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.

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