Monday, March 16, 2015

Achtung! Cthulhu: The Book of Eibon (A Study in Props)

I posted this image to the Fate Core Google+ Community with the lead-in "Here are my props for tonight's Fate Achtung! Cthulhu:"

This generated quite a bit more interest than I expected, including requests to see notes, images, and recaps of the game.

So here goes!

For starters, let me say that this is my first time running a Cthulhu game (or any horror game for that matter), so my knowledge of Cthulhu Mythos is weak. Fortunately, the folks who worked on Achtung! Cthulhu put a lot of work into all the historical and mythos research. I was able to put together a solid plot outline with only the core Investigator's and Keeper's Guides (well and a bunch of Googling, which probably put me on some watch lists...). Understanding the plot will show how I arrived at the props.

The Plot (oh, and Props)

In 1935, Heinrich Himmler founded The Ancestral Heritage Research and Teaching Society, or Ahnenerbe, to research, recover, and revive Germanic traditions by studying several cultures around the world. The various expeditions undertaken by the Ahnenerbe made it the perfect organization to look into Himmler's interest in the occult as well.

According to the Achtung! Cthulhu Keeper's Guide, in 1933, Himmler united the Order of the Black Sun, a group of occult scholars (with their own agenda) under the Nazi flag. Once the Ahnenerbe is established, the Black Sun took the helm of occult research. However, another subgroup, Nachtwölfe, splintered off from the Black Sun focused on what technology could be developed from occult artifacts. There is an unsteady truce between them, but some artifacts cannot easily be categorized as either arcane or technological (p. 73 of the Keeper's Guide PDF, p. 193 of the combined softcover book).

Enter the Book of Eibon, a spell book written by the Hyperborean wizard Eibon and translated by a handful of scholars - all manuscripts of which have been hidden or lost. If the Reich gets their hands on a copy, they could theoretically turn the tides of war in their favor. So, the Ahnenerbe send out teams from both the Black Sun and Nachtwölfe.

Unfortunately for Nachtwölfe, the Black Sun wants all the glory - and, well, to unleash the Valley of the Black Sun into this world. To further this end, they have let slip the current location of the Nachtwölfe team that's searching for the Book to... well... what the heck... The Inglourious Basterds. Bear with me here, this is alternate WW2 and there's nothing saying there wasn't a savage band of American soldiers scalping Nazis...

So, assuming you buy that, the Nachtwölfe team has a lead. There's a legend about a necromancer named Nathaire who builds a giant out of corpses. He is stopped by another necromancer named Gaspard du Nord. There is rumor that Gaspard is one of the scholars who translated the Book of Eibon to French. The team is checking out a monastery in La Mont-Dore that matches a description from the legend just as the Basterds rush in and start taking scalps.

After the Basterds leave, the Black Sun sweeps in, takes any remaining notes and leads, and picks up the trail without getting Nazi blood on their hands.

This is where the players come in. They are tasked to go to the monastery, find the original team, join them if possible, and continue the quest for the Book of Eibon.
A Note on Nazis

I want to point out that the group has decided to play a team of researchers working under Germany's Ahnenerbe. The Fate Keeper's guide addresses this (p. 15 of the PDF, or p. 135 of the softcover) and suggests against it, but provides the resources to do so. As a group, we discussed it and agreed to tread lightly. To the players' credit, we ended up with two disgruntled veterans of the Great War and three civilians taking advantage of the German War Machine to further their own ends.
Since I am sending them into France in December of 1942, I needed a map. Doing a Google image search for "France occupation 1942", I get this:
I dropped that into a simple image editor (in my case, Preview on a Mac) and cranked up the sepia filter to give it some age.
Fortunately for the PCs, the Black Sun overlooked a few clues. The first is a torn notebook page referencing Gaspard du Nord and the story "The Colossus of Ylourgne". The leader of the Black Sun team finds the idea of a "good" necromancer ridiculous, tears out that segment and spits on it, leaving it behind. Also, the head of Nachtwölfe had just enough time to tear out and pocket the page listing his leads to where Hyperborea may be located.
For the torn notebook pages, I simply Google Translated a few important phrases, practiced handwriting that looked more driven (and less like mine), wrote them on actual notepad paper, and tore them. For the bloody thumbprint, I did a Google Image search and printed that on the note paper before writing on it.

Here's a PDF of the Torn Notebook Pages.
Hopefully, that first scrap of paper has the PCs looking for Gaspard du Nord's resting place by checking libraries for a book or story called "Le Colosse de Ylourgne." Which is a French "translation" of Clark Ashton Smith's short story, "The Colossus of Ylourgne".
You can find a copy of it here: To make the hardcopy, I basically munged the text through Google Translate, tidied it up in Word, exported it as a PDF, and used Adobe Reader to print it as a booklet on some brownish paper. Here's my version: Le Colosse de Ylourgne. This booklet I will then tuck into an old book a friend gave me (sadly, it is only about steam power and not the occult).
Since my players do not read French and I want them to focus on specific parts of the story, locations Gaspard du Nord visited in particular, I decided to leave a note as if another researcher has headed down this path before. This "poem" (which is really just passages from the short story) gave me what I needed.
I modified it a tiny bit, changed it to some handwriting font, and printed it on a 5" x 7" sheet of notepad paper. Here's my version of the file: Gaspard du Nord. This, I tucked into the short story booklet.
I figure while they are searching the library, another character will find this excellent map, done by Tim Kirk, inspired by Clark Ashton Smith's stories:
I also slapped a sepia filter on this.
Now, and here's the leap of faith, the players just have to pick out Gaspard du Nord's favorite locations on the Averoigne map and try to cross reference them with actual places in Auvergne.
As such, they will need some reasonably decent maps of France showing the land features of Auvergne. After some more Google-fu, I found these lovely specimens:
I printed them out on larger paper (11" x 17"), trimmed them up, folded them (the first pleated like a road map, the second folded down the middle like a book), and scraped a sharp knife along all the edges and folds to prematurely age, rough up, weaken, and tatter them.
I'm hoping the players decide to select the curly source of the Dordogne River as their place of interest, but (WARNING: Sneaky GM Trick) will go with whatever they decide. (But to help them, I included a tiny hint from the first clue: the "...ogne-Fluss" along the tear in the page.)
Sadly, I have been unable to find a good map of Auvergne that shows towns, major roads, and land features (Google maps is terrible at doing land features). The best I've found so far is, but it's far too modern a map, so I'm still looking for better.
Following up on snippet from "The Colossus of Ylourgne" should give the PCs some clues as to where Gaspard du Nord is buried. There they shall find a his copy of the Book of Eibon.

Meanwhile, the Black Sun is digging up where Nathaire is buried and they find their own copy...

The rest needs to be fleshed out, but the plan (and where the second torn notebook page comes in) is that Black Sun and the PCs are racing to find Hyperborea - The Black Sun, to break the Hyperborean seals preventing the Valley of the Black Sun from entering our world, and the PCs hopefully to stop them. The spell will require 24 hours of darkness so that means a trip to the Arctic Circle, conveniently on December 21, 1942.
Fortunately, searching Wikipedia for Hyperborea, you can see this lovely map:

Look at that interesting red circle...

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