Saturday, November 5, 2016

Campaign Tarot - #TrailOfCthulhu

I'm quite pleased with the latest iteration of my Roll20 "home screen" - this time for a Trail of Cthulhu campaign.    Rather than repeating my Incident Board idea from my Night's Black Agent's Campaign I've gone more for a classic desk-top look with cards representing the key locations and characters appearing in the episode.

This one is set up for the end of an adventure in which valiant Boston cops take down "The Boston Devil" a cannibalistic serial killer after gaining advice from (real life) anthropologists Richard Speck and Gladys Tantaquidgeon whose likenesses appear at the top-centre of the layout and who first introduced the investigators to the concept of Wendigo...

Monday, October 17, 2016

Soul Stone of Kulthai - an adventure of Barbarians of Lemuria

When a group of heroes set off in search of wealth and vengeance against a sect of foul Warlocks they are called on to free a warrior's soul from torment.   Things get nasty.

Soul Stone of Kulthai is an adventure and micro-setting for Barbarians of Lemuria.   The PDF link is HERE.   Take, change, use and abuse it and let me know what you think.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Ink Dipped Wand

Some words from the Sage of Northampton, as recorded in an interview here which bear repeating:

The Bardic tradition of magic, when satires were justifiably more feared than curses and when the creator was respected as a powerful magician rather than as someone getting by out on the fringes of the entertainment industry, is one that today’s artists, occultists and writers would do well to reacquaint themselves with. You can kill or cure with a word. Get off of your knees.

Sir Terry Pratchett commented through one of his many characters that the human race has a design fault - we bend at the knees.   Today there are a great many forces designed to trick or coerce or simply brutalise us to our knees, because it is only then that the stunted troglodytes who seek to rule us can believe themselves greater than we are.   I suspect that those forces are on the edge of increasing their hold on the world and on the power structures that will give them more authority.

Don't let them.   Don't let them get away with a word, not one single word, that says the world is other than it is.   Every word unchallenged is a word carved in stone.   Speak the truth, speak, sing, paint, carve and dance the truth even in the face of those shouting for you to stop.   Picture the world that we should be living in and make it happen, step by step, thought by thought, brush-stroke by brush-stroke and share it.  Don't allow anyone to trick you into thinking the world thinks as they do in order to silence you.   Your neighbour may be silenced too and thinking they too are the only ones who see the truth.

Let no one build walls to divide us, walls of hatred nor walls of stone
Come greet the dawn and stand beside us; we live together or we die alone

The Ink Dipped Wand

Some words from the Sage of Northampton, as recorded in an interview here which bear repeating:

The Bardic tradition of magic, when satires were justifiably more feared than curses and when the creator was respected as a powerful magician rather than as someone getting by out on the fringes of the entertainment industry, is one that today’s artists, occultists and writers would do well to reacquaint themselves with. You can kill or cure with a word. Get off of your knees.

Sir Terry Pratchett commented through one of his many characters that the human race has a design fault - we bend at the knees.   Today there are a great many forces designed to trick or coerce or simply brutalise us to our knees, because it is only then that the stunted troglodytes who seek to rule us can believe themselves greater than we are.   I suspect that those forces are on the edge of increasing their hold on the world and on the power structures that will give them more authority.

Don't let them.   Don't let them get away with a word, not one single word, that says the world is other than it is.   Every word unchallenged is a word carved in stone.   Speak the truth, speak, sing, paint, carve and dance the truth even in the face of those shouting for you to stop.   Picture the world that we should be living in and make it happen, step by step, thought by thought, brush-stroke by brush-stroke and share it.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Aru-Kamis: CIty of the Lich King #BarbariansOfLemuria

In response to some positive feedback I've put together a short document detailing a setting I've been using for Barbarians of Lemuria (Mythic Edition, not that it matters).    This is one particular city in one particular country and it's a useful jumping off point for several different types of adventure.

It can become the home base for your heroes, or a final destination on a quest to discover dark horrors, or it can be the setting for adventure itself with plot hooks inherent in the setting for everything from palace intrigue, to cosmic horror, to street level skullduggery.

Use what you can, change, adapt, bend fold spindle etc and I hope it proves of interest.

If it does, I'd love to hear what works.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

At the Mountains of Harrogate - #TrailOfCthulhu

Okay this is not strictly a gaming post but it will I'm sure be of interest to some gamers.   HP Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" has been turned into a play and I went to see it last night at the Studio Theatre in Harrogate.

It was the last performance in Harrogate but I know it's also been performed in other venues and will continue to be:  The production company's website is Here

The play is a one-actor piece, with Royal Shakespeare Company actor and RADA lecturer Tim Hardy delivering a bravura and strung out performance as a desperate William Dyer pleading with his fellow scientists not to repeat his mistake and carry out an exploration of the heart of Antarctica.  He reluctantly recounts the tale, aided by radio-broadcast flashbacks of the voices of the other members of his team and incredible lighting and audio effects.

The piece was dramatic, compelling and very true to the original tale and I really recommend that anyone who gets a chance to see it does so.   There was also a Q&A session afterwards which was fun and it dawned on me how many of Lovecraft's tales would suit this format - the tale of a single survivor recounting the horrors they have encountered.

Here's the trailer.   And by visiting the Icarus Theatre site linked above you can support the company and get a CD of the entire performance.  

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Commonplace Cullen - #TrailOfCthulhu #FearItself #Esoterrorists

A friend of mine shared the following humorous graphic on Liber Faciem recently:

And there is more than a modicum of truth to it. I've recently taken to jotting down simple ideas as they occur to me using the web tool Trello as a scratchpad (though anything would work of course) because I know full well that if I wait till I actually have some time to myself the ideas will all have run together like coloured plasticine and their bright hues lost in the murky brown average of "Uhhhh what now..."

My list was originally going to be a list of potential story seeds for my Trail of Cthulhu campaign but having taken the time to review them I think that some may be more suited to one-shots of a Fear Itself nature or possibly (in one particular case) an Esoterrorists investigation.

I'll probably get round to fleshing out one or more of these at some point and figured that if I post them here it will provide a spur in my side to actually get on and do it, and there's also a chance that some other GM/Keeper/Asylum Attendant may be able to take one or more and run with any kernel of inspiration they can winnow out of them.    Given the nature of story it's likely that there may be recognisable elements from other stories, any such resemblance is coincidental and unintentional on my part.   I've never been one for buying published adventures so if it turns out that one or more of these is "OMG that's just 1987's CULT OF THE RECIPROCATING EEL!" then I apologise in advance.

The Kernels

MORGELLONS - Fibres growing out of the skin. From what? Others see it as delusion. Only very advanced cases show visible evidence to others.  Science treats it as a neurotic delusion - are they covering up the truth?  Perhaps dual reality.  A body horror version of Hildred Castaigne's crown.

MISSING FOOTAGE - images shot during controversial horror movie supposedly contain something far worse than the film itself. Who has it and what does it show? Death of the infamous director in a suicide triggers the investigation.  Director to combine elements of Browning and Whale though Whale's suicide was much later.  Who redacted the film and why?  Is the missing scene still being shown to specially chosen audiences?

RAILWAY CARRIAGE - empty when it emerges from a tunnel.  Obvious assumption some sort of dimensional abduction... perhaps twist it around.  Other passengers and crew are cultists committing "simple" act of ritual murder disguised as vanishing (Esoterrorists counting on "vanishing carriage" myth spreading?).   Anomalies in timetable may reveal a missing hour when the crime took place.   Duplicate carriage swapped out to minimise time gap & forensic traces?

SCHOOL - A remote boarding school for the children of the privileged falls prey to malevolent stalking forces that begins to feed upon the staff and older children. The younger kids are untouched... and possibly to blame?  If adolescents engender poltergeists maybe pre-adolescents open the door to something worse, hungry and jealous.

FINAL DREAMS - the distorted dreams of an dying man in the grip of dementia take on bizarre and terrible life in the world around him.   In his youth he witnessed something dreadful and that ancient atrocity starts to colour the present.   

STONE VOICES - a meteorite in a museum display reacts to changes in the stars. It begins to change and affect the people around it as it yearns for home.  If it cannot contrive a way to return home (and how could it, it's a rock) then perhaps it will draw home to it.

SOUVENIR - A man returns home from England with a social illness that proves far worse than expected. The touch of Y'Golonac contaminates with its fetid touch wherever the victim goes.

ENDLESS - An immortal is in a cycle of living, faking his own death, returning to claim his legacy.  Something goes wrong and his legacy is sold on to a third party.   The immortal wants it back quickly because time is running out... he has been keeping something under control all these years and now his control is slipping.

AFTER ACTION - Office staff working for the FBI deal with the aftermath of a raid that ended strangely.   The reports are heavily redacted and point to strange cultic violence.   The field team are traumatised.   Something was unearthed there that continues to affect everyone concerned.   The PCs are the backroom  team and the effects manifest through the accounts of the field team and through the footage they compiled.

THE EQUATION - A student of mathematics vanishes.   The trail leads to odd places and to a reclusive savant that set him onto an obscure set of mathematical problems that unlocked a new paradigm.   They centred round some strange symbols that made sense in the context of the equations he was working with.   Texts and voicemails from the missing man come in, each more cryptic and desperate than the last.   It soon becomes dreadfully apparent that he no longer exists in the mundane world and communicates only by electronic traces, having lost all sense of self.   Worse the same fate will befall anyone who has witnessed those symbols.

PATIENT 23 - Closure of asylum, redistribution of patients - One patient an unidentified John Doe – ten years incarceration – violent & incoherent.  New doctor dealing with John Doe including sedation & hypnotherapy – the patient becomes thoughtful in his quieter periods, brooding.  She has brought back some reason to him.  New doctor kills herself – this brings PCs into the story – She realised the truth and could not bear to live with it.  Scalpel to the throat.  Case files suggest incoherent rambling speech from patient – incomprehensible syllables and odd imagery – starts to infect PC’s dreams – bleak vistas with distant odd spires. Information requested by doctor arrives – identified the patient as someone declared dead a month before admission.  Lead to the man’s past and cultic connections.
The doctor who killed herself shows up again, lacking all higher reason, breaks out the John Doe- she is now as undead as he.  And they wish to spread the gift.

PORTMANTEAU - The entity manifests through its worshippers and its area of influence, but never entirely through one single victim.   An eye may form on the body of one of them, a mouth on another, a grasping tendril on yet another and so on.   If the victims meet they may meld together in some way to begin reuniting the jigsaw entity.   The mouths whisper disconcertingly and work to instruct their host in foul magic designed to spread the contagion further.   The eyes drive their hosts to witness dreadful things and send them to the scenes of accidents or disasters or to view the endless night sky for hours on end.   The tendrils pierce and draw nourishment from lesser creatures and can infect a victim with another aspect of the creature.   The worst are the ulcers that ooze a corrosive slime that while it does not affect the host will corrode and degrade their surroundings.
"The bringer of peace" = misunderstood "he arrives in pieces"

IN PEACE - Characters wake up with little memory in some out of the way place.   They discover their healed wounds.  They realise they are dead.  Who killed them and why did they come back?   Can they live again or is their happy ending simply a natural death?  What do they need to do to stay animated...

GATE - Characters investigate mysterious events involving a disappearance.   Their route leads them to a mysterious symbol that is a gate.   They find themselves somewhere strange and gradually discover they are aboard an infested space station in the far future light years from earth (or possibly above a deserted earth that has fallen to horrors)

There's my brain-dump so far.  If anyone feels like they want to expand on anything here I'd be fascinated to know how you'd take it.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

HP Lovecraft and the Opera Ghost #TrailOfCthulhu

I came across something today that puzzled me at first and then intrigued me.

I found this essay online - "The Horror on the Wall" by ST Joshi about Lovecraft's opinion of movies, and in it was a passage about a favourite of mine which I am glad to hear that Lovecraft also rated highly - the Phantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney (in my opinion one of the finest actors who has ever brought his art to the screen.  That is only my opinion but you are entitled to disagree and that's fine as long as you don't mind your opinion being held in justified contempt by right thinking folks).

Lovecraft saw Phantom in 1925 and wrote this:
 ". . . what a spectacle it was!! It was about a *presence* haunting the great Paris opera house . . . but developed so slowly that I actually fell asleep several times during the first part. Then the second part began--horror lifted its grisly visage--& I could not have been made drowsy by all the opiates under heaven! Ugh!!! The face that was revealed when the mask was pulled off "
Well quite. Chaney's self devised make-up was a wonderful piece of grotesquerie, replicating so near as could be achieved the death's head look of the novel's Phantom rather than the mild sunburn of the latest cinematic abomination to take the name.

But what intrigued me most were the next words in Lovecraft's letter (emphasis mine):
"The face that was revealed when the mask was pulled off . . . & the nameless legion of things that cloudily appeared beside & behind the owner of that face when the mob chased him into the river at the last!"
As you young people say, "Wait, what?"    Nameless legion of things that cloudily appeared...   I don't recall any cloudy appearance of things, nameless or otherwise.

Now the ending of Chaney's Phantom is not ideal.   The novel and the originally shot ending of the 1925 movie both ended on a note of poignant drama as the psychotic Phantom releases the object of his fixation to live a normal life with her beloved Raoul, and then himself perishes alone of misery and a broken heart.   The originally shot ending of the movie truncated this to happen in minutes rather than weeks but nonetheless ended with a mob breaking into Erik the Phantom's lair and finding him dead at his organ.

A surviving still of the original ending, now alas lost

That was shown to test audiences comprised, like most movie test audiences, of movie goers who naturally eschewed such moments of drama and poignant character resolution and demanded some active justice so Carl Laemmle had the sequence reshot as a carriage chase involving an angry mob pursuing Erik through Paris, beating him to death and throwing him in the Seine.   There would presumably have been a custard pie fight too, as crowds love those, but I guess the custard wasn't delivered in time.

Anyway, those are the two endings I know of for the 1925 Phantom.  Lovecraft of course saw the ending from the final cut of the movie in which Erik is chased, battered and thrown in the river.  But I haven't seen a single nameless legion of things cloudily appearing in that sequence.  Unless you count Parisians of course, but to be honest I think Lovecraft rightly included them in the word 'mob'.

Erik serenades Christine at the cemetery where her father's body lies
- a scene cut from the final version
The film had a troubled history.  The director Rupert Julian didn't seem to have a cohesive vision for the work and lots of the scenes veer wildly between the macabre, the comical and the just plain baffling.   The character of The Persian, an unnamed figure from Erik's past appears as he does in the novel but is suddenly renamed Inspector Ledoux of the Surete for no good reason and doesn't bother to change out of his fez.   The ghostly rat-catcher of the novel appears and is entirely unexplained, and so on.   Scenes were filmed, used, recut, moved, dropped and reintroduced throughout the production.   In 1929 the whole thing was recut and scenes were added and dropped to conform to a new vision of the whole, including scenes shot from alternate angles during the original filming.   Most cuts of the movie you can see these days are drawn from the 1929 version as the original negatives of the 1925 version are in poor condition.

This video clip compares and contrasts the key unmasking scene from the 1925 and 1929 versions to illustrate the differences that exist.

Returning to the question in hand then, did Lovecraft, in 1925, see something we don't have in today's version of the film?  Did he simply imagine them, dredging up eldritch additions from his imaginative depths?
Were there actually nameless legions of shadowy things that appeared to witness Erik's demise?  Certainly no such things appear in the novel as there is no equivalent scene in the novel.    Was there a cut, that Lovecraft saw, in which things appeared there on screen at such a key moment?  If so what were those things and why were they so ruthlessly expunged from all further cuts of the movie?

And if surviving film of that original sequence with Lovecraft-witnessed nameless shadowy Things still exists what would happen if it was found and viewed?

That's one I'll mull over for a while but I thought I would throw open that question to any Keepers out there who may want to revisit with Lovecraft's eyes this cinematic conundrum.

What new surprises lie in store?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Found Carcosa #TrailOfCthulhu

I’ve been plundering the themes and flavours of Chambers’ work recently but today for the first time I came across this little gem.

The Carcosa mansion, built in 1896 to 1897 was intended as the residence of the British High Commissioner in Malaya.  It’s now a luxury hotel though given the antecedents of the name I suspect that the much vaunted Hotel California would be a safer place to visit.

The name was taken straight out of Chambers’ work as Sir Frank Swettenham, the aforementioned High Commissioner, explained:

To the Editor of “British Malaya”
[British Malaya, May 1936]
In the April magazine your correspondent in Malaya asks me, in courteous terms, to tell him why I gave the name “Carcosa” to the house that was designed and built for me at Kuala Lumpur by the late Mr. C.E. Spooner, assisted by Mr. A.B. Hubback – as he was in those days – and I have no objection to answer the question even though the simple truth may spoil a number of excellent stories. When this house was finished and occupied I read a book which interested me. It was called “The King in Yellow” and at the beginning of this book there were some verses with a note explaining that they came from Cassilda’s song in “The King in Yellow”, Act 1, Scene 2. Here are two verses: -
“Strange is the night where black stars rise, And twin moons circle in the skies, But the stranger still is Lost Carcosa.”
“Song of my soul, my voice is dead; Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed Shall dry and die in Lost Carcosa.”
I did not call the Resident General’s dwelling “Government House,” or “King’s House,” because neither seemed an appropriate name in Protected States. I did not give it a Malay name, because it was to be the residence of a British Officer; so I took a book name as has often been done before.
As to the word Carcosa, I imagine it was the Castle of the King in Yellow, but the book explains nothing about either the place or its occupant. That apparently can be found in the play, to which there are only occasional allusions. Probably it is a word created by the author’s fancy, though it looks like a combination of the Italian words cara and casa and would mean “desirable dwelling,” as indeed I found it.
The only curious fact is that this name was prophetic for, as I understand, the house has lost its name and is thus, “Lost Carcosa.” The occupant, I am told, is now styled “F.S,” instead of “R.G.”
Yours obediently,
19 April 1936.

Oh and the logo of the hotel is a yellow sign.    Clearly a coincidence.

Next question – how long can I resist the urge to send one or more of my groups of player characters to Malaya…

Rolling out the rules #NightsBlackAgents

I've been running a Night's Black Agents campaign for a while now, the Pelgrane game of elite spies versus vampires and the rules, the ideas for structuring campaigns and the atmosphere have all combined into being one of the most involving and exciting games I've played in a gaming career that goes back far longer than I am comfortable admitting.

For most of those years of gaming I've been pretty emphatically anti-crunch.  I've played with players, lovely each one of them, that fall everywhere on the spectrum from "pure story" to "pure number crunching" but I've always been biased toward the former end.   Consequently I've tended to favour systems that are light on mechanics and that de-emphasise combat detail in favour of narrative immediacy.

However in Night's Black Agents the details actually do their damned job and make the game more exciting.   The core mechanics of the Gumshoe system are simple enough to make intuitive sense and even when adding in all the Thriller combat options and the expanded options from the Double Tap supplement things just flow well enough to convey the action in detail without slowing things down or taking the focus away from what's happening "on screen."

In last night's episode we ended up using rules we hadn't touched before and, other than a moment when I totally blanked on how suppressive fire worked and had to look it up, everything just shot along at a hair-raising pace just as it should.

Rules that were new to us included:

Sneaking into the concealed terrorist headquarters in a run down part of Siegen using the extended Infiltration rules from Double Tap (made harder by the fact that combat-monster Hans has no infiltration skills and had to be nurse maided past the tricky security by Rowan... but it was worth having him along when a botched roll led to a sudden encounter with a single sentry... that ended a second later with a silenced single shot from Hans)

Deciding halfway through the infiltration that some sort of escape-diversion might prove handy later and Hans making a cherry-rich Preparedness spend to have already taken care of that by placing flashbangs and noisemakers adjacent to one of the other exits prior to their ingress.

Our heroes becoming trapped in a dead-end attic corridor after rescuing a pair of prisoners, and the campaign's first use of Suppressive Fire as Hans emptied his MP5 downrange.   One of the enemy tried to risk moving for a better angle and got his head blown off, the others kept well out of the line of fire.    This was followed up by one of the surviving bad guys lobbing a grenade into the corridor so we also got to play with the explosive rules and - more specifically- the panicky use of Athletics skill to leap for cover before the damn thing went off.

Honestly I can't recommend this game enough.   As it happened in last night's session there wasn't even the sniff of the supernatural so even if you're only interested in playing high octane modern action this is definitely worth checking out.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Gate of Amen-Ekot #TrailOfCthulhu

They say (but you know the sort of thing They say) that the much reviled sorcerer of the lower Nile, Amen-Ekot boasted that he could never be truly slain by his many enemies because he had entrusted his vital essence to a safer place than "any vault of all too perishable carrion meat" as he charmingly referred to his own body.

His enemies decided that they'd take the risk and slew him, cutting his perishable carrion meat into exactly forty one pieces, each one of which was burned seperately.

None of them were happy to hear reports of his reappearance less than a month later.

It transpired that the fellow had found a way to paint his likeness, or his symbolic likeness at any rate (since in reality he did not have the head of a blasphemously disfigured ibis) into the hieroglyphs and frescoes of a local shrine.   They beady eye of that foul painting could captivate the viewer and by an act of will (that will being often overborne by the sorcerer's dread intent) could draw the painted essence of the sorcerer forth again as whole as he was (and bearing the memories up to the point) when the image was created.

They say (but you know the sort of thing They say) that the Gate works both ways as Gates are wont to do and that if he had chosen, Amen-Ekot could instead draw in a hapless viewer whose symbolic image would appear alongside that of the cruel magician and in that strange nether-realm of which the painted frescoes were but a representation, he could interrogate or consume his captive.

It is to be hoped that all the representations of Amen-Ekot were destroyed in the weeks and months after that first dreadful resurrection.   It is to be hoped that his writings were all destroyed and that no remnant exists of the instructions for this damned ritual.

On an unrelated* note I've always liked this video from A-Ha, even though the song itself is the usual banal nonsense.

* Not Really.

Monday, August 8, 2016

"You don't need two hands to hold a severed head." - #NightsBlackAgents

"You don't need two hands to hold a severed head."

Not an actual depiction of events
Hans is more Swedish and better dressed

You know that the session of Night's Black Agents has taken a dark turn when one of the player characters muses aloud along those lines.

Last night's session ended up with Hans losing enough Stability to be Shattered for the first time anyone's hit that state in the campaign after witnessing someone who they thought was a potential ally massacring a group of innocent bystanders at a barbecue, just after an encounter with the revived corpse of someone Rowan had killed in cold blood in a previous session (the former owner of the aforementioned severed head) and a furious thespian vampire who had just ripped out Rowan's throat (she'll live - barely) following Rowan's taunts about her being second rate.

If things needed to go further south, Hans was having flashbacks to a mission gone wrong in Belarus as he drove to the safehouse where their friendly medic lives and recalled in vivid detail the time he had to shoot his way past a police roadblock.

When he reached the safehouse in a slightly more stable frame of mind he realised his pistol had been recently fired...

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Lodger of Arkham - Handouts #TrailOfCthulhu

Yesterday I finished the opening storyline in my new Trail of Cthulhu campaign (this one just me running it and a single player – the Gumshoe One2One rules may not be out yet but we’re muddling along fairly well) and the player and I had a great time.   Gumshoe is now firmly established as my favourite system and the simple seeming core concept of giving the investigator their clues without hassle if they have the appropriate expertise helps much more than you’d expect.   Adapting to the mentality of giving the player all the clues they could need actually helps things flow so much better and doesn’t detract from the fun – quite the reverse as the more leads there are available the more player agency is experienced.

My plan for the campaign is to start things off nice and small – the player character is a Boston detective on leave after dealing with a traumatic cannibalistic serial killer case (*cough Wendigo cough*) and following up some strange loose ends.   The first took him to a missing persons case in Arkham where the missing person in question was an oddly malformed bulging eyed fellow from out of town who had been asking questions and visiting key landmarks for some purpose prior to being scared out of his wits and fleeing his lodging house after someone painted a swastika on the roof facing his room (being the early 30s I decided to go with the swastika version of the elder sign just to throw expectations around a bit).     Cue the investigator retracing the missing Mr Visser’s steps, discovering an odd artefact in his room that was deduced to be aiding Visser in triangulating on something, encountering ghouls in the cemetery on Hangman’s Hill and having his mind kind of blown when listening to a wax cylinder recording of Aklo incantations courtesy of an over helpful scholar.

The adventure resolved with the discovery of a captive Deep One in the basement of that helpful scholar’s second house which the scholar and his minions were bleeding to form an alchemical elixir to grant dreams of certain ancient places and beings.   Things went to Hell in a handbasket as the Detective tried to arrest the cultists (“On what charge, exactly, Detective?”) and the bloody Deep One managed to escape with the help of a mesmerised minion.   The first thing it did was tear out the cables providing light to the cellars where this all took place and a short but ferocious combat took place as the Deep One ripped apart the cultists who had imprisoned it but was shot down by a badly shaken detective in strobe light flashes from his gunfire in the pitch black.

The Detective now has more leads to follow – the missing Visser (who turned up dead, and clearly only half human) had a letter from his “brothers” in the coastal town of Danwick sending their blessings on his search for “the one who was taken”, the Over-Helpful Scholar/Cult Leader had a letter from a co-traveller asking about his experiments, talking about his own radio telegraphy research and bitching about a mutual friend who is rather too enamoured of the play “The King in Yellow”, a typewritten copy of a knowledge lecture “Lesson XI” from some as yet unknown brotherhood and concerning ancient races of the earth and their propensity for interacting with humans, and a photograph dating back a few years which shows seven men including the Cult Leader and, presumably, his buddies.

The framework so far is that those buddies all split from a single occult brotherhood after a change of leadership and each is pursuing their own particular path of knowledge.  I’m hoping this will give me the chance to tell a range of Lovecraftian stories with my player with the build up to the discovery that the original occult group is still going and working on something a little bit grander that draws all the threads together.

So far the atmosphere is good, the player is keen to learn more, and I’m pulling in some foreshadowing of things that are still to come (He’s already dreaming dreams of Carcosa which will in fact be triggered in a couple of sessions time when he is exposed to a certain play… because linear timelines are for wimps)

Just for jolly and a desire to show off I’m attaching a document of some handouts I made for this opening adventure – they include:

  • Visser’s scrawled notes about his search
  • A map of Arkham (the map isn't my own creation!) annotated with Visser's triangulations
  • A picture of the scrying device itself (anoint the central spike with blood and the hands move)
  • The first page of "Lesson XI" dealing with the elder races.  I didn't have time to write the rest...
  • A letter to Transome (the cult leader) from Charles Bray
  • A letter to Visser (using his real name Conrad Leisher) from his fishy pastor in Danwick
  • The photograph of the seven mythos buddies that our hero found in the cult leader’s study.   The photo was taken straight from the internet and I’m sure the people in the picture were lovely people who don’t deserve the slanderous and blasphemous abominations I’m attaching to their images.
The full document of handouts is linked HERE

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Twentyfirst Century Spoor - useful resources for clues in #nightsblackagents

Just a brief post to share a useful resource I found.   In "Red Shift" my Night's Black Agents campaign I'm enjoying laying out an ocean of clues for the agents to swim in.    Among the various trails they're following they've become connected with a group of students who they met at a performance of the King in Yellow.    One of them started acting strangely... then fell ill...  

I thought that it was likely that the agents would try to piece together what had brought him to this and what better way of checking out the backstory of a modern student than checking his social media accounts?

This site here (LINKY)  has generators to create fake Tweets, Facebook entries and smartphone text conversations.    I created a few examples for the agents to find as they dug in and they were well received when I provided the "screenshots" rather than just an account of what they'd found.

Some examples:

Friday, June 24, 2016


Anyone fancy a new roleplaying campaign set in a dystopian isolated nation with a crumbling economy and a rising trend of fascism?

Oh yeah.  The UK does.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Achy Breaky Stability Check #nightsblackagents

 In last night's session of Night's Black Agents a vampire nearly houseruled the system spontaneously by so clearly failing a stability test it took the Director- me- aback.

Okay so vampires don't make stability tests, nor did I roll one.   But it sure as hell felt like he failed one.

Here's a bit of backstory to set the context.

In 1917 Captain Nathaniel Soames was crippled during a shell attack in Belgium during the Great War.  His pelvis and legs were shattered and he was paralysed from the waist down, surviving only because he was dragged back from No Man's Land by a cockney infantryman Private Harry Sparrow.

Sparrow was an up and coming gangster in the immediate post war years and he was startled to be approached one evening by his former Captain, Soames, healthy as can be and offering Sparrow anything he wanted to set the balance straight.   Sparrow asked for prosperity for his band of miscreants and Soames promised him a century of unhindered dominance over the East End.   The Chapel Boys, as the gang became known, started to piece things together over the next hundred years and stories spread in whispers about the nature of the aid they occasionally received.   The imminent arrival of the end of that promised century is weighing heavily on the minds of their bosses.

Anyway... in addition to keeping his word of honour to the Chapel Boys, Soames has been hiding a secret of his own.  In the mid 20s, adjusting badly to his new undead state, he became obsessed with the young daughter of a family who were his neighbours in life.   Little Dorothy Coleridge (she hated the name Dolly even then) caught Soames' attention as a spark of lively energy that he'd lost contact with.   He turned her, making her like himself, condemning her to an immortal life in the body of a twelve year old.   Her mind broke and she became cruel and savage.   Soames confined her within a private asylum guarded by his loyal servants and Renfields who occasionally roamed the streets of London to find playmates for Dolly, playmates who would soon become prey.

Soames tried to put his mistake from his mind, but in the way of some vampires he found it easy to grow obsessed and less easy to move on from his mistakes.   Dolly preyed on his mind.  He rarely visited if ever but he never got over her and what he and done to her (and his hopes for what she could have been).

So...  when our bold heroes, Rowan and Hans located the asylum while following up reports of missing girls taken from the poorer parts of London, when they confronted Dolly - which led to Hans being ripped apart by teeth and claws and left half dead - and Rowan staked her, reducing her to foul dust and decay... you can imagine Soames would not react well.

He ditched the job he was undertaking (of which more later) and returned to London, tearing witnesses and leads apart to try to find out who was responsible for the death of his inappropriate immortal paramour.

It came to a head with his hands round Hans' throat in a side courtyard in the Tower of London with Soames hissing in his face.   "Tell me who killed Dolly and I'll give you a swift death."

That was Rowan's cue to appear on the scene.

"I killed her," she told Soames, grinning, "Staked her through her itty-bitty heart."

The combination of the phrase and the way Rowan's player said it hit me/Soames like a hurled brick.  I actually froze on Soame's behalf.

"You know," I said, "I think he just failed a Stability Check."

And that probably saved their lives in the conflict that followed, throwing Soames off balance and giving our heroes a moment or two to act while he just howled at them in fury.

They made it out alive, and Soames melted away into a crowd of angry ravens after a short and intense encounter but the high point was certainly that moment when the Vampire took the Stability rules unto himself and was found wanting.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Long Night at Blackthorn - a Barbarians of Lemuria Adventure

I've just finished work on a new Barbarians of Lemuria adventure - this one using the Mythic Edition rules which I treated myself to recently - Long Night at Blackthorn.  A stopover at a remote inn proves to be filled with trouble as other patrons and their agendas all clash on a night when dark forces are let loose.

The adventure itself is adapted from one I've previously run for Fate Core and which I think fits with the darker side of the Sword and Sorcery Genre

While light of mass combat and mayhem this scenario works best as a single night adventure perhaps as a break in an already ongoing journey though, as usual, I've left a few exit points in the storyline that could lead to further adventures.

I'd be glad to know what you think of it, and if you've managed to get any use from it.

Download HERE

Monday, May 23, 2016

Party Time #fatecore

Yesterday's session of the Sundered Seven fantasy campaign took place entirely within one room (with a short side trip to a wine cellar), lacked combat, treasure or magic and was still one of the most intense sessions of any roleplaying game I've played.

Our heroes Lord Adriel and his faithful servant Inye had arrived in Hrafburg, capital city of Malmor, to seek an audience with the ruler of the city.  He had reacted in his usual arrogant way (the man has royal pretensions) and told them he would send for them when ready and so Adriel was forced to kill time in the city until then.

We opened at the lavish party being held by Lord Hazreth a newly arrived nobleman who enjoyed offering hospitality.    All the haute monde were there and there was an atmosphere of casual decadence.   Adriel was enjoying the company of two of the eligible ladies of the court (one of whom turned out to be the ruler's mistress... so that wasn't a source of tension... really)

But things really cranked up when I introduced the young lord Teltandin, a contemporary of Adriel.  He hadn't featured in the campaign before but I had him earmarked as a rival for Adriel so I threw the details over to the players with a couple of questions:

What did Teltandin do to humiliate Adriel when they were children?
What did Adriel do to Teltandin when they were young men?

We learned that Teltandin had been sparring with Adriel when they were about eight years old... and though it was a "friendly" bout organised by their parents - rulers of rival houses - Teltandin took it very seriously and used some dirty tricks to win.  Adriel's father shook his head and walked away in disappointment (a nice trigger of Adriel's current need to win his father's approval).

In return a few years later Adriel deliberately spooked Teltandin's horse causing it to bolt and humiliate the young man in front of his friends and family.

That set the next scene up nicely as the two rival lords and the two ladies decided to play a harmless game of Hopestones for pennies.   For pennies, sure.   No high stakes.

Things escalated of course and it ended up as a duel of gambling between the two men with a lot riding on it.   Social skills were unleased to gain advantages for upcoming rolls, psychological games were being played by everyone at the table.   Faithful Inye saw Teltandin palm a high value tile for future use and managed to tip his employer off.     That was dealt with by Adriel tipping some tiles accidentally onto the floor between rounds and saying "we'd better count them to make sure none are lost"... forcing Teltandin to sneak back the palmed tile.

The final round played out as an extended contest and Adriel won resoundingly winning the approval of the onlookers and earning more hatred from Teltandin.   It was an intense scene with never a blade drawn.

Meanwhile Inye had been using his servant's inconsequentiality and observation skills to move among the partygoers trying to learn what he could.   I'd set a value for the scene as a whole to have a "Discretion 1" rating - people were drunk and their guards were down so Inye could overhear conversations.    I had him make a Notice roll which he succeeded at very well and so I took inspiration from Dungeon World and said for every point he succeeded by he could ask me one question about the city and its rulers that I would answer honestly.    As a mechanic that worked really well and allowed me to convey the information that was important to the players without some contrived info-dump.    As a result Inye learned of the two rival factions at court (the Count's wife favouring a diplomatic conquest of nearby lands, and his son leading a more military faction), what the Count's priorities are (he really really wants to be King) and some of the major players.

We all enjoyed the experience a great deal - and Fate lends itself well to making up mechanics on the fly.   The gambling "rules" were freeform allowing an intense round by round duel of wits and influence that simply comparing rolls would not have allowed, and the way we resolved Inye's information gathering was elegant and will certainly be used again.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Be Prepared. #nightsblackagents

This very practical travel kit for the aspiring vampire hunter went on sale in North Yorkshire in 2012 and raised £7500 at auction.

It was put together in the 19th century and contained all the stuff you'd expect:

A crucifix

Stakes and a mallet
A Pistol
Glass bottle of Holy Water, another of consecrated earth, another of garlic paste
The Book of Common Prayer
A handwritten Bible verse (Luke 19:27  "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.")

It was left to a Yorkshire woman in her uncle's will and apparently dates from the late 1800s.   The auction house, Tennants of Leyburn, North Yorkshire,  commented it was probably a novelty item put together to capitalise on the property of Bram Stoker's Dracula.  A likely story.

Bidding was apparently fierce with half a dozen telephone bidders involved in the auction and it went for about four times the price expected.

It's current owner and location are as yet not known.    Except, I expect, to one or two currently extinct vampires.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Night At The Theatre - #nightsblackagents

In the next session my players have suggested their characters are following up a lead they got from a crumpled programme in the pocket of a dead man, and they're going to the theatre that the programme was advertising.

What could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Outcast Dead - #nightsblackagents

The agents in my Night’s Black Agents campaign are following a number of leads in London, and one of the cases involved the discovery of (and subsequent disappearance of) a victim’s body in a street in Southwark.   I chose Southwark because it’s an area with a history of poverty and people on the fringes, such as mudlarks and toshers dating back a couple of hundred years.    I was also aware that it was the home to a large number of prostitutes in the past, licensed by the Bishop of Winchester and hence known as Winchester Geese.   When I googled the term to add some colour to this quaint bit of background I discovered that Southwark was also home to the Cross Bones unconsecrated graveyard, the site of which now bears this delightful notice.

The Outcast Dead.

This stuff writes itself.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Red Shift: London - #nightsblackagents - Clue Summary

Just a short update this week - our valiant agents made it to London and made a brief and paranoid contact with a Scotland Yard detective named Templeton.   Templeton stumbled onto the shadowy world of vampires a few months ago with the (brief) discovery of the body of a young runaway... which body then vanished along with a quarter of an hour of memory.

In that brief interview with Rowan, Templeton provided a number of leads... as summarised below:

So far Rowan and Hans have just scratched the surface as shown above... I'm looking forward to seeing which direction they go in and how deep they can get.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Five Lights - An Adventure for Barbarians of Lemuria

I've recently become enchanted by the simplicity and clarity of Barbarians of Lemuria - a role playing game in the Sword & Sorcery genre.

To that end I present "Five Lights" an adventure in which our heroes are called upon to rescue a fair maiden, probably against her will, from a new religious movement.   All things are, as you would expect, not what they seem.

Image (c) Finn Cullen 2016

The pdf can be downloaded HERE, and feel free of course to tweak things as you wish to suit your play style and group.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Red Shift - Episode Six - Calais and Paris - #nightsblackagents Play Report

After Sunday’s action packed episode, last night’s visit to the bloody world of Night’s Black Agents was one of evasion and consolidation.   Having had to flee from a murder scene, Hans and Rowan dug in at their safe house and ran through what they’d learned.   The word “vampire” was used for the first time with the comment that “it’s crazy but it’s the best fitting theory so far”.

Rowan contacted their Control at RedShift via a text message to their handler GAUNTLET to let them know what had happened.

This was shortly followed by a protocol breaching phone-call in return:

“This is Gauntlet, this is Gauntlet.   You’re burned.   Don’t report in.  Don’t come in.  Go dark.”

Hot on the heels of that disquieting message came a text from RedShift from an unfamiliar codename, Firebird.

6676 Firebird.
Message Received. Fall back to rendezvous Alpha Six for debriefing. See you soon

After a moment’s silence the pair decided simultaneously.   No way were they going to report in now.   They moved out of their safehouse at once, stole a new car, invoked a pair of previously unused identities and headed out of town.  Once in Paris, Hans visited a storage unit he’d set up previously (thank you Preparedness/Cache rules) and emerged with a suitably improved vehicle and some helpful if as yet unspecified equipment in the trunk.   Rowan then set them up with a nice apartment overlooking the Opera.

Here they went through the papers they managed to remove from Masson’s house before they fled, and went through the unsent draft email folder in his email account.    The papers consisted of pages torn from a Bible with certain verses highlighted.    The blood is the life… over and over again…  references from Genesis to living forever if Adam and Eve had stretched out their hand to the fruit of the tree of life…  All very unsettling but nothing conclusive.    
But in the draft message in his gmail account there was a reference to a Scotland Yard detective named Templeton who appeared to know something of Masson’s obsessions.   Routing a call through several cut-outs, Rowan called through to Templeton who was shocked to hear of Masson’s death.   He wanted to arrange a meeting there and then opposite the Salvation Army headquarters in Oxford Street but Rowan had to tell him they weren’t in the country yet…

Next stop, back to Calais and a night time trip through the channel tunnel.   As their car was being loaded into place on Le Shuttle they recalled a comment from Masson’s email about running water stopping Them… but what about beneath?

And a few cars ahead a familiar white transit van with Star Logistics livery was being loaded onto the same train… the same van that had chilled the air around it earlier that day, and that probably contained the sinister Hungarian visitor they had seen at the trafficking drop-off.

Roll Credits. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Red Shift Episode 5 - Calais - #nightsblackagents Play Highlights

Last night started nice and easy with a quiet interview in Star Logistics with the secretary, a bored woman named Jeanne who was happy to chat with the potential client - Rowan with a fake identity - and let slip about the infrequent all-night shifts that the boss and his drivers pulled.   Rowan also got a chance to sneak a closer look at the transit van parked up with its rear doors against the building wall... and noticed just how cold the air was as she passed close to it, and found herself flashing back to the hallucinatory shower of blood she experienced in Casablanca.

After that they tracked the gangster Danglars to an abandoned construction site and exercised some bad ass infiltration skills to move through that place like ghosts.   In the climactic scene of the evening Rowan located some of the trafficking victims and began escorting them out while Hans confronted their captors.     The captors, as it turned out, were not what they seemed to be.

The first, Janos, when covered by Hans' pistol just smiled, leaped to the wall and then to the ceiling and raced on all fours across the ceiling to drop down on Hans.   Hans pulled off some incredible rolls here, first for Stability and then for Shooting and Janos ended up face up on the floor, seemingly dead, with half a dozen bullets in him.   Shortly afterward though he was found on his belly, several feet away, as though he'd been crawling from the place where he fell.

The second guard, Istvan, proved a tougher opponent and he and Hans tussled to say the least.   A couple of bare handed blows from the Hungarian left Hans reeling and battered, while a few bullets and then Hans' hold out knife into Istvan's neck finally dropped Istvan to his knees.  In game terms Istvan was way negative on Health but not by any significant source...   at least until Danglars and his mooks burst into the building to help out their allies, and flooded the corridor with sunlight.

Istvan's last word "Fu.." came a second before his body burst into flames heralding the first Vampire destruction of the campaign.

The last twist came later as the pair returned to their patron, Professor Masson, in his home.  It became clear that the aged academic knew more about what he was sending them into than he'd let on.    This wasn't just some concerned citizen with money to burn and a dislike of crime...   But before they could probe much further their world turned upside down.    The next moment they opened their eyes and found Masson dead, the room on fire, Hans pressing his gun into his own head and empty shell cases on the floor.  Masson had been shot and slashed with some cutting weapon.   Sirens were blaring, and a glance at the clock showed that an hour had passed.

The pair fled, not wanting to have to deal with official entanglement and as they made it to safety Rowan found a handwritten note on her, giving an email address and a password.

That's where the session officially ended, but my players knowing the way I work actually decided to log on in real life to the gmail address they'd just been given.   Nothing in the inbox... nothing in the sent items... but in the Drafts section they found this:

I will never send this email.   I fear that any mail sent can be intercepted, can be monitored, can be changed or eliminated.   But I hope that I have had time to pass the details for this account to you, whoever you are.   

If I have done so then I know my time is short, and I am likely to be already dead.  I regret much and no doubt have cause to.

I have discovered that there are few people I can trust.   The enemy is ancient and cunning and inhuman and they have ways to bring under their control any man or woman they choose. They are everywhere and they are always scheming against the living.

Here I will record my notes in brief, the greater part of them are safely hidden with a friend.

Wild roses
Allium sativum
The light of the sun scorches them

Blanchard is a link for them I think.  Unknowing?  Why would they trust him?   His vehicles are useful. Haulage company accounts - very profitable - front.


L. reported dreaming of a great cat searching prowling round house unable to get in.

Of the sources encountered only Donald Templeton of Scotland Yard seems credible.  Advice useful.   Warns of their presence in London.  Hawkins Theatre.

"Old Firm"??  Chapel boys.   European gangs cutting into old territory, drugs, extortion. - Templeton suspects They are assisting.

Violence in Paris, manhunts.  Cover up?   Was government looking for Them?   Paranoia.  Am seeing Them everywhere now.

Running water - cannot be crossed except at certain times.   Oceans?  Link to tides?   How about beneath?

King in Yellow - a conceit of Chambers, mere fiction.  Why would T ask?

More than one strain of them?   Templeton reports vary from those of Zagreb and own observations.   Bloodlines?   Degenerates?

Now they have directly encountered Vampires and can't really lie to themselves any more about what they are up against.    They are on the run for a number of reasons including probably being implicated in the death of Professor Masson, but at least they now have some cryptic leads in the form of Masson's last message.

I guess the prologue is over.   Time for the hunt to start.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Night's Black Answers - a player's response to my questions for #NightsBlackAgents

In my last post I shared a short list of questions I'd asked the players in my Night's Black Agents campaign in the hope of generating some backstory details I could plunder for drama and complications.

Tonight Rowan's player replied - and instead of just answering the questions she copied me into a folder containing documents... a briefing document, an after action interview, and others with more game-related stuff.

I was blown away at the response anyway and then she pointed out that the group her character infiltrated was  real one, and the dates given corresponded to a real event of the type she described.  She did ask me to redact the name of the group just in case...     So I have.   But here is the response I got tonight.  I feel a very lucky GM indeed to be receiving campaign handouts from my players.

PDF Version

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Night's Black Questions - quick backstory for #nightsblackagents characters

I'm a handful of adventures into my Night's Black Agents campaign and we're all getting a feel for the characters.    Having refreshed my exposure to the spy/thriller genre I've noticed that most protagonists have something lurking in their pasts that made a big impact on them.  

"He'd never been the same since Kiev"
"Look, about that time in Madrid... " / "Never mention that again."
"Miller dropped his hand, numb, this was too much like the failed extraction in Tokyo"
Her thoughts drifted back to the moonless night camped near Petra, and the whispers that became roars.

So, following on from my recent use of directed questions in my Fate campaign I've just forwarded the following mini questionnaire to my NBA players.   Knowing them I'm sure they'll provide some interesting backstory and plot-hooks from their previous lives...

The One That Ended Badly
Where was the mission?
What was the objective?
Was the objective accomplished?
Want went wrong?
Who died that shouldn't have?
Why is it hard for you to talk about?
Describe/name one other character from that mission - ally, enemy, bystander that might crop up again in the future

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Red Shift episode 4: Calais - Night's Black Agents play report

Rowan and Hans regrouped after a few days of downtime during which Hans reminisced with an old special forces buddy back in Sweden and Rowan enjoyed an illicit few days of romance and hot funky adulterous action with her (married) lover, a former colleague of hers.   He floated the idea of her coming back to the group, telling her how her expertise at making and running networks of agents would be useful in the increasingly fragmented Middle East.  She declined.

The new job in Calais sounded straightforward enough.   There were rumours of a human trafficking operation there, and a local resident named Bernard Masson had enough money and sense of civic duty to want it stopped.  He was willing to pay good money, very good money, for evidence of what was going on and could point the team  toward a couple of good leads - a haulage company and a local gangster, both of whom were likely to be involved.

Rowan and Hans set watch on the haulage company and saw the local gangster, Danglars, make contact with the manager there.   Rowan checked out inside the building using unsecured security cameras and Digital Intrusion but couldn't pick up any audio.   They followed Danglars back to the Indigo Nightclub in the centre of Calais.   Realising the place was a "cabaret bar" with lap-dancing, and that this might be a firm connection to the human trafficking they decided to return to the club that evening and make some sordid enquiries while posing as a couple looking to celebrate their anniversary in sleazy style.

Something special?  You need to speak to Maria, they were told.   Maria's a German woman and in charge of the other dancers.  She was unshockable and was happy to arrange for a number of girls to be provided for the couple a few nights hence.  Money changed hands, and Hans schmoozed club owner Blanchard who was slyly ogling Rowan on the dance floor.    A call from someone named Karolus interrupted Blanchard who despatched the lurking Danglars at once.

The team had planted a tracker on Danglars car... they decided... and a suitable Preparedness spend made it so.   They were not surprised to see the hoodlum return to Star Logistics, the haulage firm.  Parking up some distance away Rowan used her backdoor into the security cameras to see what was happening in the forecourt.   What was happening was the arrival of a truck from Hungary (according to the plates) which quickly disgorged a dozen frightened young women and a couple of men.   The watchers saw intimidation and violence used to get the new arrivals to stop complaining.    Then someone else got out of the truck, someone that the trafficking victims clearly didn't know had been in there.

Then the cameras went crazy.  Just as they had in Casablanca.   Cursing whatever damned jammers somebody was clearly selling these days Rowan left Hans watching the screens and went to take a look in person.  What she saw was a tall, patrician man with white hair and a neat beard receiving bows of respect from the locals.   She took a picture of him with her phone (she thinks) and then watched as the bearded man selected one of the women and took her inside.

Hans saw the external cameras suddenly clear up... but the internal one now went on the blink.  In between the static though he saw the woman... and only the woman... in the corridor inside the building.   Then something unseen slammed her against the wall and a curtain of blood flowed downward suddenly from her throat.    Hans made a Stability spend here to keep things together.

The session ended with the trafficked victims being shipped away in a new van, with Danglars the gangster driving somewhere that (according to the tracker) was in an industrial area to the west of the city, and with the bearded newcomer somewhere still on the premises at the haulage firm.   The cameras stopped screaming as something was placed within the rear of another of the firm's trucks.