Yellow") did not offer any further clues. However, soon thereafter, the involved agents started falling under Hastur's influence, that ended in the suicide of the chief officer and an extensive sick leave on mental grounds for all the other agents (diagnosed as reactive paranoid state); each one had suffered a nervous breakdown.
After almost a year on sick leave, the agents were moved to the Informational Section, a dumping ground of burned-out staff, with the prospect of doing tedious paperwork and filing data until retirement. However, after more than a year of this, they were informed by their superior that, as someone in the upper echelons in the higherarchy has taken a kind eye to them, they will be again moved to operational duties, this time in the Section for External Activities (i.e., operations against anti-Yugoslavian elements abroad). Simultaneously, each one of them had received a letter from a certain "comrade Gvozden" of the subsection of SSS entitled "Special Section for Paranormal Dealings", informing them that they will be assigned to operation "Oktoberfest", with the task of monitoring the conference of Serbian nationalists and anti-communists to be held at the end of September in Munich. They were to pay special attention to any signs of paranormal activity or occult interests in the four leaders of "The New Congregation", a pseudoscientific society bent on historical revisionism in Yugoslavia that was organising the conference. Such interests were to be secretly reported to their connection with the "Special Section for Paranormal Dealings", major Kovacevic at the SSS.
"The New Congregation" people who were set to show up in Munich were: 1) Abbot Grigorije Stankovic from Libertiville, USA (one of the heads of the new SOC, former aide of Father Nikolaj Velimirovic who was imprisoned with the other heads of church in Dachau during WW2); 2) Dr Mihailo Popivoda (as a boy in WW2 joined the Mihailovic's anticommunist movement, now a prominent USA historian and former prof of history at Uni of Boston); 3) Aleksandar Bostanovic (an emigree to Germany with a criminal background, presently publisher and editor of the "Our Truth" publications) and 4) Stevan Sijakovic (emigree to Germany, accountant by profession, secretary of the "New Congregation"). This was a genuine opportunity to monitor the meeting of the ideological leaders from the US with the organisational base in Germany, and SSS naturally would not pass up on such an opportunity.
The leader of the team, agent Dida, was provided with ample funding for the operation: 20000DeutschMarks fresh from the printing works at Topcider in Belgrade (the originals of the counterfeited money were safely stored in the vaults of the SSS). They were instructed to contact the newly-formed inter-republic SS team in Munich, led by senior agent Domagoj Reuss (Croatian SS), with junior agents Kenedi Jovanovic (ethnic gypsy) and Ljuljeta Krasnici (ethnic Albanian from Kosovo) from the Serbian SS. All the necessary equipment was already at the disposal of the Munich cell. Their cover was that they are Serbian tourists visiting Oktoberfest. In case of trouble, they would get no help at all, as that would have compromised the good relations Yugoslavia had with Germany. If they needed any additional information or help while on task, their contact was to be second secretary of the Yugoslavian Consulate in Munich, Mr Petrovic, who was a liason agent of the SSS.
From the SSS files, it was obvious to the agents that "The New Congregation" was a serious and well-organised threat to the stability of the Yugoslavian self-governing communism, especially if their ideas were allowed to spread among the economic emmigration in central Europe (esp. Germany, Switzerland and Austria). They agreed that each one should study one of the leaders in depth, to find possible flaws or vulnerabilities which would allow the person to be discredited or blackmailed into cooperation. Agent Dida took the case of Abbot Grigorije, Agent Decko took the case of Dr Popivoda, Leonardo was assigned to monitor Mr Sijakovic and Fata took Mr Bostanovic's files. It was agreed that Mr Sijakovic was the most vulnerable of all, due to having the most nondescript file without any stressful events so far; while he was the only one to have a proper family (albeit divorced). Agent Dida got Father Gavrilovic to send a package to the Deacon of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) in Munich, and was going to try and stir up trouble over there against Abbot Grigorije, who belonged to the emigration fraction splintered from the SOC, known as the New SOC. Agent Decko would sign up as a delegate for the conference, posing to Dr Popivoda as a representative of the newly created monarchist movement of the history students at the Uni of Belgrade.
Upon arrival to Munich, accomodation was taken at a local pension (run by the order-loving Frau Sehling) and contact made with the local SS cell. Agent Jovanovic, the technical specialist, provided the team with beepers and surveilance equipment. Due to his background, he knew a gastarbeiter of Gypsy origin who was a cleaner in the hotel Mariott; Agent Fata proceeded to make her acquaintance and to get a part-time job as cleaning staff on a counterfeit working permit (due to Oktoberfest the hotel was fully booked and short-term staff had become suddenly needed). She installed bugs in the rooms of Dr Popivoda, under the table and the bedside pane, and placed the recorder in her locker (as it happened to be on the same floor). Agent Dida sucessfully made contact with Father Simon of the SOC Munich, but could not get him to act publically against Abbot Grigorije during the conference; during the conversation with the priest, he was offered loging in the church guesthouse, and notified that a set of nuns from Nurenberg would be visiting for an elevated prayer session tomorrow. Afterwards, agent Dida went to a nearby village to buy a comfortable trailer he had found in the local newspapers - a more suitable base of operations than the pension and its intrusive owner. To offset these positive measures, however, agent Decko made a hasty and clumsy call to Mr Sijakovic wherein by inconsistencies in his fake 'nationalist' identity while registering for the conference, he set his suspicions off. Meanwhile, Agents Reuss, Leonardo and Krasnici conducted a wiring operation at Sijakovic's flat. While Leonardo was on the lookout in the Italian cafe nearby, and Reuss waited in the car in front of Sijakovic's workplace, agent Krasnici examined the flat and wired it (all the rooms and the telephone). Agent Krasnici noted the large number of files and the PC, as well as crime-movie "traps" set about the flat (a hair on the lid of the box and other Bond-like tricks). Reuss observed that Sijakovic looked very nervous upon leaving work, soon after he returened to the flat one of the bugs stopped working and agents were worried if it had been discovered by Sijakovic, who may have somehow been prewarned. Agent Reuss decided he would need to find the whereabouts of Sijakovic's former wife, to gain further information on him and therefore hired a solicitor's firm to look for her, posing as a Croatian lawyer who had an inheritance for their two boys from an uncle who had recently passed away. During her evening shift, agent Fata observed the contents of Dr Popivoda's room while he was out for dinner, and managed to get a night shift too, during which she managed to wire Bostanovic's room, hiding the recorder in a nearby ventilation duct. To maintain the cover of tourists, Agents Dida and Decko went to Oktoberfest, where they managed to cause a fight with the security by very obviously stealing the 'mass' beer mugs; they were unable to get a taxi to drive them due to their drunken state as well as bloody cuts on agent Decko's face, so they had to spend the night sleeping on benches in the park.
The next day, tapes were examined and from Dr Popivoda's telephone conversations, it was obvious he was neither very close to his wife, nor to Sijakovic. Most of the tape was filled with sounds of typing on a laptop computer. Agent Reuss decided it was necessary to break into his room and check the contents of his machine. While agent Fata stood guard, he broke in and stole the laptop and assorted valuables in the room (in order to look like a proper robbery), then removed all the surveillance equipment and the recorder; after that, agent Fata raised the alarm. She succesfully managed to misguide the hotel detective into believing that she had nothing to do with it, but was repeatedly questioned during the next couple of days and had to maintain a low profile. Meanwhile, Agent Reuss studied the contents of Dr Popivoda's disk, and among all the anti-yugoslavian writings (including his conference presentation, about the liberation of Valjevo in 1941 by the monarchist resistance of General Mihailovic) he found a hidden folder containing his drafts of love letters and poetry dedicated to a certain Reiner from Germany. Having studied his profile, agent Reuss judged that dr Popivoda was not the kind of man who would commit suicide if confronted and blackmailed with this information; thus, it was decided that agents Dida and Decko would switch to his case, and focus on making him the SSS' mole in the "New Congregation". They decided they would follow him and wait for him to make contact with Rainer; then they would confront him and turn him into a mole, feeding him with historical information from the Archives of Yugoslavia about the collaboration of the WW2 reactionaries with communists and the Vatican.