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Old 09-09-2014, 08:26 PM   #1
Icelander
 
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Default [MH,TS] Nightmare by a Rocking Cradle - Iraq 2011

I'm starting a game set in the south of Iraq at the end of 2011 (in Dhi Qar province), in a setting very much like our own world, but with an emerging supernatural scene. I've tried to describe it as Tom Clancy technothriller meets True Blood meets the Dresdenverse meets John le Carré spy-thrillers; done in the gritty style of HBO's The Wire, but with protagonists as capable as Jack Reacher or Dr. Gregory House. At that point, however, I might be accused of simply throwing around mutually contradictory fictional tropes that I like.

To attempt to define it somewhat more simply, if we replace 'vampires' with 'a variety of supernatural threaths', my setting appears to have the same idea as Ken Hite's Night's Black Agents. I've recently started reading Tim Powers' Declare and so far, the feeling is very similar, except that my setting is modern and his is a Cold War one.

Background on the setting can be found in threads on related games set in the same world, such as the organisation of the Shadow Court of Queen Elizabeth II, her Queen's Paranormal Rangers who secretly go forth armed with custom-made firearms to hunt things which go bump in the night.

I've also found this old thread about the magical traditions in my setting, which goes into some detail on the kabbalah one and at least mentions how Zoroastrian, Hermetic, Hellenic and syncretic Islamic ritual magic works. Also a mention of Sumeric blood-magic and demonology.

There will be some shared characters from the Boston Mystic campaign set in the same world earlier in 2011. The first session recap of the first season of Boston Mystic starts here.

For this campaign, the characters are working for United States Forces - Iraq, trying to discover the cause behind a sudden spike in clumsily hidden corruption in Dhi Qar combined with a massive deterioration of the security situation. They are covered as contractors from a PSC working for the State Department's Police Development Program, which will allow them access to the police records for an astonishing series of coincidences, where suspects and witnesses in the corruption cases have lost their lives by misadventure, disease and unconnected random violence so often that it beggars belief.

I've already asked questions about the local flavour of Iraq in the modern day of forumites who might have such specific knowledge. The equipment of the PC who is a member of Delta Force (1st SFOD-D) is explored in a loadout thread.

The obvious conclusion for anyone noticing anomalies of finances and the subsequent deaths is that the police is either murdering those who can speak out or at least covering up such murders. However, the local Chief of Police is known to at least two US generals and one British one, and they believe that he is not behind the murders and with a little clandestine assistance, the situation can be salvaged and a fairly stable province left behind when United States Forces - Iraq leaves next month.

Most people in the setting are no more likely to accept supernatural explanations for events than people are in our world. However, there are some people who have started to notice strange violent crimes which appear to defy rational explanations. These have occured primarily after the turn of the millenium and started to become increasingly frequent after 2005. The murder rates in a lot of locations have doubled or more and motiveless spree killings or serial murder is especially on the rise.

This means that some policemen, investigative reporters and others who work in conditions where they are exposed to a lot of crime and are inclined to follow up oddities which puzzle them will be more prepared to accept supernatural explanations. All the same, actual knowledge of the paranormal, as opposed to dark misgivings, is extremely rare.

Magic in the setting is governed by Path/Book magic from Thaumatology, with variations explained in this post. A relevant detail is that magic rituals and spells in esoteric languages have a lot better chance of working than those attempted by speakers of majority languages. Interestingly, however, Classical Arabic is one of the best major languages for magical rituals, despite being very widespread.

What I'm looking for from friendly forumites are plausible and interesting NPCs and groups in southern Iraq which might have knowledge about the supernatural. Individual practisioners, underground societies, militant groups prepared to dabble in witchcraft, spirit-mediums, Assyrian demonologists or anything else that seems appropriate. I'm especially after any real-world groups or individuals in the area that might be linked to occult doings with minimal damage to plausibility.

I have already come up with* a main villain and several of his coterie, both human and otherwise. I also have some ideas about a rival group of the supernaturally aware and some potential allies for the PCs.**

What I am missing are all the real-world complexities that also need to exist, i.e. all the local home-grown occultists that would spring up once those with the right skills, languages and Advantages started to notice the supernatural creeping back into the world.

*In my Boston Mystic campaign.
**The Shadow Court, of course.
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Old 09-09-2014, 09:17 PM   #2
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Default Re: [MH,TS] Nightmare by a Rocking Cradle - Iraq 2011

"TS" means "Tactical Shooting" here as opposed to the official 3e meaning?
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Old 09-09-2014, 09:36 PM   #3
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Default Re: [MH/TS] Nightmare by a Rocking Cradle - Iraq 2011

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"TS" means "Tactical Shooting" here as opposed to the official 3e meaning?
It does, yes.

Despite the cover position of the PCs as civilian contractors; the evidence of experience suggests that they will rapidly go off any rails that involve them not engaging threats themselves. One PC is a very ambitious Colonel in the DIA who wants to be a General and he knows that having to call in any official help (or worse, asking to be pulled out) will torpedo his chances.

So, the odds are that the PCs will find themselves shooting it out with cultists inspired by maleficent spirits within a few playing sessions.
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Old 09-10-2014, 01:06 AM   #4
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Default Re: [MH/TS] Nightmare by a Rocking Cradle - Iraq 2011

Quote:
Originally Posted by Icelander View Post
What I am missing are all the real-world complexities that also need to exist, i.e. all the local home-grown occultists that would spring up once those with the right skills, languages and Advantages started to notice the supernatural creeping back into the world.
Well, you will have Suni and Shia groups rejecting each other's ideas and potentially heading for conflict between them.Sufi mystics might well be less quarrelsome and more insightful.
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Originally Posted by Icelander View Post
One PC is a very ambitious Colonel in the DIA who wants to be a General and he knows that having to call in any official help (or worse, asking to be pulled out) will torpedo his chances.
I tend to follow the guideline from the 3e Special Ops about keeping the PCs low-ranking so that they can't get themselves into too much trouble by miss-wielding rank. A colonel in charge of a single-figures group of people also seems like a stretch.
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Old 09-10-2014, 02:08 AM   #5
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Default Re: [MH/TS] Nightmare by a Rocking Cradle - Iraq 2011

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Well, you will have Suni and Shia groups rejecting each other's ideas and potentially heading for conflict between them.Sufi mystics might well be less quarrelsome and more insightful.
Sufi mystics are, indeed, much more likely than more mainstream Muslims of either Sunni or Shia denomination (or, for that matter, most Christians of mainstream denominations) to have accepted the presence of supernatural forces that are in some way subject to influence or even control through esoteric rituals.

True Faith does not exist as a trait in the setting and while religious ceremonies often surround the rituals of paranormal practisioners, the evidence suggests that while sincere belief in the efficiency of rituals is a vital part of affecting anything with them, it is not necessary to share the wordview or religious convictions of the originator to make use of a ritual.

I'm toying with ideas for introducing ritual magicians belonging to the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order.

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I tend to follow the guideline from the 3e Special Ops about keeping the PCs low-ranking so that they can't get themselves into too much trouble by miss-wielding rank. A colonel in charge of a single-figures group of people also seems like a stretch.
He was a staff Colonel responsible for intelligence coordination and analysis. The adventure represents a back-channel effort to solve a problem by working through friendly and trusted (though not necessarily trustworthy) Iraqi politicians.

The PCs are meant to gather information through technical means as well as human intelligence, while under plausible cover which allows them full access to documents and witnesses, and then interpret this data to confirm what senior Iraqi and US generals believe. This will then allow Iraqi security forces to resolve the situation.

The Colonel of Military Intelligence is there as a senior and experienced officer respected by the Lieutenant General setting things up, a very well-regarded analyst with a nose for patterns and someone whose job for the past five years has been in large part about coordinating joint intelligence gathering and sharing operations.
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Old 09-10-2014, 07:19 AM   #6
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Default Re: [MH,TS] Nightmare by a Rocking Cradle - Iraq 2011

You might also want to look into Yazidis - who venerate a "Peacock Angel" as an intermediary with God, but which happens to have a lot in common with the Abrahamic Satan (especially with his Islamic guise Iblis), and maybe with any leftover Zoroastrians or, perhaps more pertinently, the priests of their anti-deity Ahriman (possibly called Goetes, although Goetic is used as a name for at least one apparently unrelated tradition as well).

And of course there are all those ancient Mesopotanian monsters that you've already hinted at - Pazuzu being merely the most famous...
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Old 09-10-2014, 12:21 PM   #7
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Default Re: [MH,TS] Nightmare by a Rocking Cradle - Iraq 2011

Another factor which might be useful as background or plot material (which you may have already considered) is the presence of Babylonian and earlier antiquites; some of which were stolen from museum during the Fall of Saddam, some possibly unearthed during the period.

Some of these antiquities might have supernatural properties. Even if they don't they might be coveted by mystics and occultists, (as well as your non-magical collector).

I vaguely remember that the Ishtar Gate was one archaeological site damaged during the Iraq Occupation. I did a quick search and came up with this:

Quote:
An alarming report by the keeper of the British Museum's Near East department, Dr John Curtis, describes how areas in the middle of the archaeological site were levelled to create a landing area for helicopters and parking lots for heavy vehicles.

"They caused substantial damage to the Ishtar Gate, one of the most famous monuments from antiquity," he wrote.
"US military vehicles crushed 2,600-year-old brick pavements, archaeological fragments were scattered across the site, more then 12 trenches were driven into ancient deposits and military earth-moving projects contaminated the site for future generations of scientists.

"Add to all that the damage caused to nine of the moulded brick figures of dragons in the Ishtar Gate by people trying to remove the bricks from the wall." -- (History lost in dust of war-torn Iraq; BBC News April 25, 2005)
You gotta figure there's some Sumerian deity or other majorly tee'd off about that. Do you know how long she's been waiting for the stars to be right? Or was it intentional? Did some Army officer, now quietly shuffled to an obscure backwater, become convinced that the Gate had to be destroyed to prevent the Akkadian Old Ones from sweeping through it and destroying the world? Is that the real reason for the Iraq Invasion?

"They didn't believe me; and they still won't admit that I was right. But the gods are out there, and we were only partially successful in stopping them. What? No, I haven't taken my medications today, damn you! Don't be insubordinate!"
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Old 09-10-2014, 12:33 PM   #8
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Default Re: [MH,TS] Nightmare by a Rocking Cradle - Iraq 2011

Quote:
Originally Posted by Icelander View Post
I'm starting a game set in the south of Iraq at the end of 2011 (in Dhi Qar province), in a setting very much like our own world, but with an emerging supernatural scene. I've tried to describe it as Tom Clancy technothriller meets True Blood meets the Dresdenverse meets John le Carré spy-thrillers; done in the gritty style of HBO's The Wire, but with protagonists as capable as Jack Reacher or Dr. Gregory House. At that point, however, I might be accused of simply throwing around mutually contradictory fictional tropes that I like.
It sounds intriguing to me. And honestly, allot of home brew (and professional for that matter) can be described that way if you're cynical and reductionist.
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Old 09-10-2014, 02:04 PM   #9
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Default Re: [MH,TS] Nightmare by a Rocking Cradle - Iraq 2011

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Originally Posted by The Colonel View Post
You might also want to look into Yazidis - who venerate a "Peacock Angel" as an intermediary with God, but which happens to have a lot in common with the Abrahamic Satan (especially with his Islamic guise Iblis), and maybe with any leftover Zoroastrians or, perhaps more pertinently, the priests of their anti-deity Ahriman (possibly called Goetes, although Goetic is used as a name for at least one apparently unrelated tradition as well).
The previous campaign, Boston Mystic, featured a mysterious Yazidi man visiting Boston. He appeared to have an interest in the activities of another mysterious man, an Egyptian academic.

The Yazidi man happened to come into contact with the PCs. They saw him move impossibly fast and apparently dodge gunfire directed at him. During the conversation, when pressed for a name, he smilingly requested that the PCs call him... Ishmael.

He spoke good English and appeared conversant with Western culture (as well as great American novels). He did not share any details about where he was from, but admitted that he had been sent by someone with an ability to 'pierce the veil of illusion' to stop a great evil. The PCs deduced where he was from and what his religion was from clues in his speech patterns, taboos he observed and innocently disclosed personal details.*

It is extremely likely that whoever sent Ishmael to Boston will feature in the campaign. The evidence suggests that this is an esoteric group practising meditation, mysticism and perhaps some arcane martial art.**

*While Ishmael is smart and capable, not to mention that he displayed some incredibly cool supernatural gifts that may be psionic or magical in nature, he was fairly obviously lacking a wide life experience and did not have any formal training in intelligence tradecraft.
**Or perhaps Ishmael simply tried to replicate martial arts moves from movies without having actual martial arts training, but he could make the moves work because he appeared to be able to predict the motions of others and move with incredible speed himself.


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And of course there are all those ancient Mesopotanian monsters that you've already hinted at - Pazuzu being merely the most famous...
Indeed.
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Old 09-10-2014, 06:39 PM   #10
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Default Re: [MH,TS] Nightmare by a Rocking Cradle - Iraq 2011

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Originally Posted by quarkstomper View Post
Another factor which might be useful as background or plot material (which you may have already considered) is the presence of Babylonian and earlier antiquites; some of which were stolen from museum during the Fall of Saddam, some possibly unearthed during the period.

Some of these antiquities might have supernatural properties. Even if they don't they might be coveted by mystics and occultists, (as well as your non-magical collector).
The general idea is that there are NPCs who covet what may be found in certain proto-Sumerian ruins. There are also Assyrianologists, statuettes of Pazuzu and preferably some local occultists with an interest in Babylonian culture.

I'm looking for ideas for specific individuals or groups who might have been in contact with spirits or entities from Babylonian times.

What might a local occultist study? How does he reconcile it with his faith?

If there were to be someone who delved deeply into Chaldean astrology and perhaps found ways to perform magical rituals and divinations, who ought such a person be, for maximum plausibility? A secular scholar associated with a university or other research institute? An eccentric mystic of heretical beliefs who regards himself as ethnically and culturally Chaldean? A Sufi mystic?

By the same token, which Iraqi groups and which subcultures are most likely to believe in the supernatural and to interact with it in some active way?

Quote:
Originally Posted by quarkstomper View Post
I vaguely remember that the Ishtar Gate was one archaeological site damaged during the Iraq Occupation. I did a quick search and came up with this:

You gotta figure there's some Sumerian deity or other majorly tee'd off about that. Do you know how long she's been waiting for the stars to be right? Or was it intentional? Did some Army officer, now quietly shuffled to an obscure backwater, become convinced that the Gate had to be destroyed to prevent the Akkadian Old Ones from sweeping through it and destroying the world? Is that the real reason for the Iraq Invasion?

"They didn't believe me; and they still won't admit that I was right. But the gods are out there, and we were only partially successful in stopping them. What? No, I haven't taken my medications today, damn you! Don't be insubordinate!"
Now consider this along with the fact that Saddam Hussein ordered a massive reconstruction project of the Ishtar Gate, complete with his name chiseled into every brick, and that he demanded the restoration of the original gate from the Pergamon Museum just before the invasion.*

And that several newspaper accounts have stated that Saddam believed himself to be the reincarnation of Nebuchadnezzar II and surrounded himself with ritual magicians...

*At which time one might presume he had other concerns.
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