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Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

Helter Skelter

Jerry Stratton, October 14, 2008

Bird of Paradice: Bird of Paradice on Helter Skelter

Within the seedy gambling town of Fork, the characters have heard rumors of Red Jack’s, a gambling house that holds secrets unimaginable. Within Red Jack’s there are doors, and there are wagers. Turn the wheel of fortune; draw from a deck of cards on a rusty mirror to see your fate.

Helter Skelter is suitable for four to six characters of fifth to sixth level.

I’m going to talk a bit more about the adventure now, so if you’re going to have a player character in it now is a really good time to stop reading.

Helter Skelter provides a crossroads that is nearer to home than the one in Vale of the Azure Sun. It can be a strange adventure without a larger campaign, or it can lead your game in a completely new direction of your choosing.

This is a fairly ambitious adventure. There are a lot of things in the resources file that you might enjoy playing with. You’ll find several Inkscape maps and some Scribus character sheets for NPCs, done up in a way that makes them useful as player characters for temporary players. There are lots of bits that can be used as clues before the characters find their way to Red Jack’s, and all of the source files are available for editing under the Gnu Free Documentation License.

One of my favorite bits is a historical newspaper mocked up in GIMP to provide ahistorical adventure info. Here’s how I did that:

  1. Get a scan of a newspaper page.
  2. Import it into GIMP.
  3. Choose an article to replace.
  4. Find some blank space near the article you want to replace, and copy as much of the blank space as you can.
  5. Open a new layer. Paste the blank space over the article as many times as necessary to erase it.
  6. There are crease lines that should be going into that blank space. Find some lines in the original, copy them, paste them to the new layer, and rotate them as needed.
  7. Find the closest font you can for the headline. Here, it looks like the original used something like Metro Sans. Futura is close enough for government work.
  8. Find the closest font you can for the text. Times is a good bet.
  9. Adjust font size & spacing.
  10. Fade text by adjusting text layer opacity.
  11. Age text with Pick at 5%, repeat 1.
  12. Hand to players. Report to room 101.

One of the themes in Helter Skelter is the intersection—the crossroads, if you will—between fiction and reality. That intersection is a subtle and integral part of old-school tabletop role-playing. Sometimes that intersection becomes a collision. I didn’t expect, when I started working on it in the summer of 2007, that two of the minor characters would be back in the news during our final days of play. But if your characters meet Bernadine Dohrn or encounter nail bombs designed by Bill Ayers, judge for yourself this adventure’s believability, and then try to tell yourself, wherever you may be, it couldn’t happen here!

Helter Skelter is heavily influenced by Grant Morrison’s Invisibles and Doom Patrol runs, and by William S. Burroughs’s various works (who also clearly inspired Morrison). It is also inspired by the general level of fear, loathing, and paranoia rampant in America in the late sixties and early seventies.

As usual, if you’ve added the Gods & Monsters RSS feed to your podcast reader, you should have the PDF version of this adventure already waiting for you.

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