Everyday Hustlin'

Taxey kisses Shardonae, tucks the sheet around her, and creeps out the door without waking the baby. He's getting good at that, finally. Outside the shack he slides the Bounty cards into the rent slot, and just like every month, thinks about how easy it would be to pop the lock off (but they'd know it was him, better wait on that shit 'til it's time to leave this enclave anyway). He climbs the cliff ladder up to the streets that ring the Split Rock lighthouse.

Then he puts the earbud in, hits play on the worklist. Same first track as always - M.O.P. feat. Busta Rhymes, Teflon, Remy Martin - Ante Up (Remix).

"Attention please, attention please...this shit here feels like a whole entire world collapsed...motherfuckaaaaaaa..."

Just 15 seconds, then switch it off to save battery. That's all he needs, the rest plays in his head. Soundtrack to the everyday hustle.

Today's hustle: debt collection. Yesterday a kid named Alex showed up here in Split Rock flashing around a shiny new AK -- and a stack of Bounty cards that looked way too thick for somebody who'd just made that kind of purchase. Sure enough, a quick check on Ubiq of the New Hamar gun market shitlist showed Alex as a credit customer in arrears. Nice little contract for anybody who could settle him up.

Second track. Gang Starr - Just to Get a Rep.

"Stick up kids is out to tax -- and this is how the story goes..."

One Bounty to the morning fenceman gets Taxey the Alex’s location: the Bassboat Brothel. Two Bounty to the desk girl gets him Alex's room number and a key. Third floor, too high to jump out the window, nice. Climb up the steps, check the clock. 7:30 am, perfect timing to do this Pulp Fiction-style.

Play track three. Notorious B.I.G. - Gimme the Loot.

"You ain't got to explain shit,
I been robbin' motherfuckers since the slave ships
With the same clip, and the same .45
Two point blank, a motherfucker sure to die..."

Take off the shirt, the tats help for this kind of job. Pull the Glock 18, turn the key, kick the door, find Alex sprawled naked in bed next to last night's lady friend.

"Wake up call for Alex! Rise and shine, motherfucker." Taxey jerks the sheet off the bed and dumps Alex on the floor. He turns to the girl. "Hey, Carallina, sorry you ain't gonna get to serve him breakfast this morning. Here's something for your troubles." Taxey flips her a Bounty and she bolts out the door.

Alex is not coming around very fast, understandable after what must have been a long night. His eyes sweep blearily between the pistol in Taxey's hand and the darkness underneath the bed. Taxey kicks him in the face, flips the bed over, and grabs up the AK.

"Alex, this ain't ya gun, son. My boy T-Crit up in Somaliland says you ain't paid the bill on this chopper. So they gonna have to repossess it."

Alex mumbles something through the blood in his mouth.

"And also you gotta pay some penalty fees."

Alex inches toward the door. Taxey puts the Glock away and levels the assault rifle on him.

"Now A-Lay, I don't wanna have to test this chopper out, make sure it's still in working condition. So you just sit right there and we'll talk this through. New Hamar wants five Bounty for the trouble you gave 'em, and then I'm gonna need five more to cover my expenses in hunting your punk ass down. So that's ten Bounty. Ante that up, and you can bounce up on out of here, all square."

Alex indicates that he does not have ten Bounty.

"But you had it yesterday, I saw you flashing the stack around down by the pier. You had twenty, easy. You gotta learn to keep that shit on the downlow, bruh. Now the Bassboat's a nice place, and Carallina's a nice girl, but they ain't ten Bounty worth of nice. Now are you gonna pay up, motherfucker, or am I gonna be putting another dot on my knuckles?"

Alex eventually manages to explain that last night at some yacht party he bought some pre-crash molly and bottle service, besides the bed with Carallina. There’s only five left over. Taxey fishes them out of the pocket of the crumpled up pants on the floor.

"Five, okay, that's enough for the Muslims, but we got a little problem with my end still. That's bad news for Mister Alex. I'ma have to tax ya son, old school style. Take off that fuckin' watch."

As Alex shakily removes a cheap-looking fake gold watch, Taxey drops the rifle on the upturned mattress and pulls the pistol back out. It's tricky to toss a room one-handed while keeping a gun on a guy, but Taxey has had some practice. And Alex's stuff isn't too hard to collect. Find his backpack, throw the watch and the five Bounty in it, a half-smoked blunt, an unused DHQS-issued condom, and the clothes on the floor -- everything, shirt, pants, underwear, socks, boots.

"No hat, man? Thought you had a hat. Stylish kid like you should have a hat. Oh wait, there it is on the door hanger. Stand up and toss me that hat, homie."

The ballcap goes on Taxey's head with a jaunty tilt. The backpack goes over one shoulder. Alex, awkwardly standing naked, seems to suddenly realize the implication of Taxey packing up all of his clothes.

"Oh shit is right, Alex my boy. Next time maybe trying living within your means when the Tax Man's in town. Ayo, talk nice to Carallina, maybe she'll let ya borrow one of her see-through dresses or something. Now if you'll kindly step aside...oh wait, don't wanna forget this thing."

Taxey slings the AK over his other shoulder and saunters out the door past the cowering Alex, snatches up his own shirt from the banister and walks back down the stairs.

Track four. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg - Nuthin' But a G Thang.

"One, two, three and to tha four
Snoop Doggy Dog and Dr. Dre is at tha door..."

Blow a kiss to Carallina and the desk girl, and stroll out into the morning sunshine.

Taxey messages T-Crit in New Hamar with a photo of the gun and a photo of Alex naked on the floor. He sits on a bench by the lighthouse, checks his new watch -- 8:00 am, good work for half an hour. Might have some time to kill. Put on Run the Jewels 2, the full album, and light up the blunt.

His Ubiq rings four minutes later. The Muslims must be early risers, too.

"Ayo T-Crit, I found ya boy Alex. And as you can see, your property has been repossessed."

"Good morning, Taxey. Please, once again, call me Abdullahi now. But thank you for fulfilling our contract. Did you also secure the Bounty that Alex owes us?"

"Sure did, bruh. Five B for you. It was close, though, that shit was all he had left. Motherfucker was livin' large. I always told ya, man, never sell guns or drugs on credit."

"Yes, I recall. And I also recall that you personally demonstrated to us why that is. Your payment for this contract covers the remainder of your debt to New Hamar."

"Plus what?"

"Plus nothing. A drone will come for the rifle and Bounty this afternoon. Meet it at the lighthouse. When it returns, we'll take your name off the repayment list. You're welcome."

"Come on, T-Crit, I told you that shit wasn't me."

"Right, you just found that Glock 18 you're always waving around. You should really learn to keep that stuff on the downlow."

"Fuck you, T-Crit."

"Assalamu alaykum, Mike. Hey, congratulations on the baby."

Click. Motherfucker.

It'll be good to be off the New Hamar shitlist before he ends up like Alex, but Taxey is still down four Bounty from this morning, and all of Alex's stuff put together isn't going to be worth more than two. And baby Shampane needs diapers and bottles.

Still no Freelance jobs on the Lifelines group either. It’s been like four weeks now, did the whole crew just fall off? Lazy-ass fucking Takers.

Fuck it, it's not even 9:00 am yet. He's got at least three hours before the drone arrives. That's time enough to put in work. And shit, all of Alex's money ended up somewhere in this town. Maybe his molly dealer is still slipping after that crazy yacht party. Might as well find out.

Finish the blunt and put on the next track. Wiz Khalifa, Big Bang & Big Bake  - Hustlin' Everyday.

"I’ve been hustling like everyday
Doin' time on my grind tryna make a pay.
Hey, I’m still postin’ on the same block,
The same hood, still duckin' from the same cops.
I try hard, but the life that I live, man, ain't all it's seemin',
Sometimes I pray to God I’m dreamin’,
But I ain’t. Try to get out, but I can’t. Damn."

GM's Corner: Sail an Iceberg to Sydney

Sail an Iceberg to Sydney is the first complete scenario I’ve written in a long time that isn’t part of my Civil War Cthulhu series. Like several of my other scenarios, it was inspired by a mythos story outside the usual Lovecraft circle: “Cold Water Survival” by Holly Phillips, which I read in the collection Lovecraft Unbound (and is also available in Ms. Phillips’s collection At the Edge of Waking).

I read the story a long time ago, but it made an unusually persistent impression. The intense isolation of a small group alone on the alien landscape of a drifting iceberg was a perfect foundation for cosmic horror. More recently, I saw an article about historical schemes to tow icebergs to warm climates, while also reading my brand new Delta Green Agent’s Handbook. Something clicked.

I had a sketchy idea of modern adventurers on an iceberg, and Delta Green Agents dispatched to keep them from bringing a frozen horror too close to civilization. But I needed some type of motivation for the folks on the ice, both to be there and to try to move the thing back to the inhabited world. I got thinking about the billionaire eco-adventurer angle – basically, the Richard Branson / Steve Fossett gig – and the idea of Mike Rydger’s Project Anthropocene started developing. So a charismatic leader has cooked up a plan to bring an iceberg to Sydney harbor, to make some sort of point about global warming while also proving the value of wind power and satisfying his enormous ego. He’s roped a variety of people into the scheme as his support crew. I got a little science-fictiony to figure out what a technical team might look like (Meta-material sails! Social media memetic engineering! Dynamic iceberg stabilization!). Then I thought about the personalities of the sorts of people might sign up for those jobs in such a grueling and perilous venture. Finally I cooked up a few interpersonal conflicts among them, a couple of soap opera elements that the PCs might crash into depending how they chose to approach their investigation. Now I had a little community of sorts there on the iceberg, with their own goals and storylines, and a nice hook for the Agents to exploit for a cover story.

As I wrote more, I started to consider the thematic aspects of the scenario. The central element is that the whole situation is caused by human action. This is a bit different from a lot of Lovecraftian cosmic horror, which often emphasizes human helplessness in response to forces beyond our control. But in this case, from start to finish, it’s people who cause everything. Anthropogenic global warming has exposed glacial ice that’s been locked in the Antarctic shelves for millions of years. Mike Rydger’s project to “raise awareness” of the situation takes the form of an even more extreme commitment to human technological manipulation. And in the end, it’s Delta Green’s orders and the Agents’ own actions that precipitate the ultimate disaster for the iceberg crew. If they had simply done nothing, maybe nothing bad would have happened at all.

If the scenario seems a little rushed and abbreviated, that was intentional. I was trying to keep it simple enough so that the players could easily complete it in one of our short 2-hour sessions. And I was also interested in the narrative effect of having the players’ actions cause an unexpectedly abrupt climax. It was an interesting test, but the next time I run it I’ll want to give more time for the Agents to get to know the people on the project, and maybe add a few more plot wrinkles to make the Agents’ choices more tense.

The brevity of this version of the scenario had one big perk: it helped me write it up as a submission for the annual Shotgun Scenario Competition run by the Delta Green Mailing List. I got it whittled down under the 1500-word limit, and I’m happy with the result (even if it only got one vote in the contest). You can read the full text of it there, under the final title Project Anthropocene.

If you’d be interested to having me run it for your gaming group, hit me up! I’d like to keep playtesting and improving it. Thanks for listening!

Short Fiction - Monsterhearts: Neko - Starting from the Bottom

I’m waking up…good, as planned. The Great Spell still works. Thanks again, Osiris. But you still owe me.

Wait...there’s something off. This isn’t the tomb I commissioned in Thebes. Those aren’t my shabtis and my scarabs. Hell, those aren’t even my canopic jars. This is just a bunch of random junk, stolen from a dozen other Pharaohs’ tombs -- where’s my stuff? Where am I?

My eyes are still clearing... There, I can focus them again. The walls and ceiling are some sort of plaster, painted with random inscriptions copied from who knows which pyramid. Nothing about this tomb is right. And there’s a big fresh crack in the ceiling, still dribbling broken plaster and letting the sunlight in.

Something’s gone very wrong.

The last time I woke up, Osiris had returned my ka after 400 years as per our arrangement. The secret priests got me back on the throne in short order, and I got to work. Unsurprisingly, the kingdom had badly rotted in my absence. I restored the temples and got tax collection back in order. I started a new canal and even built a navy, something which had apparently never occurred to any of my idiot heirs.

They hadn’t held onto my conquests in Syria, either. So that was a top priority. I made a little alliance with the Hebrews (that name sounded familiar -- hadn’t they been slaves or something? I guess they must have gotten free somehow in my absence), and marched north. That’s...when things get vague for me.

I’ll bet I died in battle. Shit, I must not have made it back to Egypt. The Babylonians probably captured my body. But why would they have put me here, in this crappy fake tomb? Thoth, I’m going to need some answers.

Oh, good. I hear voices outside the doorway. I should be able to wring some information out of whoever these guards happen to be. But what language is that -- something from the Arabian desert tribes? I don’t recognize it.

Let’s hope at least some of these stolen trinkets are authentic. I need to get some magic going. Here we are, this Ibis figurine looks legit. Thrice Wise Thoth, Lord of All Secrets, Grant Me Knowledge of This Tongue.

Much better. They’re talking about an airstrike, by someone called the Americans, and how their boss President Hussein will probably execute them if his museum got damaged.

I don’t really know what any of those things are, but I know how slaves sound when they’re afraid of their master, and I can gather that they’re currently in the process of losing a war.

And I can start putting pieces together. New languages. New nations and titles for kings. New weapons of warfare. That fresh crack in the ceiling -- I’ve been sealed in here. No way for my ka to return to my body when the time came. It’s been more than 400 years. Maybe a lot more.

When the guards come in to check on the damage, I’m ready. I don’t quite have the full strength of my majesty back yet, but I’ve got more than enough to dazzle a couple of downtrodden lackeys. Anwar and Malik drop to their knees, and I have them fill me in on the details. I’m in a place called Iraq, ruled by a man named Saddam Hussein (who calls himself President instead of King for unclear reasons). This tomb is in the basement of one of his palaces, a museum put together from artifacts he’s bought, stolen, or dug up. I was his prize centerpiece, found right here in this city -- Tikrit. Okay, I know that name. Now I know where I am.

As to when -- It’s been almost 2,600 years. It’s 1411 in their calendar, 1991 in the Americans’ version. And these Americans are the ones currently kicking the shit out of Saddam in this war. Anwar says they’ve got invisible flying weapons called stealth fighters, which can drop exploding stones called bombs anywhere they want. That’s what blew that crack in the ceiling.

Screw this Saddam guy, he sounds like a chump. Looks like America is the big-deal empire right now. Richest, strongest, most famous -- they boss the world around and do whatever they want to whoever they want. Malik says they have a city called New York where billionaires live in glass towers taller than the Great Pyramids.

Well then. Sounds like my kind of place. Anwar fetches me some of his old master’s best clothes, and Malik gathers up the still-functional artifacts from the tomb. I take a look in a full-length mirror on our way out the door. Nice job, Osiris, I’m back to looking eighteen. And I like this new style of suit, much sharper than robes. I miss my double crowns, though. All in due time. Right now, let’s focus on what’s essential: getting to the center of the action and starting to climb back on top.

GM's Corner 11: The Nethescurial Fragment

I hope you enjoy this Call of Cthulhu one-shot! It seems like this is our go-to format when one of us can't make a session. CoC is a nice flexible system that works for very few players, and doesn't usually require a ton of prep.

Of course, I say that, but I've technically been prepping this scenario for about 8 years now...

Read More

GM's Corner 07: Writing Historical Roleplaying Scenarios (Ethan)

I've been dedicating a lot of my recent RPG creativity to writing historical gaming scenarios. I've written three Lovecraftian horror scenarios set during the American Civil War (with a fourth in progress), as well as another couple of scenarios set during the standard Call of Cthulhu period of the 1920's that include strong real-world historical elements. I've also been researching the Black Death in 1340's Europe, ideally for a future Red Markets-related project. If you want to listen to some of my scenarios, I'm running them here on Technical Difficulties (check out He Calls Me by the Thunder, part 1 and part 2), as well as for Role Playing Public Radio.

I also really love reading and playing historically-focused RPG scenarios, like Caleb Stokes's No Security scenarios set during the Great Depression, and the Trail of Cthulhu World War I collection Dulce et Decorum Est from Pelgrane Press.

I figured I'd share a few of my thoughts and tips about designing historical scenarios, since I've been thinking about it so much recently.

1. For me, the most fun thing about historical scenarios is getting to explore a new time and place, to imagine how people living in that place would deal with strange and dangerous situations differently than someone living in our modern world. I always play up the unique historical conditions of a scenario, even as I'm mixing in fantastical or supernatural elements. How might a Lovecraftian monstrosity affect an Antebellum slave plantation? How would a 1920's radical socialist newspaper deal with a malevolent sorcerer?

2. I recommend writing pre-generated characters for most historical scenarios. I don't want to force my players to do a bunch of their own historical research just to make up appropriate PCs. So I'll write characters that fit an appropriate archetype: the wounded artillery officer, the corrupt militia trooper, the crusading field nurse. But I also make sure to leave the pregens vague enough that each player can invest their own details into their character's personality, to make it their own.

3. When I'm researching for a game, I start broadly and then get more specific. A prominent historical event can be the seed of a scenario plot, like the Gettysburg Address or the Missouri Mormon Wars. I'll cruise Wikipedia or read a general history to get broad ideas. Then to develop the scenario, I'll dive into the detailed facts of the event and let that shape my plot, like how the black workmen on the Gettysburg National Cemetery project were surprisingly well-paid, and how Lincoln was getting sick while he was giving his speech. Having loads of details adds a lot to the players' sense of immersion.

4. That said, I have to resist the urge to cram every single tidbit in. Remember, we're writing games, not lectures. The main focus needs to remain on the characters' choices and actions, not just on the set dressing. Make sure that the details you do emphasize are ones that the PCs can use to inform their actions, so that they feel more like they're embodying real people from the era. The design of the Gettysburg courthouse probably doesn't matter, but the person playing the war widow might like to know a lot about the traditions of mourning dress.

5. Make sure that you let the actual play at the table be as free and open as you would in any game. Don't pull a "Stop having fun, guys!" on your players, just because they're doing something that doesn't quite make historical sense. Maybe gently remind them of how a particular historical fact might guide their behavior, but don't be a stickler about it. Remember, nobody's getting graded at the end of this.

Those are just a few tips. I might revisit this subject again in the future, to talk more theoretically about how to use historical games to explore big themes, or how to take ideas from historical research and use them in other genres like fantasy and science fiction. Let us know if you you find this sort of thing interesting! I hope I'm not the only one. :)