Call of Cthulhu / Pulp Cthulhu
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It’s the modern day, and you are all paranormal investigation / conspiracy theorist youtubers. You uncover the truth that the man doesn’t want people to know! Sure, many of your “ghost” tips turn out to be teens doing drugs in an abandoned building at night, or similar mundane explanations, but a little video editing can solve that problem. And sometimes—sometimes—you stumble upon something real.
This campaign is about the real ones.
Player buy-in: The player characters are a bunch of obnoxious youtubers who’ll willingly put their lives and sanity at risk just to increase that view count. No playing it safe here. I also strongly encourage you to really get into it, to narrate what you’re doing as if you’re presenting a video to a skeptical audience, and to have over-the-top reactions to things. The campaign will be a very episodic mystery-of-the-week style game with little in the way of an overall plot.
Masks of Nyarlathotep
Your good friend Jackson Elias, an author who infiltrates and writes about cults, contacts you out of the blue in a panic. He says he’s found signs of something big, some sort of conspiracy, but he won’t go into details over a channel which could be tapped. He can’t do this alone and needs a reliable team to help him. He sets a meeting: New York, January 15th, 1925.
You arrive, but are too late. Jackson is dead, freshly murdered. A strange symbol carved into his forehead, a symbol seen in a series of other murders. There’s more here than meets the eye, you don’t know what’s going on, but you do know that Jackson found something. And now he’s dead.
Player buy-in: The player characters have to be motivated to solve the mystery their friend left behind, even at risk of their own lives and sanity. This is a nonlinear campaign which has several major parts with clues pointing between them, and which can be visited in any order: but it’s not static, your actions in any one part of the campaign will have ramifications in other parts. This is a long and detailed campaign, you will have to keep careful notes of clues and discoveries, or you just won’t know what’s going on, and you can expect it to last somewhere between 1 and 2 years.
The Two-Headed Serpent
The year is 1933. In South America, the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay is in full swing. You’ve been employed by a humanitarian charity, the Caduceus Foundation, to deliver medical aid to civilians caught up in the war. Caduceus has flown you to Asuncion in Paraguay, from where you travelled across country, escorting doctors, nurses, and medical supplies to an aid camp deep in the jungle of Gran Chaco.
The truth, which the player characters don’t know at the start, but which their team leader will fill them in on, is that the Caduceus Foundation is a front for an organisation which battles the Cthulhu Mythos. For now, the player characters are just heroes who have volunteered to help a humanitarian charity, but soon they will be pulled into combatting the mythos.
Player buy-in: The player characters are a heroic bunch who volunteered to help civilians caught in a war, but don’t bat an eye when it turns out the organisation they joined is actually fighting more than just humans.
Old School Essentials
Dolmenwood is a mystical fairy-tale forest setting inspired by British folklore and stories like The King of Elfland’s Daughter. It’s a large dense forest with threads of civilisation, roads and towns and inns, running through it.
But if you move off those threads, the forest becomes dark and magical: fearsome frost elves prowl the forest glades, looking for ways to open the doors to Fairyland and begin their dominion once more; pagan cults venerate the many standing stones, and jealously guard their secrets; and the corrupted forces of the Nag Lord, chaos godling from the north, expand their reach bit by bit.
Player buy-in: The player characters are Dolmenwood natives, who have decided to leave behind the safe towns and fields that we know to head off in search of adventure. They’re typical loot-motivated adventurers. You’ll start off with an incomplete and inaccurate map of things people generally know of, but will need to explore to get concrete information. There’ll be plenty of rumours and strange happenings to give you ideas.
The Fall of the Imperium
It’s the year 1125. Emperor Strephon, once a fit and handsome man, now pale and thin, consumed by stress, sits in a chair, resting his head in his hands as he studies the latest report from the front. This report, now over half a year old, confirms one thing: the Aslan are winning the war. Pax Rulin, the fortress world of the Trojan Reach, has fallen, the Reach itself is all but lost, and who knows how much further they’ll advance?
The other sector fleets have been displaced to assist, leaving skeleton defences elsewhere, and the Imperium’s other neighbours have been quick to take advantage. Incursions by the Zhodani Consulate, the Solomani Confederation, the Sword Worlds Confederation, and the Vargr, have resulted in the losses of dozens of worlds. Terra once more belongs to the Solomani.
Strephon reflects on how all this began, two years ago. It was supposed to be a great day, the highest ranking Aslan ever to make the trip to Capital: a representative not just for his clan, but for all the clans. One who could speak with the voice of the Tlaukhu. But there was a bomb. The ambassador immediately, bravely, honourably, selflessly, threw himself between Strephon and the explosion. The ambassador died in the blast, Strephon survived with only minor injuries. When the news made it back to the Hierate, they accused the Imperium of some sort of human trickery. It was the spark that ignited the powder keg, the fragile peace was shattered, and tens of thousands of territory-hungry ihatei poured over the border.
The independent worlds of the Trojan Reach were taken in a few months. The reborn Kingdom of Drinax put up a good fight, but was also lost. The imperial border was overrun, and it’s just been worse news since then. Eventually the Aslan will tire of war, and settle down to rule the worlds they’ve conquered, but how many more will they take before then?
Strephon sighs, and leans back with his eyes closed, massaging his creased forehead.
Then the door bursts open, a naval intelligence officer rushes in, glances around to make sure there’s nobody else in the room, and says “your majesty, it’s Project Longbow, it’s picked something up!”
Strephon’s mind turns to Project Longbow. A highly classified, beyond top secret, project to use a series of detectors spread across the whole Imperium, and all pointing at the same patch of sky, to make a single satellite dish dozens of parsecs wide. All to investigate some anomaly deep in space, close to the galactic core.
“Your Majesty!” the officer snaps, drawing Strephon out of his memories, “It’s a ship. A ship unlike any design we’ve ever seen before, coming from the core. And sir, it’s travelling at a speed of jump-10.”
Player buy-in: There are at least two campaign ideas here, both set against a backdrop of the collapse of the Third Imperium. We should decide what we want and flesh it out some more. Option 1 is a naval campaign where you’re fighting against one of the hostile forces, either the Aslan themselves, or one of the other factions taking advantage of the chaos. Option 2 is a scientific campaign where you’re part of a research crew sent by Imperial Naval Intelligence to investigate this mysterious high-tech ship coming from deep space. I guess there are some more options too, eg you could play a crew of regular people trying to get by in this societal collapse; or you could even play members of the invading forces, like a ship of Aslan seeking to make their names.
The Pirates of Drinax
Drinax, once a mighty interstellar kingdom but now a bombed-out radioactive husk of a world, lies along two major trade routes and is close to two of the most significant interstellar empires in all of Charted Space: the Aslan Hierate and the Third Imperium.
The current king has a daring plan to recover some of Drinax’s lost glory: he needs a band of privateers and agents, who can curry favour with worlds once part of the kingdom, and also cause trouble along the trade routes between the Hierate and the Imperium. No empire is willing to allow another to establish a large permanent military force close to their borders, but they may be willing to delegate the job of policing the space lanes to a newly-reformed kingdom which they could easily squash if it starts trouble.
The king’s plan is to bring the old worlds of the kingdom back under the banner of Drinax, stir up piracy in the region enough that the empires agree something needs to be done, and then use that to get their blessing for a new interstellar state. Of course, if they learn too soon that Drinax is behind the upsurge in piracy, it’ll all fall apart…
Player buy-in: The player characters have two very different roles: negotiators and space pirates. Both of those have to sound fun. You will be able to (and are encouraged to!) play the faction game to some degree, making allies (or enemies) of powerful NPCs and groups, and so could delegate one side of the campaign entirely to some trusted aides, but it will take a while to get the resources to do that, so you’ll be doing both in the beginning. Furthermore, this is a sandbox-style campaign: there are several key adventures and missions, but player characters are expected to go above and beyond just those, and will need to think about how to curry favour with factions and cause trouble on the trade routes themselves.
The Ziru Sirka, the great interstellar empire of the Vilani, lasted for two thousand years. But inability to manage such a large expanse of territory caused a slow decline, which ultimately led to its conquest by the Terrans, and the establishment of their great interstellar empire: the Rule of Man.
But the Rule of Man lasted a scant few centuries before it, too, collapsed under its own weight. This time, nothing replaced it. The galaxy fell into anarchy, worlds were cut off from one another, technologies were lost, and many civilisations simply failed to survive: this is the Long Night, and this is when our game is set.
In the Long Night many small pocket empires rose, and fell. You are all scouts, ex-military, and similar sorts, employed by the government of the Sylean Federation, one of the larger pocket empires of the Long Night. It’s survived for 650 years now, but Sylea, too, is feeling the strain of administration at interstellar distances, and is also currently at war with two other pocket empires: the Interstellar Confederacy and the Chanestin Kingdom. Can Sylea solve its problems, or will it perish like so many others?
Player buy-in: The player characters are all explorers working government contracts to reach out to worlds not heard from in centuries (or millennia), to establish peaceful relations where possible, or maybe just to plunder them if the world is dead—after all, who’s to say you handed in everything you found to the government inspectors? It’s post-apocalypse in space. There will be space dungeons. But it’s also about the rise of the Sylean Federation into something even greater, so there’s plenty of scope for this to turn into a more political game if you want.
To Boldly Go
It’s the year 2090AD, the planets of the solar system have long-since been settled and exploited, and are governed by the Planetary Consortium based on Earth, which is essentially a puppet government run by the megacorps.
Everything changed a few years ago, with the invention of the Jump Drive, allowing ships to travel an entire parsec in a mere week. The Planetary Consortium saw this as the solution to the ongoing population crisis and lack of resources, and started constructing and loaning out jump-capable starships to competent crews, funding exploration, prospecting, and research.
Now, there are a few permanent colonies in the closest suitable systems. Further out, there are exploration hubs staffed by semi-permanent crews of outcasts, consortium officials, and explorers. Exploration is dangerous and proceeds slowly, at the cost of many lives. Lucky crews have found bizarre alien creatures, they’ve found resource-rich worlds which one day will be exploited, they’ve found suitable sites for new colonies, and some have even found artefacts and ruins from ancient civilisations. Nobody has found a living intelligent alien species yet, but First Contact is the dream of every explorer.
Player buy-in: The player characters are brave (or perhaps just foolhardy) space adventurers. They risk death every time they jump into uncharted space, and are motivated by the thrill of the unknown. Whatever you do and wherever you go, chances are you’re the first humans to do so.
The Traveller Campaign
A sandbox campaign set in the standard Traveller setting. This will probably be in a border region like the Spinward Marches or the Trojan Reach just because I think being set entirely within one of the vast space empires reduces the scope for small-scale interstellar politics: it’s either big-scale dukes-plotting-against-the-emperor kind of thing or power-tripping planetary governments, with nothing in between.
You will have a ship and a mortgage to pay off, or maybe a free ship from someone you owe favours to, and will need to do whatever it takes to meet those obligations. Carrying freight and passengers is easy but kind of dull, seeking out patrons to undertake missions for pay can be better but also risky. You’ll occasionally unintentionally stumble into trouble or adventure. You can follow rumours to find wealth, or maybe just disaster.
Player buy-in: This is essentially a job- or planet-of-the-week / “do what you want” campaign: I’ll prepare interesting locations, people, rumours, and opportunities, and you engage with whatever seems fun. This campaign can easily transform into a more focussed one if we want.