Tag Archives: Roleplaying

Dwarves of the Hell Forge

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Dwarves of the Hell Forge: Deluxe Campaign Guide [Amazon, Bookshop, DriveThruRPG] by Noah Patterson, with illustrations by Dean Spencer, Patrick E Pullen, J M Woiak, Heather Shinn, Daniel F Walthall, and B Design.

Patterson Dwarves of the Hell Forge

This booklet is an expansion of Noah Patterson’s Micro Chapbook RPG system, with additional character generation details and ability mechanisms for dwarf player characters, along with a full multi-scenario campaign. There are some functional omissions: the details for the monsters in the Ironwell Countryside Encounters chart are not among the others in the bestiary appendix, or anywhere else in the book. (I have searched!) The dwarf characters are cool, and the skill system looks like it has real potential for other applications in this growing system. There seems to be a little “power creep” with the addition of the new character features, but it’s welcome as long as it doesn’t go much further. The characters generated from the basic rules can be pretty hapless!

Four Against the Great Old Ones

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Four Against the Great Old Ones: The Pen and Paper Solo Game of Lovecraftian Horrors [DriveThruRPG, Publisher] by Marco Arnaudo and Andrea Sfiligoi.

Arnaudo Sfiligoi Four Against the Great Old Ones

Four Against the Great Old Ones is a horror adventure game for 1-4 players with an optional referee, but it seems mostly aimed at solitaire play. The game uses simplified tabletop RPG mechanisms to represent exploration of yog-sothothery in 1920s America. A single standard die (or even a marked hexagonal pencil) suffices for all randomization in the game, and a single sheet of paper can track all the characters. A full campaign can play out in a single sitting.

The setup allows for choice of four different character classes out of a field of eight, and places these investigators in a random US city to start their expeditions. Activities have a cost in days, and characters need to determine and arrive at their final encounter (which varies among a set of diverse Old Ones) before forty days have passed on the calendar.

The first thirty pages of the book present character creation and basic mechanics for play. The remaining fifty give information on the locations and encounters–effectively one big branching scenario. There are lots of entertaining details, and the lore of the game is entirely drawn from the literary corpus of Grandpa Cthulhu and his disciples–it is insulated from additional game “mythos” elements, particularly those built up in the Chaosium and Fantasy Flight games that dominate the Cthulhvian gaming scene. Still, the flavor is more pulp adventure with Lovecraftian foes than it is weird horror.

The prescribed method of play is to mark the book with a pencil as a record of encounters already accomplished and actions no longer available, and then to go erase all those marks before the next play. But there is an “encounter checklist” page that can be copied instead (or mocked up freehand–it’s very simple).

During my first play, I only visited five of the sixteen mundane locations, plus a trip to the Dreamlands for one of my investigators. I didn’t exhaust the encounters for any of those locations, and of course I only got to sample one of the six final encounters. As it turned out, my larger itinerary starting in Chicago brought me to R’lyeh for the Cthulhu final encounter. My team (occultist William Wesley Wakeman, spy Lizabet Solventi, detective Terry Sturgeon, and medium Madame Lemuria) overcame all the foes there for encounters 1 through 6, but exhausted the possible encounter roll bonuses without getting that necessary 7. So I resigned… to the inevitability of my characters succumbing to endless cultists and weird architecture. It was nearly a draw, certainly not a win.

There is clearly a lot of re-playability in this little book, and I’m sure I will return to it.

Vault of Adepts

Vault of Adepts by Jordon Stratford’s Laudanum Studios is a crowdfunding effort to create a game which is described as “Penny Dreadful meets Arkham Horror in this pen and paper RPG of secret societies in 1900 London. Occult schemes in the age of absinthe.”

“VAULT OF ADEPTS is a pen and paper Role Playing Game of secret societies set in 1900 London. These occult Lodges attracted the elite of London society — poets and politicians, actors and heiresses, alchemists and aristocrats scheming against a backdrop of cut glass, in the age of absinthe.

You play one of these eccentric characters, choose a faction and an agenda — do you want to proceed through the mystic Grades to achieve enlightenment? To take over? To destroy from within? – and speed from location to location to secure ancient knowledge, spread rumours, and foil your opponent’s efforts.

A séance gone horribly wrong. A gentleman approached after a Mason’s meeting with an inquiry if he’d be interested in something more…unconventional. A book dealer looking over an incoming tome, and knowing more than he lets on. Somewhere in London, between Scotland Yard and the Blind Beggar, is the key to someone’s lifelong obsession. Seek it out. But will you use it, sell it, or destroy it?”

Laudanum Studios Vault of Adepts 1900

Theatric Arcana

Theatric Arcana is a tumblog which appears to be a collaboration between Dakota Crane (aka louddetective), contributor to the Hermetic Library visual pool, and the people over at FoolishPeople, and is an interesting and curious tie-in to the film Strange Factories.

Theatric Arcana 1

The tumblog is a series of posts which are comprised of images of various illustrated envelopes and the pages of correspondence contained within each, a kind of sequential performance art and roleplaying piece. It really is the similarity to the correspondence-based psychodrama that I’ve been dabbling with over at De Profundis that caused Theatric Arcana to catch my eye. Anyhow, you may be interested in checking out the tumblog, and the film.

Theatric Arcana 2

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?