Sunday, June 9, 2013

Nosebleed Noir

(Sketch for a Chill of Cthulhu campaign)
No deep ones, no tommy guns, no Delta Green, but not purist Lovecraft either--the horror is too personal.
The .45s do come out, sooner or later, in the backs of taxi cabs, and are just another part of the problem. They're never held steadily.
Nobody's ever very good at anything, even the monster. Except maybe pyrokinesis. If "big" counts as "good".
Things are wrong. Wrong is the key.
In the gothic as we've come to know it, it all feels right, sexy. That's what the word 'seductive' implies.
In the gothic the monster has to be known at least well enough to be attractive (which is why gothic eventually knew the monster well enough that you could be a vampire).
Not here: The metaphysical anomaly in Nosebleed horror is just wrong. All wrong all the time.
People forget to shave and it does not look good on them.
Anxiety piled on anxiety by anxiety with intermittent gore for punctuation.
Social anxiety--classes, races, machines, ideas, satires.

Was Rosemary's Ob/Gyn in the cult, too, or was he just representing the apathy of authority to the complaints of women and SAN-damaged citizens?
If we as an audience aren't even expecting an answer, that's Nosebleed. She's desperate and on the run and no-one cares and that's Nosebleed.

Body horror, brain horror.
The monsters aren't monsters, they're deformities. They aren't adapted for fighting, they aren't meant to do anything. They just appear and are wrong.
They can be shot.
They'll go down easy sometimes. This isn't survival horror.
But the evil doesn't care because it did most of what it was going to do to you as soon as you saw it.
Like all RPGs and few horror stories, the characters are criminals. They break and flee the law.
Unlike the classic Lovecraft--where any human law that lays eyes on the enemy sees this enemy as the enemy--this subgenre understands running-from-the-cops desperation as one more example of the desperation.
You never really know what anything is. The image will focus just enough to scare you, and then dissolve into maybes. The important thing is to get away. And that no-one cares.
Everything, really, is part of the horror, the supernatural is just a tiny, less refined particle of an overall horror. A horror that hasn't got its disguise right.
Again: Apathy.
No one will ever notice or care. Ok, they might run and scream, but their running and screaming is as much from you as from it.

The sounds are modern sounds--clinical echoes of footfalls and breathing in geometric modern rooms.
The source of horror is offhand because it's a dodge: the indian burial ground mentioned vaguely in the first act of The Shining isn't the problem, really, any more than the bourbon is--Jack is the problem. Or some misalignment between Jack and the family.
Or: if the problem doesn't start with the Torrances, it's less nosebleed. It's a slasher movie.
Ghosts, evil machines, aliens, whatever. It doesn't matter so long as its understood as way less of a big deal than the people. But it's never just a crazy person (that would be a slasher movie)--there's something expressionistic here--if the person is fucked up, it is because the world is and if the world is fucked up, it is because the person is.
And not the dream world either. Ours. It has to be identifiably ours.
Mechanically, I should mention, this works in Call of Cthulhu really well: players, unlike Lovecraft protagonists, quickly turn pragmatic when faced with horror and Cthulhu, unlike so many systems, is happy to watch them face the problem pragmatically and then fail at it and RPG cops, unlike Inspector LeGrasse, will not help you.
In this horror, the villains call the cops.
In Lovecraft people don't much try things, and when they do, they either work to the degree they need to to get you to the monster or they don't because you're using them against the monster. This is no way to keep a campaign going, as everyone already knows.
You don't see it, you don't see it, you don't see it, then you're gone.
In Nosebleed you might see it in the first scene, but then it disperses into a kind of ambience and it's not so much you're scared of seeing it (it's there) as what exact awful form it's about to crystallize into this next time.
If playing Night's Black Agents definitely engage Dust mode and Burn mode, possibly Mirror.


  1. You might enjoy the comic "Fatale" by Brubaker.

    1. Fair enough--the premise of Fatale sounded a bit like what you described above.

  2. Jesus, you've been on a roll lately. The last three posts have just been hits straight outta the park.

    Great stuff, man. Thanks and congratulations.

  3. I will be curious to hear about the Player's reactions to an environment in which confrontation is no longer awaited, it simply is, in some distorted form. And I think that there is a weird kind of power in that.The only expectation that is being subverted here is the dependency of expectations. Which is a big thing when it comes to decision-making. Should get interesting.

    Also, I think that it would require an exceptional and relationally sensitive GM to truly arouse the kind of emotions presented here. Or rather, a very talented individual when it comes to communicating with other people. Like, it'd take the kind of person that could convey a nightmare/terror that they experienced to another person and in some way make them Feel it and not come off sounding ridiculous like, "And there was this screaming Amish pregnant woman and then I started weeping and it was the most fear I'd ever felt, Man."

    1. You can't scare all the people all the time, but I am interested in this subgenre because, basically, our best Cthulhu games tend to move off in this direction anyway.

  4. If you haven't looked into Pagan Publishing's CoC stuff, Zak, you really should. I'm not sure of Delta Green as written would be up your alley but stuff like "Night Floors" and "The Hastur Mythos" and the write-up of Club Apocolypse, I think might be worth a look.
    "Of Dreams & Fancies" from Kingsport, an underappreciated gem, in my humble opinion, could be easily converted to run in whatever era you're in. Just sayin'.

    Can anyone else see Zak selling artwork to Stephen Alzis?

    -- Mr. Skin _Cthulhu's Heirs_

  5. "Lee Marvin and His Pistol vs. Cthulhu" - Make this movie!