For centuries, you fought a losing war against your wicked neighbours, watching warrior after proud warrior succumb to the inimical spirits which gave your neighbours their strength. Your shamans were helpless against the onslaught, but you knew that whatever the cost, your enemies must be destroyed.
And then the white men came and punished your tribe’s foes for their obscene rites and murderous practices. Your salvation was at hand; finally, you could rest. But as the gunsmoke cleared and the ashes settled, it slowly became clear that not all your enemies’ fetishes had been destroyed and that their spirits lived on, corrupting a few of the white men and urging the whites to keep their treasures safe in their museums, where the spirits could spread their taint to an unsuspecting, world-spanning empire.
If the white man’s burden is to bring light to the dark corners of the Earth, then surely, it is the dark man’s burden to guard the world from the terrors that lurk just beyond the firelight. You have been sent forth to find these artefacts of evil and destroy them, before the ageless spirits can scar the souls of all mankind.
Setting: As the American fruit companies push into Latin America, and the European powers drive to exploit unexplored tracts of Africa and Indochina, it is inevitable that they will encounter followers of the Mythos, be they Tcho-tcho, Anzique or some heretofore uncatalogued blood-cult of the Yucatan. Doubtless, the natives will hail the white man as a saviour from the horrible minions of the Mythos, shortly before the true, mixed blessings of colonialism become apparent.
Play begins in the Investigators’ homeland, as they are tasked with cleansing the world of their neighbours’ abhorrent leavings. Soon, however, they must travel beyond the familiar confines of their ancestors’ world and into the vast and alien empires of the white man, the Investigators at best second-class citizens, and at worst regarded as little more than savages.
Any year from, perhaps, 1500 to 1950 BCE is appropriate, although with modification, any land on the periphery of history’s great empires could suffice. Even Apartheid-era South Africa or Tokugawa Japan are distant possibilities—the important thing is the clash of cultures, the aggressor vastly more powerful than the underdog.
Style: Although ideally suited to Pulp, White Devils also makes for a particularly bleak Purist game, where inevitable doom is compounded with the realities of colonialism, paternalism and outright racism towards the so-called primitive peoples. Scale the Investigators’ own customs and beliefs along the spectrum from nobility to savagery as you and your group see fit.
Bear in mind, too, that the investigators will spend long stretches in very hostile territory, far from loved ones, familiar ways or even what they would regard as a rational understanding of the world. This is the globetrotting epic turned right on its head.
Mythos: Initially, the Investigators will face the followers of their ancestral enemies’ patron gods—probably some aspect of Nyarlathotep and/or Shub-Niggurath—but it might slowly become apparent that the Mythos’ tentacles reach subtly into all corners of the vast world beyond the Investigators’ homes. Be careful how much additional Mythos content the Investigators face, however, lest the futility of their situation totally crush their will to continue. (Of course, if you and your players are hardcore Purists…)
Investigators: The investigators are all members of the same tribe, although the circumstances surrounding their selection for the task will vary from Investigator to Investigator. Some may have been chosen for their skill as warriors, others as spiritual guides for the group, and others still sent out into the world as punishment for misdeeds against the tribe, real or imagined. Perhaps one Investigator is trying to prove his bravery to a prospective bride; another might see their ordeal as an act of penance to redeem a disgraced kinsman.
It is likely that the Investigators, as a group, might not initially possess all of the Investigative abilities; it will take time before they comprehend the nuances of the white man’s world. At least one of the Investigators should begin being able to speak the white man’s lingua franca, although you might decide against this as Keeper in order to make the initial cultural differences more jarring.
The Investigators begin armed and clad in their traditional manner, and will have to beg, borrow or steal new equipment. Note, however, that they may have gold or gems or other valuables to trade (as reflected by their Credit Rating).
Continuing NPCs: Polite Anglo-Saxon society likely regards the Investigators as a dangerous, unknown quantity; many will see them as fuzzy-wuzzies who simply don’t know their place, whereas others might come to regard the Investigators themselves as howling, blood-crazed cultists who must be stopped at all costs. There will certainly be no shortage of antagonists bent on thwarting the Investigators’ plans.
Major Emery Marshall (b 1885) is a charismatic blowhard, condescending to the natives, whilst petty and vicious to those who fail to appreciate the benefits of “civilisation”. He has spent most of his career drunk in colonial watering holes, emerging only when needed to bully some poor savage into submission. However, his reputation abroad is that of a tolerant man with deep insights into the primitive psyche and a history of successful interaction with his country’s lesser subjects, so he is undoubtedly the ideal candidate to bring the Investigators to heel.
Arthur Guilfoyle (b 1872) is a bureaucrat with a long, but undistinguished, career in the Colonial Office, the State Department or the arm of government most appropriate to your chosen setting. Hoping to advance his station, he takes orders from faceless men above him in the hierarchy, thereby becoming a patsy for the Cult of Makhen (see below). Guilfoyle directs the official response to the Investigators’ actions, whether it be to sic Marshall onto them, send spies to track their movements, liaise with foreign governments to have them extradited, or simply to call the police when the Investigators have been insufficiently circumspect.
The Cult of Makhen started amongst the colonial soldiers and scholars who pried into the Investigators’ ancient enemies’ secrets, but slowly began to spread to other members of society who craved forbidden power. Initially unaware—and unafraid—of the tribesmen sent against them, they will not hesitate to crush any who threaten to expose their machinations.
Makhen Ze Bakar (b 1898, as Clive Benning) is the Cult’s leader, a hapless soldier possessed by the spirits which inhabit the foul fetishes brought back from the darkest jungle. Makhen is clearly mad in human terms—he rarely blinks, rants and foams at the mouth, has bloodily gnawed the fingernails from his hands and has taken to driving iron nails into his skull—but none can deny his supernatural power. His followers fear and worship him as their divine teacher and herald of a new dark age.
Victoria Smythe-Powell (b 1908) has had a privileged and relatively sheltered upbringing, but nonetheless is concerned with the plight of her nation’s subject peoples. Whilst visiting relatives in the colonies, her interest in photography found new expression in the natives’ faces, and she came to understand that many of them suffered unduly in the face of the white man’s burden. Some of her many friends fear that she may be sliding towards Communism, but others might find a naïve sense of purpose in assisting the Investigators to retrieve “their” sacred relics.
Ban Ban Chouleh (c 1145-1210 CE) is one of the Investigators’ ancestral spirits, sent by their tribe’s head shaman to look out for them and provide advice from beyond the grave. Even when alive, however, Ban Ban was a lecherous old goat, and not shy about speaking his mind; seven centuries have only added lewd nostalgia to his repertoire. Frequently, an attractive woman will distract him from recounting his otherworldly wisdom, and his advice will veer to that of a not-altogether seemly kind…
Rules Variations: Although the Investigators may have some wealth with which to sustain themselves, the colour of their skin precludes them from taking full advantage of this in white society; their Credit Ratings should be treated as being at least two points lower when dealing with most Anglo-Saxons.
Although many Investigators will eventually discard their traditional trappings for more “modern” counterparts, they will likely begin with weapons such as knives and clubs (-1 damage), machetes (+0) and spears (+1). Some Investigators may decide to keep their cultural weapons, either as links to their past (possibly as a special, non-person Source of Stability—see p48 of Trail of Cthulhu) or to dispatch especially significant foes in accordance with their spiritual beliefs.
The Investigators may draw upon Ban Ban Chouleh’s wisdom as a two-point dedicated pool, once per session, for Anthropology, Assess Honesty, Flattery, Occult or Outdoorsman spends. They might be able to squeeze a third point out of the old spirit, but this will invariably involve the breaking of taboo in order to propitiate Ban Ban’s burning desire.
Lastly, the Investigators’ occupational choices will differ from those of a standard Trail of Cthulhu campaign frame. Some suggestions follow, but feel free to expand upon these, depending on the particulars of the Investigators’ society.
Warrior: Not only were you trained to fight from an early age, but also to rule. Bound by pride and honour, your place as protector of the tribe guarantees you wealth, power and prestige, but not without cost: you must constantly prove yourself worthy of the trust that the tribe places in you.
Occupational Abilities: Athletics, Intimidation, Outdoorsman, Scuffling, Sense Trouble, Shadowing, Weapons.
Credit Rating: 2-5.
Special: Your upbringing has inured you to violence that most others would find shocking. Any Stability loss brought about as a result of experiencing violence or witnessing corpses is reduced by two points.
Hunter: You and your family are the backbone of the tribe: those who hunt and gather and forage for food, and whose day-to-day labours sustain the tribe through good times and bad. Incidentally, your wandering may have brought you into contact with the white man, having served perhaps as a guide or a porter; you may even have acted as an interpreter, fostering friendly relations between your people and outsiders.
Occupational Abilities: Bargain, Flattery, Languages, Oral History, Outdoorsman, Preparedness, Shadowing, Stealth, Weapons.
Credit Rating: 0-3.
Special: Given your role in tribal society, subservience comes as second nature to you. Once per session, you may elude notice by pretending to be simple-minded and inconsequential. Note that this will only work in situations where an otherwise harmless individual would not draw attention to themselves.
Shaman: You are the voice of the other world, guardian of secrets and the living embodiment of centuries of esoteric tradition. The spirits guide your hands to create weapons for the warrior, whisper wisdom into your ears with which to counsel the hunter and open your eyes to truths that belong to you and you alone.
Occupational Abilities: Art, Assess Honesty, Craft, First Aid, Intimidation, Occult, Reassurance, Sense Trouble.
Credit Rating: 1-4.
Special: Twice per session, you may call upon spirits to advise you. Treat this as a one-point dedicated pool, usable for Anthropology, Astronomy, Biology, Craft, Evidence Collection, Fleeing, Medicine, Occult, Outdoorsman or Pharmacy. Note that this ability is in addition to being able to call on Ban Ban Chouleh (see above), but no two spirits will consent to be called for the same task.
Pulp campaigns may also allow shamans access to Idiosyncratic Magic (see pp212-213 of Trail of Cthulhu and pp28-32 of Rough Magicks).