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De Profundis, The Letter Writing RPG


#1

Hello everyone, and welcome to De Profundis, the Lovecraftian Letter Writing RPG.

What Is This?

“Wait a minute” I hear you ask, “Letter writing? You don’t mean writing ACTUAL letters do you? Like, with envelopes and stamps and all that?”

Why yes, strange and fluting voice in my head, that is exactly what I mean. De Profundis is a roleplaying game that is played using the eldritch and forgotten technology of the postal service. Players will be writing actual physical letters to each other, and literally placing them in real and tangible post boxes. It is sort of like a LARP, only without the stupid outfits. You will receive strange diagrams, photographs, missives in languages unknowable and vile, all addressed to your character in 1928. If you would like to take part in this madness, I would encourage you to read the PDF, available at DrivethruRPG here (It’s still on sale!). Actually, even if you have no interest at all in playing, you should probably download it anyway. It is a great read. Probably one of the most interesting and inspiring roleplaying books I have ever read, actually.

The Premise

It is the year 1928. The world is slowly recovering from The War To End All Wars. It is the Golden Age of Jazz, women are finally gaining equal rights to vote. It is the age of Prohibition in the US, and the year “Talkies” first start showing up on our cinema screens.
20 years ago, just before The Great War, you were a member of an exclusive club called “The Inquiring Heteroclite” - A group of friends, with a common interest in The Occult. This society was run mainly out of The University of Cambridge in England, by a queer young man named Cornelius Pittman. You may have been a student there at the time, or merely come by the club by a mutual acquaintance, that is up to you. Perhaps your interest in the occult persisted, or perhaps you lost touch with your compatriots in the war, or diverted your curiosity toward other things in later life. This is also up to you.

Recently, the rumour has reached you that Cornelius Pittman has disappeared.

The Theme

If you have read the PDF for De Profundis, the Convention or Theme that I have chosen for this campaign is best described by a combination of “Other Worlds” and “Jewellery Box”. In terms of Lovecraft’s fiction, the vibe I am going for is best depicted in The Dreams In The Witch-House, the full text of which is available here. You will be receiving letters from a man named Ebenezer Barlow, a lawyer from Kent Town, South Australia. Following the unexplained disappearance of Cornelius Pittman, Mr Barlow has been tasked with settling the affairs of the strange young man. Making the situation a little more difficult is the fact that Pittman never left a will, and has no known family. In examining the bizarre disarray left behind by Cornelius, his lawyer will find a great many notebooks, maps of no known lands, and inexplicable paraphernalia, seemingly of no use to anybody. In all these writings, Ebenezer will find that Cornelius never gave up on his society, The Inquiring Heteroclite. And addressed many unsent letters, questions, and notes to his old compatriots at Oxford, apparently as if no time had passed. It had become clear, to those that knew him, that Cornelius Pittman had gone quite mad in the years before his disappearance. He had become a hoarder, a recluse, and had shunned all but his closest friends. Rumour had it that he had wasted away his inheritance, and gone into a not insignificant amount of debt, after taking an interest in purchasing peculiar artefacts from all corners of the globe. The police believe him dead, and his debtors have come to collect.
This is the situation that confronts old Ebenezer. Partly out of pity, and partly out of curiosity, he will begin to send those unsent letters and notes. Hoping, somehow, to make sense of the downfall of Pittman, or perhaps, even, to find out what happened to him.

The Characters

You will create a character that was once a member of “The Inquiring Heteroclite”. This will mean that you were likely a student at Cambridge in the 1910s, but this may not necessarily be the case. You may, or may not have continued your interest in the occult since then. You will have lost touch with Cornelius Pittman in the years of The Great War. You will probably be an established professional in your field, aged somewhere in your middle years. Please describe your character, in as much detail as you can, in the thread below, including how you knew Cornelius Pittman, and perhaps what drew your interest to the society.

The Schedule

Ebenezer Barlow will send out his first batch of letters to every former member of the society all at once. I hope to get that done by the end of this week… This is partly due to the difficulty of the endeavour, but mainly due to the fact that I am broke, and cannot afford all the stationery I want to use until my payday on Friday. When you receive your initial letter, it will be all clear to start writing to each other.

I realise quite a few letters have already been sent, and that’s fine, but for the purposes of this campaign we will have to consider them non-canon where they conflict with the present narrative.

Further letters and packages will be forthcoming from Ebenezer, as he uncovers them under floorboards, or behind mysterious dark panels in the wall.

The Rules

Stay in character

When writing letters to each other, make sure you address them to the character, and not to the player. If, for some reason, you think a letter will not get to you if it has somebody else’s name on it, perhaps you can have the other players address another envelope within the envelope addressed to you. The WHOLE LETTER should be in character. Please keep all OOC discussions entirely to this forum.

Try not to contradict each other

This can be difficult when you haven’t seen the letters that others have sent to each other, but try not to contradict each other wherever possible. I think it might help to keep a notebook of the truths that have been established so far. Or possibly to make use of this forum to track down a bit of meta knowledge here and there.

Try not to contradict the time period

This can be challenging to those of us who are not students of history, but try not to contradict the reality of the world as it was in 1928. No computers, no email, no smartphones, yes. Sure. That stuff is easy. But when it comes to more obscure things, like whether or not there were flashlights in 1928, you should endeavour to do your research (Believe it or not, they were actually quite common!)

Date your letters

All letters should be dated as the day they were written, minus 90 years. E.g. If I were to write a letter today, I should pretend as if it was written on the 3rd of June 1928. When looking back over our letters, it will help greatly to be able to establish a proper chronology.

Keep every letter

It might help to make photocopies, or to take pictures of the letters you write before you send them, so you can remember what you’ve established as the truth of your character so far. I would advise perhaps not to post pictures of your letters before you send them, as then the recipient may be able to read it before they even get it! But by all means, post pictures of the letters you receive on this forum. I’m sure other people will get a kick out of what this peculiar business actually looks like.

Keep your postal address to Private Messages only.

The internet is a weird and creepy place, and we’re already doing a weird and creepy thing. Don’t make it weirder and creepier than it has to be by allowing strangers to come knock on your door.

Suggestions

Use a fountain/calligraphy pen if you can

I know penmanship, in the modern age, is a very rare art. But try to go for as much authenticity as you can. It really makes a big difference to the look of the thing if you use a proper calligraphy pen to write your letters. I know Ebenezer has excellent handwriting, and treasures his pen collection greatly. Cornelius… Not so much.

Organise who you are writing to on the forums

It might be better if we establish who is writing to whom, at least initially, on these forums. This way, we can get a bit more of a trigger and response thing bouncing off each other. I.e. One character asks questions, makes suggestions of another, and that character then comments and advances the idea to a third player, and so on. Things might get weird if we’re all posting conflicting theories at the same time.

Pace yourselves

I know this is a game of Psychodrama, but please, try not to go completely insane all at once. I believe the game will be a lot stronger if we go about this very slowly. The abyss should crawl unseen into our minds, not gibber us completely right off the bat. Maybe set a schedule for your downfall. Perhaps some of us may not even go mad at all!

And lastly, but most importantly…

Have fun

P.S. I apologise for the wall of text. But hey, if you’re not into reading, then this probably isn’t the game for you.

Sorry-not-sorry.

I will now tag everyone who has expressed an interest in partaking of this tomfoolery. If I have missed anyone, please let me know.

@Eule, @PangolinPaws, @Scribbs, @MinuteWalt, @fodder256, @suz, @Benkyo.


De Profundis letter-writing RPG; Any experience or interest?
#2

The Cast of Characters

Ebenezer Barlow (@ShiftyCourtney) An elderly lawyer in Kent Town, South Australia. Tasked with settling the affairs of a disappeared man. A meticulous and thorough gentleman, well known for going above and beyond for his clients.

Cornelius Pittman (@ShiftyCourtney) The founding member of The Inquiring Heteroclite. A former neuropathologist, ostracised by his peers for his controversial theories on the subject of dreams. A nervous and wirey man, increasingly reclusive and infamously irritable. Cornelius was last seen on the 4th of May 1928.

Rev. Harold Blackmore (@PangolinPaws), who encountered The Inquiring Heteroclite during his studies at the Faculty of Divinity, was known then as he is now by his somewhat grim outlook and his reliance on a cane. The childhood injury that crippled his leg prevented his enlisting, but he saw enough of the war’s effects from his work in the local hospital. Since then he’s presided over one of the area’s oldest parishes, and while his sermons are perfectly adequate it’s clear that he uses most of his time and his position in the Church to study topics far outside what’s included in his Sunday services.

Dr Christopher Allen (@Scribbs).
Marine biologist. Completed his thesis at the University of Cambridge, where he was a member of the Inquiring Heteroclite. His membership stemmed more from idle curiosity rather than any passionate drive to understand the occult. An Englishman hailing from Kent, post war he relocated to the coastlines of Agryllshire, Scotland, and is a member of the Scottish Marine Biological Association.

Herbert Ellis (@fodder256)
Geologist. More comfortably known as Bert, he was sent to Cambridge to continue his studies on a scholarship. He joined the society as more of a social club than any serious intentions of understanding the occult. After getting caught up in the war he has returned to New Zealand and now lives with his brother William on his farm outside Oamaru.

Benedict McBride (@Benkyo), an Englishman from Kent, a former protege of E. G. Browne who read Languages in Cambridge, where certain texts lead him down avenues of investigation that both prompted his interest in The Inquiring Heteroclite (I’ll leave it open as to whether or not he was a member) and particularly the Orient. Through a complicated tangle of coincidences, seeming coincidences, connections, chance meetings, and apparently chance meetings he has since ended up on retainer for Matsushita Electric Industrial in Osaka, consulting on matters of international patent law and translations related thereto, which provides him with the financial means and independence to pursue his studies without interference.

Wilhelm Kettenbach (@Eule ).
Mathematician. Intrigued by anything out of the ordinary it was only a matter of time until he stumbled upon the Inquiring Heteroclite. Few things are able to hold his attention for more than a few days, but the unique topic of this society never managed to leave his mind. Even after returning home to germany, he kept trying to find logic behind the occult.

Susannah Carter (@suz)
Explorer and amateur botanist, born in New Zealand in 1880. She travelled to Cambridge in 1910 and presented a paper on certain, as yet unclassified, Antipodean parasitic flora. The only receptive ears she found belonged to the equally obscure club ‘The Inquiring Heteroclite’. Dismissed by mainstream academia, she has ostensibly resigned herself to the life of housewife and mother in rural Wiltshire.

Justin Moore (@MinuteWalt) . Tenured physics professor at Miskatonic, but currently away on…research. He knew the Reverend Blackmore back in the day, before his ministration. He liked Harold. Moore knows nothing of the Heteroclites, but has maintained or made contact with many of the academics he doesn’t know have contacts with the society. He thinks there are places in the world that can be “broken through.” Sporadic correspondence indicates that he’s either in the marshes of Florida, or exploring a cave system in Kenya.


#3

Rev. Harold Blackmore (@PangolinPaws), who encountered The Inquiring Heteroclite during his studies at the Faculty of Divinity, was known then as he is now by his somewhat grim outlook and his reliance on a cane. The childhood injury that crippled his leg prevented his enlisting, but he saw enough of the war’s effects from his work in the local hospital. Since then he’s presided over one of the area’s oldest parishes, and while his sermons are perfectly adequate it’s clear that he uses most of his time and his position in the Church to study topics far outside what’s included in his Sunday services.


#4

Dr Christopher Allen (@Scribbs).
Marine biologist. Completed his thesis at the University of Cambridge, where he was a member of the Inquiring Heteroclite. His membership stemmed more from idle curiosity rather than any passionate drive to understand the occult. An Englishman hailing from Kent, post war he relocated to the coastlines of Agryllshire, Scotland, and is a member of the Scottish Marine Biological Association.


#5

Herbert Ellis (@fodder256)
Geologist. More comfortably known as Bert, he was sent to Cambridge to continue his studies on a scholarship. He joined the society as more of a social club than any serious intentions of understanding the occult. After getting caught up in the war he has returned to New Zealand and now lives with his brother William on his farm outside Oamaru.

OOC

I intend on using this as an excuse to go through my family history, so they’re both real people, but Bert dies in France having never studied geology.


#6

My family aren’t from round here, but I am weaving my character’s life through real local history. A suprising number of fires, floods and disasters fit into his lifetime for such a small town…


#7

Benedict McBride (@Benkyo), an Englishman from Kent, a former protege of E. G. Browne who read Languages in Cambridge, where certain texts lead him down avenues of investigation that both prompted his interest in The Inquiring Heteroclite (I’ll leave it open as to whether or not he was a member) and particularly the Orient. Through a complicated tangle of coincidences, seeming coincidences, connections, chance meetings, and apparently chance meetings he has since ended up on retainer for Matsushita Electric Industrial in Osaka, consulting on matters of international patent law and translations related thereto, which provides him with the financial means and independence to pursue his studies without interference.


#8

Wilhelm Kettenbach (@Eule ).
Mathematician. Intrigued by anything out of the ordinary it was only a matter of time until he stumbled upon the Inquiring Heteroclite. Few things are able to hold his attention for more than a few days, but the unique topic of this society never managed to leave his mind. Even after returning home to germany, he kept trying to find logic behind the occult.


#9

(just a side-note: My favourite band has a song titled “De Profundis” and I get that stuck in my head every time I see this thread. This will probably aid my fading sanity.)


#10

Would that be the Dead Can Dance song?
I think it was the name of an Oscar Wilde book/letter that he wrote while in prison. Which is probably where the phrase originally comes from.


#11

I doubt that anyone knows it - it’s from a german gothic band named ASP. :smiley:


#12

Hmm, can’t find it on Spotify.
But I did just discover that there is a metal band from the UK called De Profundis. They’re pretty good too!


#13

Susannah Carter (@suz)
Explorer and amateur botanist, born in New Zealand in 1880. She travelled to Cambridge in 1910 and presented a paper on certain, as yet unclassified, Antipodean parasitic flora. The only receptive ears she found belonged to the equally obscure club ‘The Inquiring Heteroclite’. Dismissed by mainstream academia, she has ostensibly resigned herself to the life of housewife and mother in rural Wiltshire.


#14

Myself, Justin Moore (@MinuteWalt) . Tenured physics professor at Miskatonic, but currently away on…research.

He knew the Reverend Blackmore back in the day, before his ministration. He liked Harold. Moore knows nothing of the Heteroclites, but has maintained or made contact with many of the academics he doesn’t know who have contacts with the society. He thinks there are places in the world that can be “broken through.” Sporadic correspondence indicates that he’s either in the marshes of Florida, or exploring a cave system in Kenya.

Childhood friend with William Jones, promising film auteur.


#15

Okay! Looks like that’s everyone!
I guess I’d better flex those atrophied handwriting muscles and get cracking.


#16

I think I’m gonna communicate via fingerpaintings, math equations and nordic runes.

All of those will be easier to read than my handwriting. :smiley:


#17

I did consider printing out old newspapers so I could cut words out of them and past them to something, ransom demand style. But then I read something in the rule book suggesting authentic coffee mug stain on the corner of the letter, so I resolved just to write letters in coffee mug stain. If I actually descend into madness then I’ll handwrite something.


#18

@fodder256 Do all of those. (Obviously you don’t have to do all of those, but you really got me thinking about how to do all of those.)


Now you’re just being silly, @Eule (please, please, do that).


#19

Did you manage? As I knew it would, the suspense of waiting for a letter is getting to me…


#20

Unfortunately, Ebenezer is a very busy man, and did not make his self-imposed deadline. It is a public holiday on Monday in Australia, so his next chance to make it to the post office is going to be Tuesday.