Biblyon the Great

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Kolchak: The Wrong Goodbye (a Daredevils adventure)

Jerry Stratton, June 12, 2024

Kolchak: The Wrong Goodbye social media: Social media shortcut image for the Kolchak/Daredevils adventure, The Wrong Goodbye.; adventures; Daredevils RPG; Kolchak: The Night Stalker

UFO magazines from the seventies and very early eighties are a treasure trove of Kolchak adventure ideas. This isn’t surprising, since Kolchak is set in the mid-seventies and Kolchak’s peculiar logic is very similar to the peculiar logic of paranormal “researchers” of the era. It’s very often conclusion first, data second.

The idea for The Wrong Goodbye (PDF File, 2.3 MB) came from an article in the April, 1980 issue of Beyond Reality about Russian psychic research.

Top Soviet scientists maintain they are well on their way to telepathic communication with cosmonauts in deep space. They warned that if their country masters that art of direct mind-to-mind communication, they could use it for military purposes. Soviet scientific researchers carried out top secret experiments for a two-year period between 1975 and 1977 in which electrodes were placed on the brains of freshly killed rats. The rodents’ brain activity was then recorded. This activity was stimulated when a psychic projected thoughts at the dead animals.

I don’t see how you can read that second paragraph and assume it’s about the first paragraph. If Soviet psychics were stimulating the brains of dead rats that’s a lot more sinister than talking to orbiting astronauts.

Given its already strange implications, I used the article mostly verbatim. All I did was drop the years by two to make the events fit the 1976 year of the adventure. I’m running these annual adventures sequentially so that the repeat characters in the game can reference previous adventures. I’m running them a year or so after the events of the series so that players can reference the series.

I ran this adventure at the 2023 North Texas RPG Convention. It’s mostly a skeleton, but a detailed one. This is the first Daredevils adventure that I made from scratch. The others came from Fantasy Game Unlimited’s adventure compilations. I used the first one, The Body Vanishes almost verbatim, with only a minor reskin to move it to Chicago, update it to 1976, and replace the NPCs with Kolchak’s contacts. The second, The Powers of Dr. Remoux I heavily modified, to the point where all I was using was the basic idea and framework. That basic idea was further influenced by an article in another UFO magazine, and also from 1980!

I’ve come to really like the way the Daredevil Adventures format encourages players to move around in a situation and drive what actually happens. So I made this mostly background as well. It consists mainly of character sketches and a timeline that is likely to break on first contact with the PCs.

It went very well. The only problem was that there wasn’t enough fighting. I intend to fix that this year…

The Montique Fantom, The Big Creep, and The Wrong Goodbye. At this point, you may well have figured out the naming scheme. This week’s adventure at NTRPG—it starts today—will be Far Out, My Idol, which strays a bit further afield from the title I took it from. In my defense, I read the book I stole the title from while I was fleshing out the adventure. I get the adventure ideas first. Then I try to shoehorn a title in.

Russian Scientists Explore Telepathic Communication: A very slightly modified article on Russian scientists researching how to stimulate dead rats, under the guise of communicating with cosmonauts. The years have been changed to place this squarely in a Kolchak: The Night Stalker adventure.; seventies; 1970s; Soviet Union; USSR; paranormal; Kolchak: The Night Stalker

This is mostly real. Only the years have been changed to bedevil the player characters.

One of the really interesting bits of Kolchak folklore is that, as far as I can tell, The Night Stalker is the first appearance of the Tyrell Corporation. In Kolchak’s world it was called “Tyrell Institute”. But its specialty was strikingly close to the purpose of the later Tyrell Corporation in the film Blade Runner.

Neither Eldon Tyrell nor the Tyrell Corporation appear in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Its nearest counterpart was the Rosen Association, founded by Eldon Rosen. There had to be a fan of Kolchak among the writing team of Blade Runner.

Like most things in the series, The Tyrell Institute appeared only in one episode. Kolchak featured both the supernatural and the supertech, and the episode Mr. R.I.N.G. featured an android designed to be like a man. RING was an acronym for Robomatic Internalized Nerve Ganglia. It’s a bit of word salad, but internalized nerve ganglia seem like something that might be an early step in making an android “more human than human”!

I believe that somewhere, someplace, they or someone else, will put some other R.I.N.G. together without the help of Leslie Dwyer. And who… who will program him then?

So it wasn’t a stretch to make the head of this Institute be a much younger Eldon Rosen. He plays no part whatsoever in this adventure—Project R.A—D.I.O. is only a side project of Tyrell’s larger research—but an energetic GM who runs more than one adventure a year could well use him and Tyrell for all sorts of future weird science Kolchak adventures as Tyrell morphs from government-funded institute to powerful private corporation.

Obviously, with its background firmly rooted in Mr. R.I.N.G., that episode’s Dr. Leslie Dwyer is an obvious choice for one of the player characters. Less obviously, given the nature of the project and the effect it has on its subjects, “advice for the lovelorn” columnist Emily Cowles is also a great choice for acquiring clues more quickly.

The first group I ran this through didn’t choose Emily, but the second group at North Texas did, and her information helped them immensely in tracking down what was going on.

And due to her side scam, Maria Hargrove may well have been contacted by an anonymous Tyrell Institute to take part in this project.

None of those characters are necessary. Maria Hargrove’s contribution would be relatively minor; Emily Cowle’s information could be acquired when Kolchak or one of the other office PCs pass her in the INS offices, and might not even be necessary anyway depending on what the players have already discovered.

Project SCANATE cover page: The top of the cover page for Project: SCANATE, “Exploratory Research in Remote Viewing”.; Gondola Wish; Project Scanate

This is a real document from a real government research initiative in the seventies.

Dr. Dwyer’s connections could make infiltrating Tyrell easier, which is why she’s on the list of recommended pre-gens. If Dwyer is not a player character, she’s not likely to be brought in as an NPC: Kolchak doesn’t remember the events of that episode! The government gave him special drugs to make him forget everything.

As a side note, Mr. R.I.N.G. was datable to 1972 because it was one of the few episodes that mentioned a weekday along with a month and day of month. Sunday, April 2, pretty much has to be in 1972. This pushes the two movies back to 1965 and 1967 respectively, instead of 1971 and 1972 (or 1973—The Night Strangler is odd) as is generally assumed.

Pushing the movies earlier makes a lot of sense to me. Having the movies in the seventies always seemed extremely dense. At the end of The Night Strangler the group was headed to New York City. Presumably, at some point between then and when the series started, the New York office (which Vincenzo was always talking to on the phone) sent him to run INS Chicago. Leaving four to ten years after the movies for the various episodes to have occurred seems a much more reasonable time frame than to have them jumbled on top of each other.

I’ll have more about my assumed Night Stalker timeline later.

As a first attempt at a full Daredevils adventure from scratch, I’m a bit proud of The Wrong Goodbye (PDF File, 2.3 MB). It’s a research- and footwork-heavy mystery soaked with the pseudoscience popular in the seventies. That is, it is very close to the kind of thing that would have appeared as an episode in The Night Stalker series!

From what would become Project Gondola Wish to cold-war fears that the Soviets were outpacing us in everything, even psychic research, this is a real immersion into the noir seventies paranoia of investigative journalist Carl Kolchak.

I’ve provided a printable PDF of the adventure (PDF File, 2.3 MB), as well as a zip file that includes PDF versions of the maps and semi-fake newspaper clipping (Zip file, 1.6 MB). You can also download the collection of regulars and guest stars (PDF File, 5.4 MB) that make up Kolchak’s potential Night Stalkers. They’re all in Daredevils format, of course.

It feels like a Pulitzer Prize adventure to me. All the loose ends are tied together into a pretty knot. The book’s finished and the maps are done, and now you can judge it for your own group. I wonder… I wonder if you’ve got the nerve!

In response to Daredevils Detailed Action Time and Action Options Cube: The Fantasy Games Unlimited game Daredevils, from 1982, has a very interesting combat turn system. Plus, an Action-Option cube you can assemble yourself!

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