Games of secrets and lies: Conspiracy and the Occult

edited May 2014 in Story Games
So a few years back I started on a roleplaying game that played like a Fate/Cortex/Apocalypse World experience and was based on the movies John Dies at the End, Cecil B Demented, Mallrats, and Lord of Illusions. It was fueled by Unknown Armies, Don't Rest Your Head, Kult, GURPS Cabal, Whispering Vault, Nephilim, Over the Edge, and a whole bunch more. It's one part trashy weird subcultures and nerdy slacker pop culture, one part Lovecraftian horror, and one part Naked Lunch and Alice in Wonderland surreal weirdness.

Soon the game turned into a half fiction, half game project where I'm taking a House of Leaves approach to the layout, with the game being interrupted by the increasing insanity of the author.

So in spirit of this project I am curious about any games you've ran with conspiracy and occult in them, or any thoughts or opinions you have on games based around conspiracy and occult or adding these elements to games that don't normally have it.

Anyone got a special love for the bizarre and weird?


  • I'm a big fan of the surrealism presented in Over the Edge and have enjoyed many great games: for one campaign I ran, I made up characters sheets in the form of pamphlets handed out to new arrivals on the island by what appeared to be members of a typical cult but were actually unwitting agents of one of the conspiracies on the island, the Acrostics.

    Their schtick was fighting for freedom of expression by subverting printed texts: they subtly introduced typographic errors or new layouts into public information, like posters, fliers, business cards, etc. The changes contained coded messages that would direct the enlightened towards the truth about the other conspiracies on the island: the deliberate typos in the pamphlet each of the PCs was handed contained four such messages, in different formats, that acted as hooks into four big threats that had to be dealt with urgently, whilst the first letter of each message formed a word that hinted at a fifth, bigger, more subtle threat.

    In addition, every session started with a new handout as one of the power groups on the island issued a public communication that was in turn subverted by the Acrostics, so the PCs got two messages every session: a public one that alerted them to what was apparently taking place and a secret one that told them what was taking place under the surface.

    There was also a whole backstory about a self-organising plastic-material that became whatever it was molded into, including a copy of the inventor of the process for making the material; there were also a number of fictional mentors and confidantes he had made to help him in various ways but who had now been subsumed into the various conspiracies and needed to be reunited in order to save the island!
  • That is brilliant. I'm gonna have to use that in the future. Setting up typos in their pamphlets start of game. Typos they won't pick up and realize until they're well into the story and suddenly they realize it, like epiphany, that these are secret messages and they've been right in front of them the whole game.

    And messages withing messages. Been watching Hannibal and that whole show is double speak and word games.

    I like the way you GM Mullen.
  • James,

    Were these actual pamphlets that you typed up, or was this something happening "in-fiction"? If you made actual pamphlets, can you share a sample? It sounds very cool.
  • As it happens, this stirred up some positive nostalgia about that particular short campaign, so I went looking in the depths of my hard drive for the original materials I created for it; despite several changes of computer since then, there they still were! The formatting's been knocked about a bit, so I've had to tweak the pamphlet to put the layout back into a presentable shape, but it's pretty much the artifact I created to hand out to the players at the start of the first session.

    The campaign was entitled How I Saved The Planet On The Path To Enlightenment, as the pitch was to create a burger coming to Al Amarja seeking some kind of spiritual redemption, but I also snuck that title into the pamphlet/character sheets (well, put it in big letters right on the front) and handed them out to the PCs one by one by having members of the cult approach them in the Terminal.

    The other coded texts are still lurking in the folder if anyone is interested in seeing the structure of the campaign, but I'll need to re-edit them before I can upload them.
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