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Assembling the Super Team!

In Masks, the players take the part of young superheroes, generally 16-20 years old. By default, you all live in Halcyon City, a metropolis that has been living with superheroes and villains since the 1940s, along with the various peculiar occult, futuristic, and just plain bizarre things that go along with a tradition of super heroism/ villainy.

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New Year, New Blog Posts…

I plan on updating my blog more frequently in the upcoming year. I thought it might be useful, to anyone who stops in and reads, to know what I do and how I do it. My intention is to offer a sketch of how I come into each game I run, and then a reflection about how the game actually plays out—a sort of “Before/After” snapshot. I thought my reflections might be useful, or at least distracting, for some of you who know me. This here will be the longest entry that I will make. (I promise!) But I feel like I need to provide some context before I move forward.

So I am a GM, first and foremost. I aspire to other things—mostly to do with game design—but at the moment, GMing is mostly where it’s at. By almost any standard, I GM in high volume, which is to say I average two games a week, but sometimes end up doing up to five games, and these games run the gamut from storytelling games like, say, Dialect, (which, I know, is GMless, but come on…) to traditional RPGs like everyone’s favorite (haha sort of) Mörk Borg. I have run Bluebeard’s Bride, Hypertellurians, Dread, Better Angels, the Everything of Cthulhu, and, of course, The World’s Most Cough Cough Speak Not Its Name…

I have run a lot personal games at my house, in which the players and I have gone all over the place, doing all sorts of things, and that overall experience has been amazing. I’ve also run a lot of public/gig-type games and learned to appreciate the shotgun wedding nature of a good, random one-shot. I like to think that the time I’ve put in has granted me a certain amount of patience and, maybe, insight—not so much because I’m the brightest bulb in the box. More to the point, if you practice as much as I have—eventually something useful takes hold.

I also like to think that all of this GMing hasn’t dulled my passion for the whole experience—even if, at times, it’s led me to become a little more pragmatic. TTRPGs are awesome, to my way of thinking. They can be a frontier of consciousness, where you are whatever you want to be and/or catch glimpses of who or what you could be. They are also a habit that can lead to aberrant and antisocial behavior—oh yeah, and they’re a bankable, if somewhat picayune, industry.

I’m a cog in this wheel, but who cares? I’m looking forward to the games I currently have lined up for 2023. If nothing else, my friends and I enjoy them, so I thought it might be worth telling you about them, from the GM’s perspective. So next time around, I’ll describe my upcoming mini-campaign of the super-hero game Masks, which will kick off the year for my public group. I’m really looking forward to it. I am mostly a guileless person, and I’ll tell you upfront that I’m amped about this game, because it is about being young and figuring things out. It seems like a great place to start a new year. I’ll let you know what my setup is sometime soon. Then, if you’re still reading, I’ll tell you how things go, somewhere down the line.

Meanwhile, Happy New Year!

New Year
My game wall from mid-pandemic…about the only thing I miss about running my games online

Eternal Lies – Session 25

JANUARY 1, 1935, TUESDAY: Amid the bloody chaos at the Mercy Hill Mental Institution, the Investigators convinced their former guide ABAI to travel to London. Once there, he would wait for them to get him out of the country. James “Tick Tock” Cohan expressed hope for and disappointment in Abai.

At the hotel, Dorothy perused the comic she purchased at Yellowtree Books and was drawn into a state of heightened arousal. Chantelle Perreault kept watch over Dorothy, while Luke Davis and James meditated in their room. In the morning, the group met PROFESSOR ORWELL SANGSTER at Brichester University. They headed into the countryside to find Deepfall Lake, the center of a dense body of local legend. The lake was lined with trees, and on one side, six houses stood. These were built in the 18th century by the followers of a strange pastor named THOMAS LEE. They came seeking something called GLA’AKI, which they venerated, but they soon disappeared. The houses were also the site of a series of disappearances happened in the area in the 1890s, and the houses have been abandoned ever since. Their last owner, GILBERT CELESTE, was accused of murdering the missing people. He was dubbed “The Ripper of the Lake,” and was executed in 1893.

As they approached, Sangster lectured them about the history of the area. He and James parked the car up the road from the houses and kept watch, as the party had noted strange, human-shaped forms moving in the trees across the lake. James noticed the water stirring and smelled a terrible odor coming from the lake. Beneath its surface, he saw the outlines of strange buildings, but these disappeared. Later, a large eye stalk emerged from the water to look at him. The human-shaped figures moved closer. One of them appeared to be missing archaeologist HUSAIN SOLIMAN still strangely transformed.Orwell Sangster fired his gun at Soliman, who appeared to catch a bullet and flick it aside. Soliman told them to leave.

Meanwhile, Dorothy, Luke, and Chantelle went about exploring the derelict houses. Aside from dust and an air of abandonment, they found a scrap of paper wedged between some floorboards. It mentioned “the green decay” and warned its reader to leave. The group also found the remnants of a base camp, probably belong to the Emporium of Bangkok Antiquities. It appeared that a scene of violence had occurred, leaving an outer wall and one of the bedrooms badly damaged. Strange writing lined the walls and stairs. Words had been spread around in a strange green and silver medium: THEY HAVE STOLEN THE BOOKS LAUGHTON SAW THE HELIX TRUTH. In another house, new furnishings had been installed, but peculiarly organized. A neatly made bed was in the kitchen, while an unplugged refrigerator with rotting food rested in a bath tub.

Hearing gunshots, Dorothy, Luke, and Chantelle emerged to find Sangster and James engaged with Soliman and the other strange forms. Terrified, the group got to their car and fled. Suddenly they found themselves driving in a different area, near Brichester and several miles away from Deepfall Lake.

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Eternal Lies – Session 24

DECEMBER 31, 1934, MONDAY: The Investigators returned to Brichester University to meet PROFESSOR ORWELL SANGSTER of the Classical Languages Department. As an expert in the ancient Roman presence in the area, Sangster is also an authority concerning local folklore. He described the Severn Valley as a nexus of sorts for bizarre pagan beliefs and noted.

Sangster also confirmed that archaeologist HUSAIN SOLIMAN had questioned him concerning several locally mythologized landmarks, among them remote, wooded Deepfall Lake. The Investigators believe this is the lake which appeared in the dream of Chantelle Perreault and in warnings they received at Mercy Hill Institution for the Mentally Disturbed. A 18th century cult believed it to be a site of significance to the entity known as GLA’AKI. It is a godlike being that may be related to the 1924 ritual that took the life of VINCE STACK and possibly the mind or soul of WALTER WINSTON. Sangster agreed to travel with the Investigators to Deepfall Lake on New Years Day.

The Investigators returned to Mercy Hill in hopes of speaking with ABAI, their guide from Axum. He had been traveling with Hussain Soliman, and they were hoping to question him about the recent activities of the Emporium of Bangkok Antiquities, the mysterious organization they crossed paths with in Axum. The Investigators suspect these activities are linked to whatever has caused Abai to be institutionalized and has led to the transformation of Soliman into the strange mossy figure they have seen following them in both their dreams and waking lives.

On arrival, the Investigators found Mercy Hill in a state of chaos. Terrified staff members told them that a madman was running loose with a knife. Several corpses lay in the halls of the asylum. They had been stabbed repeatedly. The Investigators eventually found Abai and convinced him to hand over his knife. Before he gave it up, he cut the corners of his mouth open with its tip.

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Eternal Lies – Session 23

DECEMBER 30, 1934, SUNDAY: While visiting the small English city of Brichester, the Investigators received a letter from a woman they’d never met named TRICIA PIPER. In it, she claimed to have psychically glimpsed them. She referred to dangers around them and asked them to come visit her so that she might speak more clearly to them. The Investigators went to find Tricia at her address—a room at the Mercy Hill Mental Institution. The desk staff were not surprised by the Investigators’ arrival. Tricia had said they would be arrive that day.

Ward Attendant TOBY WEAVER escorted the Investigators through the pale green linoleum halls of Mercy Hill’s “new building.” Tricia was waiting for them inter private room. She was a young, pretty woman, serious and preoccupied. She spoke of an intelligence that was using her to communicate with the world. She said it had led her to write down a part of its living testament, but she said that another powerful intelligence was attempting to mislead her. She spoke of how its feral hunger had obscured the hard, clear voice she had heard perviously. She warned the Investigators about the dangers of “the lake.” The Investigators believed that she was most likely referring to Deepfall Lake—a local landmark known to be of interest to the archaeologist HUSAIN SOLIMAN and the EMPORIUM OF BANGKOK ANTIQUITIES, the shadowy institution for which he works. The lake is also rumored to be home to the mythic, inhuman entity known as GLA’AKI. (Presumably related to The Prisoner of Gla’aki—a mysterious force the Investigators have tracked since their stay in Los Angeles.)

The conversation with Tricia was cut short when the injury on James “Tick Tock” Cohan’s finger opened up, revealing a small mouth. The mouth shouted threats and obscenities at Tricia. James and Chantelle Perreault left the room, so Dorothy Howard and Luke Davis could continue the interview, but not much more information was forthcoming. In the hall, James was not himself. His finger was now silent, and to Chantelle, he appeared badly shaken, but otherwise stable. Inwardly, the stress of the last month, combined with the intimate, inexplicable horror he had just experienced, and he seemed, briefly, to lose himself.

Toby Weaver took the Investigators to meet a couple of inmates in the old building as well—one American and one Abyssinian. Both had been committed under strange circumstances. The American was an older, Black woman from Louisiana. Half her hand had been raggedly torn off, and she claimed to be writing a volume under the direction of Gla’aki as well. She expressed contempt for Tricia Piper and warned the Investigators of the dangers seen to be found at the lake. The Abyssinian turned out to be ABAI, the guide the Investigators had hired to take them to Axum. He appealed to James to save him from dark forces, which he said had attacked himself and his employers, members of The Emporium of Bangkok Antiquities.

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Eternal Lies – Session 21-22

This one covers 2 sessions…investigating is slow work and I’m trying to catch up!

EARLY DECEMBER, 1934: The Investigators decided to leave New York and travel to an area in England called the Severn Valley. They were following leads drawn from their experiences in Ethiopia, including references to an obscure occult text called Revelations of Gla’aki. Spanish archaeologist BARTOLO ACUÑA had said that he’d learned where to dig in Ethiopia by poring over the Revelations. The Investigators were also aware that Oxford educated archaeologist HUSSAIN SOLIMAN was rumored to be traveling to the Severn Valley with the mysterious Emporium of Bangkok Antiquities.

Before they departed, they tended to some other affairs. Chantelle Perreault met with her mother DELPHINE, who’d (perversely?) chosen the Christmas holidays as a time to visit New York. Concerned with the effects that the Nectar trade was having on Murder, Incorporated, James “Tick Tock” Cohan introduced some of his friends to the ascetic meditation techniques he learned from MUHOHO while in Ethiopia.

In hopes of resolving their recent argument, Luke Davis went to meet with his mentor RICHARD NEWMANN at the professor’s Miskatonic University office. Newmann was behaving strangely, and seemed especially agitated by Luke’s associations with Soliman, Acuña, and missing archaeologist GEORGE AYERS. (The latter being a cultist who evaded the 1924 Los Angeles massacre by luck.) Newmann attacked Luke, who escaped unharmed and headed back to New York.

Luke and Dorothy Howard consulted the strange and obscene waterlogged tome that had been given to them at the airport. Once again, their immersion into the outré led Luke and Dorothy to have sex. While Luke felt his knowledge of obscure matters deepen, Dorothy found herself feeling empty and alienated after the sex.

The group departed aboard the Silver Sable for London and then made preparations to travel to the Severn Valley, known to be an area haunted by legends, folktales, and strange occurrences—not to mention an 18th century cult, which worshipped the pagan god Gla’a’ki. When consulting maps of the area, Dorothy noticed that, based on established physical scale and distances, the constituent areas of the Severn Valley could not possibly fit within its geographic confines. She was unable to completely fathom what this might mean, outside of a possible distortion of space and/ or time. None of her companions seemed to understand what was troubling her. To them, there appeared to be no discrepancy.

The Investigators drove through increasingly sullen countryside to the city of Brichester, which lies at the epicenter of the myths and tales that concern the Severn Valley. Also, the university library there is known to be improbably well-stocked with strange texts. It was rumored to hold the original handwritten text of the Revelations of Gla’aki.

No Christmas tree lighting ceremony for our investigators this year

DECEMBER 29, 1934: The Investigators checked into Hotel Victoria, located in Victoria’s sprawl, the red bricked center of the city. They noticed a strange man watching them in the streets, but he disappeared with seemingly unnatural speed. Overnight, Dorothy tried to fathom her strange intuitions about the area by making some sketches. She fell into a trance state, during which she involuntarily scrawled an ominous “message,” apparently channeled by another consciousness.

DECEMBER 30, 1934: The group made its way to nearby Brichester University, easily discerned by its dirty white stone buildings. While Chantelle, Dorothy, and Luke visited the University library, James stopped at the chapel. Despite the fact that it was Sunday, he found an old, cramped space, with only a few parishioners and an apathetic priest. James noticed a dirty hymnal in the back of one of the pews. It appeared to have been amended by hand and was stained with a translucent resin. The pages cut his already mangled finger and ultimately led the opening on it to open, as a mouth might. It seemed to whisper. James took the hymnal with him and fled.

At the library, Luke, Dorothy, and Chantelle delved deeper into the lore of the Severn Valley. They also investigated the whereabouts of the original texts of the Revelations of Gla’aki, which they discovered, were stolen in 1930—possibly by a former faculty member named Arnold Hird. The Investigators also learned that the local shop Yellowtree Books is known to have sold printed editions of the book.

The Investigators found references to several other locations—a partial list of which includes Deepfall Lake, which lies in a wooded area nearby, and was the possible location of the 18th century cult’s activities; the Church in High Street in nearby Temphill, where it’s said a rogue group of Knights Templar settled, and possibly formed a cult, after the Crusades; and the Isle Beyond Severnford, a small scrap of land, nearby, in the Severn River, where it is said that the Knights and/or druidic cults worshipped. The head librarian suggested that they consult with University professor ORWELL SANGSTER, an expert in local myth and history.

Dorothy flirted with a librarian, who invited her to have sex. They went to the librarian’s house. The sex once again left Dorothy feeling empty. The librarian seemed to regard the encounter as utilitarian and suggested that Dorothy leave as soon as possible.

Luke and Chantelle left the library and encountered the same figure they’d noticed watching them before. They gave chase, with Luke falling behind. Chantelle managed to stop the figure for a moment and found that he was a strangely transformed Hussain Soliman. He was coated with a phosphorescent moss-like substance, and his cheeks were horribly sunken. Again, he proved extremely agile, managing to slip away into the alleys of Brichester.

The Investigators reunited at the hotel. Dorothy slept with the strange map she’d found some time ago, hoping for some insight. James and Luke both meditated. The Investigators received a letter from someone named TRICIA PIPER that referred to them all by name. She claimed to have foreseen their coming and to be concerned for them, as they were in danger. It requested theater presence at the nearby Mercy Hill Sanitarium.

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Eternal Lies – Session 20

I’m behind on my updates! Expect a bunch of new posts over the course of this week…

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 1934: Overnight, in the settlement of Dallol, Ethiopia, Luke Davis finished his initiation as a ritual magician. A strange rat-like FAMILIAR appeared, grinning, inside Dorothy Howard’s hair, as she lay injured on the floor. The creature approached Luke and suckled blood from his finger tip.

With the help of Chantelle Perreault, Luke began the ritual to open a Hyperspace Gate, a portal that can open on any point in space-time that the caster has seen in the past. The Investigators killed OGHAI, their guide, in the process, but were able to escape to Massaua, Eritrea. By a stroke of good fortune, they soon connected with CARLO SALVATORE, the Italian military officer they’d met shortly after arriving in Eritrea. He was able to have Luke’s and Dorothy’s injuries tended, and to set her up in a clinic to receive ongoing medical care.

WEEK OF NOVEMBER 25: The Investigators recuperated in Eritrea for about a week. In that time, Dorothy was visited by JEROME, the Afar dock- worker the group met shortly after arriving in Massaua. He seemed genuinely concerned about Dorothy, but also more serious than he had before. He revealed that he was in the same “army” with LAZARE, who had died in Dallol—and to whom Dorothy had formed a personal attachment. He also knew Dorothy’s real name. He seemed to know that Lazare was dead, but asked Dorothy to give him details. Dorothy passed along her address in New York. Jerome thanked her and wished her well.

EARLY DECEMBER: Back in New York, the Investigators took some time to personally recover from the shocks that experienced in Abyssinia. James “Tick Tock” Cohan found that the Nectar trade seemed to have spread in New York—or at least in the circles in which he moves. Chantelle was invited to Christmas dinner at Dorothy’s family home. She also received word that her mother was making a surprise stop in America and was hoping to connect with her.

Luke spoke by phone with his mentor, RICHARD NEWMANN. Newmann seemed angry with Luke for delving into the research of BARTOLO ACUÑA. They agreed to meet and speak in Arkham, Massachusetts. Dorothy received word that her father, THOMAS HOWRD, had been behaving in an erratic manner. He had approached her mother’s family, while apparently inebriated, and had requested money to supplement his current allowance. Dorothy went to visit Thomas and found him disheveled and confused. His apartment was dirty and untidy. She picked up after him a bit and warned him not to anger her grandfather, REGINALD SPENCER. Her father hugged her, atypically, and they said goodbye.

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Eternal Lies – Session 19

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 24: In a salt block building, in the settlement of Dallol, Ethiopia, the Investigators were interviewed by the leader of a strange group of local Afar. She was a striking and intense woman named TSHOMBE. She spoke to the Investigators through a translator, an elderly man. She told them the whispers of the Agony on the Wind had told her they would come. She believes they are pilgrims, seeking communion with the Agony. She asked if they were carrying any relics sacred to the Agony and was disappointed to find that they had only the book, The Cults of the Aksumite Empire.

Tshombe offered her blessings to the party. James “Tick Tock” Cohan had already received a small benediction, which had led to the loss of part of a finger to something within the cloth wrapped around Tshombe’s upper body. The rest of the group demurred, which drew some suspicious glances from the Afar, who look at Tshombe in an almost worshipful manner.

Though Tshombe seemed benevolently disposed toward the Investigators, she showed antipathy toward their guides. While she allowed OGHAI and YONAS to live, she had the head of LAZARE delivered in a canvas sack. She allowed it to roll across the floor so that the Investigators could see that the flesh around Lazare’s mouth had been cut away, exposing his teeth. Dorothy Howard, who’d developed an attachment to Lazare was particularly horrified.

Hole in the salt crust – Dallol – photo credit:197travelstamps.com

The Investigators were asked if they wished to venerate the Agony on the Wind. They were pointed toward a room in the back of the salt block building. They could hear moaning coming from inside. James was allowed to remain with Tshombe outside the room, while the rest of the Investigators reluctantly agreed to offer obeisance to the Agony. They were escorted into an unfinished space with a dirt floor. In it, a trough had been dug out by people crawling on hands and knees. The Investigators and their guides were expected to contribute, and so they rooted around in the dirt.

Yonas was outraged and horrified and made to throw a stick of dynamite, but the Investigators intervened, attempting to save their own lives and convince the Dallolites that they were not in league with Tshombe’s enemies. Their efforts were successful, but Yonas was executed in front of them.

The Investigators were taken to a small salt block building so that they could rest before being escorted to the dig site. Because James had earned Tshombe’s approval, they were allowed to keep Oghai with them, but they were told they were responsible for his conduct. Once the group was alone, Luke Davis told them that he had discovered a means of invoking powerful magic to carry them away from their current circumstances. Unfortunately, doing so would require the sacrifice of a life.

Oghai was appalled that the Investigators were capitulating to Tshombe and possibly to other dark forces. He attempted to shoot Luke, but missed. A stray bullet struck Dorothy and nearly killed her. Chantelle Perreault disarmed and subdued Oghai. Guards were drawn by the gunshots. Despite the Investigators’ inability to keep Oghai under control, Tshombe was won over by their disavowal of Oghai and by their request that they be allowed to tend to Dorothy’s injuries themselves.

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Eternal Lies – Session 18

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 1934: Early in the day, the Investigators made ready to leave Kolluli. James “Tick Tock” Cohan spoke some more with MUHOHO, who advised him not to place too much faith in Luke. She said that he might be liberated from evil influences, but ultimately it might not be possible. When pressed, she suggested that Luke might be helped by the same practices she’d taught to James.

She and James spoke about GEORGE AYERS, the archaeologist and former cultist, whom the party seek, near the site of his last dig, in Dallol, Ethiopia. She said that Ayers had been remorseful over the death of the people he hired for his dig. They died when a volcano erupted at Dallol. She revealed that she was part of a group of “guardians,” who had triggered the volcano using ritual magic. They’d hoped to imprison whatever Ayers and BARTOLO ACUÑA had been seeking to excavate.

Taking pity on Ayers, as they found him in the desert, the guardians taught him ascetic practices to silence mouths growing on his body. She told James that he might find Ayers in The Dream Scourged Halls, a set of strange rock formations deep in the desert. She showed him where this area was, but warned him that he might be endangering Ayers if he approached. An evil spirit known as the Agony on the Wind might be seeking Ayers, as might its agents.

The Investigators and their companions departed by camelback for the settlement of Dallol. After several grueling hours in the Danakil Desert, the group stopped to rest. Chantelle Perreault found that the heat and sweat had opened a small wound on her body. The party’s guides set up camp, and everyone rested. Chantelle and Luke Davis took turns keeping watch.

During Chantelle’s shift, a STRANGE FIGURE appeared from out of the desert. It seemed to skip through space in a stuttering way. It resembled the robed figure that Luke had glimpsed from the locomotive, when traveling from Mersa Fatma to Kolluli. It was wrapped in rust colored robes, so that Chantelle could not glimpse its face. It approached and removed the covering from the lower part of its face, revealing an impossibly wide mouth. It moved in toward Chantelle.

The rest of the party awoke, and a fight ensued. Dorothy Howard looked for LAZARE, the young guide with whom she’d bonded. She found that he was in motion, leaping onto the strange figure and attacking it with the knife he’d shown off earlier. Several shots were fired, while some of the Investigators’ group fled in terror. Chantelle was able to shoot and spectacularly kill the injured figure. Most of the men who fled were recovered from the desert. One went missing. Lazare showed look how to better point his gun while Dorothy looked on.

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 24: Lazare was able to scout out a remarkably expedient short cut through the desert, shaving days off the groups’ travel time. They found themselves near the Dallol settlement, where a group of Afar had taken up residence. Most other Afar the Investigators had encountered avoid this group, as their sedentary lifestyle is viewed as aberrant. They are also feared for their celebration of The Agony On The Wind. It may be related to The Liar From Beyond, the entity the Investigators been seeking in hopes of explaining the 1924 Los Angeles massacre. One of the men the Investigators hired showed them a bite scar. He said he inflicted it on himself, while dreaming under the influence of The Agony on the Wind.

There was a debate as to the group’s next steps. Their taciturn older guide OGHAI suggested that they resupply at Dallol settlement, while Lazare believed they should avoid the place and seek out the dig site directly. He insisted he could find water and food for the group in the desert. Knowing that they would have to pass near the settlement no matter what destination they chose, the Investigators chose to stop at the settlement. They decided to send a small group in to trade, including Oghai, James, and a couple of other men, including YONAS, the nervous demolitions specialist.

Oghai suggested that James follow at a slight distance, but it soon became clear that no one in the settlement was alert to their approach. The area was eerily quiet, with a few people wandering silently about, as if in a trance. One was a teenaged girl, who James saw mutilate herself with a piece of glass. An older woman came and took the glass away and began cutting herself. The girl finger painted with her blood one of the salt block buildings next to her. James also passed a very young boy who was curled up sleeping with a dog. The boy was muttering in his sleep about the New Moon.

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