Friday, April 30, 2010

H.P. Lovecraft's Dunwich: Return to the Forgotten Village [Cthulhu Review]

The following is a review of H.P. Lovecraft's Dunwich, a sourcebook for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game. I've submitted a full review to an RPG website, but here's an edited, mostly non-spoilerly review since I know some of my players read this blog.

Chaosium’s 2007 edition of H.P. Lovecraft’s Dunwich (subtitled Return to the Forgotten Village) is quite an impressive role-playing supplement. The sourcebook provides a detailed overview of Dunwich, the small Massachusetts village which served as the setting for Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror. Both the story and this sourcebook expertly portray an isolated, rural village that hasn’t changed much in recent decades and whose inhabitants have dark secrets and aren’t particularly fond of strangers. Dunwich is very much a place where urban investigators wouldn’t want to visit and certainly wouldn’t want to live.

The sourcebook is 189 pages and divided into eight broad sections. Artwork is black and white, but very evocative of the decayed and forgotten village. The book has several maps of Dunwich and the surrounding area, and includes a large pull-out map which can be used by Investigators to track their progress. Both traditional and d20 statistics are provided for every NPC and skill challenge.

The first section of the book places Dunwich in context by detailing the geography around the village with helpful capsule summaries of nearby towns and cities.

The following section is a reprint of Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror. Investigators and Keepers alike are invited to read the story before playing, as the sourcebook is “set” several months after the events in that story and some of the adventure hooks relate to it. Unless the Keeper wants to re-create Lovecraft’s story, he or she doesn’t have to worry about Investigators being spoiled by it.

Welcome to Dunwich is a broad overview of the village and one of the most important sections for the Keeper. It briefly discusses major NPCs, climate, getting to the village, getting around the village (cars are likely to break down on poorly-maintained unpaved roads), staying in the village (no inns, but some residents have room for boarders), and the characteristics of a sample farm and farmer. A chronology of major events in the village is provided, but for some reason stops at 1898. Finally, a “Village Directory” lists the name and map location for every single resident of the village (over 300).

The Secrets of Dunwich provides a building-by-building summary of the village proper, including the general store, cemetery, meeting house, and more. Each resident of the village is described with at least a single line, but often one or more paragraphs. Sometimes these descriptions serve only as an aid to role-playing, but other times it includes potential story hooks for the Keeper. Some of the write-ups of more important NPCs include small drawings, which would certainly be worth showing to the players.

Next up is the lengthiest section of the book, a detailed description of the various hills, mountains, swamps, and farms around Dunwich. As with the village proper, every single resident is given a name, a notation on the map, and a brief description. After reading this, one quickly gets the sense that adventures in Dunwich can involve far more than just the village itself.

The book includes two “adventures” which aren’t scenarios in the traditional sense. The first one, “Return to Dunwich”, takes place in Arkham and is designed to give the Investigators a reason to travel to Dunwich and look into the various secrets it holds. Although it includes several handouts to put them on the right track, it doesn’t otherwise contain any encounters or detailed discussion of what happens once the characters arrive. As an adventure hook, “Return to Dunwich” really only works if the PCs are dedicated or professional investigators—otherwise, no reason is given why they would sacrifice time and money to travel to a dinky little village to unearth dark secrets (unless they’ve developed a strong relationship with Dr. Armitage through previous adventures in Arkham). The second adventure, “Earth, Sky, Soul” properly describes itself as an “incident” and is easy to place in the middle of a session if things start to get slow (I’d guess it wouldn’t take more than an hour or so to resolve). It’s a very dark, but effective portrayal of madness that might help hapless Investigators stumble upon one of the secrets of Dunwich.

Last up are four appendices: NPC statistics if the Keeper wants to run the original The Dunwich Horror; legends and rumors that NPCs might share with Investigators; d20 system conversions; player handouts from the “Return to Dunwich” adventure. The handouts are serviceable insofar as they contain a lot of information, but for the most part they’re not attractively or “authentically” portrayed—a Keeper could have a lot of fun making them into more interesting props.

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an RPG supplement like H.P. Lovecraft’s Dunwich before, in which every single resident (hundreds of them) and building (dozens of them) are described and placed on the map. In this respect, Dunwich would make a great setting for adventure as the NPCs are already detailed and there’s plenty of little incidents that can happen simply by Investigators stumbling around and knocking on doors. On the other hand, this is very much a background book and the Keeper still has a lot of work to do to integrate these various NPCs into larger stories and plot-related encounters. Even with all the attention to detail, it’s hard to imagine Dunwich becoming the “home base” of investigators because there’s simply not a lot there to convince them to stay: no work (other than farming), no electricity, no business or amenities except a single run-down general store. The sense I get from reading the book is that the Keeper will have to work very hard to provide a very good reason if he or she wants the PCs to remain in Dunwich for any length of time.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

SAS À ISTANBUL [Book Review]

SAS À ISTANBUL is the first in a long-running (165+) series of spy novels featuring a freelance polyglot named Malko Linge. The "SAS" in the title doesn't stand for Special Air Services (the British special forces outfit) like I expected, but "Son Altesse Sérénissime" ("His Serene Highness") because Linge is an Austrian prince. Linge shares a lot of characteristics with James Bond, insofar as they're both portrayed as urbane, highly-intelligent womanizers. The biggest difference seems to me to be that the SAS series (at least judging by this first installment) is intended to be grounded much more in the real world.

Anyway, this first book is set during the Cold War and starts with Linge being recruited by the CIA to investigate the destruction of an American nuclear submarine in the Bosporus. Except for the opening chapter, the story takes place entirely in Istanbul and has all the hallmarks of a classic spy thriller: the hero sleeps around, the Yanks and the Russkies weave dangerous webs for each other, and death is always right around the corner. I used to read a lot of these books when I was a kid, and reading this one brought back a lot of memories to a time when the Soviet Union was seen as a dangerous and cunning foe, but not necessarily one without honor--the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were like two heavyweight fighters trading punches. I imagine most modern spy thrillers involve terrorism or "rogue states" like North Korea, opponents that are certainly to be feared but not to be respected.

According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, these books are pretty popular in France--they've spawned comic books and two movies.

NEXT: Meg Cabot's Missing: Coup de foudre (Lightning Strike)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Torchwood Online: Mission # 4

This was the shortest and easier mission so far. The question that must be answered to proceed to the next mission is "Who has Conrad Fischer's laptop?"

Here's the information provided:

* A short video from Tosh explaining that Owen has run an analysis on the alien DNA obtained from New Eden and found that it is in some kind of stasis.

* An e-mail from Ianto reminding you to listen to Dark Talk.

* A clip from Dark Talk, with little of interest besides references to the Season Two episode Meat.

* An e-mail from Conrad Fischer to Torchwood, saying that he needs help and that he's going to post a video to his blog.

* The video on Conrad Fischer's blog, where we see him state that he's seen the aliens and knows their plans, which he has placed on his laptop. We then see a figure enter the room and shoot Fischer dead and take the laptop. The killer is clearly visible as not-as-dead-as-everyone-thought private investigator Natalie Blake.

Thus, Natalie Blake is the answer to the mission. Mildly disappointing compared to the previous mission, which actually required a bit of detective work.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Random Law Review # 9

Patricia Easteal's Teaching About the Nexus Between Law and Society: From Pedagogy to Andragogy, 18 Legal Education Review 163 (2008).

This is a bit of an odd article. It's about improving legal education by changing from a purely lecture method to an array of "active learning" methods such as small-group discussion, role-playing, policy and legislative drafting, and more. Everything I've read elsewhere agrees that supplementing lectures with additional teaching methods is important because students differ amongst themselves in learning styles: some are auditory learners, others visual, others experiential, and most can benefit from a combination of styles (apparently the term "andragogy" means "learner-centredness"). What makes this article odd is that the author supports her argument by frequent quotations of her students' evaluation and letters supporting her for a teaching award, which has the unintended consequence of transforming the article into an unsubtle bit of self-promotion (nor is the fact that students like her teaching proof that her teaching is effective). There's also no reason the article should limit itself to law and society courses--these methods of teaching are important and should be adopted across the legal spectrum, as recent research has demonstrated.

Fox Turns Down Torchwood

Fox network has decided not to pursue an American version of Torchwood, though the BBC still plans to shop the idea around to other U.S. networks. I'm still not a big plan of the idea, as I see no reason a remake is necessary and would much prefer another season of the show in its current incarnation.

Although set and filmed in Wales, the show is in English and I don't see any elements of it that would be difficult to understand for North American viewers. Are mainstream American t.v. viewers really so parochial that they can't bear to watch a show set in another country? (probably yes, but when's the last time it's been tried on a major network?)

Thanks to HeroPress for the pointer.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Necronomicon [Cthulhu Comics]

I very much enjoyed Boom! Studios' Necronomicon. Written by William Messner-Loebs and drawn by Andrew Richie, the trade paperback is set in Arkham in the 1920s. A young Arab student, attending Miskatonic University, is drawn into a semi-secret society of theosophists and asked to translate the Necronomicon into English. Terrible things begin to happen (as they are wont to do in such circumstances . . .) and the translator eventually finds himself confronted with horrors from beyond. The artwork, period setting, and little bits of continuity with Lovecraft's stories help give the book an "authentic" tone. The collection also includes a short parody of the Mythos titled "Arkham: SVU." I didn't find it hilarious, but it still had some ghastly moments.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Gay Character for Archie Comics!

The Toronto Star has announced that a gay character will be joining the supporting cast of Archie comics. I think this is great news, especially because there seems to be a perception amongst movie, t.v., and comic book companies that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender characters only belong in self-consciously "edgy" stories. One GLBT character in Archie is probably worth twenty series like Queer as Folk or The L-Word when it comes to increasing public awareness and acceptance of GLBT people.

Now I just wish that some of the other long-running fictional universes I follow would finally have some guts too. I'm looking at you, Star Wars, Star Trek, Lost, General Hospital, and pretty much every role-playing campaign setting I've ever played.

The Destroyer (1991 Limited Series) [Comics]

I'll start with the disclaimer that I've never read any of The Destroyer novels or seen the movie. From the book covers and movie poster, I always assumed Remo Williams was a standard action hero--a bit of an Indiana Jones/James Bond/Diehard character with a lot of guns and explosions.

I'm not sure how the stories come across elsewhere, but 1991 The Destroyer limited series is very off-beat and simply a lot of fun. There's no attempt whatsoever to stick to "reality", as the stories feature dinosaurs, a character chopping another's head off with his bare hand, a man standing on a single finger tip, etc. Remo Williams' mentor, Chiun, is hilarious in his invective against "lazy, decadent Westerners." It's all completely over the top and quirky, with plenty of satire. The comics are written by the character's creator, so I'm actually tempted to pick up one of the novels to sample.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Hound of the Baskervilles & The Sign of the Four [Worth Press]

Arthur Conan Doyle is justly remembered for creating the legendary Sherlock Holmes, but I think he doesn't get enough credit for writing really exciting stories. The ending of The Sign of Four, a boat chase on the Thames, is one of the most thrilling things I've read in a long, long time. Doyle had a real knack for evoking a setting (the bustle and grime of Victorian London, the moors, etc.) while also keeping the pages turning by having Holmes & Watson doing fieldwork and investigating things firsthand, often putting themselves into dangerous situations. I'm sure the character of Sherlock Holmes wouldn't be quite so famous if he were merely an armchair detective like his partial inspiration, Poe's Auguste Dupin.

Worth Literary Classics has compiled two of Doyle's novels into a single book: The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of the Four. The former is probably the most famous Sherlock Holmes story, as it's been adapted numerous times for movies and television. The story of Holmes' unravelling of the Baskerville Curse (a giant, hellish hound that attacks members of the Baskerville family) is very atmospheric, though Holmes is absent from the middle chapters and those drag a bit. The Sign of the Four is notable for the romance subplot, which involves Watson falling in love (and proposing) to the lovely Miss Morstan. The main mystery involves a mysterious chest full of Indian riches, a blowgun wielding pygmy (verging on racist in description), and a variation on the classic locked-room murder. The ending is somewhat surprising, as after the climactic boat chase, the main villain explains his motives for the crime via a long flashback to events decades prior. It's interesting stuff, just curiously placed between the climax and the epilogue.

The Worth edition has some evocative, full-colour artwork before the title page: one piece depicts the glowing hound leaping atop Sir Henry Baskerville, with Holmes sprinting to his aid in the background. A map and character summaries are included for The Hound of the Baskervilles, but not for The Sign of the Four. "Figures in a Landscape", the first of three included essays, rambles a bit with no clear thesis but contains some interesting insight. "Nature and Spirit in The Hound of the Baskervilles" discusses Doyle's treatment of rationalism vs. supernaturalism, with an interesting bit at the end about his slide towards spiritualism. There's a strange irony in Doyle, the creator of perhaps the world's most famous logician, immersing himself in supernatural beliefs; while Harry Houdini, then the world's foremost practitioner of magic tricks, devoting himself to debunking magic. The last essay, "Sherlock Holmes, his method and his mind", is a bit of a weird one that sounds more interesting than it turns out. It's written by a former crime scene investigator, and purports to discuss whether or not Holmes would belong as a modern detective. The conclusion? Holmes needs crash-training in police ethics. The author does perceptively note that Doyle was ahead of his time in his use of "fractured story telling" to show only bits and pieces of the story, and then often out of chronological order.

So if you're ever wondering, yes the original Sherlock Holmes stories hold up quite well.
NEXT: Jane Austen's Mansfield Park

The Clone Wars Season 1 (Reprise)

It's taken me a good six months, but I finally finished my capsule reviews of the The Clone Wars Season 1:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Undertaker's Gift [Torchwood]

The Undertaker's Gift is the 14th book in the Torchwood novel line, and although I really like writer Trevor Baxendale, I think the line is being formulaic: as far as I can tell, it seems that every book must take place wholly in Cardiff, must include all the main characters from the t.v. show, cannot develop original supporting characters across multiple books, and must include an alien menace who can be defeated at the end. Even the comic strip from Torchwood Magazine, as bad as it usually is, at least has had stories set in Scotland, in an airplane, and in strange dimensions accessed through the Rift. Torchwood audio plays have been set in Switzerland and India. The bottom line is that anything that can be done to freshen up the formula would be much appreciated.

As I said at the beginning, I like Baxendale's work--he has a nice way of integrating supporting characters into the story and a penchant for bloodthirsty gore that I find quite fun. He also slips in details, some drawn from established continuity (an appearance by Detective Swanson, mentioning the trip to CERN from The Lost Souls radio play) and others introduced for the first time (Jack as having fought in the trenches in World War I and on the battlefield in World War II; hints that the Time Agency may have been reponsible for the sinking of Atlantis).

The Undertaker's Gift features two related threats: 49th Century lawyers named Hokrala who want to sue Jack for messing up Earth in the 21st Century; and a group of aliens nicknamed Pallbearers (because of their penchant for hanging out in graveyards and general creepy appearance) who believe that Jack has misused the Rift and that therefore humanity should be destroyed. The ending, unfortunately, is very much in a deus ex machina vein: Cardiff is pummelled by earthquakes and all manner of catastrophe, but a "Vortex Dweller" alien "resets" everything so no last harming takes place. All in all, rather disappointing stuff.

Clone Wars Campaign: 8P-MD-4, Medical Droid

8P-MD-4 was a medical droid PC introduced in Session # 10 and lost (to the dread anomaly) in Session # 14. Now, having a medical droid on hand seems like a great idea, and 8P-MD-4 had his share of memorable moments: wrestling with Marpa over a power slug, falling off a bridge into a bottomless abyss, holding off attackers at a key point on the roof of a sandcrawler, and more. You'll notice that none of these examples involve healing or medicine in any way, and I think that's mainly because the player running 8P-MD-4 kept forgetting that the character had the vaunted Surgery feat and could have been quite handy to his fellow PCs. Still, it's unfortunate that after 8P-MD-4, no PC has ever been a droid since. (though rumor has it that if we ever do a Rebellion-era campaign, that may change . . .)

Long after his disappearance into the vagaries of the anomaly, 8P-MD-4 reappeared in the campaign; or at least, his head did, as it contained vital recordings of the anomaly's energy signature, a fact which has driven multiple story arcs in the latter half of the campaign.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Religious Freedom in the Obama Administration: Seeking the Common Ground

My Osgoode Hall classmate Barry Bussey has edited the 2008-2009 issue of Fides et Libertas, the journal of the International Religious Liberty Association. The issue includes several essays and reports about the movement by many countries at the U.N. to ban "the defamation of religion," a topic I may write about in the final chapter of my dissertation.

Barry also wrote an essay in the journal, Religious Freedom in the Obama Administration: Seeking the Common Ground. The thesis of the article is that, at least in the first eight months of his administration, Barack Obama has pursued a "common ground" approach to religious freedom by attempting to avoid strongly allying himself with either the religious left or the religious right. In areas like abortion, faith-based discrimination in federally-funded nonprofits, and foreign policy, Obama has consciously taken the middle ground between polarizing positions.

Much of this information is on the public record, but seeing a summary of Obama's positions in one place was quite helpful. I was particularly interested to learn about Obama's views on the role of religion in public debate, which strongly echo those of John Rawls (religious arguments should always be followed with secular reasons).

The article ends on an optimistic note, but with a reminder that the push for "common ground" can also lead to the silencing of strongly-held minority views.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Call of Cthulhu, Sixth Edition (Part III) [Review]


This is an invaluable chapter, with plenty of advice to Keepers new and old. There's a list of Maxims, with points like "Charts for random encounters, wandering monsters, and similar things are the bane of Call of Cthulhu" and "Since guns kill in Call of Cthulhu, resist tendencies to turn the game into gunfights." A nice sidebar talks about how to build a scenario for the game, and how to link the scenarios together into a campaign. Advice is provided on using law enforcement, asylums, and building atmosphere. There's a two-page spread of alternate rules (Hypnosis as a Skill, a variant Dodge option, speeding up research into tomes and spells, etc.). The only part of this chapter I didn't find useful (though I'm sure others will) is on tournament play.


This chapter is almost thirty pages of monster descriptions and statistics, and there's quite a range of things drawn from the Mythos like Mi-Go and Byakhee. I quite liked the quotations derived from Lovecraft's or other author's writings about the monsters involved. I think a Keeper would have to be quite subtle and thoughtful in how these Mythos monsters are introduced, so that they retain their aura of weirdness and mystery and don't come across like something from the D&D Monster Manual.


This chapter is just a few pages long, and is a good example of where I'm not sure if the "weird" fits well with the "horror". Here you have things like brain-transferral, earthquake machines, time-travel, lightning guns, etc. This incorporates a science-fiction element into a game that is (primarily) occult and supernatural-oriented, and the mixture may not work for all groups without seeming silly.


There's a lot of these, everything from Cthulhu itself to more obscure, lesser deities from the works of writers other than Lovecraft. Many of these deities are just so cosmically (comically?)powerful it seems almost absurd to have statistics for them (Nyarlathotep, for example, does 10d6+10d6 damage with a claw attack; one of the investigators in my game has--and always will have--a maximum of 7 hit points). The description of the deities' various cults is probably more helpful in actual game play.


This chapter covers normal animals (rats, bats, bears) and non-Mythos monsters, such as vampires, zombies, wraiths, etc. This latter category could be useful to Keepers who want to play a supernatural game that doesn't have strong ties to the weird-horror elements of the Mythos. As an aside, I really like some of the little touches the designers put into the game: Black Rhinos, for example, have a 70% Skill in "Be Annoyed."


This short section has full statistics and brief bios of some major characters from Lovecraft's stories, such as the famous Dr. Armitage of Miskatonic University, Herbert West of Re-Animator, and Wizard Whately from The Dunwich Horror. Milage here may vary, depending on whether or not the Keeper plans to have his investigators relive or follow up on events from Lovecraft's writing.


Spells. A whole lot of them. Many are about summoning, binding, and dismissing various Mythos creatures and deities, but there are some really interesting ones that bring to mind adventure hooks just reading about them. The names of many of the spells are rather boring, and the Keeper is encouraged to add flavour to them. The descriptions are nice, however, as they work in non-uniform ways and many require unique rituals to cast. This is great because the last thing a Keeper wants is for occult practices to become standardized and uniform.

CHAPTER 19: THE HAUNTING (Spoilers: Don't read unless you're the Keeper)

The first of four scenarios presented in the book. This one is quite a classic for the game, having been included in every edition since the beginning, and reading the forums one sees it's the first exposure many players have had to Call of Cthulhu. Basically, the investigators are asked by a landlord to investigate a haunted house that has driven out all of its previous tenants. In a secret room of the house, they encounter an undead wizard. I wasn't very impressed with this scenario the first time I read it, as there's not a lot of interesting things to discover in the house and the climax seems too "on the nose"--destroying a lich (the only way to succeed in the scenario) just doesn't have the ring of original, grotesque strangeness I associate with the Mythos. Rereading it, I see better now how the investigation aspects of the scenario would be a nice introduction for new players--though most of the information they can discover is not particularly helpful in dealing what's inside the house.

CHAPTER 20: THE EDGE OF DARKNESS (Spoilers: Don't read unless you're the Keeper)

This looks like a *great* scenario, with a climax that is sure to be memorable and thrilling. The investigators are called to the bedside of a dying man, who tells them that he and some friends were once responsible for summoning a dark entity into an old cabin in the woods. The entity is still there, and now that the old man is dying, someone has to step in to banish the entity. This entity ("The Lurker in the Attic") is presented in quite chilling fashion, and can't be destroyed through mere gun- or swordplay (and burning down the house just sets it free!). The investigators, if they are to have any hope to succeed, have to cooperate on chanting a complex and difficult spell, while all the while the Lurker tries to disrupt the ceremony through attacks both physical (zombies) and emotional (illusions of the investigator's relatives in dire need). Very well done, with a great hook and a great story.

CHAPTER 21: THE MADMAN (Spoilers: Don't read unless you're the Keeper)

This is an interesting adventure, one that breaks from the "haunted house" mode of the previous two. It's also the one that most directly involves the Cthulhu Mythos, as the major adversaries in the game are Mi-Go who are trying to summon a deity named Ithaqua. Most of the action takes place in and around a forested mountain area, and I imagine the Keeper could have a lot of fun with the atmosphere the story calls for (forest fires, strange sounds, mists, etc.).

CHAPTER 22: DEAD MAN STOMP (Spoilers: Don't read unless you're the Keeper)

This is an urban adventure that heavily involves jazz-age (and mob) culture and social conditions in the 1920s. Black-White relations are a major subtext to the story, which at heart involves a jazz trumpet that has the unfortunate ability to resurrect the dead as zombies. It's a very interesting, original story and something I'd like to run because it takes advantage of real-world history. There are a few places that are quite railroady (assassins who "always get away"), however, and I'm not positive investigators have sufficient motivation to follow it all the way through.


This is a collection of a lot of various things to help out a novice Keeper. There's a map and key to Arkham; equipment lists for the 1890s, 1920s, and modern era; a list of historical and fictional events by year; eight quick-play investigators; and several monster- and character sheets.


The book is in black and white, with (in my opinion) some great, moody artwork--both full page drawings and several small pieces to help break up the text. It weighs in at 320 pages and (unlike a surprising number of RPGs) has an index.


Call of Cthulhu is a very interesting system. The rules are a bit esoteric and eccentric in places, but this actually works for a game that's all about weirdness. Characters are very vulnerable (physically and mentally), but this is a real necessity if the horror is to come through in gameplay. The main drawback I can imagine is that some players may not feel the joy of achievement gained in other campaigns where characters can be "levelled up" and grow significantly more powerful over time.

Clone Wars Campaign: Greesh Leedo, Cybernetic Assassin

Greesh Leedo died in the most recent session of the Clone Wars Campaign (Session 48). I really liked the character, a cybernetic Rodian assassin created a few years ago by the person who plays Marpa/Daal. It's not often that players in my game take the time to create an NPC and write up their background, so I really appreciate it--it's a chance for me to run characters I would never have come up with on my own, and it adds something special when the NPC does encounter the PCs if he's tied into one of the character's backgrounds in some fashion. In other words, awesome work Mario!

Greesh was a fun character to role-play, as I gave him a rough-and-tumble accent and demeanour and envisioned him as the type of guy who would fit right in at a (swoop) biker bar or back-alley gambling den. Just off the top of my head, here's some of the really fun moments I remember involving Greesh in the campaign:

* His first appearance, hiding underneath the body in a coffin on the way to a funeral so he could assassinate one of the mourners. When the jig was up, he busted out of that coffin, guns-a-blazin' before making a quick getaway.

* His next appearance, an assassination attempt (successful, though he got caught) at an aquarium--Greesh smashed through the tanks, flooding the place with water and fish, leading to a quite memorable battle.

* His enjoyment at seeing Marpa/Daal finally getting tripped up by Jocasta and forced to obey orders.

* His banter with Doxen--it was brief, but the two seemed like guys who would end up getting along well.

Here's his original character background. (normally I wouldn't post anything that reveals something secret about a PC, but Balan/Marpa/Daal's ties to the Separatists have come out in the game)


Greesh Leedo, Cybernetic Rodian Assassin

When Marpa was being trained by the Techno Union, he shared a room with Greesh Leedo, a talented Rodian hunter. While Marpa was recruited to be an officer, Greesh had been selected to become a cybernetically enhanced assassin. Preparation for their eventual transformation into cyborgs quickly encompassed every aspect of their lives, leaving them isolated from the outside world. As a result, the two bonded over the few hours of free time they had each day before lights out, in order to stave off loneliness.

They learned much about each other in what time they had. Greesh was a product of the harsh Rodian homeworld. Although born into a warrior caste, Greesh avoided the carnage of the gladiatorial arenas by selling his services as a tracker to various nobles and government agencies. Surviving this way was hard, but fortune soon blessed the determined Rodian. He was hired by a Quarren bounty hunter to track down a fugitive who had fled into Rodia's dense jungle. His success landed him a sizable reward from the gracious Quarren, and enabled Greesh to pay his way off world and explore the galaxy at large.

Seeking to improve his skills, Greesh wandered the galaxy taking odd tracking jobs wherever he could find them. The thrill of the hunt was his sole motivation, and this attitude guided him to his second great success. On a whim he accepted a posting by Techno Union security officials searching for a corporate spy who had absconded with several company secrets. Efficiently locating the spy brought him to the attention of the Union's cybernetic research team, who found him a perfect candidate for their enhancement program.

Marpa's and Greesh's shared desire for power gave them common ground. They came to understand, respect and even depend on each other as friends will do. When training became nearly unbearable they pushed each other to succeed. The two made a pact to complete their respective programs and then unleash their full potential upon the galaxy. As a result, Greesh was very surprised to hear of Marpa's defection from the Techno Union. Feeling abandoned, he berated himself for taking solace in something other than the glory of the hunt. Promising never to be so trusting again, Greesh enthusiastically went ahead with his cybernetic surgery. After several weeks of adjustment to his new body, Greesh began his career as an assassin for the Separatists, hunting down and eliminating several key Republic officials and sympathizers.

Greesh has found great pleasure in his new life and capabilities. He knows that one day he will be able to return to Rodia and claim the title of Hunt Master. But between missions his thoughts sometimes turn to his old friend Balan, and he wonders if their paths will ever cross again . . .


Below is his most recent character sheet. For some minor NPCs, I simply keep them at the same level throughout the campaign. But for important ones, like the Sun Runners, I make sure they're always high enough level to provide a challenge. I usually do more detailed sheets with Feats & Talents, but I knew it was unlikely Greesh would be getting into combat.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Minutes of the Lovecraft Studies Institute (# 1) [Cthulhu]



ATTENDANCE: Patrick, Bloch, King, Joshi, Cannon (Members)
Five Guests

6:02 P.M. Meeting Convened

6:04 P.M. Approval of Minutes for Meeting of March 3, 2010

6:05 P.M Chair proposes reading of “Harbinger” manuscript Prologue (“Red on the Rails”) and Chapter 1 (“The Old Farmhouse”)

7:03 P.M. Reading Concludes

7:05 P.M. Chair proposes open discussion


Members of the Institute and Honoured Guests, that was quite a treat. I’m sure we all have something to say about the first authentic Lovecraft manuscript to be discovered in decades, so I’d like to organize our discussion around key scenes in the story. Let’s start with the first scene of the Prologue, which takes place at a train station. Here we have a crowd assembled to travel to various stops (real and fictional) in the northwest part of Massachusetts, along the border to New Hampshire. The main drama in this scene is provided by the apple seller. Taunted by children, he grows frustrated and either reckless or intentionally suicidal, and appears to be in danger of being hit by an oncoming locomotive.

I’d just like to add that Boston’s North Station is a real train station, one still in service today.

Save it for the annotated version, Joshi.


Two things surprised me about this scene. First, this priest character simply talks the man down—somewhat anticlimactic, and one of the few times Lovecraft presents religious authority figures in such a positive light. Second, this British character (who we later learn is a manservant) gives the bum fifty dollars. Later on in Chapter One, he gives a hearse driver a hundred bucks! Even today that’s a lot of money to be throwing around. If this were my book set in the Great Depression, I would have had other passengers mob the butler for handouts.

To be fair, we haven’t seen the whole story. Perhaps there’s more to this Matheson than meets the eye, and Lovecraft is setting something up. I was more disappointed in the portrayal of the bum. A stockbroker who has lost his fortune, now selling apples just seems so . . . clichéd.

It only seems clichéd because we’re viewing the manuscript through eighty years of portrayals of the Depression. Lovecraft is writing in the early thirties, so this character may have seemed fresh at the time.

Let’s move on to the next scene, where we see all the main protagonists of the novel (so far) together for the first time, placed together in a First-Class/Bereaved Class cabin. We have an elegantly dressed woman, Scarlet Warren, who offers only vague hints at her background. The aforementioned Catholic priest, an Irishman named Patrick Murphy. A travelling salesman named Hoyt Symmes. The British manservant, Harleigh Matheson. And an extraordinarily handsome, but mysterious, fellow named Jacob Blackstone.

I thought maybe the opening scene needed work, but here it seems we’re really starting to get the story started, as we learn that they’re each travelling to the same place because they’ve received a mysterious telegram that has something to do with this dead farmer, Abraham Gilmore.

The “place” that they’re travelling to, Mr. Bloch, is none other than the famous village of Dunwich from The Dunwich Horror. Although we obviously don’t yet know what happens in Chapter Two, I strongly suspect that Lovecraft plans to revisit one of his most famous settings (other than Arkham and Kingsport, of course).

I knew that.

If you knew that, why didn’t you say it?

Gentleman, please remember decorum.

[general assent]

Through dialogue, the ostensible motivations for each of these characters to be on the train become apparent. The woman, Scarlet Warren, drops vague hints that Mr. Gilmore may have bequeathed her a picture collection. Similarly for Mr. Symmes, but with a rare book collection. Father Murphy has been asked to preside at Gilmore’s funeral. The last two characters, however, have more complex motives. The butler, Matheson, hints that his “Master” has gone missing and might be found at the Gilmore farm. Blackstone seems quite reticent to explain his purpose for being there, but eventually implies that he plans to investigate or perhaps even debunk some sort of supernatural claims once made by Old Man Gilmore.

Well, it’s Lovecraft, so the debunker is the one who’ll be debunked!


It’s certainly an interesting collection of characters, more diverse in both nationality and occupation than most of Lovecraft’s previous works. Usually he writes about professionals like academics, explorers, archaeologists, etc.

And what about this Scarlet Warren character? If I didn’t know better, I’d think Lovecraft was implying she had an . . . unsavoury profession for a young woman.

Veiled hints is all we’re ever likely to see. Anything more explicit would render the work unpublishable.

But it wasn’t ever published.

PATRICK: We get the first hints of something strange happening aboard the train when the conductor character appears. He’s described as a gaunt man, with wet gray hair plastered to his head, and palms that always seem moist. Later, he seems to indicate to the Symmes character that he knows more about him than he should.

I loved the conductor—very creepy, and I can imagine him in one of my movies with a strange, over-friendly accent, too intimate gestures, and so forth.

Soon after, Blackstone leaves for the lavatory, and when he returns he reports having found a dead body—one of the porters, if I remember correctly. At this point, the butler pulls a large rifle, complete with bayonet, from his luggage, much to the shock and dismay of his fellow travelers.

This foreshadows Matheson’s aggressive tendencies in the following chapter—he’s the driving force behind the ill-fated attack on the breeding queen, despite the great personal risk to himself. I suspect that, perhaps, Lovecraft was influenced when he wrote this by the highly popular (and profitable) trend towards pulp action heroes—two-fisted men of adventure, quick to leap into action. Doc Savage, for example, appeared in March of 1933. Although this novel was set in 1931, we don’t know precisely when Lovecraft wrote it.

An interesting theory, my friend. More research will be needed to confirm it, however.

The protagonists investigate the body and learn that the porter has a strange injury around his ear, with blood and greyish-greenish manner splashed around the wound. Before they can take further significant action, three of the five suddenly faint and envision themselves submerged deep in an airless abyss, trying desperately to reach the surface yet feeling that something is trying to hold them down. The three each dream of suffering a painful wound in their back before awakening. Yet they awaken to a reality that may be just as terrifying as the dream, because after the train enters a dark tunnel, its interior lighting is replaced with a strange, reddish glow.

The next scene is my favourite of the manuscript so far. The protagonists enter the next car to see that all of the passengers are unconscious, and that the two ladies running the concession cart are feeding on them. They take turns, one sucking cerebral fluid from a victim’s ear through a ghastly proboscis, while the other regurgitates the fluid into a fluted glass vial.

And here, it is not the heavily-armed butler who fires—but instead the shakened, would-be debunker, Mr. Jacob Blackstone. Three shots are fired from the man’s revolver, two of which strike the unworldly, hound-like women (with little effect). The third, alas, strikes an innocent passenger in the forehead. I especially liked Lovecraft’s portrayal of the fear and guilt this character feels throughout the rest of the story.

We also get the first mention of what I assume will be a major theme of the novel: the concession women advance menacingly towards the protagonists, but do not attack because the protagonists are “Harbingers.” Harbingers of who, or what? Later we suspect that only the three who fell unconscious and bear the three-serpent brand are properly called Harbingers, but these brain-sucking creatures seem not to make a distinction among the five.

That may simply be an editing issue—Lovecraft often rewrote large portions of his manuscripts, even after they were accepted for publication.

In any event, the protagonists retreat to the first-class car and soon thereafter the train leaves the tunnel—except the conductor announces Aylsbury as their next stop. The protagonists are shocked that they somehow missed several hours and stops, and Blackstone’s watch confirms that something strange has happened with the flow of time.

And here the priest character, Father Murphy, and the butler, Harleigh Matheson, continue to establish themselves as the dominant characters of the story. They go to great lengths to ensure that the train remains at the station until the Aylesbury County Sheriff arrives to investigate the dead porter. I always tend to skip these types of scenes in my own work as it’s scarier if the protagonists feel no one is out there to help them.

Still, it is a realistic response to an unrealistic phenomenon. Blackstone, it should be noted, returns to the passenger car only to find that the passenger he thought he shot is missing. The others, in a very creepy way, cock their heads and smile at him in unison.

The reluctance of the cab driver, Joe Bicks, to take them all the way to Dunwich fits in well with the village’s reputation as established in The Dunwich Horror. It’s supposed to be an insular, backwards village with a reputation for strange things going on there. But even Joe Bicks won’t turn down the amount of money that Matheson offers.

Just to be clear on the timeline, the protagonists actually spend the night in a local inn and head to Dunwich itself the following morning. Before they leave, however, a couple of important events happen that may be important later in the book. First, Father Murphy comes across a startling ad in the Classified section of the Aylesbury Transcript:

Feeling Trapped?
Call NO-416-A873

Murphy makes his way to Aylesbury’s small Catholic church, St. Mary’s. There he talks a Father William Bell into allowing him to use the phone and call the number. The man on the other end (a New Orleans number) is quite cryptic, but he’s surprised “that it’s spread so far” and claims to be working on the problem. Second, that same morning, Murphy, Matheson, and Symmes travel to the Aylesbury post office and talk a clerk into divulging the name of the woman who sent each of them the telegram that lured them on board the train: a “Ms. Dunham” of Dunwich. That could be a pseudonym, however.

Can we move this along? It’s getting late . . .

[general assent]

Point taken—I needn’t repeat every detail of the story. Moving onto Chapter One, the furthest we’ve yet deciphered of the manuscript. At the Gilmore farmhouse, which appears to be midway between Dunwich and Aylesbury, the protagonists encounter a housekeeper named Mrs. Masbry. She claims to have found the body of Mr. Gilmore just last night, which shocks the protagonists as they received telegrams confirming the man’s death the prior morning. In any event, the group is made quite at home by Mrs. Masbry and begin to explore the old farmhouse.

This portion of the story seemed more like a mystery novel, and is something I don’t remember Lovecraft doing before in quite this way. We have the debunker, Blackstone, finding a torn piece of paper in dead Gilmore’s clenched fist (which must have been clichéd even back then!) and coming across two mysterious books in a locked box—one in German, one in Latin. We have one or two characters, I forget which, coming across Gilmore’s recently-deceased dog in a trunk in the attic. We even have a comical attempt by Matheson to break down the cellar door, with the housekeeper in the very next room! Fortunately, Father Murphy is able to obtain the key simply by asking. In the cellar, Murphy finds another scrap of paper underneath a massive workbench and notices strange grooves on the dirt floor in front of the bench.

And throughout this, I think Lovecraft does a nice job of gradually, and in a non-threatening way at first, making it clear that this entire farmhouse is infested by hundreds, even thousands of rats.

Very true—in a way, this portion of the story may have been a conscious attempt to rework The Rats in the Walls as a chapter in a novel. What’s below the tunnel in the cellar, however, is quite different!

If time-travel were real, I would think Lovecraft stole this from me—but I guess the idea of an elephant-sized, bloated, immobile breeding queen rat must have just been one of those ideas bound to independently come to more than one author—even if they are separated by fifty years.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, gentlemen. Before the climax, remember, the protagonists are startled to see the corpses of three horses in the barn being devoured by thousands of rats. In true Lovecraftian fashion, the encyclopedia salesman, Hoyt Symmes, collapses into hysteria, while Blackstone (courageous debunker!) flees for his life.

I really loved the irony of the next part—they narrowly save the barn from being engulfed by Symmes’ dropped lantern, and then a scene or two later Matheson and Father Murphy decide to put the barn to the torch!

And at this point, we’ve still seen very little of the Scarlet Warren character. Perhaps she’ll factor in more later on. Maybe Lovecraft was unsure of how to write a young, fashionable woman? In any event, we now have the characters quite spread out. Symmes has started walking back to Aylesbury, where the others eventually join him to hash out whether they should all leave or go back. The housekeeper, Mrs. Masbry, has been trundled off, accompanying the body of Gilmore in a hearse summoned by Matheson.

You’ve probably forgotten the most important discovery of this scene. The three marked characters, the “Harbingers” as it were, are unable to separate from one another to a significant distance without immediately falling ill. I suggest that their search for the cause and removal of this affliction will drive the reminder of the manuscript.

Thank you for noting my oversight.

Now can we talk about the conclusion of the chapter?

Please god, do.

At first, only Matheson is willing to face this brood queen of a rat. Now, his motives for doing so aren’t quite clear to me, but he certainly goes at it with fervour, hacking and slashing into the monstrosity with a World War I bayonet.

Somewhat more graphically, I might add, than most of Lovecraft’s previous work. The scene where he goes temporarily mad, and sucks on the giant rat’s teat, would have, I’m sure, been redacted by any competent editor of the time period.

I loved it!

You would.

Gentlemen. As Matheson attacks the brood queen, Father Murphy is suddenly seized with a crisis of conscience and decides to come to his aid. Murphy attempts to cast an occult spell, something he’ll certainly have to talk about during his next confession.


I believe we haven’t yet mentioned the Orobourus Purgotae spell, labelled To turn spawn against that which beget them. This was discovered by placing the two torn pieces of paper together, and was quite expertly deciphered by Symmes. We start to get a sense from this that perhaps the man has more knowledge of occult things than a mere encyclopaedia salesman should. In any event, Murphy rushes to the tunnel under the cellar to find Matheson being swarmed by dozens, hundreds, thousands of rats. The priest tries to cast the spell, but stumbles over the words and the incantation has no effect. However, quite heroically I might add, he manages to drag the unconscious Matheson out of the tunnel and perform first aid to keep the man from dying.

And then everything gets very The Fall of the House of Usher.

An apt remark. As the protagonists flee the scene, thousands and thousands of rats climb the walls and roof of the farmhouse, until eventually the whole building collapses under their weight.

So with Matheson badly hurt and unconscious, Symmes & Blackstone panicked, and Warren & Murphy mostly unharmed, the chapter ends.

I’m quite curious where Lovecraft plans to go with this.

A great topic for next month. Motion to adjourn?


Friday, April 16, 2010

Dating Tips for Single Women (1930s)

Everyone must check out this very funny 1930's Dating Tips for Single Women.

My wife plays a single woman in a role-playing game in 1931, and now she'll be able to get a fictional man using tips like "never appear bored, even if you are" and "don't talk while dancing; if a man wants to dance, he wants to dance".

Good stuff.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Call of Cthulhu, Sixth Edition (Part II) [Review]


Sanity is one of the most important concepts in Call of Cthulhu, as characters are just as likely to go insane from seeing unspeakable horrors as they are to actually be killed by them. Each character has a set number of starting Sanity points, and when faced with a terrifying or grotesque encounter the character has to roll a d100 lower than their current Sanity points. Failure (and sometimes even success!) means the character loses a certain number of Sanity points. If the character loses 5 or more from a single encounter, he has to roll against an Idea (Intelligence x 5) check--in this case, failure on the roll is a good thing, as it represents the fact that the character was able to rationalize away what he saw without grappling with its full horror; whereas, success is bad because it means the character understands the true depth of what he's seen and thus will be driven temporarily insane. [I actually forgot this last part during my one-shot--mea culpa!] The other way to go temporarily insane is to lose 20% of current Sanity points in one game hour.

The game provides a small random table to roll on for the particular type of insanity the character suffers, but the book strongly suggests (and I agree) that it's better for the Keeper to choose a form of insanity that fits the character and the circumstances he or she is encountering. If a character is driven temporarily insane by encountering a gigantic winged apparition, it makes more sense to give him or her a phobia of birds than to give him compulsive hand washing.

The chapter has quite a thorough discussion of various mental health disorders and their treatments, nicely divided between "classic era" (1920s and 1930s) and modern-day.

As a character's Sanity points dwindle, he or she becomes more and more unreliable in the field and should eventually be retired in favor of another investigator. There are a few ways to increase Sanity points: small awards by the Keeper after the end of a successful adventure; psychotherapy (very slow, taking months of game time); and by increasing a skill to 90% or above (not sure the rationale for this one--why is the "discipline and self-esteem" gained by becoming a really good Fast Talker going to increase my Sanity?).


Access to magic is very much handled by Keeper discretion. No characters start out with spells or with the right to learn spells through experience, and it's quite possible the Keeper may decide not to make magic available to PCs at all. But if the Keeper does, magic has to be learned through reading Mythos Tomes--books that contain vital secrets of the universe but that are also likely to drive men mad (and increase the Cthulhu Mythos Skill). There's some really nice description of various books to make these more than D&D-style "Spell Scrolls." The one odd thing I found is that the books, as listed, take several weeks or even a year of steady reading in order to gain the knowledge contained within them--this simply doesn't fit many gaming styles, where characters are moving at a relatively quick pace in order to deal with urgent matters.

Spellcasting itself is almost guaranteed to drain Sanity points, and success usually depends on the number of Magic Points (equal to POW) that a character has. Here again, there's a nice degree of description and ritual involved, so that casting a spell is an involved, important thing that fits within the atmosphere of the game--no energy blasts at the drop of a dime.


This short chapter provides an overview and timeline to the various deities and beings talked about in Lovecraft's work. I found it hard to make much sense of, but Keepers who have delved deeply into the Mythos may find it a helpful summary. Although I like that this single book has everything needed to play the game, information of this sort would be better if only the Keeper had access to it.


The Necronomicon is H.P. Lovecraft's most famous invention, next to Cthulhu itself. The legendary tome is the most potent source of information about the Mythos, but also the most likely to drive its readers stark raving mad. I like that the text gives descriptions of a few different versions of the book, again helping enrich the game's atmosphere.


A short bio of Lovecraft; none of this is necessary to play the game, but it's a respectful way to acknowledge the author of the game's source material.


An odd chapter, which is basically a summary of how various Mythos-related beings and tomes are translated in other languages: Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, and more. This one's only going to be appreciated by Keepers really into authentic treatment of linguistic history.


This is a non-mechanics oriented discussion of a variety of mental disorders. Some of this repeats information found in the chapter on Sanity & Insanity, and I have no idea why the two chapters weren't combined.

Next Time: Monsters, Gods, and Spells!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Call of Cthulhu, Sixth Edition (Part 1) [Review]

I recently purchased the sixth (and newest) edition of Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu rules. From what I understand, the game has remained remarkably consistent over the past 25+ years, such that the differences between the first and the sixth editions are relatively minor. (Much different than D&D, for example, where someone playing the new 4th edition and someone playing 2nd edition would hardly be able to have a conversation!) I've only ran one session of Cthulhu, but I had a really good time and I would like to run more. Here's a chapter-by-chapter review of the book for those of you thinking about giving it a try.

CHAPTER 1: H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu short story, reprinted in full.

I haven't actually read this particular one yet, as I'm getting ready to read S.T. Joshi's annotated collection of Lovecraft stories. Still, I think it's a great idea to include an original Lovecraft story to give fans a feel for the type of mood and pace they're likely to encounter. Lovecraft stories fall into the weird horror genre, which is a genre most people aren't familiar with and one that is quite different than what most people today think of as horror stories (Saw, slasher flicks, zombie apocalypse movies, etc.). You can definitely tell standard horror stories using Call of Cthulhu rules, but it may be a short and lethal session.


A nice overview of the game and how it differs from most other RPGs. I especially like the "Expectations & Play" section, which is divided into 1) Accumulate Information; 2) At the Scene (of the crime); 3) Make a plan; 4) Use your head; and 5) Avoid gunfights. In other words, Cthulhu is designed as a game of role-playing and investigation, where combat--especially combat involving firearms--is likely to be quite deadly. Unlike D&D or many other games, the system doesn't assume that the director ("Keeper") will throw weak opponents at the players early until they "level up" and can face stronger and stronger monsters. Characters never gain more hit points, do more damage, or otherwise become tangibly better at combat over the course of many sessions (except for *very* slowly getting more accurate at using their main weapon). This chapter also has a nice two-page spread defining terms and a good list of resources for the game.


This is the character creation chapter. All characters have eight randomly rolled characteristics. The normal method for character creation is to roll, in order and without switching the numbers around, 3d6 for the character's Strength, Constitution, Power (willpower), Dexterity, and Appearance; 2d6+6 for the character's Size and Intelligence; and 3d6+3 for the character's Education. Because this is a totally random process, players should either pick their character's occupation after rolling base ability scores or be willing to play a character with an occupation that is counter-intuitive to their ability scores (a scientist with a low Intelligence but a high Education may have earned several degrees through charm, family connections, and a good dose of cheating!).

There are also several characteristics derived from the randomly rolled ones. Starting Sanity is Power x 5, Damage Bonus (to melee combat) is determined on a table after adding Strength and Size together, Hit Points is the average of Constitution and Size, Occupation skill points is Education x 20, while Personal Interest skill points are Intelligence x 10. One of the characteristics that I found quite useful in the game is Luck (Power x 5): want to know which investigator a monster attacks? Roll Luck. Want to know which investigator is closet to the exit, steps on the creaky step, or looks the most like a cultist they want to impersonate? Roll Luck. Quite handy, and something I wish other games would adopt.

Each character is expected to pick an Occupation. The Occupations aren't the same thing as Classes in D&D--they're simply a list of six or eight Skills that the character is expected to be good at. Characters have to spend their Occupation skill points on Skills listed under their Occupation, but can then spend any Personal Interest skill points on any skill they desire (each skill starts with a small base chance even if no points are spent). In practice, this means that there isn't necessarily anything that, say, a Lawyer can do that a Drifter cannot--they're simply likely to be better at different Skills. [in my game, I use the 1920s Investigator's Handbook, which adds to the flavour of the occupations and gives each one a special bonus or ability that the other occupations lack].

Character creation is very easy and quick, taking maybe 30 minutes. Once random characteristics are rolled, derived characteristics are figured out, and skill points are spent, all the player has to do is purchase equipment. I've always found this part of the system a bit wonky, as characters start out with a lot of money. A modern day character, for example, starts out with a yearly income of anywhere from $ 15,000 to $ 500,000, plus assets equal to 5 times that amount. As most players and GMs don't want to go through the hassle of actually purchasing a house, furniture, clothing, a vehicle, etc., it would be better just to assume away these background things using Keeper discretion and then allot to the player a much smaller amount of "fun money" to spend on weapons, investigating gear, and travel to exotic places during the course of the game.


This is the core of the book for those interested in mechanics.

Movement is treated in the most abstract way. Humans have a Move of "8", but what unit of distance per time that "8" represents in any given context is up to the Keeper. Basically, it serves only as a unit of comparison to tell whether a tiger (allotted a Move of 10) is gaining on the Human or losing in the footrace. Obviously, with such an abstract system, Call of Cthulhu is not really designed for tactical miniatures combat (though I'm sure it would be possible to use them if you really wanted to). Unlike more modern systems, Cthulhu doesn't allocate a certain number of "actions" or distinguish between different types according to how many you can do in a round (like d20 does with "Standard", "Move", and "Free", for example). The rules tell you that you can attack once a round or dodge once a round, and that's about it unless dealing with special cases like rapid-shot guns or a variant dodge rule.

For Skills, you always roll a d100 and want to roll below your character's rating in that Skill. The only real type of "experience" point system is that, at the Keeper's discretion, if you use the Skill to accomplish something significant or learn something important, you can place a checkmark next to that skill. After the adventure, you can roll to see if that skill improves by 1d10 percentiles (it's not guaranteed, and the higher your percentage in a skill, the less likely it is to improve). The system has a nice array of knowledge skills (Accounting, Chemistry, Occult, etc.); investigation skills (Spot Hidden, Listen, etc.); social skills (Persuade, Fast Talk, Credit Rating); and combat skills. This last category is divided into several different types, each requiring a separate investment of points to improve: Fist/Punch, Kick, Grapple, Dodge, Rifle, Shotgun, Handgun, etc.

As written, there's no limit to the points a character can put into a skill: in theory, you could have a Librarian start out with 99% in Occult or a Soldier start out with 99% in Rifle. It would require quite an investment in the character's Occupation or Personal Interest points, but I think setting a starting cap (say, 75%) would be a better way to allow for a starting character to fail and slowly improve over time.

One of the aspects of this system that I really like and that sets the Chaosium version apart from other systems is the Cthulhu Mythos Skill. The only way for this Skill to improve is to suffer insanity from encountering the unspeakable horrors of the Mythos. Every point a character gains in Cthulhu Mythos is a permanent reduction in the character's Maximum Sanity, so as a character learns more and more about what he is up against, he is less and less capable of resisting it. It's a clever and quite evocative way of incorporating Lovecraft's themes in the mechanics of the RPG.

I also really like that the game makes it clear that it's perfectly acceptable to come up with new Skills and slot them in anytime there looks to be a void in the list provided. Some NPCs in the back of the book, for example, have points spent in "Hold Liquor", "Lack Mercy", and "Take Credit for Everything". Things like this add character to characters, and should be encouraged.

Another interesting thing is the game's use of a Resistance Table to handle opposed characteristic (ability score) checks. The Table works for both characters opposing each other as well as other things not covered by the Skill system, such as breaking down doors, resisting poison, successfully using magic, etc. It works by matching the characteristic score of the Active character against the characteristic score of the Passive character (or object) and expressing in a percentage how likely it is for the Active character to succeed. The reason I like this is because it gives real significance to a character's ability in a particular area, while still leaving room for randomness (in contrast, for example, the d20 system of opposed ability score checks emphasizes the randomness of the d20 roll because the likely difference between someone with an average ability score's +0 modifier and someone with a pretty good ability score's +3 modifier is less likely to make the difference).

I don't want to delve too deeply into combat because it's ordinarily not a major part of the game, but it has a couple of wrinkles which set it apart from other systems. When attacking, a character's chance of hitting is based purely on their skill with the weapon; this chance doesn't increase or decrease whether they're fighting a rat or Great Cthulhu himself. On the other hand, a character can forego all attacks in a round to Dodge, and if they succeed on this Dodge check they avoid damage from an attack, whether their attacker is a scrawny punk or an expert marksman. It's a very different way of handling things than most systems, and is probably more unrealistic in that it doesn't take comparisons into account. The basics of the damage system will be familiar to anyone who has ever played D&D, and there's a laundry list of "Spot Rules" for things like fighting in darkness, drowning, critical hits, etc. On the whole, I'd say that combat isn't as articulated and clear as it is in some systems--there's a little more ambiguity and Keeper discretion required.

Whew, this is going to be a long review! Tune in next time for (In)Sanity (yes, I made one of the PCs suck on the teat of a giant rat, so sue me!), Magic (no Fireball or Magic Missiles here!), and a discussion of whether some of Lovecraft's creations might just be a little too weird for a weird horror game . . .

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Random Law Review # 8

Mario Silva's Extraordinary Rendition: A Challenge to Canadian and United States Legal Obligations Under the Convention Against Torture, 39 Cal. W. Int'l L.J. 313 (2008-2009).

The issues raised in this article are quite familiar to me, because I was a Policy Analyst at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association when the story broke over Maher Arar and Canada's role in his "extraordinary rendition" by the United States to Syria. This article explains the difference between traditional extradition (also called rendition), which is a judicially-overseen process used to transfer criminal suspects from one country to another for trial, and the Bush administration's use of "extraordinary rendition" which was not overseen by a court and led to innocent people, like Arar, being deported to countries where they would face torture.

Although the U.S. and Canada are signatories to treaties prohibiting torture and sending people to countries where they will be tortured, the U.S. has always defended their conduct in the Arar case by reference to "diplomatic assurances" gained from Syria that Arar would not be harmed. When a country, like Syria, has a well-known history of torturing detainees suspected of terrorist ties, it's obviously ridiculous to accept "diplomatic assurances" as a sufficient safeguard.

Silva's article is a nice summary of the Arar case and the argument against extraordinary rendition, though it doesn't really add anything new to the controversy that hasn't been documented or argued extensively elsewhere. It's also a good example, to my mind, of how people who believe that international law will constrain powerful, determined states end up looking somewhat naive. I know it's an old criticism, but for "law" to be meaningful, it has to be backed with penalties for non-compliance. Because treaties like the Convention Against Torture, are functionally non-enforceable on a global scale, the best argument against practices like extraordinary rendition are political and moral arguments rather than legal ones.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My Pop Culture Subconscious

I have a very poor memory for fiction. I have to watch several episodes of a t.v. series before I remember the main character's names, six-months after reading a novel I'll only remember a rough outline of the plot, and not even a year after seeing a movie I'll retain a scene or two in my head but the context of what they mean is often lost. For example, I saw the new Sherlock Holmes movie on opening day (Christmas), which was now just over three months ago. What do I remember of the story? Well, there's some murders see, and they look supernatural but they're not, and a guy who was hanged at the beginning wasn't actually dead, and there was a big fight at a shipyard and a big fight at a bridge, and Holmes ends up handcuffed to a bed. That's pretty much it. Who was the bad guy? Whom did he murder? Why did he do it? How was he stopped? I honestly couldn't tell you, and that's something I watched just a few months ago.

My wife, on the other hand, has an amazing memory for character names, plot details, and even dialogue. She can recite, nearly verbatim, entire scenes from episodes of her favorite t.v. series and movies, remember obscure details of shows she hasn't watched in years, and recognize ordinary character actors from one role to the next.

However, just because I have no conscious memory of this stuff doesn't mean it's not cluttering up the back of my mind somewhere: Jhaeman's Detritus, if you'll allow me to be so bold.

This all comes to mind because of a couple of funny things that have happened in the role-playing games I direct. One of the things my wife teases me about a lot is that in the beginning of the Star Wars game, I had a strange silver, massive, cylindrical anomaly appear in space that blocked all transmissions and made it impossible to enter hyperspace. Although I knew that the idea of a strange anomaly that needed investigating was an SF trope, I honestly had absolutely no conscious recollection that, to the last detail, that's the exact opening of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Now, I definitely watched Star Trek IV when it first came out, and probably once or twice soon after on VHS. All I consciously remember is the famous scene with Spock on the bus sitting next to the punk rock dude, and I think Uhura or Scotty sneaking around on an aircraft carrier looking for titanium sheeting or something . . .

And then last night, I ran a Call of Cthulhu game for the first time. I just read H.P. Lovecraft's The Rats in the Walls a few weeks ago and really dug it, so I knew I would swipe part of that for the game. But I thought to myself after finishing the short story that what it really needed was an awesome, horrific ending--in the basement of the house, the investigators should stumble upon a massive, elephant-sized breeding rat, incapable of movement but repulsively and grotesquely feeding thousands and thousands of rats. [in the game, a butler tried to stab it with his bayonet, while a Catholic priest tried to cast unholy magicks, but that's a story for another time!] After the game, I learned that a massive, grotesque breeding queen rat appears in Stephen King's The Graveyard Shift, a story I know I've read and (I'm pretty sure) saw the movie version of several years ago.

My wife thinks it's quite plausible that, as the climax to the big Star Wars campaign, I'll be like "Okay, I've got a great idea. There's this massive moon-sized sphere, see, but it's actually like a battlestation, and it has this weapon capable of destroying planets, but the only way to like, destroy it and stuff, is to fly though this canyon/trench sort of thing and make a really difficult shot. I call it the Star of Death. Brilliant, huh?"

So the bottom line is, I'm a thief! An unwitting one, mind you. It's good I don't write fiction, because I would be sued several times over for copyright infringement . . .

Has something like this ever happened to you?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

No Prisoners [Star Wars Book Review]

There's a vast difference in theme and tone between The Clone Wars animated series and the The Clone Wars novels which are a media tie-in to the cartoon. The show presents the war in quite a one-dimensional way, with clear good guys (Jedi!) and clear bad guys (alien Separatists!). The novels, however, complicate the picture enormously and one of the prime movers behind this moral ambiguity is Karen Traviss. No Prisoners gives us a Clone Wars where Republic spies maneuver to keep dictators in power, Jedi splinter groups present a quite powerful critique of Yoda's "no attachment" policy, Padawans are put in place by experienced soldiers (finally, someone convinces Ahsoka that running around on the battlefield in a tube-top and miniskirt is perhaps unprofessional), and more. There's a lot of subversive elements in Traviss' work that challenges the Star Wars mainstream, and it's a shame that she left the universe over canonicity disputes. Her work is a great counter-point to the seeming Republic propaganda of the animated series.

Anatomy of a Public Interest Case Against the CIA

While researching some other topics, I came across a really interesting 1990 law review article by Joseph Rauh & James Turner titled Anatomy of a Public Interest Case Against the CIA, 11 Hamline J. Pub. L. & Pol'y 307. The article talks about a long (over eight years from complaint to resolution) public interest case filed against the CIA over the spy agency's MKULTRA experiments in the late 1950s and 1960s. The fact that MKULTRA (designed to test whether brainwashing was feasible) existed is well-established and has been acknowledged and apologized for by the U.S. government, but it's still astonishing to believe that government-paid researchers would intentionally and secretly give non-consenting residents of mental health facilities massive doses of LSD, expose them to weeks of forced chemical comas, and force them to watch (hundreds of thousands of times) subliminal messages, all in an attempt to reprogram the human psyche. The particular patients who were the plaintiffs in this litigation were relatively short-term residents at a mental health facility in Montreal who suffered from depression; but their conditions were far, far worse after suffering through the MKULTRA experiments.

The article is particularly interesting for those involved in public interest or civil liberties cases, because it demonstrates and discusses many of the difficulties involved: overcoming sovereign immunity issues; dealing with dubious privileges only available to the government such as "Executive Privilege" or "National Security"; financing a case against an opponent (the government) which has virtually limitless resources; keeping a case alive against a defence strategy of Delay, Delay, Delay; and more. These are obstacles that require a massive amount of persistence, patience, faith in the system, and luck to overcome.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Press Release: Lost Lovecraft Manuscript Unearthed [Cthulhu]


Contact: Jeremy Patrick 416-519-xxxx


Researchers at the Lovecraft Studies Institute in Toronto are pleased to announce today that their efforts have unearthed an original, handwritten manuscript by H.P. Lovecraft titled "Harbingers."

The manuscript has long been thought lost or destroyed, but a careful analysis into Lovecraft's unarchived correspondence led researchers to discover the manuscript in the attic of a home owned by a distant cousin of the famous writer.

Researchers at the Institute remain mystified as to why Lovecraft never published the novel. A cryptic hint in one of his letters, however, may provide a clue: "Some things are just too horrific for the general public, and I have no wish to cause widespread panic should the full import of my words ever become apparent."

The discovery of "Harbingers" adds to the quite small stock of novel-length Lovecraft stories. The manuscript is written in an obscure cypher, and to date only the prologue ("Red on the Rails") and a portion of the first chapter ("The Old Farmhouse") have been decrypted.

The first public unveiling of these portions of "Harbingers" will take place on Saturday, April 10th at 6 p.m. Admittance by invitation only. Light refreshments will be served.

In Search of Lovecraft [Cthulhu Review]

Since I'm getting ready to direct my first session of Call of Cthulhu on Saturday, I thought I'd rent a couple of DVDs to help get in the spirit of the thing. One of the movies I came home with was In Search of Lovecraft, a low-budget affair set in modern-day San Francisco. The acting is amateurish (barely above porn movie quality), the sets are cheap (every place has that barely-furnished look that comes when directors rent a house for a weekend and don't have enough in the budget to dress the rooms realistically), and the special effects are mediocre. On the other hand, the script is halfway decent and it's clear the writer is actually a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and tried hard to stick to the Mythos and Lovecraftian themes.

As for that chick on the cover, I have no idea who that is--she's not in the movie.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 35

This session continued the Corporate Sector story arc, and saw the PCs try to deal with a swathe of rules and regulations: strict weapons prohibitions, limitations on travel and residence, and a host of other petty inconveniences. They also learned, however, how red tape could be invoked to their advantage--Ms. Prentiss proved quite adept at turning the tide on the Espos (Corporate Sector Authority security agents) by citing regulations chapter & verse.

The battle at the hanger bay was interesting. Since weapons are prohibited, the assassins used a combination of unarmed combat techniques and a clever weapon I invented: special devices which could freeze water into razor-sharp daggers and throwing disks (the theory being that once the ice melted, there would be no evidence of the weapons). I learned in the next session or two, however, that forcing the PCs to fight without their weapons (although an interesting obstacle for them to overcome) really slowed down combat since the damage they did also fell quite drastically.

Since Arresta was off-camera for most of the story arc, her player (here running Ms. Prentiss) requested some short "cut scenes" so the character could still get a little screen time. The scheme I came up with (Arresta's NPC husband testing his wife's post-partum fitness) actually proved to be quite a lot of fun. I had the other two players at the table run the kidnappers, and they really got into the role-playing part of it--they also proved surprisingly adept at crime and almost succeeded in making off with the baby! Arresta's husband certainly had some explaining to do after that debacle, and he tried to make up for it next session (though his "apology" also didn't go well . . .).


A key route to the Outer Rim has fallen into Separatist hands. Without guidance from the Beacon, no Republic ship can pass safely through the massive Joriander asteroid field. The precise location of the Beacon is a Cestus Cybernetics trade secret, but on board the cruiser Majestic, contingency plans are being made nonetheless for a potentially suicidal attempt to find it. Yet there is still hope: on Etti IV in the Corporate Sector, a young Jedi has arrived to negotiate for the Beacon’s location.

In a boardroom at the Etti IV headquarters of Cybot Galactica, Jedi Knight A’tel Por’ten stares down his fraternal twin brother Garit across a conference table. Now Viceprex--Licensing for Cybot Galactica and EXO of its newly-acquired subsidiary, Cestus Cybernetics, a smirking Garit has used all the tricks of the trade to place his barely-younger brother at a disadvantage. The vents blow nothing but hot air, refreshment trays run out just before they arrive at A'tel's end of the table, and the only chair provided constantly sinks down, placing him below eye level. Still, none of these insults fazes A’tel as he coolly stares his brother down. Garit places his number two, Regulus Trotter, in charge of the negotiations, which, today, focus only on process and structure for the real negotiations to follow.

After several boring hours, the details are finally agreed to and the meeting breaks up. Accommodations are handed out--with Doxen, Array and Ms. Prentiss assigned to a luxury hotel while A’tel is relegated to a cheap hostel. Ms. Prentiss informs the Republic visitors that in the Corporate Sector, once you have taken up residence, it is an offence to change without filing the proper paperwork. She also reminds them of the need to convert Republic credits to Authority Currency and the 24-hour notice that must be given before leaving the planet. While the others wait, Garit offers A'tel a tour of the building. Although A’tel pushes Garit to get to the point, the elder Por’ten is obviously taking every possible opportunity to needle his brother, making it plain that with the location of the Beacon on a data cube in his pocket, he holds a tremendous amount of leverage over the Republic, the Jedi, and his brother. He dares A'tel to try to take the cube from him, but the young Jedi refuses.

A'tel returns to the others and the group makes plans for the evening. Private messages are received by several members of the group. A'tel's comlink indicates the Majestic will transmit an encrypted signal to the shuttle's holo-transceiver later that evening, Ms. Prentiss receives instructions to meet with her superior first thing in the morning, and Doxen receives a mysterious message from a not-so-subtle Regulus. Leaving the building, the group becomes aware that several large ads for Cestus Cybernetics are airing on billboards all around them, featuring Daal, A’tel, and Doxen. They are perplexed as to how this could be legal and ask Ms. Prentiss to look into it. Doxen and A’tel leave a message for Daal postponing their dinner plans.

The others head for their hotel rooms, but A’tel decides to return to the ship and await the incoming transmission. When he arrives at starport, he finds the corridor to his ship's hanger unusually deserted, with fewer and fewer people and a curious lack of Espos. Inside the hanger bay, flickering lights and total silence alert him to possible danger, but only his honed instincts allow him to duck in time to avoid a razor-sharp disk of ice hurtled at his head. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, and still unarmed, A'tel runs for the safety of the shuttle. Once locked inside, he contacts Ms. Prentiss; unfortunately the Espos give her the runaround and she's unable to secure aid for A'tel. She and Doxen head off to help the Jedi directly, while Aaray sweeps the rooms for listening devices.

When Doxen and Ms. Prentiss arrive at the hanger, A'tel exits the shuttle and the trio begin a sweep of the hanger bay. While searching near fuel tanks, A'tel is ambushed by a group of mysterious, faceless attackers clad in gray armour. Unarmed against assailants who are experts in martial arts and utilize daggers made from ice, the young Jedi begins a slow retreat towards the safety of the shuttle. Doxen uses his sling to launch projectiles and Ms. Prentiss unleashes volley after volley from her sonic blaster, dropping two of the attackers, whose bodies are immediately incinerated by failsafe devices. But the remaining attackers are relentless, pummelling the Jedi with blow after blow. From time to time, one of the attackers puts A'tel in a bear hug while the others search his pockets--apparently unsatisfied, they keep fighting and then try to get on board the shuttle, but the staggered A'tel somehow makes it first and locks the door behind him. The two surviving attackers immediately turn and run, leaving nothing behind but a somewhat charred helmet.

On board the shuttle, A'tel receives a transmission from Admiral Flynn who asks for an update on the negotiations. He encourages them to pick up the pace as the Republic has received intelligence that a major Separatist leader will soon be arriving at the Beacon. He reminds A’tel that CX-PX, the protocol droid assigned to him, could be of assistance during the negotiations. Realizing that he should speak with the droid, A’tel tries to contact him on the Majestic--only to be told that as far the ship's manifest is concerned, CX-PX is with him. Searching the shuttle turns up the deactivated droid in a storage locker, along with a mocking sign around its neck: "A better general than Por'ten." The droid claims the last thing it saw before being deactivated was the face of an Ord Pardron conscript named Sgt. Smizzyrs.
The team decides to take the charred helmet to a Chiewab lab for analysis of any DNA found within. Aaray guards A’tel while he gets some needed rest. Ms. Prentiss escorts Doxen to a local shopping mall where he procures assorted miscellaneous items. Later, Doxen meets with a poorly disguised Regulus Trotter. The executive says that Garit keeps the data cube containing the Beacon's location in a safe in his private office, and offers to deactivate building security and provide floorplans for the sum of 300,000 credits. Doxen replies that he'll think about it.

[966 A.G.]

The next morning, Ms. Prentiss visits her superior in the Auditor General's office to further discuss her assignment. She shares the intelligence that she has gathered thus far: only a family connection adequately explains Cestus' demands that A'tel lead this mission and there appears to be great tension between the Por’ten brothers. She also mentions the strange attack the previous night and is not surprised to hear that the Espo precinct located near the Monnder starport is rife with corruption. Ms. Prentiss is instructed to make sure the negotiations proceed smoothly, as Chancellor Palpatine and the Senate have long been friendly toward the CSA. She is also told that word on the street is that two other major corporations are actively interested in obtaining the location of the Beacon for their own purposes: Baktoid Industries (a major supplier of Separatist arms) and IntelStar Ltd. (the galaxy's leading designer of hyperdrive and navigation technology). Ms. Prentiss seeks advice from her boss on regulations which might allow A’tel to have access to his lightsaber as a “religious artifact.” Although authorization could theoretically be obtained from any Espo precinct, the two agree that the chances are remote at urban precincts where tensions between the Espos and the Auditor General run especially high.

Day two of the negotiations begin with a better set up for the Republic. Food, drink and chairs are provided and there are no more problems with the vents. Placing the helmet obtained during the prior nights’ attack on the table beside him, A’tel refuses to be intimidated by his brother. Instead, he demands they get to the point. After some wrangling between CX-PX and Ms. Prentiss as to the optimal negotiation technique, A’tel demands that Trotter put an offer forward. In exchange for the location of the Beacon, Cestus demand either an exorbitant sum of money or the immediate resignation of A’tel Por’ten from the Jedi order and his immediate acceptance of an executive position at Cestus Cybernetics. With this turn of events, A’tel obtains a brief recess in order to consider and consult with the Jedi Council.

To make his call, he requires a secure line which, despite the standard counter-hacking done by Cybot Galactica, Ms. Prentiss is able to provide. When updated by the young Jedi Knight, the Council is surprised by this strange demand. A’tel explains that he is willing, for the good of the Republic, to go along with the demand, provided he would be able to return to the Order at a time of his choosing. The Council indicates they will consider the matter and get back to him. CX-PX is able to help A’tel stall for time until the Council returns with its decision--which is to support A’tel in this matter, however he decides to resolve the negotiations.

The Jedi returns to the negotiating table and agrees to the offer, although he adds a condition: he will only resign from the Jedi Order after he has lead the raid on the Beacon. During a brief recess, A'tel takes his brother into the hallway, and tells him that he senses that Garit is in great danger. However, the Cestus EXO mocks his brother. Suddenly, CX-PX appears and reveals that it has ulterior programming that it is helpless to avoid following and begins a countdown before detonating explosive charges concealed in its abdomen. A’tel is able to dive for cover around a corner, but Garit is caught by the blast at point blank range and seriously hurt.

The conference room is in chaos. Cybot security arrives, but finds that Associate Auditor General (at large) Ms. Prentiss has "arrested" A’tel already and declared that he's in her sole custody. When the Espos arrive on the scene, A’tel uses his new position with the company to demand that they leave--citing this as an internal matter and supported by Ms. Prentiss's encyclopaedic knowledge of obscure statutes and regulations. He is also able to intimidate Regulus Trotter and the Board into signing off on all of his terms. As his brother is rushed to a med-unit on a repulsor stretcher, A’tel transmits word of his success to the Majestic and asks them to keep a subtle watch on Sgt. Smizzyrs, the presumed would-be assassin.

Meanwhile, across the galaxy on the planet Rhinnal, in the comfort of her husband’s villa, Arresta Cassadine spends a quiet evening trying to research the origins of the strange Arkanian bracelet given to her by the pirate Jocasta. However, there is little information available on the planetary datanet and she is stymied. Suddenly, the lights go out and an alarm sounds, indicating a security breach.

Dashing to her daughter’s nursery, Arresta finds Stefan waiting for her. He tells her that he has prepared a "test" for her. He has arranged for business rivals to learn of their location, and this evening two kidnappers have been allowed to breach the villa’s security. The staff has been sent home for their evening and they are on their own. He offers Arresta her choice of weaponry and tells her that this is her chance to see how her skills have kept up. Arresta is not unhappy to oblige, until she realizes that Allegra is still present, sound asleep in her crib.

The kidnappers take separate routes up the stairs and Arresta is able to engage one of them in battle, but the other slips past her and in the dark, she is unable to spot him as he creeps closer to the crib. Finding it protected with a retinal scanner and a transparisteel shield, he ties a rope to the leg of the crib and prepares to pull it out a window--with the baby still inside! Stefan chides his wife for failing to prevent the men from accessing the nursery and tells her that she is "slipping." Aware of his reputation and frightened by his eerie willingness to allow them access to his home, the men decide this must be a trap and eventually call off the kidnapping. One of them negotiates his escape while the other crashes through the window, fleeing into the night.

Arresta quickly retrieves her sleeping baby from her crib, relieved that she is safe. Stefan tells his wife that, as her former instructor, he’s disappointed in her performance. For her part, Arresta is livid that Stefan put her daughter at risk. They continue to argue as Stefan informs her that they are leaving Rhinnal. He tells her that payment on his debt to Jocasta will soon become due--and that they must continue training to get ready for it. Still fuming, Arresta makes arrangements to pack, but takes the time to leave behind a message cylinder, with holos of herself and Allegra and a three word message “Just in case."

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