Tag Archive for apocalypse

I Pray God Will Curse the Writer

I Pray God Will Curse the Writer is a live action roleplaying game I wrote, inspired by bits of the Hastur mythos as described by Robert Chambers, John Tynes, Dennis Detwiller and Robin Laws.

All the larp files in one .zip file

Cast member character sheets
Inhabitant of Carcosa character sheets
Answer cards
Whisper Labyrinth cards
Supplemental cards
The King in Yellow
Fates for the King in Yellow to distribute
papers full of weird writing for the author

Google Doc of the main text

This larp is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Creative Commons License

Playtest: Ghost Lines Dark

We played Ghost Lines Dark last night. There were, of course, a few kinks to get worked out about how Cthulhu Dark relates to Ghost Lines. But it was a lot of fun and seemed to work over all.

I stole Judd’s idea of having the PCs be a crew of new recruits mentored by Orlence, a legendary master bull who was too drunk to operate. This nicely gave a reason for a bunch of new recruits to all be working a train line without much supervision.

I also used the Ghost Lines map that john posted on his blog. They didn’t get very far, so it didn’t come up much. But I liked having a bunch of places names and an idea how things were arranged. (I think that the “add a fact to the map” mechanics I threw into Ghost Lines Dark would come up more in a multi-session campaign rather than a single session playtest.)

We had three PCs:

Adric Dunvil who acted as their Spider (an Iruvian, he was also skilled as a Rook I think) old friends with Caul, afraid of rats after a terrible experience with a swarm of ghost rats in Bright Harbor.

Caul Hellyers, Iruvian Owl and Rook. He hadn’t actually passed the final exam for the bull training, but a kindly master bull named Pholonia gave him a passing mark anyway. (My GM failure: Pholonia should have been the drunk master bull that they were operating under. Gotta reuse NPCs as much as possible.)

Aran Laudius, their Sevoran Anchor, addicted to fermented beetle wings that the brew out in Cullfield.

I decided that much of the electro-rails industry was located in Southpointe. Near the Imperial City, Southpointe was a crossroads city, so it would be a good place to put all the trainyards and such. The PCs had been through some basic bull training but never fought an actual ghost before setting off west, toward the Imperial City.

As the train pulled out of Southpointe, Orlence pulled Caul aside. “Listen, kid. There are some secrets that you don’t want to know about. You know that refrigerated car at the back of the train? Stay away from it.” Then Orlence stomped off to the bar (and was never seen sober again.)

So naturally, the first thing the PCs did was to go back the the refrigerator car to investigate. It was covered in signs saying “Keep Out – authorized Personnel Only.” The car was locked shut, but a few rolls got the door open. Well, not “open”. They couldn’t undue the lock on the door, but they used their electro-hooks to pry the bottom half of the door apart from the jamb enough that they could fit through with their encounter suits. Two bulls went inside while one stayed out to be lookout and keep the train’s porters from asking too many questions.

Inside were several dozen chest freezers, about the size of a coffin. Knocking the padlock off of the nearest one, the bulls found a human body (male, adult, naked) frozen in ice. The Owl’s spirit goggles didn’t show any soul inside the body, so it was either dead or a Hollow. Checking the corpse over determined that the body was still apparently alive.

Somebody was secretly transporting dozens of Hollow bodies into the Imperial City. (In retrospect: Perhaps I should have made more clear that this was likely illegal, The bulls were curious about this but didn’t worry about how the Hollow got there or where they were going.)

By this time, Caul was on lookout duty and saw an approaching ghost with his spirit goggles. The boys climbed up onto the top of the train and headed up the front of the train to confront it. Aran quickly tried to arrange the body so it looked like the Hollow tried to escape on its own. This was about as convincing as it might be in the ten seconds he took to do so.

Caul’s player asked “So what does this ghost look like?” and I natural responded “That’s a great question. What does this ghost look like?” The ghost, it turned out, looked like an elderly man with a long, animated beard and no long. He was stretched out and twisted in odd ways, so that he was over nine feet tall and had impossibly long arms. Asking a second player for a detail, the spirit inspired pain and nausea in the stomachs of anyone that looked at him. I asked the third player “What is still surprisingly human about this ghost?” The only part of the ghost that wasn’t horribly twisted were his eyes. Old ghost man had kindly old grandfather eyes, that just wanted to be close to the PCs, even as his hideous gnarled claw hands ripped at their encounter suits.

Aran, their anchor, was the last to leave the refrigerator car, but he tried to get the ghost’s attention. A roll (risking mental trauma, naturally) got the ghosts attention. I wasn’t clear from the original game exactly how Anchors gets the ghost to focus on them (just that their job was to withstand the ghost’s attentions). Aran decided to get the ghost’s attention by pretending to recognize it as a long lost relative. “Uncle Bob! I’ve missed you!” (Side note: “Bob” is not on the name list. This was a deliberate decision on Aran’s player’s part. Bulls, you see, never nickname ghosts with names that have been cleared. Sharing a name with a ghost is bad luck; it connects the spirit to you. So if you have to name a ghost, you give it a weird or archaic name that no one uses any more. Like “Bob”.)

Aran’s excellent roll and some trauma taken meant that the ghost was laser focused on him. It flew right through Caul (Harm roll, didn’t result in any Harm though) on the way back down the train to where the Anchor was. Caul slashed it with a lightning hook as it went by, and the ghost’s sad old man eyes turned to look at him in confusion. “Why are you hurting me when I just want to be close to my loving family?” the eyes seemed to ask. “Uncle Bob” hugged onto Aran and caused him some more trouble while Adric stood back. He was playing it safe, letting the other two risk themselves against the ghost (and it showed: in the end, Adric had suffered the least out of the three). Adric threw a spirit bottle underneath, yelled for everyone to get back and launched a lightning-web. An excellent roll caught the ghost perfectly. The clear glass bottle was now full of swirling green-grey fog. As you watched, occasionally those sad, confused eyes would drift past and look at you pleading to be freed.

The bulls were, naturally, jubilant after bagging their first real ghost. They decided to hunt down Orlence and show off their good work. They stormed off through some public bits of the train, showing off their full spirit bottle. (If Ghost Lines is steampunk Ghostbusters, then this would be the “We came! We saw! We kicked its ass!” moment in the hotel lobby. A brief moment of self-congratulation at how destructive and successful their first real job went.) Orlence was getting drunk in the train car with the bar. As the PCs walk in, Orlence is arguing with the bartender, demanding more alcohol. As Orlence slumps onto the table, Adric plops the spirit bottle in his hand. Orlence only realizes that it isn’t alcohol only when those sad, dead eyes stare up at him.

Congratulatory drinks all around, celebrating their first bagged ghost. I realized then that I had no idea what the bulls do with a ghost they caught in the spirit bottle. Taking a ghost into the city wasn’t allowed, obviously, but just throwing it back into the poison fog seemed strange and wasteful. Orlence drunkenly explained that some bulls smuggle ghosts into town and burn them to make electroplasm. Make some money on the side. Totally illegal but it pays better than their real job.

Somewhere in this conversation, we got talking about the ghosts in the wilderness. Someone said that they were glad that they’d never end up like Uncle Bob. Orlence told them about another bull that he saw when he was an apprentice. Guy fell from the train outside Duskwall. Next time Orlence worked the Duskwall line, they had to clear the bull’s own ghost from the line. That, he explained, was the end fate waiting for all of the bulls.

The bulls don’t ask about the Hollow bodies on ice, but Caul gets an idea. He gets wondering what happens when you put a ghost into a Hollow body. He hopes to be able to resurrect Uncle Bob once more. Caul heads back to the refrigerator car. He hasn’t explained his plan, but Adric and Aran are curious about the Hollow, so they follow.

Civilians don’t like to go out into the poison fog, so nobody’s been in the refrigerator car. The Hollow is still where they left it. Without saying a word, Caul upends the bottle into the Hollow’s mouth. Suddenly, the Hollow’s eyes flip open, with the same confused, tragic look as the ghost had. The body starts trying to claw its way out, but it is still stiff from being frozen and can barely move.

Now that they have made a zombie, no one is sure what to make of it. Adric is a bit shocked. Aran is the most horrified. This is when he explains how death is the ultimate trauma you can go through. When your spirit is ripped from your body, it permanently damages your psyche. “Aran, why do you know this?” Adric asks. Aran explains that he was technically dead for five minutes during a training accident and his spirit had separated from his body, making him technically a ghost possessing his own Hollow body. This trauma was why Aran was now an addict and an Anchor: his near death experience gave him a natural affinity for ghosts. And relevant to their current situation, a spirit that was dead for a few minutes is messed up. A ghost that was dead for years or centuries would never be a functioning human being again. Now the bulls have a real problem on their hands. If they take a possessed Hollow into the Imperial City, then they’ll all be in trouble.

Uncle Bob is waking up and trying to claw at Aran’s heavy encounter suit, but the suit is too tough for the still half frozen Hollow body to do anything. Caul runs off to get Orlence for guidance while Aran holds Uncle Bob down.

Orlence is drunker than before. He’s starts cursing Caul out when Caul says they went into the refrigerator car, and is even more shocked when he’s told about the ghost in the body. He drunkenly stumbles up from his stool and eventually manages to get his encounter suit helmet on. Unfortunately, Orlence has no idea what to do with the guy once they get there. From the front of the train, the bulls all hear the whistle that means they’re getting close to Imperial City.

Adric has an idea, though. He’s going to set up a lightning cage inside the car with Uncle bob inside, then drag the hollow body out. This wouldn’t be enough to separate a living person from their body, it could separate a ghost from a Hollow. Uncle Bob’s eyes still plead for help from the bulls as they loop a cable around his feet and plant him in the middle of the electric field generators. Adric risks physical harm and winds up being pulled through the lightning fields when Uncle Bob starts kicking. But Bob is pulled through anyway. The Hollow’s head breaks open and starts bleeding on the floor, while Bob’s ghost was torn t shreds in the electric field.

Orlence is passed out in the corner by now. The bulls decide to leave him there with Uncle Bob. Either he’ll look like he was poking around where he shouldn’t or he’ll look like he singlehandedly saved the train from a ghost-possessed Hollow. Orlence is drunk enough that he won’t recall what happened. The bulls clear out before the train pulls into the station, doing one last very public patrol of the train. (The bulls never found out what happened to Orlence, but he didn’t work the Bayside line again.)

We wrapped up with playing the downtime a bit. I need to adjust the Ghost Lines dark rules a bit, as they earned a lot more money by sidejobs instead of their job as bulls. Everyone worked a side job. Aran, a Sevoran, also went drinking in the pub and bought his Trauma down by taking a mental scar “What about Uncle Bob?” which symbolized his sympathy for the ghosts they were destroying. Aran also worked as a bouncer at the same bar, got some Harm for his trouble but paid off a favor that he owed Ty Cronel the Fixer (a nasty criminal NPC that didn’t figure in very much). Caul chose the most sedate job possible: basketweaving, while Adric went leviathan hunting. The game ended with Adric bursting in on Caul’s gentle basket weaving, excited about leviathan hunting and about the awesome lead that he earned on the side job. (shit, I forget now what the lead was. Something lucrative in northern Akoros.) If this had been the first session of a campaign instead of a one-shot, that lead would have been where we picked up next session.

I liked the game a lot! The setting really worked nicely. The Cthulhu Dark adaptation mostly did its job, with most PCs taking varying amount of Harm and Trauma. Think that two or three ghosts and you’d be close to dead and ready to buy some scars in your downtime. (I think a few of the feedback loops only kick in over a few jobs instead of one single job, though.)

Very cool. Would play again.

Might play again next week, actually. We had too many players show up, so we separated into two groups and the latter played Pandemic and Elder Sign. So now I have to run Ghost Lines for those people at some point.

[Not Exactly Gaming] How do you preserve our culture in the face of an apocalypse?

My father-in-law asked me as a thought experiment what technologies I’d use to preserve civilization in the face of an apocalypse or societal collapse. This is the answer I gave him, which may have gotten out of hand. If nothing else, it was entertaining to me to write and gave me a few cool seeds for science fiction ideas.

Plan A
By far, the best way to preserve civilization from a disaster is to prevent or avoid the disaster. No preservation technologies will keep safe all the data available to our culture presently. So Plan A for preserving our culture would be sustainable technologies that prevent environmental collapse paired with the legal, diplomatic and peacekeeping tools needed to prevent any wars or terrorists from escalating to thermonuclear levels.

Assuming that Plan A fails, then you’d need to preserve knowledge following a societal collapse of unpredictable levels. We can’t know in advance exactly how far society collapses, so I’ll just assume humanity survives but is basically reduced to Stone Age tech levels.

The preservation plan (Plan B)
Bury 4-6 depositories of digital information on the Moon, with huge quantities of data stored in programmable read-only memory These depositories are equipped with solar arrays to power a radio beacon that can communicate data from their archives back to earth when signaled. They’ll also have as much information as is feasible backed up in hardcopy on plastic scrolls, should future humans eventually visit in person.

On earth, there is an array of smaller depositories full of non-digitized materials. These terrestrial information depots would begin with a series pictograms printed on plastic scrolls designed to teach English to illiterate future humans. This would then segue into more advanced texts on radio transmissions, computer science, rocket science and the location of the lunar archives. (They’d also be outfitted with radio transmitters and the tools to repair them, so future humans could put this knowledge to use.) The goals of the the terrestrial depots is to survive as long as possible, to be as accessible as possible and to teach future humans the knowledge needed to contact the more complete digital archives on the Moon through one method or another. The lunar depositories aim to give as complete a picture of our modern society as we can make feasible.

The Reasoning

There are many concerns involved here. Here are a few factors that need to be kept in mind.

The Vastness of Information
YouTube generates 72 hours of video every minute. There were roughly 15 million books published in the last year. And there are literally billions of electronic documents and records created every day. And innumerable bits of ephemera: restaurant menus, notes left for family members, flyers for raves, bills for replacing a septic tank. (These bits of ephemera are really quite useful to future archaeologists to understand our lives today, just as ancient Roman recipes and shopping lists tell us a lot about classical cultures.)

We can’t possibly save everything. So somebody would need to curate an insanely vast universe of total human knowledge and create a protocol on what to preserve and how. (I’d advise a ‘slice of life’ vertical system that keeps every document of a day of a representative sample of people’s lives, plus a selection of the most important books, movies, music, etc. chosen for inclusion due to their overall cultural impact.)

Access to the Information
You can easily read a book from 200 or more years ago (or a carving from thousands of years ago if you know the language), yet trying to get a floppy disk from the mid 90s to read seems nearly impossible. We need an encoding technology that can still be read in the distant future, regardless of what happens. In this case, the oldest technology is the best. Anyone with eyes can read a book. Any more complicated system of digitizing things will make information less accessible to future humanity.

Two conflicting goals
Already, a tension starts to form. Paper records are the preferred method of storing data, both for longevity and for accessibility. But paper is bulky and difficult to store. You can’t keep all the available information in paper form. Digital preservation lets you store vast quantities of data in a small space, but is harder to access and potentially has a shorter half-life. The best solution will likely use a hybrid solution: store as much as is feasible in physical form, plus as large a digital archive as possible for everything else.

For about two thousand years, no one could read Egyptian. Despite the best efforts of numerous historians and archaeologists, Egyptian was a mystery until the Rosetta stone was decoded. Quipu, Crypto-Minoan, Linear A and a dozen other ancient writing systems are still undecipherable to modern culture. It is vital to include instructions on how to read English. You don’t know what languages will survive the collapse (if any), so the instructions would have to start from scratch. A group of linguists and educators could create a series of visual images and words (like children’s books or comic books) designed specifically to teach future humans to read modern English.

Similarly, any documents that have been digitized or otherwise encoded need to have instructions on decoding them stored in a more accessible format. The overall plan would involve using a series of pictograms to teach how to read English, then a series of more advanced texts on computer science, radio communications and rocket science. These more advance texts would teach the skills needed to access the complete lunar archives, even in cases where the lunar archives have been compromised. (First, learn to send the appropriate radio signal, then learn to decode the digital information, finally learn to travel to the Moon in person if the radio contact fails.)

You can’t trust human being to do it for very long
Cultural institutions created for one purpose might be doing something entirely different in a generation or two. Creating a priest class (like in Canticle for Liebowitz) might work for a few generations, but you have no way to guarantee that the priests will keep to that purpose as society around them changes. People have that fickle thing called free will. Culture evolves over time. And like with genetic evolution, cultural evolution is a system of punctuated equilibrium: slow change for long periods, then sudden quick changes when the environment around them changes. An apocalypse would be a massive punctuation in the equilibrium, leading to unpredictable changes to any societal institutions that survived it. There’s no way to know that your cult of scribes will still be scribing in a couple centuries. Perhaps they’ll develop into something entirely different. (In 1848, John Humphrey Noyes started a religious institution to live free from sin, practicing communalism and polyamory. Now that same organization is the world’s largest seller of silverware, with no religious nature.) To preserve cultural information after an apocalypse, you’ll need preservation technologies that require minimal or no human action.

Physical environment
The worst factors for preservation are environmental ones. Humidity, sunlight, temperature changes and environmental catastrophe are all factors of concern here. Any changes in the air around material accelerates the rate of decay, shortening the length of time that our depository will survive for future civilizations. The current best practice is to store items in abandoned coal mines, which provides constant environmental variables and protects against most catastrophes. This would preserve materials as long as possible, though it may still be susceptible to destruction in the case of an earthquake. (Deserts, the himalaya mountains and under Antarctic ice are also good places to put earthly storage facilities for maximum preservation.)

An actual vacuum would be even better for many purposes. The amount of change of a vacuum would be smaller than even the stillest atmosphere. But a vacuum chamber left on Earth without human maintenance would eventually leak atmosphere in. (Terrestrial depositories would maintain a layer of vacuum between themselves and the rest of the world, but still would plan on this eventually failing.)

Placing depositories on the Moon provides a natural vacuum environment. The Moon also has some other convenient features, like how one side always faces the Earth. This means that the depositories would always be contactable by radio if the Moon were visible in the sky. The visible side of the Moon is also less likely to be hit by meteors than the far side is, reducing the chance of a meteorite destroying an archive prematurely.

Any disaster plan should include redundancy. In this case, you need to have multiple repositories of the data, in case some are destroyed in the catastrophe or by anti-intellectual forces in the newly created post-apocalyptic culture. In each depository, multiple copies of each document would exist as well. Earth is more volatile, so you’d want more information depots on Earth, but you’d still want multiple archives on the Moon in case one’s radio systems fail or their batteries fail or the like.

We don’t know how long it will be until humanity is ready or able to access our collected knowledge. So we want the records to survive as long as possible. Systems should involve the least amount of activity or maintenance.

A scroll made out of proper materials can survive for centuries or millennia. Books involve binding material, which can expand or contract differently than the paper the books are printed on, thereby reducing the book’s shelf life compared to a single stack of looseleaf paper or a single, long scroll. Plastic should decay slower than paper, so it is the preferred material for long term storage. This will be the standard for hardcopies of documents.

Programmable read-only memory (PROM) appears to be the best way to store digital information, as it stores information by permanently physically altering the physical storage medium. I’m not a computer scientist, though, so I can’t evaluate the full potential longevity of specific digital storage media. What we want is an ultra-long term write once, read many (WORM) storage medium.

PROM might be inferior to other more exotic alternatives, such as holographic data storage or storing data inside the DNA of a living species. But those methods are still cutting edge at best and insufficiently tested to be relied on for preserving our complete civilization. I want to focus on technologies that exist today. Similarly, the plan outlined would be costly, but could be conceivably accomplished with a few billion dollars (well within the range of a US government program provided that there was political support).


A few years ago, I ran my wife’s D&D character through the classic module White Plume Mountain. During the game, she recovered the infamous artifact Blackrazor, which came to factor heavily into the campaign. This was in 3.5, but when Wizards of the Coast had a contest updating Blackrazor to 4e, I wrote this up. Only recently did I find the file and make it into a readable PDF instead of an ugly Word doc.


Fortune Cookies and Nuclear War

Fortune Cookies and Nuclear War
Fortune Cookies and Nuclear War – booklet form

An attempt to write a roleplaying game in a single paragraph. After writing, I determined that a few line breaks would improve readability. Nonetheless, it’s short enough for you to print 9 or so copies on a page, and print them out on cardstock and get something close to business card sized. Then you can carry it around in your wallet, until you’re bored in a Chinese restaurant. Or stick it as a sticker on the wall of your favorite Chinese restaurant. Or insert in the menus.

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I really like Ganakagok, by Bill White. So when I went to run the game, I made up my own set of the not-quite-Tarot cards that the game uses.

Ganakagok Cards

See also the Skeksis cards I made for a Dark Crystal inspired Ganakaok game.

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Skeksis cards for Ganakagok

My friend Ross decided to run a game of Ganakagok, but with Skeksis from The Dark Crystal instead of Ganakagok’s regular eskimoes. To facilitate this game, I made up a separate deck of the Tarot cards used in the game.

Skeksis cards for Ganakagok

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