Monday, May 27, 2019

Snail mail RPGing

Back when I was a kid, I remember reading "wanted" ads in Dragon magazine and White Dwarf magazine where people were looking for play-by-mail players for their RPG. Invariably, there was a fee involved, usually rather exorbitant. I didn't play them, because, as a kid, I couldn't afford to. This was back in the '70s and '80s. Lo and behold, the mid-'90s rolled around and with it, the interwebs. This has opened up a plethora of opportunity to game with those who live far away from you, something I take advantage of every week or so, while running and/or playing AD&D 2e with old friends and new. Currently, I am DMing a Dark Sun campaign, as I just wrapped up playing in a Greyhawk campaign. Good fun (until Google hangouts dies, then we have to move to some other technology).

I will admit that during the time from about 1994 until now, I have spent WAY too much time online. It's really gotten under my skin, and this past year, I decided to do some things about it. I am cutting a lot of my time on social media and will dispense altogether with Facebook (except to have my account still there and available for people to contact me, if they wish) once a volunteer commitment for my church is done and over in August of 2020. I'm looking forward to turning my back on FB, honestly - just a breeding ground for family and non-family arguments, by and large. Not only that, but I am trying to fill my time with more analog pursuits: taking time to read more real physical books, getting out and hiking like I did when I was younger, exercising more regularly (i.e., more than every couple of weeks), doing more jigsaw puzzles (which I love and which keeps my brain young), and taking the time to write actual, physical, snail mail letters to people I really dig.

As a part of this, I've invited a few people who I know are excellent roleplayers or who are incredibly interesting persons, to participate in a snail mail campaign with me. We had to coordinate things via email, to begin with, but I think the groundwork is laid. I just prepared the first snail mail letters to send out this week:

The central conceit is very loosely based on the Trail of Cthulhu supplement Bookhounds of London. But this is a horror game without tentacles. We have agreed to a theme of Cosmic Horror, but cosmic horror in the abstract, NOT Cthulhu and friends, which has gotten a bit old. We are also interweaving themes of "The Weird" and "Cults and Conspiracies" throughout. Our main ruleset is DeProfundis, second edition. And for a twist, we are using the rules to the little-known (but rather clever) solo RPG English Eerie to create some randomness on the individual level, which will play into the interaction between the six of us. I will also draw heavily on the Chaosium supplement for Berlin: The Wicked City and the graphic novel (can you call it that?) Night Falls on the Berlin of the Roaring Twenties, for reasons I will outline below.

We settled on a timeframe starting in 1933. The biography for my character, Felix von Wagner, goes a little something like this:

Felix von Wagner – An English-born German raised in the England by a German father, Alric, and Irish mother, Alaia. His childhood was spent on the edge of the Cotswolds, just west of Oxford. His father was a wealthy man, having inherited a stipend via his petty- noble family (hence the “von” designation}. The elder von Wagner had left Germany to open a pharmacy in the town of Burford to live with his love, Alaia, whom he had met while on holiday in Venice in his early ‘20s.

The child, Felix, showed academic promise at a young age. Recognizing this, Felix's father sent the boy to attend Magdalen College School, where he received honors and eventually landed at Oxford to study Medieval History with emphases on Catholic Architecture, Irish Catholicism, and German Folklore. He graduated - barely - spending "far too much time" in the Bodleian Libraries and not enough time concentrating on his core studies. His fascination for the printed word led to indiscretions, thankfully never discovered, which gave him a (stolen) start in the rare book trade. His knowledge in his chosen subject matter has served him well in this trade. Being raised bilingual, with enough knowledge of Latin to get by, has helped in sourcing books, as has a knack for finding books that are desirable to his clientele. A touch of risk-taking has given him opportunities that the squeamish and highly-principled might not enjoy.

Felix currently resides in Berlin, where "anything can be bought," though political unrest has lately made the procurement of desirable tomes more difficult and has led to some close brushes both with the civil authorities and those elements who would subvert them. 

I say that the bio is a little something like that because there are several things about Von Wagner that I am not yet ready to share. It might be too much of a temptation for my fellow-players to sneak a peek online and learn too much too soon!

Now, how do we play this? Frankly: I don't know. We write and make stuff up, really. Everyone has a character with a different background, from different places in the world. I think we have two characters in different areas of Canada, one in northern Minnesota, one in Milwaukee, one in NYC, and Felix in Berlin. The thing that binds us together is our search of rare and strange books. But, really, I am relying on these five interesting people, all of whom are great roleplayers, and each of whom has some common interest with my own (and, I am certain, they will discover what interests they share with each other). 

As a practical matter, we are willing to accept some limited level of anachronism. For example, some of the events in Berlin in 1933 might be just a titch out of order, else Felix's story veer wildly out of control from day one. Yes, the Nazis are still screwing things up today (don't even get me started). But for the most part, we are sticking to 1933, a very interesting time, given the Great Depression, the repeal of prohibition, and the rise of Fascism. A crazy time, indeed.

I shall provide updates, from time to time, but since I will be handwriting all of my correspondence for this (except for the Raro Libro Quaestores Aerarii or RLQA newsletter), you may have to settle for scans of letters, etc. Others are, so far as I know, going to write by hand or by typewriter, for those who have one. And I am all about the wax seals on my letters! I love the smell of molten sealing wax!


  1. Ooh I absolutely love this. I will have this on my podcast this week.

    1. Thanks for putting it on the podcast. Tons of interesting things in that episode!