Monday, 21 January 2013

Ancient & Modern

Back to August 1986 now, and a fascinating experiment by Graham Staplehurst in the pages of WD80 and WD81.

A&M is a sort of multi-media scenario/campaign/magazine special, the sort of thing that could only ever have been produced in the magazines as opposed to in published scenarios (which would have come up against commercial pressures). In this scenario, the players start as AD&D characters in Brian Lumley's Theem'hdra Mythos S&S setting (House of Cthulhu, Sorcery of Shad etc.), full of antediluvean pulp goodness which then shifts gears halfway through to become a game of Call of Cthulhu in which the players play their own ancestors/grandparents in the classic CoC era who, in turn, turn out be the descendants of the original AD&D characters. WD81 also has some short Theem'hdra fiction in the form of Lumley's The Sorcerer's Book.

There is a lot of material here in two short-ish magazine articles. WD80 has a high-level overview of the Theem'hdra setting, and the sketchy way the scenario is written allows for it to either be a one-shot or full campaign dependent upon how the DM-and-Keeper fills in the sections inbetween the described "must happens" and encounters. There's a lot of open-endedness and potential for the players to wander around trying to find solutions to problems such as travel in 1920s Normandy when you've lived your lives in the forgotten, only-part-human civilization of 10,000,000 BC. (There's a nice aside in that at one point the AD&D characters can lay their hands on a sizeable quantity of Sterling and Franc bank-notes but how will they recognise this as money?).

After the Appendix N-spectacular of the brief Theem'hdra background (anybody for an expedition to "the nightmarish Marsh of Slugs - all ten thousand square miles of it"? Nobody?) we get on with the plot.

In Theem'hdra there is currently something of a stalemate between the forces of the evil Gorgos, member of the Thromb race that seeped down from the gaps between the stars across interstellar abysses etc. etc. and the white wizard (and curiously anagramically named) Teh Atht. To break the stalemate Gorgos has decided to write off his attempts to conquer Theem'hdra and has instead put much of his power into an indestructible book containing a spell which will bring him to the  future when cast by some useful idiot, far from the spoiling and meddling efforts of his nemesis Teh Atht.

Independently, Atht has created an indestructible time capsule containing relics of his age. By co-incidence this is unearthed not very far in distance or time from where Gorgos' spellbook gets unearthed. Through temporal machinations far too complicated to get my head around, the 1920s PCs become very important to the resolution of the scenario because they are the descendants of the Theem'hdra PCs who are apparently very important because they are ancestors of the Theem'hdra PCs who become very important because Gorgos tries to capture them because... I think because he tries to capture them. Maybe. Or something like that.

(And this raises another question - if I play my Great-Grandfather Lance-Corporal White, ex-Royal Engineers and Tank Corps, Western Front and I get him killed how exactly do I end up playing him in a CoC game to get him killed in the first place? Why do I suddenly appear to be speaking from a formless, eternal void?)


Our Theem'hdra PCs get attacked at night in a raid intended to make them prisoners of Gorgos in his Temple of the Secret Gods evil lair HQ. This might or might not suceed but via a very loose "this might happen, then maybe this, possibly that if something else occurs" style of scenario plotting the PCs draw the attention of Teh Atht himself who whisks them off to his tower. There is a much looseness here, run with whatever the PCs get up to until a suitable opportunity to introduce the Big Man arises.

Following astral body investigations, Teh Atht discovers that Gorgos' book has been unearthed by a British archeologist whose merry widow (and useful idiot), Mme Chalbert is planning to perform the required ritual in the pursuit of immortality and power. Meanwhile, Atht's time capsule has been discovered in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption at sea by the academic Theldred Gustau who has translated it's contents but faces public scorn for his wild claims. Oh, and Atht's plan is to get the AD&D PCs to communicate with the CoC PCs through dreams in order to get them to form an adventuring party go to the Palace of Westminister lawn and recognise each other when Big Ben rings twelve.

Confused yet? Never mind, have a Tim Sell double spread map.

Suddenly we flash to the "modern" day, it's sometime pre-Second World War and the PCs (who have never previously met) share a strong mental image of a very modern Le Corbusier white-painted concrete house and the "witch" who is going to summon Gorgos, Mme. Chalbert herself.

Now get on with it.

The PCs have to use their wits, contacts and skills and generally whatever they can come up with to locate Chalbert and the house (on a private island off the coast of Normandy), get there and disrupt the ritual. At some point (and this is not very clear how), they need to come across the testimony of Theldred Gustau suggesting that there is another link to the antediluvian land floating around somewhere in the form of his memory of events and notes, but it would be really handy if they didn't wander off an diversion to Gustau's house in Yorkshire.

Because of

which would be not good.

At this point some temporal space-time knicker elastic snaps and, in a move completely unforeseeable to anybody playing in the scenario, both sets of PCs swop times and our CoC investigators end up in Teh Atht's tower.

At this, nearly everything is good as the world and indeed entire space-time continuum has been saved yet again. Unfortunately our PCs are all trapped in the wrong times and Lance-Corporal White is thinking that driving tanks on the Somme while Germans tried to kill him was a better gig than this, implying that I'm not here typing this right now.

So, onto part of the scenario detailed in WD81.

Teh Atht needs to visit the tower of Mylakhrion, the foremost ex-wizard of his age now sadly deceased as his own spellbook is not extensive enough to contain the spell required to swop both sets of PCs in time for a celebratory feast of greasy, roast mutton and ale, or weak, milky tea and Battenberg cake depending upon era. The CoC PCs will accompany him to the tower. The AD&D PCs need to get somewhere on the modern globe coterminous with Mylakhrion's tower. This is troublesome as the continents no longer even vaguely resemble those of Theem'hdra.

However, one man in 1920s Earth is aware of Theem'hdra and has much of Teh Atht's time capsule notebooks. The Coc PCs need to dream-comunicate with their AD&D counterparts and send them to Yorkshire to find out Gustau. This is another section of the scenario that could be hand-waved or could produce hours of inventive roleplaying. While knowing nothing about the twentieth century the AD&D characters have to get off a Norman isle, get to England and then travel to Yorkshire (probably with law in pursuit), locate Gustau and then travel with him to Norway where he has calculated the site of the the tower to be. Oh, and spells keep failing in the modern industrial age. Just to make life easier.

This done, the CoC PCs accompany Teh Atht to the tower. Again this could be hand-waved or turned into the World's Biggest Dungeonbash. Oh, and technological artefacts such as guns and electric torches keep failing in the ancient age. Just to make life easier.

Right at the death, the rather angry Gorgos the Thromb arrives to have it out with Teh Atht once and for all.

Is there a male equivalent of vagina dentata? Maybe penile dentata? Stat this up, you can have that on me. Probably on some random Chaos Attribute table for Slaaneshi NPCs somewhere.


A&M is a really bold idea, not least of which is that it attempts to sit sniffy CoC players down and hand them AD&D character sheets which I imagine in some circles around 1986 would be akin to turning up to Keeper a Coc session and waving dogshit under your player's noses. It's also a little bit short of player agency and any real chance of failure in the Theem'hdra segments in that Gorgos' agents are trying to capture, not kill, and Teh Atht is too stunningly powerful to let anything fatal occur to the PCs unless they are mind-bogglingly stupid. In both modern segments, things are much looser and depend more upon the player's wits and Keeper's improvisational skills with the ability to extend across a great many playing sessions.

 I like A&M, I've never played it and suspect it was more admired in print than played but it's the sort of thing that White Dwarf did very well. It deserves a modern airing and if you're the sort of person who regularly reads the blog then you won't struggle laying your hands on copies of WD80 and WD81.

Later edit - it strikes me that one reason to justify Gorgos' attempt to capture the PCs rather than just kill them is that he is aware of their links to the 1920s and the attempt to summon him but is unaware of exactly what those links are. He may even be suspecting that they are ancestors of Chalbert and that he cannot risk them dying and so removing her from the future timeline. This might even be correct. If a PC has some obvious genetic trait such as a gap in the teeth or a shock of red hair, then perhaps Chalbert will turn out to have that trait.


  1. I'd like to play or run this one day, but it is quite intimidating.

    1. It sounds complicated but I'm not sure it would be that difficult. If you can cope with the idea of mid-level AD&D characters let loose in the 1920s and feel confident to riff off any of the mayhem that may ensue then you should be OK.

      My major concern would be that plot armour that Teh Atht gives the PCs each time he appears on the scene.

      You are effectively playing a brief AD&D scenario, followed by a brief CoC scenario, followed by an AD&D-in-CoC scenario that might drag out over several sessions ended by a pseudo-Dreamlands CoC scenario. There isn't a vast amount of chopping and changing between systems unless you want to get clever with asking what messages the PCs pass between each other whilst asleep.

  2. Good to see you posting again Coop!

  3. I did play it two times, with different groups, using Tunnels & Trolls for the fantasy part and MSPE for the Cthulhu part. As they are fully compatible, it worked very well. If I had to do it now, I would probably use the Basic system from Chaosium.
    Anyway, it was very fun and all the players seemed to like it.

    1. Good call on rule systems. T&T would seem to be right on the button for Swords and Sorcery Theem'hdra-style stuff. Staplehurst does actually suggest MSPE as an alternate ruleset, along with Indiana Jones RPG which would be a overdoes of sheer pulpyness I guess.