Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cthulhu Weimar: Dead Children

last time

Time: April 1921
Place: Berlin

Cast of Characters:
Doctor Karl A. Schwarz - physician who works at the Krankenhaus Moabit and who has a surgery on the side in Berlin Wedding (a district known for being a stronghold of the Communist Party and for being populated almost exclusively by working class people)
Gero Thalmann - a student from a middle-class family who plans to become an architect. Meanwhile, he's involved with the Communists and has taken an interest in the pressing social issues of the time. He has been living in Berlin for about a year.

28th March 1921, Monday

Gero wrote a letter to Doctor Schwarz, asking if he can call on him at his surgery (which is not much more than a glorified storeroom in a backyard). When he does, he brings two big crates filled with medical supplies. He doesn't really want to explain how he got his hands on those, but assures Schwarz that they are not stolen. He just knows someone who knows someone. Schwarz accepts that explanation for now, particularly since the supplies are badly needed. He asks Gero to meet him later, though, when they will have time to talk.

As Gero leaves, Otto, one of Schwarz's assistants, calls the doctor out into the backyard where a group of people has gathered around a boy who is clearly badly hurt, but who doesn't seem in any pain and is rather unwilling to let himself be treated. He's not resisting, but he says that he cannot be helped anyway. Schwarz talks to him, horrified by the boy's injuries, and finally the kid allows himself to be taken into the surgery. By all rights, he should be dead. And when Schwarz examines him, he finds that there is no heartbeat. Yet the boy is clearly alive. He says that he feels no pain and doesn't want something to eat or drink. The concept seems to be a bit unclear to him.

click for dead children

While Schwarz bandages the worst wounds (which are not bleeding, although they should), the boy tells him that his name is Armin and that he has fled from an orphanage at the Goethepark. He had been held captive and he had been mistreated by one Doctor Haensler, just like the other children. As far as Schwarz knows, there is no orphanage for miles and certainly not one located in the park.

He can't do anything further for the boy and he lets him go, as Armin asks him to. Before he leaves, Armin tells Schwarz that he cannot die because he is already dead and that he somehow returned to his body when he fled the orphanage. He remembers living there and being killed and he thinks that the date was the 20th January 1901.

There are too many other patients and Schwarz has enough work for hours to take his mind off things. Unfortunately, he neglected to eat properly (as usual) and he took two shots from Otto's moonshine to calm his nerves after the encounter with Armin (not as usual). And so he simply collapses after the last patient has left and goes from a short faint into sleep. Gero arrives to find him still asleep while Otto is keeping an eye on things.

Once the doctor is awake again, they go to a pub a few blocks away, the Kaschemme (≃"dive bar") to eat something. They talk a bit and Gero explains that he knows someone whose father is a chemist and he got the medical supplies that way. They both know just how much money it all would bring on the black market, but Gero doesn't really have to worry about money and he wants to help.

Schwarz tells him about the boy - he has to tell someone, no matter how ridiculous it all sounds. Gero at least doesn't laugh at him - actually, he seems to believe the story. He remembers that there used to be an orphanage at the Goethepark (build by a well-known architect) and they decide to go and take a look. When they arrive at the park, the house does indeed stand there, although neither can remember seeing it before. A man in a white lab coat is just pulling a boy into the house and Schwarz recognises Armin. They decide against calling the police - what would they say anyway? Also, Schwarz is not all that keen on explaining what he does in his surgery, the whole thing is not completely legal, to put it tactfully. And so they agree to do some more research and meet again tomorrow. In leaving, Schwarz sees the face of a young girl, very pale, at one of the windows. A single tear is rolling down her face while she looks out at him.

29th April 1921, Tuesday

Gero does some research at the library and finds out that the orphanage had been founded in 1895 and there had been a number of rumours and scandals that eventually lead to an investigation. Tthe orphanage was to be closed when it burned down in 1901. No bodies were ever found, not of the children and not of Doctor Haensler.
Schwarz asks his favourite nurse Ingeborg to help him out and she turns up another interesting tidbit of information: Haensler was not only a gifted physician, he was also known for his invention of a drug that amplified pain (the military had use for such things) and he had a certain reputation as an adept of the occult.

Schwarz has just enough time to return home after his shift at the clinic and while he dresses, he sees the face of the girl again, in his mirror. He jumps back and she disappears, leaving a crack in the mirror behind. Gero goes to take a look at the house in daylight and it's still there. He asks a woman who walks by what that house is and she says that those are the ruins of the old orphanage.

Come evening, they return to the house. This time, they notice that even though it's spring all over Berlin, the garden around the house is barren, like it's still winter there. The windows are lit and the door opens easily when Gero pushes it. They enter into a lobby, like that of a hospital, with a desk, a couple of potted plants, a painting on the wall and corridors opening up on either side. There is also a door that leads into Doctor Haensler's office, but it is closed. A look at the desks reveals a couple of records for patients, dated 15th January 1901 at the latest. Everything is covered in dust.

Gero busies himself with opening the door, scandalising Schwarz a bit by producing a couple of lockpicks. Menawhile, Schwarz takes a look at the painting and discovers that it's a child's drawing, signed 'Anneliese'.

Just when the door to the office clicks open, Gero hears a voice next to him: 'I wouldn't go in there...' He looks up to see the little girl and drops his lockpicks when he jumps up. The girl warns them that they will 'wake him up' when they go into the office and before the vanishes, she confirms that her name is Anneliese. Gero and Schwarz are alone again in the lobby.


What happens next

I might say this at the start of every Cthulhu adventure, but let me say it again: I have a bad feeling about this. I get a very "Devil's Backbone"-vibe from this orphanage (not intentionally, the GM hasn't seen the movie) and I'm doing a perfect job of creeping myself out.

Here is a map for the campaign. I'll add places to it as we go along. It's nice to be able to follow the characters around, even though Berlin has changed a lot in the last ninety years (ninety years...somehow, the 1920s always seem to be seventy years ago for me...stuck in the 90s, sorry about that).

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Friday, April 26, 2013

Iron Maiden

Paschendale by Iron Maiden (the video is taken from All Quiet on the Western Front)

I'm doing a bit of research on famous battles of WWI and the moment and of course Iron Maiden have written a song about it. And quote William Blake in the lyrics.

I can't remember what the first Maiden song was that I heard, but I do know that they had me at "Rime of the Ancient Mariner". At 15, I had finally started to really understand English - something clicked and I basically went from 'what is this strange sound you want me to produce' to reading Shakespeare over the course of one year. I read all kinds of poetry, from Blake to Coleridge to Donne. The only problem was that I basically had no-one to talk to about it. It doesn't do much for you at fifteen when you can quote William Blake by heart.

And here was this badass metal band who actually wrote songs about this stuff. Looking at my Iron Maiden collection, I can trace a lot of my interests back to a single song. I could quote the opening of The Prisoner long before I ever saw the series. I only watched The Duellists because of the song and via Harvey Keitel got into Martin Scorsese's movies. Let's not even start with all the allusions hidden in the cover artwork of Somewhere in Time. Iron Maiden did a lot more for my interest in history and literature that all my teachers put together (and I did have some great teachers...).

Iron Maiden are hands down the band who influenced me most, they still do, and they are the one band I never stopped listening to.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

De Profundis

I'd read about De Profundis a few times and I had always thought it was a cool idea, but I never really got deeper into it. But lately, I'm interested more and more in freeform roleplaying, whether you call if freeform or Jeeping or psychodrama, as the creators of De Profundis do.

De Profundis is a Cthulhu game played only by writing letters. The group, called society in the game, decides on a setting and maybe on how much mythos they want to have in their game and from there, things go where they will. Characters may or may not know each other beforehand. Maybe one character is written to because they are an expert in their field, maybe characters are friends. There is no GM and every player has the chance to take the story into a new direction. Where it all will end, no-one really knows.

It is supposed to be a slow game, hence the letters, and whatever unnatural things the characters will discover should creep only slowly and gradually into the conversation. It might start with bad dreams or someone mentions odd footprints that keep appearing around their house or a strangely unsettling book they have read.

I asked two people I regularly game with and I wrote an in-character cold letter to a third because I was sure that he'd want to play. So now we have a society of four people, all living in different cities in Germany in 1924. Click on the names to find out more about them, I've hidden the text so as not to spoil the other players.

Armin von Mirbach
He's something of a hermit and lives in a small town called Balve in North-Rhine Westphalia. The war has left him with some kind of yet unspecified sickness. He is trying to reconnect with friends he has ignored for the last six years, he has kept to himself for all that time.

Robert Vogtmann
He's the owner of a antique shop and quite an expert in his field. Armin has written to him because he wishes to acquire a certain statuette that he so far has failed to locate. He lives in Dresden.

Amelie Rosenstock
A young reporter who works for the Hamburger Volkszeitung, a Communist newspaper. She has written about a very gruesome and strange murder and Armin has contacted her because he fears that the victim was one of his friends. Amelie has confirmed his suspicions.

Reinhard Gessen
He lives in Berlin and owns a factory, the family business. Armin has written to him because he wants to reconnect with the Gessen family, he had been a fairly close friend of theirs before the war and he served with Reinhard's brother and uncle who both died in 1916. Reinhard has replied (or rather had one of his employees reply) with an extremely formal letter asking for proof of Armin's identity. As far as he knows, Armin has died as well. I have a couple of ideas where I want to go with this, but it all will take effect much later in the game, whatever I do.

For now, Armin is the only one who knows all three and he has written to each of them for different reasons. I will try to connect the society with each other as the game goes on, so far we have only written one or two letters each.

I'm already in love with this game because I get to throw story seeds at other players and then see whether they are picked up or not and if so, what the other player does with them. And of course I get seeds myself. The story is under everyone's and no-one's control at the same time.

There is also something very satisfying about writing all those letters by hand. I invested in some high-end paper and envelopes and sealing wax, with a pound note showing the Welsh dragon used as a seal (vaseline nicely conceals the 1 pound-inscription). It's not something that can be done quickly and there is a certain kind of ceremony involved. I add to that classical music and usually candles because so far, I have written all my letters at night, which is when Armin writes his letters as well. I'd love to create props as well as the story goes on, like newspaper articles and photos.

You can buy the De Profundis rulebook as a PDF at RPG Drivethru for 8.99$ and it's well worth the price. Don't expect hard rules, there are none. There are no rules for character creation or the usual stuff. Just a lot of tips on how to get your society up and running and how to make things creepy that you may or may not use. The whole thing is written in the form of letters and the further into the book you go, the more disturbed the author is by what is happening to him. It's a mini-De Profundis game all by itself. There are also a couple of suggestions for playing small Psychodrama oneshots, freeform settings you can play without any preparation.

Monday, April 22, 2013


I love horror movies, I always did. Most of them don't really scare me...at least until I discovered Asian horror. When I first saw Ring, I asked my roommate if I could sleep over at his room. We covered the TV with a blanket. Ju-On (and the US remake The Grudge) made away with the illusion that it's safe once you're under the blanket in your bed. I seriously thought about sleeping standing up that night.

Asian horror movies are, not my guilty pleasure, but a very irrational one. Since Mr Bookscorpion doesn't really like horror movies, I always end up watching them alone. In my dark flat. And I always remember too late that I have to leave the safety of my bed to feed my hamsters. I do an excellent impression of a spooked deer at those times. Another friend of mine has probably already gotten used to virtually holding my hand via Skype while I freak out.

So I really should have know better than to watch Shutter. It's a 2004 Thai movie about a photographer who is haunted by a ghost he first sees in his photos. If ghost photos creep you out, then this may not be a movie for you.
It has a few extremely effective shock effects, but it doesn't rely on them, always a good thing for a horror film. After a while, you start to scare yourself because you will be expecting something horrible to happen any second and it doesn't, not for quite a while.

One thing I absolutely love about Asian movie ghosts/demons: they just don't stop. When you have pissed them off, you are done, no way of making amends. Ring was a great example of that with its unstoppable curse. Shutter is another one, but the ghost here has very different reasons. And for all its creepiness, it's a sad story.

Speaking of heartbreaking horror movies, try Dark Water. A recently divorced woman moves into a new apartment with her daughter, stressed out by the divorce and the custody fight. Water stains appear on the ceiling, but she cannot get the manager to do anything about it. And slowly she realises that something is very wrong with the building.

Dark Water's ending made me cry. I certainly didn't expect that. And while the story takes some time to get going, once it does it's brilliant. Like Shutter, the movie relies on imagination to scare its audience. After a while, the sight of that damn Hello Kitty-style bag that keeps turning up was enough to make me want to kill it with fire. There are few things quite so creepy as that one thing you keep throwing out, only to have it reappear, especially if it's something as innocent as a child's bag with a cute bunny on it.

So, if you're looking for a horror movie that actually tells a good story, one that will stay in your mind after watching, then Shutter and Dark Water may be just the thing for you.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Endland: Among the Ruins

Eldur and Nvidia discover the ruins of a Human...city? - read the session recap on Obsidian Portal

Time to get seriously postapocalyptic. I planned to let them find some kind of bunker, but then I came across a blueprint for the Chernobyl power plant and the thought of letting them blunder into that was too inviting to resist. I found a ton of photos that show how nuclear power plants look on the inside, Cryptome.org was by far the most extensive and useful.

The beautiful glow of Cherenkov radiation gave away where exactly they are, at least for the players (who started to have a bad feeling in the control room already). The quiet groans of 'oh no' were very satisfying. The characters were not likely to jump into the water, but I mentioned the bodies to make sure...instant character death by radiation is not very cool. Although they would have needed to dive to the bottom for that.

For the journey, I relied heavily on hikes I took at Capitol Reef and Valley of Fire NP for inspiration. The photos in the session log are from those hikes. The whole landscape of Endland has been inspired by Utah and Nevada so far anyway. I love the weird mountain formations and the arid landscape.

And I heroically withstood the temptation to make Monty Python jokes in the scene with the Ikarim. 'What is your favourite colour?' 'Blue - no, yellow! Aaaaargh...'

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cthulhu Weimar

Time: April 1921
Place: Berlin

Cast of Characters:
Doctor Karl A. Schwarz - physician who works at the Krankenhaus Moabit and who has a surgery on the side in Berlin Wedding (a district known for being a stronghold of the Communist Party and for being populated almost exclusively by working class people)
Gero Thalmann - a student from a middle-class family who plans to become an architect. Meanwhile, he's involved with the Communists and has taken an interest in the pressing social issues of the time. He has been living in Berlin for about a year.

21. April 1921, Thursday

Gero plans to spent his evening at the Wintergarten Theatre where Anita Berber has announced one of her famed performances. It's not something he does usually, but this is just too daring to miss. It's not often you have the chance of seeing a woman dance naked outside the ... more disreputable establishments and it's not like Gero would go there.

He meets Lothar Tuchner, an acquaintance of his, whom he knows as a charismatic and daring leader in the Communist movement. Tuchner successfully recruits students, Gero among them. Tuchner asks Gero if he's willing to risk something for the cause: Max Hoelz has been arrested in Berlin for crimes he supposedly committed during the March Action and Tuchner wants to free him. Gero, with all the enthusiasm and idealism of a twenty-year old student, agrees.

Dr. Schwarz is just about to finish his shift at the hospital when he's more or less shanghaied into accompanying his boss, Dr. Seltmann, to the Wintergarten. His protests that he has nothing to wear are waved aside and he asks his nurse, Ingeborg, to get him a suit. She agrees, but he has to promise her to invite her out to dinner in return.

After they arrive at the Wintergarten, it doesn't take long for Seltmann to pick up two women who are only too happy to enjoy the company of the doctors. Unfortunately, Miss Berber's performance is rudely interrupted by a commotion in the entrance which quickly turns into a full-out panic when shots are fired. The SA has decided to make headlines by storming the event and things get out of hand when they fire into the crowd.

Both Gero and Dr. Schwarz, along with their companions, use the stage entrance to leave the building as quickly as possible, but not before Gero is grazed by a bullet. Schwarz does his best to treat the wound and they walk back to Tuchner's flat while Seltmann accompanies the two women home.

Tuchner tries to draw Schwarz into his plan to free Hoelz as well, but the doctor flat out refuses to participate in this. It's not only illegal, it's also almost certainly bound to fail. When Gero finds out that Tuchner doesn't even know where Hoelz is being held at the moment, he has second thoughts as well and agrees with Schwarz. Risking something is all good and well, but he's not suicidal.

22. April 1921, Friday

Gero goes to see Schwarz at the hospital to get the bandage changed and to have the wound more properly treated. They talk a bit and find that they agree on quite a few things, like the need to do something to help people less lucky than they are. Gero is actually quite impressed by the doctor and leaves thinking about what he can do to help him - during the talk with Tuchner, Schwarz remarked that instead of wasting energy on foolish adventure, he could use help at his surgery where he's not only plagued by lack of time and staff, but also by lack of supplies.


what happens next

A new Cthulhu round. This time, we decided to set it during the Weimarer Republik, a very unstable and violent time in German history. It was a time of great cultural development (Bauhaus, Dadaism, Jazz - to name just a few random things that bloomed during that time) but it also was a time of great social unrest. Political murders and street fights were pretty much normal, the situation more than skirted civil war. In 1921, things are starting to look up and people are determined to enjoy life again. Inflation is not something people think about, although there are first signs. But for now, it looks like Germany might get on its feet again.

The player of Dr. Schwarz completely refused to swallow the adventure hook. I would have gone along with this, Gero is idealistic enough for that, but Schwarz is older and a lot more experienced, he has learned to reserve his idealism for worthier tasks. And so we ended up with an evening where we only got to know each other. I say only, but that's not really the right word. Gero has a lot of respect for Schwarz now and I think that the characters will develop an interesting relationship - maybe more interesting and expandable than they would have if they went on that mission for Tuchner.

I decided that Gero is Jewish and that he comes from a fairly religious family. At the time, Germany had a huge Jewish community, many of whom saw themselves as Germans first, a view shared by many of their fellow Germans. Antisemitism is on the rise, though. Gero is used to observing the rules of his religion, especially when it comes to festivals, shabbat and kashrut. His family is not orthodox, but would probably call themselves conserative. This will clash with being a character in a Cthulhu adventure sooner or later and I'm not at all sure how Gero will choose.

Monday, April 8, 2013

7th Sea: Complications

last time...

Characters and setting on Obsidian Portal

Dear Isabel,

you were right. I did lecture Ramon, I could not help myself. At least that went better than any of such talks I ever had with Juan. I hope I learned something since then about agreeing to disagree and of course it is easier when I am not talking to my own son. But not all that much.
I am probably a bit idealistic when it comes to marriage. After all, we never spent much time apart and when we did, we never hid what we were doing from each other, even the more questionable things. We fought more times than I can count, but at least there are no big secrets. Well. I hope Ramon's secret does not come back to haunt him.

Click for complications

Especially since it already seems to be common knowledge in the Labyrinth. Alain and Ramon attended a small party at the Montaigne embassy and Ramon was challenged to a duel by Antonio Rios de Nunez, Esmeralda's would be-lover, a young man who seems to be a good deal more rash than is healthy for him. At the same time, Alain made a Musketeer the target of his sharp tongue - or rather a man who wore the uniform without actually being a Musketeer. And since Alain is not a member of the Swordman's Guild, Ramon agreed to fight for him once he had finished his own quarrel. Logan was called in as Ramon's second. Insulted by the false Musketeer's second, Jerome Sices du Sice, he joined the ranks of the duellists.

I missed all this because I was at the Eisen embassy to meet with Javier. He did warn me that, to quote the note he passed me, my 'friends are attracting attention', but I would have been surprised if it had been otherwise. It's what they do. So I did not worry too much and met with Javier at the agreed time. And it's a good thing I did because he told me that one of the duellists has a tendency to solve his problems with poison. He gave me a small bottle with some liquid as a precaution. Before I left for the Montaigne embassy, I arranged a meeting between Ramon and Javier and we agreed that I would meet with Javier's mistress, Donna de la Noche, once I had found out who the real spy for occupied Castille is - we both agree that Raphael is only a distraction, although a very effective one. He also asked me to find out what made Alain insult the false Musketeer. I'm definitely interested in that, but if I will tell Javier about it, I am not sure.

Meanwhile, Lucia had arrived at the Montaigne embassy together with Esmeralda just in time for Ramon's first duel with Antonio Rios. Esmeralda clearly showed whom she would prefer to win and Ramon did indeed have little trouble with that duel. I made my way to the garden when the second duel was to begin and saw Ramon's opponent collapse, poisoned by the wine he had just drunk and coughing up a great deal of blood. His second began to shout about Castillian murderers and cowards and for a moment the mood turned against us. I put all my trust in Javier at that moment and gave the man the, I hoped, antidote. I think only Logan, who kneeled next to me noticed the bottle (that probably did nothing to further Logan's trust in me). I managed to explain away the incident, saying that it was just an ulcer that caused the bleeding and the Montaigne doctor who had been called agreed with me. The poison had caused heavy bleeding and kept the blood flowing, but so far, no-one except us and the poisoner knows about this.

Jerome Sices du Sices had used the confusion caused by his accusations to vanish into the crowd. Lucia and Esmeralda tried to follow him and only just saw him stepping through a portal created by Porté sorcery. We later found out that there is no Jerome Sices du Sice and so the true identity of the man is unknown.

A Musketeer offered to stand in for his poisoned comrade and so Ramon did fight his second duel. He lost, but against an opponent like Jean Paul Gaulle dul Motte that is no great shame. I do wonder what dul Motte and his friends will say when they find out that he fought to defend the honour of a fraud.

Esmeralda's father has chosen Lucia as her new best friend - he practically ordered Lucia to befriend her. So far, this actually seems to be working, although I am not sure if the ambassador will be happy with the results. In any case, he wants Esmeralda to travel into Castille for a while, so it seems that I will see more of it than I have for some time. But our plans to travel to Ramon's home have not changed, so we will see each other in a few weeks. I wish time would go by faster...although the last days have been exciting enough.


It's probably a measure of our playing style that Marcello shrugged off Javier's warning about the attention the rest of the group was attracting. Really, if he ran off every time that happened, he'd never get anything done.

Alain's scene with the false Musketeer was epic. "Oooh, it's a costume party! We didn't know or we would have dressed up as well. My, isn't that a charming costume?" Ouch.

And Esmeralda... I'm calling it: that woman is going to be so much trouble. Right now I'm having the impression of a bored young woman who wants to have some adventures and play a bit with danger. That's all going to be fun and games until she really does something stupid - probably while we will be travelling in occupied Castille. I hope she's better at playing the game than I think she is.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Hearse Song

Used to be a soldier's song in WWI and then turned into a children's song. Of course.