Showing posts with label mystic locales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mystic locales. Show all posts

Thursday, April 28, 2022

#AtoZChallenge2022: X is for The X-Files

The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories X
The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories: X is for Planet X

This one is a last-minute switch.  I might find some use for my "Planet X" post at a future date.  But today I want to talk about the X-Files.  You can't talk about Conspiracy Theories and ignore the X-Files.

This also gives me a chance to go back to the very beginning of my A to Z journey. Not April 1st, but April 2011.

Here is what I said about the X-Files then (with edits to update).

X is for X-Files (2011)

In the 90s everything was conspiracy theories, don't trust the government and the Truth was Out There.

On TV we had the X-Files.

There was a paranoia in the 90s.  Today it has boiled over into disgust about our government (believe I know, I live in Illinois, we have one ex-Governor in prison and another headed there two Ex-Governors that are also Ex-Cons.  But back then it was a general low hum of paranoia, suspicion, and doubt.  It started with Iran-Contra and moved on to movies like "JFK".  It was the climate that allowed the X-Files to grow.

It began on a start-up network called Fox, long before they became synonymous for killing shows, good or bad, too early or shitty news.  X-Files was their hit, their main show outside of the Simpsons really, and they kept it on for 9 years and then again for 2 more in 2016 and 2018.

Let's be honest here, the X-Files did more for genre TV than anything else. It was a cultural phenomenon and most television shows that we enjoyed in the 2000s and on are a result of this little show by Chris Carter.   People go on and on about Whedon, but Carter and the X-files has been nominated for more Emmys and the show had won more collective awards.  Even in its "worst" season X-files still had 3 times the views of Buffy. Plus there is not an episode of Supernatural that doesn't in some way or another recall the X-files.  The Winchesters are Mulder and Scully for the 2000s.

I came to the show late.  I was working on my thesis at the time and I rarely watched TV.  Once I graduated I became a fast convert.  It became my Friday night ritual (I was watching them with my then-girlfriend, so that is ok).  It was also one of the shows I did not invest in any fandom merchandise.  I have an X-files soundtrack CD and Mulder and Scully action figures, but I got them as gifts.  But I really got into the show all the same.  One of the first desktop "themes" I had for my brand spanking new copy of Windows 95 was an X-files one.

I loved the season-long and multi-season-long story arcs, I loved the characters, and I didn't even care when my then girlfriend (and now wife) would go on about how hot Mulder or Skinner were.  That was fine with me.  I got to see Scully, and she was hot and super smart.

The Godfather of the X-files is "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" and Darrin McGavin even made some guest spots on the show.  X-Files, while the "mythos arc" is lauded, sometimes worked the best on the "monster of the week" episodes.  Sure the aliens were great and those were the ones I got excited about, but the ones I recall the best, Flukeman, "Theef", the freaky weird family, the hallucinogenic fungus, the chupacabra.  Like Kolchak, X-files did it's best job when it dealt with "small stories"; episodes that dealt with a local myth, legend, or monster and came at it with Mulder the one ready to believe anything, and Scully looking for the reasoned explanation.  I also liked the "spin-offs" of Millennium and the Lone Gunmen.

One day I am going to go back to the world of the X-Files.  Back when Clinton was still president, freaky half-worm/half-man things lived in chemical toilets, cigarette-smoking men and well-manicured men sat in dark rooms with darker purposes, aliens kidnapped little girls and the Truth Was Out There.


The trouble with X-Files is it was doomed from the start.  You can't keep the characters or the audience in the dark all the time and have a good show, and the more secrets you reveal the less the characters have to uncover.  They kept it up though for a good long run.

The same is true for any conspiracy game.  Conspiracy X, by Eden Studios, is a great example.  You can totally run an "X-Files" game with it, but how often can you keep the players in the dark when they are looking for secrets?  The same is true for the RPG The Unexplained (which was my "U" for 2012).

This is something Game Masters need to keep in mind when running any sort of Conspiracy based RPG. 

For NIGHT SHIFT in particular I tried to capture all of this, via the lens of Kolchak: The Night Stalker in my "Weirdly World News" Night World. But here I only scratched the surface and if this month has shown me anything there is so much more to talk about.

The NIGHT SHIFT RPG is available from the Elf Lair Games website (hardcover) and from DriveThruRPG (PDF).

Saturday, April 23, 2022

#AtoZChallenge2022: T is for Tunguska (and Tesla)

The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories T
The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories: T is for Tunguska (and some Tesla)

On the morning of June 30, 1908 near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Yeniseysk Governorate (now Krasnoyarsk Krai), Russia an explosion of roughly 12 megatons occurred.  This is not in doubt and was well documented at the time.

What is in doubt is why it happened and what caused it.

Since then there have been over 1,000 scholarly papers and countless more less reputable inquiries as to what happened.  The best guess so far is it was some sort of meteor that hit the Earth with a glancing blow. 

Others have speculated that it was a comet, a small asteroid, or even more fanciful ideas like a bit of "dark matter" or even anti-matter.  Though in those last two cases we would need to figure out what dark matter actually is first and for it to be anti-matter where did it come from because it would not last long in space and not at all in any part of the Earth's atmosphere.   Going on the even more fringe it was a black hole, alien spacecraft, or Tesla's Death Ray.  More on those in a bit.

Tunguska has fascinated me for years.  I wish I could recall when I first heard about it.  It have to have been Carl Sagan's Cosmos ('Heaven and Hell') since I can't recall anything talking about it before that.  I found it so strange and yet so cool.  It would later be a throwaway line from Dan Aykroyd's Ray Stanz in Ghostbusters.  It would come again as a major plot point in the X-Files.

Let's look into the two big fringe theories, one of which is a conspiracy theory.

Nikola Tesla and the Death Rays

This is one that has received the most ink in my library.  It is also a proper Conspiracy Theory.  In the late 1890s, early 1900s, Nikola Tesla was working on the means to transfer large amounts of electricity through the air.  His experiments were failures for the most part.  But there is the claim that while working on this he sent a blast from Colorado to the North, over the North Pole, and hitting Sibera causing the Tunguska blast.  The government then came in to hush it all up to keep the Russians and Czar from knowing.  The US Government then kept pressuring Tesla to repeat the experiment for a long range "death ray."

We do know that when Tesla died FBI officals rushed into his New York hotel and confescated all his belongings.  Among these were supposedly plans for his death ray.

UFOs Over Russia

Another popular idea (it's not a theory) is that the blast happened due to a crashing or exploding UFO.  This might help with the question of where did the anti-matter come from if it were an anti-matter explosion.   Of course there is no evidence for this.  It was 1908 in the remotest part of Russia.  Even if good records had been keept in a little more than 10 years the Communists would have control and anything like records or evidence could have been lost.

These notions all come from more recent scientific forays into Siberia. One as recently as 2004. So not quite a 100 years after the fact.


Look. You can't mention Tesla and not get my ideas generating!  He is the epitome of the mad scientist.  If you have a game that has an inventor or weird science then at some point you are going to need to talk about Tesla.

So what was Tunguska in the worlds of NIGHT SHIFT?  Easy. It was e.) All the above.

There were UFOs over Siberia.  The US government had found about them and Tesla blew them up with his death ray.  Something he felt terrible about ever after.  The aliens would then later investigate again only to crash in Roswell, NM.  That's USA 2, Aliens 0!

A possible adventure idea is that someone has found Tesla's notes and now has their own death ray! 

Tesla books

The NIGHT SHIFT RPG is available from the Elf Lair Games website (hardcover) and from DriveThruRPG (PDF)

Thursday, April 21, 2022

#AtoZChallenge2022: R is for Radio Conspiracies

The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories R
The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories: R is for Radio Conspiracies

There is something about many modern conspiracy theories and their connection with radios.  I think it is because, like the Internet, conspiracy theories were often shared in less than reputable papers and tabloids but also via ham radios and various pirate radio stations.

So today I thought I'd look into a couple of these.

The War of the Worlds

The first is the 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds. It seems that people missed the repeated remarks on this being the fictional broadcast.  But as Orson Welles was broadcasting wide-spread panic sat in by people believing that the US was really being attacked by Martians.  Why am I including this here?  It shows that people were taken in rather convincingly by what they heard on the state-of-the-art technology of the time.  So really, can we be surprised that people are taken in by stuff they see on the Internet?

Numbers Stations

These are weird.  I mentioned them back in October and I have looked into them a little more since then.  These are short-wave radio broadcasts believed to be coded messages to intelligence officers in the field.  If you can find them they are actually a little creepy to listen to.  While some, a minority, have been found out this leaves a majority who have not been discovered. Where uncertainty leaves a gap it is usually filled with a conspiracy theory. 

Some of the best I have heard/read is that these codes are for programming people that hear them.  Someone hears these numbers and they are pre-programmed to do some activities that they will not remember later.  Others claim they are alien broadcasts, either to or from aliens.

I can't recall if "The X-Files" ever covered Numbers Stations, but the recent History series "Project Blue Book" (not to be confused with the older, similar series on NBC "Project U.F.O.") featured them.


Taking a page from Banshee Chapter, the characters can discover a new Numbers Station; or be given a story by their editor in a Weirdly World News.  The station is not communicating with anyone human but the extra-dimensional aliens.  What are they doing? What do they want?  Maybe these numbers are not a coded message, but rather the frequencies are for opening up a portal to let in even more aliens.

Story or not, these aliens should probably be stopped. 

Oh. Looking for what I have said about another R word, Roswell? I have a whole entry in the latest NIGHT SHIFT book Night Companion: A Sourcebook for Night Shift: VSW.

Given all this talk about Radio, I thought this was a good choice. 

The NIGHT SHIFT RPG is available from the Elf Lair Games website (hardcover) and from DriveThruRPG (PDF).

Saturday, April 9, 2022

#AtoZChallenge2022: H is for Hollow Earth

The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories: H is for Hollow Earth

Actually of all the conspiracy theories I have presented here, the Hollow Earth is one of my favorites.

It is just so crazy and so much fun.

In truth, many of these ideas come from my father-in-law who had a rather impressive collection of books and underground films about this stuff.  I like to pretend he didn't believe them all and like me, he just got a lot of enjoyment out of them.  Well, this is true, but ask me again when we get to Tesla.

So the Hollow Earth.

This one is a topic I have talked about a bit here in the past.  

From the fantastic Ubiquity powered game from Exile Game Studio,

To the Hollow World of Msytara,

Tales of Journey to the Center of the Earth and Pellucidar filled my childhood.  So as far as conspiracy theories go, this one was a welcomed one, but one that never left the realms of fiction for me.

Great tales when you are a kid, bad science when you are older.  

It was not until my father-in-law introduced me to this strange book he got about the Hollow Earth by Raymond Bernard.

Hollow Earth

Hollow Earth

Hollow Earth

It ties then UFO literature and research to the Hollow Earth.  A lot of it is crazy pseudo-scientific nonsense, premises stretched thin and beyond credulity, and shoddy correlations that are not even remotely connected.   So it is easy to see why people who are not trained in science are taken in.

Yet, unlike the Flat Earthers (who are as you recall morons) the Hollow Earthers seem almost quaint in a naïve, harmless old uncle in his dotage.  "Of course, the Earth is Hollow, now let's get you back to bed." 


On Monday I mentioned two "alien" species that came from under the Earth.  Could their origin be the Hollow Earth?  It certainly sounds fun to think about, but I think I much prefer an "underdark" sort of Hollow Earth with large pockets of emptiness where these communities of Derro and Ophidians can live and where they do battle with the Reptilians in their underground bases. 

Maybe not full-on Agartha or Pellucidar, but more akin to Jules Verne.  There are Pulp roots to NIGHT SHIFT if one cares to look.  The Hollow Earth also had pulp roots.  It is therefore not inconceivable that a group of adventurers from NIGHT SHIFT could find themselves on their own Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Hollow Earths

The NIGHT SHIFT RPG is available from the Elf Lair Games website (hardcover) and from DriveThruRPG (PDF).

Thursday, April 7, 2022

#AtoZChallenge2022: F is for Flat Earth

The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories: F is for Flat Earth

Over the years I have seen and read about some really interesting conspiracies.  The movie JFK starring Kevin Costner really made you think that maybe Lee Harvey Oswald didn't act alone, or maybe that Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna could be alive somewhere, or maybe Roswell was about aliens.   

While thought provoking, all of these are dismissed once the evidence is carefully examined.  Oswald did act alone, DNS proved Anastasia's death, and the government did lie about Roswell, but not about aliens.

But the dumbest conspiracy theory ever has to come from the lead-paint chip-eating crowd behind the Flat Earth Theory.  I even hate to call it a theory since no part of it acts like a true theory.

Essential this brain trust believes the Earth is flat and NASA has been covering up to support the notion of "Globeists."   They are all invariably ultra-religious and start with the claim about God and the "four corners of the Earth" that they take literally.

Let's ignore the poet license people are allowed to take. Or the fact that the Bible was originally written by people that honestly had no idea where the sun went at night AND it was translated, rewritten, re-translated, and so on for centuries.  OR even that Greek mathematician Eratosthenes not only showed that only the earth was round, he also calculated its circumference with an astounding degree of accuracy prior to 200 BC.

They have all decided that not only is the Earth flat, but NASA has been lying to the entire world to...well I am not sure why they think NASA is lying.  Normally in a coverup there are reasons. Money. Power. But the Flat Earthers think NASA is hiding something. 

Let's be 100% honest here.  Flat Earthers are morons.

But what can to give me when it comes to running a NIGHT SHIFT game?


The biggest gripe that Flat Earthers seem to have is that NASA and all the world governments are conspiring together to keep information out of the hands of the ones that seek the truth. 

Let's ignore the fact that such a vast conspiracy would be impossible to pull or let alone maintain, what does NIGHT SHIFT have that the world's governments want to hide?  Easy.  Magic.

The governments of the world, or at least sections of it, know all about magic and their job is to keep that knowledge out of the hands of the unwashed masses.  To that end, they have magical practitioners that help clean up everything and erase memories.  Something akin to an Arcane Men in Black or even like the Cleaners from Charmed (who, interestingly enough wear all white and not all black like the MiB).  In some ways, they are also a bit like the  Technocracy from Mage: The Ascension, but are "pro" magic and "anti" people getting their hands on it.

This group's job is to protect magic, but more importantly, their job is to protect magic from all the "mundanes" and mortals out there.   I am thinking of calling them "The Guardians" or something like that.  They monitor all magic in the world and keep it out of the wrong hands and the wrong minds.

The Guardians either appear as angels, devils, fey creatures or tall humans as the need arises.  In truth they prefer not to be seen at all.


Now I should note that one of my favorite games, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea assumes a Flat Earth and it works fine there. In fact a lot of the "reality" of AS&SH is built on a lot of the ideas I have been talking about all this month.

Really there is only one Flat Earth worth talking about and that is the 1984 album by Thomas Dolby.

The NIGHT SHIFT RPG is available from the Elf Lair Games website (hardcover) and from DriveThruRPG (PDF).

Saturday, April 2, 2022

#AtoZChallenge2022: B is for Bermuda Triangle

The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories B

The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories: B is for Bermuda Triangle

The Bermuda Triangle might not be one of the big conspiracy theories, but it is an important one for me. 

The Bermuda Triangle was a gateway drug for me for all sorts of quasi-normal, pseudo-scientific ideas.  I think it was a set of "documentaries" I saw in the late 1970s.  The one that comes to mind most often to me is 1978's Secrets of the Bermuda Triangle.  I remember watching it at the Times theater in my old hometown.

The movie was presented as a documentary and to my 8-9-year-old mind that meant that it had to have had some scientific rigor to it.    The movie was a collection of "true stories" like the loss of the Navy's Flight 19 and other tales.  Many that still get repeated today.  It also included a lot of conjecture as to why this area had so many disappearances.  My favorite was one about a malfunctioning energy collection crystal from Atlantis that would zap ships and airplanes and either destroy them or send them to alternate dimensions.  Like many documentaries of this time it tries to make connections to Egypt and even to the Maya and Aztec cultures. 

Statistically speaking, the waters of the Bermuda Triangle are no more or less dangerous than any others given the number of ships.  In a 2013 survey of the most dangerous shipping areas, it doesn't even rank in the top 10.

Bermuda Triangle

I have been through the Bermuda Triangle twice now.  Once while flying home from Jamaica (our flight was not allowed to fly over Cuba) and once on a cruise ship.


I am going with the crystal idea for NIGHT SHIFT.  The Triangle was the site of some ancient alien base that later had to be abandoned. There is indeed a giant crystal that charges "Vril" (more on that on V day) from sunlight.  Periodically it releases its built-up energy in a blast that discorporates whatever is in its path. Does it destroy the object or, as some scholars believe, does it transport it to somewhere else?

Some even believe that these crystals are pyramid-shaped and have the same dimensions of the Great Pyramid of Giza. 

The remains of the Bimini Road are also part of this base, but so far no one has figured out how they are connected. 

The biggest problems here are 1.) discovering the crystal and it's nature and 2.) getting down the crystal and turning it off. 

I would say that there are smaller crystals that are connected to it.  This can give the PCs some clues.  Especially if the crystals glow and pulsate in time with the larger one.  Someone would need to correlate the brightest flashes with disappearances.   

Given that reports of missing ships seem to have dropped off (that darn GPS!) and the height of the reports peaked in interest in the 70s I am thinking of setting this in my Spirit of 76 campaign. Another chance for me to use some ideas from "The Fantastic Journey."

The NIGHT SHIFT RPG is available from the Elf Lair Games website (hardcover) and from DriveThruRPG (PDF).

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Mystic Locales: The Library

This one is for all my librarian friends out there and for all the libraries I have loved.

Mystic Locales: The Library

There is a rumor. 

Naturally, it is whispered since talking aloud is not permitted and many find that they can no longer say the rumor in anything above a whisper.  The rumor is ignored by sages. It is conjectured as a flight of fancy among occult scholars. It is whispered among students, who find the idea terrifying at some level. But the librarians know it is real and true. Moreover, they have all taken a sacred vow to protect the secret and keep it from those who would use this power for evil ends.

Librarians all know that all libraries, everywhere, are connected.

From the first construction of the Library of Alexandria to the Carnegie Libraries of the 20th Century to the largest University Libraries to the small Little Libraries of a local neighborhood to the planet-sized Library of the 51st Century, all are connected. Not just spiritually, but physically as well.  One can wander the stacks of a library and end up in the stacks of another library hundreds of miles away and even dozens of years different.

When people go missing like this often a librarian will find them. A quick check in their own "inter-library loan" memos will discover who the person is and where they belong. The librarian will escort them back to where they need to go under the guise of 'helping them find their book' and send them along the way.  Most often the person in question will have no recollection of this other than the very pleasant and helpful staff.

There are those rare individuals who know how to navigate "The Stacks". The entrance is never the same for each library, and sometimes it can change in the same library.  These special people usually have some things in common. They spend a lot of time at libraries, often just reading or roaming the stacks and shelves looking for interesting and rare books.  They often have a love for books in general; not just in learning, but in the simple joy of reading or holding a book.
The rare ones even know how to move from one library to another as easily as others walk into a room of choice and back.   These special few are usually discovered and offered a job as a librarian where they can learn more ways to other libraries.

New Witch Ritual

Access the Library
Level: Witch Ritual 5
Ritual Requirements: 1 witch, 1 cleric, and 1 magic-user. see text
Range: 10-foot radius centered around a thaumaturgic triangle
Duration: See text
Legends claim that there is a library, The Library, that can be accessed if the intention is one of pure learning.  This library exists in its own extra-dimensional space and it contains the works of all sages, scholars, researchers, and authors as well as works of magic divine, arcane and occult.
To open the door the witch must gather together a magic-user (wizard) and a cleric, all of whom can cast 5th level spells.  It is believed that only by working together in ritual can all access the library.  Once the ritual is cast, usually taking an hour, all three may enter.  Their time spent in the Library is equal to a number of hours equal to their combined levels.  Time outside the library passes normally, but nothing else from the outside world affects them. Only the three that have cast the ritual may enter.
Once inside the ritual participants may look up any information they wish.  This can be used to research any magical question such as new spell creation, magic item creation or learning a new spell.  For every level the participant has they gain a +1 or a +5% where appropriate.
While in the Library the participants will see ghostly figures moving about. These are other patrons who have entered the Library via their own means or by means of a similar ritual.  Patrons cannot interact with each other; no talking or physical contact.  Patrons can only interact with those they entered with. 
Once the spell duration is complete the ritual participants will find themselves back in their thaumaturgic triangle.  A patron may leave at any time, but it will end the ritual.
Material Components: Each participant must bring and leave behind a book, scroll or other forms of printed work to give to the Library.  It need not be original, but an original work will grant the patrons an extra hour of reading/research time.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mystic Locales: Halfway

A while back I came up with this idea to post small write-ups on mystic and magical places you could put into your games.
Halfway was one of my first ones and still one of my favorites.

Type: Supernatural Tavern
Location: American Southwest

Located in the middle of the Arizona desert on a lonesome stretch of forgotten highways lies one of the strangest sights, one that the characters might not see again in their life. It is a bar, in the middle of nowhere. The parking lot is often full of motorcycles and semi tractor trailer trucks. Its bright, but broken neon sign proclaims this place is called Halfway.

Inside the clientele are of all shapes and sizes. In addition to humans, demons, vampires, Bast, even were-creatures and an angel or two can be seen inside. The curious thing is no one is fighting. Not that the place is quiet or sedate, it is quite loud and the occasional argument does break out. Anytime it looks like an argument might escalate to a physical or magical fight glances are haltingly directed to a man sitting in back playing cards. The man, only known as The Dealer, never acknowledges these glances, in fact he never sees them, but the fight looses steam as soon as it almost started.

The Dealer continues his game. The cards he uses are old and appear to be about a hundred years old. They appear to be playing cards, but also look like an old set of Tarot cards written in Spanish. When playing he keeps the Major Arcana tucked away, but that is not why people come here. People come here because this blind man can see the future.

The rumor is that the Dealer made a deal with Fate hundreds of years ago. To gain his ability to see the future his eyes were burned out of his head. He now wears dark sunglasses to cover his injury. He came to this bar and challenged the then demonic owner to a game of cards. The demon, seeing the burned out eyes of an otherwise normal human, took that bet. That is when Fate played Her hand. Within hours the Dealer, as he was now calling himself owned the bar, the former demon owner, and much of the money of the other players at the table.

Since then people come the world over for the contacts that only Halfway has, but mostly they are here to get insight to their own futures.

There is also quite a bit of speculation what the name Halfway means. Most assume it is because it is half-way between Las Vegas, NV and Santa Fe, NM. Though most of the clientele say it is half-way between our world and Hell. The Dealer, when he comments about it at all will say that it is halfway between where you were and where you need to go.

The Dealer
Human agent of Fate

The Dealer has no stats. He does not enter into combat of any sort not does he seem to need to sleep. Attacks on him always fail do to some random occurrence. For example if a character pulls out a gun to shoot him the gun will jam, or as the bullet is fired someone from the upper level falls over the railing and connects with the bullet. Spells deflect and physical attacks fail. Whenever the characters come to Halfway he is sitting at the back table playing cards. He is typically found with a 9ft tall demon with deep red skin, black horns and wings who spits fire when he laughs and an angelic humanoid of indeterminate gender. Typically al three will be playing cards, usually poker, with a fourth. When the characters arrive he will address them, not so much by name, but by their recent deeds and actions. For example if the characters just finished off a group of demons, the Dealer will work that into conversation. He will deal the cards to whomever wishes to have their fortunes read. This is not a gypsy-style fortune telling, and he will say a much. He will refer to sacred geometries of chance or the ebb and flow of probabilities. He will only deal three cards representing the characters past, present and future respectively. In cases where the future card is especially dire he allows the character to keep the card.
Directors need to work hard in preparing for the Casts visit to the Dealer and Halfway. If they are there for information, it is likely that they will get it, for a price. For a fortune read (and never ask the Dealer to read your fortunes he will only reply, what makes you so sure you are going to be fortunate?)

The Dealer is played by Viggo Mortensen.