Some of you may be familiar with the famous ‘chess-playing automaton’ known as “The Turk.” In fact, The Turk was an elaborate hoax, concealing a human chess player inside it. Of course, like anything successful and / or famous, there were imitations:
The Turk (debuted in Austria in 1770) changed hands a few times, and was eventually destroyed in a museum fire in Philadelphia 1854. Ajeeb was allegedly destroyed by in a fire at Coney Island in 1926, though at least one apparent copy of Ajeeb toured Canada in the 1930’s. Mephisto debuted in London in 1876, played games in England for several years, and was shown in Paris in 1889. “After 1889 it was dismantled and its subsequent whereabouts are unknown.”
And there is your inspiration: A long-lost ‘automaton’ re-discovered! Was it the product of a mad genius? What powers it? An entrapped demon? Alien technology? The ghost of a murdered operator? What secrets does it contain? And who is willing to kill to get it?
And a copy of what sounds like an urban legend about Ajeeb:
In one instance, a sore loser shot Ajeeb in the torso and supposedly wounded its operator. However … several others knew that the apprentice had been killed. To cover up for their still-successful ‘automaton,’ they got rid of the apprentice’s body. Due to the transient nature of the apprentice (who was known by no reputable or believable sources) the murder was never discovered. By 1898 … the operator … left, complaining of strange occurrences from inside Ajeeb where the automaton was moving on its own accord… two other operators [b]oth sometime later reported to friends and family brief incidents where Ajeeb seemed to be acting on its own. Allegedly, the last operator refused to play anything but checkers due to strange occurrences within the automaton.
… And the course of the path of the moon is light to the righteous, and darkness to the sinners … – I Enoch 41:8, R. H. Charles’ translation.
For those who have no idea what I’ll be talking about, here’s a primer:
For “fun,” I’ve been poking at the Google Newspaper Archive and Wikipedia, and trying to dig up some more articles / background info. Inspired by Ken Hite’s “The Dracula Dossier,” I briefly thought I might phony up a whole, physical mock dossier, but that would be a lot of work, so I’m just going to post my copy-pasted bullet points.
The idea is that you can use this ‘raw material’ to flesh out some RPG thing you’re writing background for. Periodic alien visitation, ancient alien satellite left in orbit, prehistoric human space-faring evidence, etc. Maybe change the names / dates / locations if you need to. I’ve got most of the Black Knight Satellite ‘events’ on my list, and I’ve added some more arguably ‘relevant’ material.
If you were more industrious than I, however, you could easily print out the photos, and print the articles on newsprint and put them in a folder. Ideally, you’d have some supporting ‘memos,’ and similar period paperwork. Could be a neat ‘artifact’ for your players to find.
Timeline and articles below the jump:
Spring Autumn – when a young man’s fancy turns to love costuming.
If you are planning to dress up for Halloween (or any other costuming occasion), but haven’t yet made a decision on the costume itself, here are some guidelines that I use to help narrow the possibilities:
- Public Recognition: Is this going to be easily recognizable to my audience?
- Fun Quotes: Does this character have some well-known / funny dialogue I can memorize & recite?
- Fun Poses / Actions: Does this character have any recognizable poses / gestures / actions that I can imitate? Funny quotes won’t show up in photos, but a pose or expression, or gesture will.
- Cost: Approximately how much will this cost to assemble? Can I amortize that cost over time? Can I defray that by using materials I already have, or by purchasing used components, or making my own?
- Appearance: How closely do I physically resemble this character? How can I increase that resemblance; by dieting, exercise, adding a wig, cutting my hair, dying my hair, applying make-up, wearing contact lenses, adding padding, etc?
- Comfort: How comfortable will this be when and where I plan to wear it? Will it be too warm or too cold? Will it be heavy? Can I easily move / walk? How well can I see and hear? Can I sit and stand? Climb stairs? Go through doors? Use the bathroom?
- Re-use: Can I re-use this costume, in whole or in part, on other occasions or for other purposes? Can I find components that I already have and re-use them to make this costume?
- Easy to Make: How easy will this be to make, or how easy will it be to find the necessary parts? How much time, labor and materials will be required?
- Timeliness: Is this character in the public mind right now? Is it current or trending? Is there a significant anniversary or date that I can take advantage of (movie release, birthday, etc)?
These are just some simple criteria, in no particular order. I hope they’ve helped you decide.
I like the looks of this, and this scene. For those who’d like to replicate that uniform, here are some screencaps:
Above are the ‘raw,’ unretouched screen caps; below I’ve attempted to enhance them a bit. Lightened slightly and approximately color-balanced:
“…and talked with undying leaders of the cult in the mountains of China…”
It occurred to me that this period and location might make an interesting sandbox for investigators. In retrospect, the Chinese Civil War is more complicated than one might suspect (no surprise), though I think the GM could almost make up anything they want to serve the story and likely have no player “Well, actually” them, OR be able to find some kind of supporting evidence via a web search. If it sounds fun, I say do it. Also, it gives you an excuse to relish archaic spellings like “Thibet” and “Peiping.”
Who: The factions:
- Cthulhu cultists (naturally)
- Nationalist / Republican Chinese
- Communist Chinese
- Imperial Japanese
What: Investigators are called to a mysterious monastery in the mountains of China. Perhaps an approaching army threatens a priceless collection of Buddhist scriptures? Or maybe what appears to be a humble Buddhist monastery on first glance is in reality a cover for the insidious cult of Cthulhu, pulling strings behind the scenes to make mankind “free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy.” Or perhaps there is a Great Old One sleeping underneath the (actually legit) monastery, and the monks need help to keep it sleeping. This also allows a possible connection to various Hollow Earth tropes.
When: Since the ‘deathless Chinamen’ are apparently immortal, an adventure with this setting could be staged at any time you desire; however, the ‘golden age’ of COC and the forces involved might fit best within 1926-1941. This covers the start of the Chinese Civil War to America’s entry into WWII, after which one presumes it would be more difficult (though not impossible) to casually insert a group of Westerners. Just before and even early in WWII, American servicemen were inserted into China on their own civilian passports, via commercial flights (Pan Am) from the East coast of the US, down to South America, across to West Africa, then to Egypt, then India, and finally through Burma into China (if I recall correctly).
Where: Rural China?