RPPR Episode 121: Con-SCAR-acy

THE-SECOND-ATTEMPTSponsors: This episode of RPPR is sponsored by Mystical Throne Entertainment. Use coupon code rpproctober to get the Entropic Gaming System PDF for $1 (normally $5).

Arc Dream is also sponsoring this episode of RPPR. Check out the Delta Green Kickstarter going on now. There is a free Quickstart guide and demo adventure available.

Synopsis: Conspiracies are a common element in horror games, but they are often handled badly. They are too powerful, too well-organized and too flexible to stop or even fight. In this episode, we talk about how to use conspiracies in RPGs, by looking at historical conspiracies like Operation Gladio and DeBeers. SPOILER WARNING FOR THE FILMS THE PLEDGE AND MEMORIES OF MURDER. There’s also shout outs and anecdotes.

Shout Outs

  • Deathgasm: A horror comedy about heavy metal, high school, and demon summoning.
  • Eternity by Cobalt Road: a vaportrap album that is quite good for late night listening.
  • Limetown: A cross between Serial and Delta Green. What happened to Limetown?
  • Moonbeam City: a synthwave inspired comedy that is part Nagel and part Archer.
  • John Carpenter’s Lost Themes: You want some original John Carpenter music? Of course you do!
  • Clue Pursuit: A locked room puzzle mystery experience. Fun for the whole group
  • Fornax Void: Get a VHS tape with a Carcosa/Vaporwave-video today.
  • Ryuutama: A Japanese tabletop RPG now available in English.
  • Gang Beasts: Fumblecore + multiplayer brawling = hella fun. As seen on Raillery.
  • The Bugle: John Oliver’s comedic news podcast. Very funny stuff.

Music: Tentative Steps by Kai Engel.

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  1. This is just what I needed! Today I’m working on the enemy conspiracy for my eclipse phase game.

  2. I twitch a little whenever someone on a podcast says my screenname. YOU’RE WATCHING.

    I tend to subscribe strongly to the “the world is too multifarious and chaotic and things are too independent of other things to form any kind of coherent picture of things” philosophy. it’s why I used to be more “government is bad,” because I didn’t really believe humans could conceive of large-scale plans and predict the actual outcomes with any hope of accuracy. these days I still feel that on an ethos level, but despair at the economic state of everyone I know has overtaken me to the point I’ve accepted that we still need to try.

    RPPR was really what got me into espionage, but the Illuminatus! trilogy got me into conspiracies. you can definitely have conspiracies with any mood. Illuminatus! is a bit of horror, mostly dark parody, with new-agey occultism thrown in.

    also I’m so pleased I’m not the only person on Earth to have read Gibson’s Bigend trilogy cause fuckin nobody knows that shit

  3. Great episode, and very useful info for my scenarios. I really enjoyed Caleb’s knowledge and discussion regarding conspiracies, but that makes it even harder to know that his Night’s Black Agents campaign will never be a thing….

    Also, that intro/outro music is totally gonna get me into Vaporwave, I can feel it.

  4. The guy who upped the medicine never actually lowered it. He said it to get people off his back and then chose to keep it pricey. He pretty much brags about it now.

  5. Personally, my greatest issue in handling conspiracies is the amount of knowledge and answers-leading-to-more-questions to deliver to keep everything interesting and fun while not actually dispelling the mystery of the conspiracy. It’s always been difficult for me.

    Also, seriously Ross? Tapes and VHS? Then again, I’m guilty of picking up oddities at the flea market for a buck every now and again myself.

  6. Sorry you missed the Dread game, Caleb! But we did have a great time.

    Clue Pursuit sounds mega fun. I’ve got to try it out sometime.

    Caleb, thanks for the theoretical talk about ataraxia and apophenia in conspiracies. I find that really helpful.

    Maybe to boil it down further, if the plot of a game or story is discovering the parts of a conspiracy, the characters must continue to have motivation to make each new discovery. They have to feel as though each new revelation is going to fulfill their goals somehow. It’s when that hope disappears that either frustration or ataraxia sets in, and the characters will simply stop pursuing the plot.

    At the same time, the specific details of the conspiracy and their investigation should be contributing to the mood of the story. So in a comedic game, the details of the conspiracy should be funny; in a horror game, they should be scary and unsettling; in a thriller game they should be exciting, etc.

    But the loss of hope through progressive investigation is an especially big danger in bleak horror settings like Delta Green or purist Trail of Cthulhu. That’s because the motivation to continue is in direct tension with the mood of bleakness and desperation. You have to strike a very delicate balance between them. I think that the ending of The Final Revelation campaign is an example of the mood overwhelming the motivation. The feeling of futility and despair was portrayed so well that it emptied the characters of interest in taking action.

    In my experience, I think the best way to preserve motivation while retaining a strongly bleak mood is to let the investigation of the conspiracy push toward a “goal” that is is meaningful to the characters even through it doesn’t alleviate the mood. The example in most Lovecraft stories is pushing toward a destructive revelation of the full truth, a sort of anti-theophany where the characters discover how terrifying the entity they’re facing really is. Other options could be a limited victory, personal survival or preserving another person or thing that is personally valued by the character.

    It’s definitely a challenge to pull off.

  7. Only person to read Gibson? Hah! He lives where I’m from and I have every single one of his books, signed, in hardcover. Heck, back when I had a blog it was called Pattern Recognition.

    This was a good listen and I really hope the Delta Green crowdfunding campaign doubles its fundraising before it’s all over. I have pledged more than I can easily afford given how awful the Canadian dollar is at the moment.

  8. I meet the occasional person who’s read Neuromancer, but almost no one who’s read the Sprawl or Bridge trilogies in their entirety, and basically nobody who’s read the Bigend trilogy (although I already knew Caleb had, I seem to recall an AI in the Know Evil scum warm named Bigend)

  9. Limetown is a pleasant surprise; glad to see it get a shout-out. Episode 3 is a gripping and emotional story that adds a bit of heart to the often too bleak Delta Green-ish narrative.

    Also, The Pledge is legendary for a theater-going experience. Nothing beats the throng of upper-middle aged couples going to check out that new Nicholson movie being completely dumbfounded and angry about Nicholson being a psychotic dick who doesn’t even get the payoff for his dickery.

  10. Have to agree on Limetown. Found myself vaguely uninterested during episode 2 when I was thinking ‘Yep, we get it, it’s psychic shit~ Move on~’ when the interesting image of two men in two rooms went on for longer than it should’ve, considering how obvious it was in some ways. Episode 3 was pretty much dynamite though, was listening with rapt attention. Napoleooooooon! ;_;

  11. I think the blue ant books are my favourite Gibson books. Even if they give me lifestyle envy for the resorces at the protagonists disposal. Worth reading at the very least to get some ideas about (corporate) espionage.

    Also I’m having a rare moment of smugness due to knowing about The Bugle. Word of warning once you’ve done achive bingeing they reduced their episodes to once a month due to John Oliver being on the TV so often now.

  12. And then Caleb was a SJW. True story.

  13. @PirateLawyer, I am crazy jealous of your signed Gibson collection.

    Great discussion on conspiracies and Greek Philosophy. The ataraxia and apophenia discussion was really quite interesting. Next time can we have links in the show notes to some of the sources you guys were directly influenced by?

    Another good videogame example for conspiracies is the Deus Ex series. Deus Ex: Human Revolutions, which I highly recommend, was recently $4 on Steam. Excellent writing, well researched based on some of the science going on at the time. It also addresses what could honestly threaten a truly secret (fantasy) world wide conspiracy.

  14. Hey I also listen to the stuff near as much as those two though I have yet to listen to Duality fully as it does not feel as great for me.

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