Tag Archives: roleplaying games

De Profundis

Recent advances in revealing secrets hidden within pages illustrated by the enigmatic and hieroglyphic masonic Copiale cipher and a discovery that desperately encoded messages found on the recovered desiccated leg of a long-dead WWII carrier pigeon could be read using inherited codebooks all had me reexamining an odd package of strange scribblings … and other thingsmisrouted to the University of Chicago but belatedly received here at the library, which I could not until now understand fully. Apparently, something has happened to the famed occult scholar and Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus; perhaps while wantonly risking the reading of one eldritch tome too many … a volume I have detailed here in the past known not just sufficiently but necessarily as De Profundis.

These past few days, I have barely slept while feverishly comparing and cross-referencing and tabulating attempts at a key, but I have, with the help of the aforementioned advances and some few intuitive inspirations, finally succeeded in cracking the glyphic seal on what may be the last words of T Polyphilus. In spite of circumstances, I hold out hope that he has yet survived and I shall hear from him again.

But, I do fear something horrible, if not the worst, has befallen the man due to his well-known and ill-advised meddling in arcane things that wish themselves to remain hidden. I now fear for my own safety and am leaving the city immediately toward a destination I will not disclose on a quest following enigmatic instructions. I have also sent under separate cover to another expert in the field the other items delivered nestled within that package, which I dare not describe to you here, seeking both to hide them, from any innocent and all prying eyes, but also in effort to develop far more insight into what strange events must inevitably and irrevocably transpire next.

I hope we each arrive at our appointed stations in time.


Dear Brother G.,

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

As I earlier suggested to you that I might, I am undertaking a survey of published recreations that may have value in a course of occult training. In years past I found one in particular that seems to be very close kindred to my own unpublished — and in many respects unwritten — occultist pseudo-LARP V.I.T.R.I.O.L. In fact, the author of the Lovecraftian horror-through-correspondence “game” De Profundis indicated that he had left much of that unwritten as well, and he described its genesis in an experience “in the dreamwoods of Hypnos and Shub Niggurath.”

I have just read the second edition of De Profundis, which includes a great deal of additional material that plays up game-style mechanics, such as tables of keywords and inventories of archetypal characters and scenarios. Nevertheless, I think it is best appreciated as an engine for para-literature, rather than as a “roleplaying supplement,” as the nominators for the Diana Jones Award (whatever that is, indicated in the jacket copy) would have it. The material production of this volume is solid (and far superior to the staple-bound first edition!), and the translation/Englishing has resulted in an engaging English text from the Polish original.

The core of the volume, as with the first edition, is written in the epistolary form that most of actual play assumes. Even the “De Profundis Online” additions are styled as emails. Despite — or because of — an almost complete absence of the sort of algorithmic devices common to tabletop roleplaying, this “game” demands skilled and intelligent players. “RPG” experience may even be a slight liability. A related program for in-person chamber “psychodrama” is relegated to an appendix (as it was in the first edition, if I recall correctly), but it is an enticing feature of the overall text, and might be implemented on its own or in connection with the letter-writing method.

I suspect that the 21st-century obsolescence of personal correspondence by postal paper may actually make “paper age” undertakings of De Profundis more powerful, albeit more challenging. The very oddness of receiving a handwritten letter in our current cultural context helps to transport the reader/player from the quotidian to the weird.

If you would pick up a copy — it appears to be available from some online book retailers, as well as game suppliers — we might try out some of these techniques, with an eye to the gradual incorporation of suitable aspirants in an ongoing project.

Love is the law, love under will.

Flamma sanguineque,
P.A. [via]




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De Profundis

Quite a while ago actually, I wandered into a local game shop and happened to start looking through the small press roleplaying games. There were several that struck me as interesting, but one in particular not only struck me but has stuck in my mind. Thinking over the last month or more about ALA’s National Gaming Day, which was today, I found myself thinking about this game once again.

De Profundis is a game created by a Polish designer Michał Oracz, and has been translated to English in two editions. The first edition was from Hogshead Publishing, and is still available through Chaosium. The second edition is available directly from Cubicle 7, as a PDF and print bundle, or many other outlets, such as in a downloadable PDF via DriveThruRPG.


What struck me at first about this game is that it outlines a way to play through correspondence, whether that’s physical snail mail, through email or maybe even in an online forum; and that play progresses not through rolling dice and consulting tables, but rather through the players telling the story of their characters as part of a collective narrative.

“Sometimes when I’m working on the game I enter a strange state of consciousness, as if someone were whispering things in my ear. Have you heard of ‘automatic writing’? You must have. Well, it’s like that. Or almost, because I still need to use my brain. In the next letters, ‘ll describe the game. I wonder what you’ll think. I have this eerie impression that if only I had the right key, and unlocked the right door in my brain, the whole game would just fall out, complete, finished, as though it were already there somewhere, and I just had to peep through the keyhole to see it. I can feel it’s close, but I can’t reach it; I just grab at bits of it and piece them together like parts of a torn photograph. Not everything fits yet, but I know they’re parts of a coherent whole.” — De Profundis

So, the participants in this build a emergent narrative by weaving together their separate personal narratives. The letters develop a story that has a life of its own. And, not only that, but that story then becomes part of the life of the participants.

“So, imagine a tree with many branches, walking on three legs. That’s what De Profundis is like: like a symbol for the three-legged form of Nyarlathotep. It has three parts, rests on three pillars: part one is Letters from the Abyss, part two is Phantasmagoria, and part three is Hermitage. They’re all inextricably interconnected, together forming a whole game.” — De Profundis

These three parts, “Letters from the Abyss”, “Phantasmagoria” and “Hermitage”, are three kinds of psychodrama which are acted out via correspondence, in the field and solo, by the player alone. So, the whole is characterized as different modes of psychodrama. It was when I read the description of the nature of pure psychodrama that this game became stuck in my mind, and if you’ve participated in any group trance work, you’ll recognize this immediately.

“Psychodrama is close to a role-playing game, but without a game master. The players create everything themselves, from their characters to events in the game world. Every participant is a player and a game master at the same time. You don’t need anything to play a psychodrama session: a description of the world, character sheets, rules, a scenario. The players – gathered in a darkened room – simply close their eyes, and one of them describes a place. They all go there in their imagination.” — De Profundis

The primary mode of play is the first, “Letters from the Abyss”, and it is formed by the interwoven letters of those participating. If you aren’t sure what that looks like, just remind yourself by taking a look at the text of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and some of the complete works of Lovecraft.

The other two modes are both more personal and more real than the first, each a kind of escalation of the magical, archetypal and narrative practice, where the game develops a kind of feedback loop into the reality of the participants, and the whole emerges greater than the sum of its parts or the individual participants.

This kind of diceless and personal narrative driven roleplaying reminds me of of many things, but in particular of both Amber and Toon. In Amber, the system developed to roleplay in Roger Zelazney’s stories, dice are not used but rather there is a reliance on narrative. Also, I remember reading the instruction in Toon, a roleplaying game about being cartoon characters, that if a player could explain some way that to do what they want to accomplish, and the more bizarre and convoluted the description, they should be allowed to do so, no matter what the rules might otherwise say.

The creative and narrative nature of this game also suggests to me some of the same foundation as can be found in HipBone Games’ Glass Bead Game which I posted about earlier this week.

A collection of the letters and journals from a complete session might look very much like the text of Dracula or a fully formed Lovecraft tale, but is moreover a kind of magical journal for not just a personal practice but a record of a group trance.


I’ve been exploring a bit of the influence of esoterica on fiction, and visa versa, over at the Cadaver Synod: Esoteric Fiction and Fictional Esoterica. What if, instead of setting the game within the Lovecraftian tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, a bunch of people interested in the Western Esoteric Tradition, including gamers, writers, readers, magicians, Jungians, and who ever else might be both creative and crazy enough to want to join, were to tell each other a strange emerging tale, a shared narrative, using this method, using shared, sequential narratives and perhaps, for recording field and solo modes, personal journal entries. Now that would be interesting!

All that would be needed is a venue, such as a dedicated website or a blog, where correspondence and journals could be posted, a framework for the setting of the story, and a bunch of crazy kids interested in forming a secret psychodrama cult club … you know, maybe not something to start up smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo, but what about starting that up in the coming New Year?