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Running a Conspiracy Horror Campaign in Trail of Cthulhu

These guidelines will help you to incorporate a truly conspiratorial feel into your Trail of Cthulhu campaign. They make use of conspiracy mechanics found in Night's Black Agents. You will need a copy of the Night's Black Agents (NBA) core rulebook as well as your Trail of Cthulhu (ToC) rulebook.

In fiction of all sorts, the existence of a persistent snd and organised group of antagonists working against the interests of civilised humanity is a classic device to form the basis of the story arc and to maintain a sense of menace. True conspiracy fiction however, brings distrust and paranoia to the forefront. The conspiracy has infiltrated society and the protagonists don't know who they can trust. In horror, conspiracy can help to suggest a menacing reality that lies beneath the veneer of mundanity. Lovecraft used this device in many stories, notably The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Whisperer in Darkness, The Call of Cthulhu and The Haunter of the Dark. Examples or conspiracy horror movies include Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Rosemary's Baby, The Wicker Man and Jacob's Ladder. Conspiracy thrillers such as Eyes Wide Shut and the X-Files TV series are also good reference points. Mirroring other forms of fiction, almost every Trail of Cthulhu and Call of Cthulhu campaign involves at least one conspiracy by cultists or mythos entities. However, these don't generally constitute conspiracy horror in the truest sense. True conspiracy horror brings the specific, threatening features of conspiracy secretiveness, distrust, betrayal, disguised menace - to the forefront. In a true conspiracy horror campaign for Trail of Cthulhu, there must not only be a group of antagonists working to bring about the return of the Great Old Ones (or whatever), they need to have infiltrated the powers that be, or the population at large, or the Investigators own organisation, or all three. If the characteristic mood of a Lovecraftian horror campaign is cosmic horror, the characteristic mood of Lovecraftian conspiracy horror should be cosmic horror plus paranoia.
Comment [EM1]: Not sure what this means? you mean some Lovecraft stories?

Planning your conspiracy campaign

The Campaign Story Night's Black Agents has some great advice on planning the structure of your campaign. It's recommended that you read The Campaign Story section (NBA, p193). This advice however is tailored for the thriller genre, and may need to be adapted for a campaign based on Lovecraftian horror. In particular, if your campaign has a strong Purist feel to it, the endgame should confront the Investigators with cosmic horror, perhaps anagnorisis (ToC, p76) for one or more of them.

Comment [EM2]: Not sure how do I know if does or doesnt.

Choosing a Campaign Frame

Armitage Inquiry

In Pulp mode, this could be a globetrotting battle against agents of the mythos. In Purist mode, the focus might be on intrigue within the corridors of the Miskatonic University itself (how high does it go?). Agents of the mMi-Go are almost certainly stalking Albert Wilmarth at the University; Asenath Waite, sorceress and leading member of the Cult of the Skull, studied there; Dr Wingate Peaslee was possessed by the Great Race of Yith; the Witch Cult is active in Arkham and who knows what forces may be trying to seize the dark knowledge kept in the Miskatonic Library? Bookhounds of London Think of exclusive and secretive societies and hermetic lodges in London high society and dingy, claustrophobic, cult-dominated communities in the Severn Valley. One challenge might be motivating typically selfish and cowardly Bookhounds to tackle a larger conspiracy. Inmates This is campaign frame by Robin Laws is available free here. The powerlessness, alienation and paranoia of institutionalisation combined by with evident conspiring by the authorities and potential uncertainty about whether the Investigators are just crazy give this campaign frame great potential as the basis of a conspiracy campaign. Mythos Detectives (Arkham Detective Tales, p6) Having the resources and the politics of law enforcement on their side - and the possibility of its corruption - makes this an excellent choice for a conspiracy campaign. The influence of hidden hands within society's institutions of governance, including the Investigator's own department, would be a powerful way to create a sense of intimidation and paranoia. Project Covenant (TOC, p207; see the Michael Dauman expansion of this campaign frame here) This is a perfect campaign frame for a conspiracy game, with the Investigators part of a secret plot within government forces meaning that this campaign frame forces secrecy, gives access to classified information and exposes Investigators to potential corruption within their own agencies, as well as presenting the possibility of farranging secret missions against the forces of the mythos. Moon Dust Men (Sixth installment of Ken Writes About Stuff) With black helicopters, men in black, and other shadowy government forces, this is an another ideal set-up for a conspiracy campaign this time with a strong XFiles feel. Conspiratorial Considerations Making your conspiracy unique and well thought out will help you to keep things fresh, interesting and credible. There are a number of considerations you should bear in mind when designing your conspiracy. Most of the advice in 'Conspiratorial Considerations' in NBA p157 applies equally to a mythos conspiracy.

Comment [EM3]: Maybe make this first frame

Comment [EM4]: The word Forces is used too many times in this sentence.

Comment [EM5]: P156 in my book?

Whether it is a cult or is led by mythos entities, the conspirators - or the leaders at least - will need to be capable of organisation. They will probably have some sort of hierarchy of power. They need some sort of rationality (no matter how alien), lines of communication, money and possibly a need for alien resources of some incomprehensible nature. In order to fulfillfulfil its hostile secret agenda, a conspiracy will have had to spread its tentacles into the population. What methods does it use? Blackmail, bribery and threats? Mind control? Alien parasitic infection? Prosthetic human bodies? What are the demographics of the conspiracy? Does it infiltrate ordinary working class folk, particular institutions or the political elite? Where are its places of power? Choose your conspirators Some organisations and mythos races lend themselves better to effective conspiracy horror than others. For more detail on many of these organisations see ToC P160. Some examples Feel free to invent or import your own. Ahnenerbe This organisation is well-funded and has an international reach, and a pulp interpretation of it could certainly involve global plots, however the historical Ahnenerbe were principally academics and field researchers who operated quite openly, rather than secret agents involved in covert plots. But a more pulpy campaign could give them a different nature. Note that at least until the mid-30s, there were a number of racist occult societies in Germany - for example Thule society - that could also be the basis of a conspiracy campaign. Black Dragon Society The pulp version of this group could certainly extend covert tentacles through East Asia and further afield. Their secrecy and infiltration of commerce and politics would make them a good candidate for a pulp conspiracy campaign. Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign 'The Repairer of Reputations' by Robert Chambers involves a national conspiracy (or at least a belief in one) bearing the Yellow Sign and preparing to seize power on behalf of the King in Yellow. In 'The Whisperer in Darkness', the mi-go-possessed Akeley describes a secret organisation devoted to Hastur and the Yellow Sign responsible for hunting down the mi-go (and tampering with Wilmarth's mail). Cult of Cthulhu This is a collection of essentially unrelated groups with a shared, ancient heritage rather than a unified organisation. Probably the most powerful of these groups is the sea-farer's cult found in ports across the world, which, in The Call of Cthulhu, was responsible for the murder of Professor Angell in Providence. Cult of the Skull Surely, possessing your descendants and having them run your legacy is the ultimate form of nepotism. The Cult of the Skull (aka. 'the Chesuncook Witch Coven') is

Comment [EM6]: Maybe this needs moving to the end

Comment [EM7]: Doesnt this paragraph just Dont use the Ahnenerbe? Maybe there is a conspiracy of thought not agen & violence. Secret Nazi sympathisers

Comment [EM8]: I thought the mi-go tamper not the conspiracy? I could be wrong...

Comment [EM9]: Perhaps Running your lega in their bodies

quite local in scope but with some potential for infiltration of populations and powerful institutions in New England, particularly Maine. Esoteric Order of Dagon The EOD controlled the town of Innsmouth for 80 years, with the raid by government agents in early 1928 being the formative event of Project Covenant (see above). A pre-raid campaign could focus on initial investigation of the town's unnatural corruption, while after the raid, the focus could be on investigation of surviving outposts, or other communities around the world that might be independently contaminated by the deep ones. Mi-Go Agents The Whisperer in Darkness describes a secret network of human agents in the area of Townshend, Vermont, capable of spying and routinely intercepting mail, and sometimes resorting to violence. Mi-Go themselves can mimic human speech and may be able to transplant brains from one person into another body or take a semblance of human form or. In terms of a mythos conspiracy game, this is gold dust. Serpent Folk Humanoid reptiles that can take human form and the overlap with the modern 'reptoid' meme makes these entities ideal antagonists in a conspiracy game. Bear in mind however, that in mythos literature, true Serpent Folk are generally regarded as very rare, while the less rare degenerate variety appear as small, ugly humans, who would struggle to pass as normal humans and who lack the shapeshifting ability. Starry Wisdom Sect A secretive urban cult that can attract and corrupt the rich and powerful is ideal for a conspiracy campaign. What sort of political corruption allowed this murderous cult to flee from Rhode Island when faced by an angry mob in 1877? Strange Eons by Robert Bloch refers to a branch of this sect in LA in the 1920's and 30's with likely influential members in Hollywood. Witch Cult This is generally understood to be less of a centrally-organised body and more a family of largely independent covens with their own informal leadership. A conspiracy involving this cult is likely to be fairly local in scope, no bigger than a county. Yithian Agents The knowledge and technology of the Yithians is beyond human understanding. They are highly intelligent, secretive and essentially indifferent to human concerns. They are served by human agents that may be embedded in society at any level and any location. They may at times seek to influence events in ways that are antithetical to the interests of humanity. They would make good antagonists in a conspiracy game, but their motivations should be marked by indifference to human suffering rather than a desire to destroy it. Conspiracy Planning Tools Adversary Map
Comment [EM11]: Paragraph is a bit generic be useful?

Comment [EM10]: Missing words?

This is the players' map of the conspiracy structure. The rules for this can be lifted from NBA p113. Relevant spends for uncovering an adversary map in Trail of Cthulhu are Anthropology and Oral History in place of Human Terrain and Traffic Analysis. Conspyramid The Conspyramid tool is an excellent tool, for not only defining the power structure of your conspiracy, but for planning a campaign with a clear beginning, middle and end, and incorporating a series of choices for progress. Conspyramid rules are found in NBA p157. A mythos conspiracy will need sources of funds ? Missing words here? 'Vampyramid' While it might be appropriate to use a different name in a mythos conspiracy game ('Reaction Pyramid' perhaps), this is another device from Night's Black Agents that can be readily adapted. The Vampyramid is another flexible tool for the Keeper that suggests a series of escalating antagonist reactions for the conspiracy in response to the players' assaults, the nature of which depends on campaign tone and previous reactions. Mechanics for this are found on NBA p189. These can be used as written, but obviously substitute the suggested vampiric agents with something appropriate from your own campaign. Poaching Thriller Mechanics from Night's Black Agents Keepers running games that centre around law enforcement, government agencies or military personnel may find it appropriate to incorporate mechanics from Night's Black Agents with an emphasis on action and gun-play. Note however, that introducing many of these options is likely to detract from the sense of Lovecraftian horror. If you choose to do this, unless you want a very pulpy, thriller feel it is recommended that you limit this to:

Comment [EM12]: This should be the starting point I think not the players map?

Thriller Chases (NBA p53) Thriller Chase rules - DUST mode only (NBA p56) Thriller Combat rules - DUST mode only (NBA p70)

Goals/Intentions I think there could be more on this in each group? One of the advantages/purposes of a large consipiracy vs normal ToC Scenario, is that their aims can be larger/more subtle. Rather than making the stars right and destroying the world with Cthulhu, they can be introducing large scale population changes, societal changes (altering the state religion/broadcasting King in Yellow soap opera etc)

Example I feel it needs one of the examples worked through slightly more to give shape/example?

Timeline Whats different about conspiracies in the 30s vs the modern era? Communication tech & speed, deference to authority? The Business Plot could be mentioned, Overman committee, Bolsheviks

Mention this is the inverse to the Dunwich Sanction moving NBA into ToC, not ToC into NBA.