The Mystery of the Missing Mephisto – An RPG Scenario Idea

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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.”

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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?

More on Ajeeb here. And here. And even here. See also: Psycho, an air-powered pseudo-automaton (1875).

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.

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Building a Backstory for an Alien Satellite

… 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:

Black Knight Satellite Conspiracy Theory

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:

Continue reading “Building a Backstory for an Alien Satellite”

How to Choose a Halloween (or Any) Costume

Ah, 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.

Lin Carter: Class of ’48

Linwood Vrooman Carter • St. Petersburg High School • Class of 1948

I managed to find low-res scans of an old SPHS yearbook online: 1948; Lin’s senior year of high school. What follows are the few instances where I could positively ID Lin. This yearbook appears to have had no index.

Continue reading “Lin Carter: Class of ’48”

A Tour of Lin Carter Country

Linwood Vrooman Carter • 1930-1988

Recently, I accidentally discovered that I am from the same town as Lin Carter, and also attended the same high school.

In my quest to contribute in any way to the Mythos, I thought it might be fun and easy to look up the ol’ Carter family residence, and see if it still stood. There was a little bit of fun, but it was not easy. These are my results:

Continue reading “A Tour of Lin Carter Country”

Blade Runner-Inspired MetroKab Cards For Sale

Inspired by Blade Runner, and designed by me, these fan-made, non-canon ‘wallet stuffers’ are now available on eBay and the RPF:

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I have endeavoured to capture not only the style of the 1982 sci-fi film, but also somewhat maintain the technical limitations of the period (to a certain degree). My card has a very simple, limited palette of colors, no holograms, no embossed text, no full-color graphics, no QR codes, etc. My card is four-color process printed on a thin, flexible plastic stock; thinner and softer than a credit card, but more durable than paper cardstock.

MetroKab Card eBay Listing

And also available in the Project Runs section of the RPF’s junkyard, for members, wherein I will offer certain, limited international shipping.

Certain Signs, Swastikas and The Shadow Over Innsmouth

H. P. Lovecraft began to write The Shadow Over Innsmouth in 1931. In one part of Zadok Allen’s history, he mentions “certain signs” belonging to the ‘Old Ones’ which have powers over (or against) the Deep Ones:

“…sarten signs sech as was used onct by the lost Old Ones … them old magic signs as the sea-things says was the only things they was afeard of … In some places they was little stones strewed abaout—like charms—with somethin’ on ’em like what ye call a swastika naowadays. Prob’ly them was the Old Ones’ signs…”

While this use of the swastika may seem incongruous to a late 20th / early 21st century audience, it is in fact a very old symbol, appearing in ancient North America, Europe, Africa and India. What most likely prompted the use of it here (in the Pacific) in HPL’s story were the public speculations of James Churchward from 1926 on:

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Popular Science, March, 1928.

We know HPL was familiar with Churchward’s theories because he mentions him by name in Through the Gates of the Silver Key (1932) and Out of the Aeons (1933). Reading the first 3 paragraphs of the article above gives us a clear view at the then popular ‘lost continent’ stories in the public eye at the time, and the ‘evidence’ used to support them.