Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Actual Play: There is Therefore a Strange Land, Episode I

Tonight I managed to get together some "OSR luminaries" for a few pints and a game of There is Therefore a Strange Land in a pub. Not sure if it was a one-shot or not; it may continue on G+.

Players present:

  • N, featuring as the dilettante Hamilton
  • C, featuring as the fighting man Severin
  • P, featuring as the alchemist Prof. Jacobs

Play started, as always in There is Therefore a Strange Land, with the inheritance of the estate of a deceased relative of one of the players (this turned out to be Prof. Jacobs) circa 1830. This was a London town house of some size, containing a study, as such houses tend to have. The study was full of odd objects - hunks of rock, feathers, a small hand-operated printing press - and also a small wooden door. Pinned to this door was the following poem:

Beyond the door lies a vestibule
Formed from mind and memory
Expanding into many pathways
Beyond the door lies a vestibule 
Beyond the pathways lie further doors
Found in dreams of opium
I was led there by the enemy
Beyond the pathways lie further doors 
Beyond the doors lie stranger lands
Not a part of God's creation
Soils of a nature alien
Beyond the doors lie stranger lands

And the following words:

Feldspar, granite, prism, earth and water, composing stick, bag of sand

After searching the room, Hamilton discovered a lever behind a book in the book case ("A Voyage Across Forty Islands") that seemed to unlock the door. They ventured through and discovered a small room, decorated much like the study, with wooden floors and wall panels and a door opposite. Passing through this they discovered another similar room containing other doors and a large portrait of a tall, thin, well-dressed old man who Jacobs identified as his deceased relative - his uncle, Andrew. 

They surmised that this was architecturally unusual and searched the study, managing to find most of the objects, including feldspar, a prism, and a composing stick in various nooks and crannies. They immediately began wondering what these objects could combine into, but decided to investigate further. Going beyond the portrait room, they discovered more passages - all decorated in a similar fashion - and encountered a group of strange beings in a dark room. These beings, seemingly composed entirely of shadows, seemed to hate and fear light, and using lanterns the PCs were able to browbeat some information out of them. The beings insisted they had "always been there" and that these corridors and rooms had "always been here"; finally, they insisted that, rather than Prof Jacobs, the place was owned by some entity known as The Satanist.

Noticing that in the corner of the room was another doorway, the PCs asked what was behind it. The beings, who called themselves the Dwellers in Darkness, insisted that they oughtn't investigate, which Severin correctly indicated was a trap which the Dwellers were cunningly trying to tempt them into. He nonetheless opened the door only to be set upon by more Dwellers, plus the six in the room. Completely outnumbered and easily likely to be overpowered, the PCs managed to repel the creatures with lanterns and other lights, but not before Hamilton was rendered unconscious in an attack.

Beating a hasty retreat, the PCs returned to the study, closing the doors behind them, and waited for Hamilton to recuperate. During that period they conducted some investigations. First, they asked the house keeper, Old Mrs Burton, what she knew about Uncle Andrew and his comings and goings. She told them he was very secretive and never allowed anybody in the study, and that he was often gone on long trips. When he did so he would presumably leave the house very early, before anyone was awake, because he was never seen coming or going. She also said that once a month at least he would meet with a big, burly, very tall blind man in his study. 

Dilettantes in There is Therefore a Strange Land are weak, but have lots of contacts. Hamilton knew of a tinker, called Harry the Duke, and went to ask him about big tall blind men. Harry informed him that this could only mean Blind Ned, a jeweler, whose appraisals were "all in the nose". The PCs trooped off to see Blind Ned and after some conversation discovered that Uncle Andrew was given to going on mysterious journeys and would come back with things "you couldn't find in London" that Blind Ned would sell on to various patrons. It was heavily implied that Blind Ned knew about what was beyond the study, but he didn't wish to know too much. He would help the PCs sell on anything they came back with from the passages beyond the study.

Fully healed, the PCs went back to the study and through the doorway. Steering clear of the Dwellers in Darkness, they came across another set of rooms - plush, gentleman's club-style - with similar creatures calling themselves Dwellers in Light. These, somewhat more amiable than the Dwellers in Darkness, provided more information, saying that Uncle Andrew was known to them on his comings-and-goings, but that they hadn't seen him in a long time and that the PCs would be wise to avoid the one called The Satanist if possible. They said that they thought The Satanist had created the place, and certainly agreed with the Dwellers in Darkness that he owned it. They thought that in some sense The Satanist was a kind of reflection of Uncle Andrew, "in a manner of speaking", and that there were mirrors in the corridors that one could look through to find reflections of oneself.

Pressing on, the PCs discovered a drawing room where they found an oddly-garbed man, who called himself Ben. Apparently having wandered these corridors until driven mad, he said that he had been born in 1716 in Oxford and had been sent by the "Baroness Helen de Bourgh" on an errand, although he couldn't remember where or why. It had been so long that he had been wandering that his memories had become vague and attenuated. He had been in some desert land, or thought he had, and believed he had been given his clothes by some beautiful princess. But he couldn't remember much more. 

Deciding it was their duty to rescue this man, who was after all an Englishman, the PCs took him back to the study and found him some clothes and food and allowed him to stay in a spare bedroom. They then investigated the named Baroness de Bourgh. Again, Hamilton the Dilettante knew of an aristocrat, Lord Eamon Bennett, who was sociable and well connected. Sure enough, there had been a Helen de Bourgh but she had died long ago, and her great-grand children were now the holders of the de Bourgh estate. Apparently, they were great patrons of the arts and a certain museum in Oxford. Ben's story seemed to have some truth to it. The PCs also had a look round the study some more, particularly the books, and found that Uncle Andrew seemed to have been particularly interested in geology, and also tales of exploration from desert lands.

Back to the study, and a great effort to find The Satanist. The Dwellers in Light agreed to show the PCs the way to go, as long as they promised to close their eyes and not look about them as they went. Surprisingly (to me) the PCs agreed to this and eventually found their way to a large, black, varnished door with a brass plaque, containing the words "Prof. Andrew Jacobs", and a door knocker shaped like an apple. Knocking, they were met by a butler who showed them through dining rooms and libraries to a study - identical to Uncle Andrew's in the London townhouse, except for the addition of two rugs; one a bear skin, the other a tiger skin. Sitting in an armchair was a man identical in appearance to Uncle Andrew, except for a single nose ring. This was The Satanist.

The Satanist informed the PCs that Uncle Andrew had "both created and discovered" this "vestibule" and certain portals it contained. These portals led to strange lands - other planes - to which Uncle Andrew would come and go. The Satanist had subsequently discovered the vestibule and had come to an arrangement with Andrew which had originally been amicable but had at some point soured. He also said that he knew all about Ben and had been enjoying watching him roam the corridors. The PCs asked various questions about The Satanist's origins but he demurred on all of them; eventually he offered them a bargain - they could come and go as they pleased, but anything they brought back from the strange lands they would have to show him. If he wanted anything they brought, then he could have it. If they refused, they would not leave this place alive.

The PCs reluctantly agreed and went, as directed, through more corridors and carpeted chambers to the portals, as directed. There, they discovered a circular chamber containing a hexagonal structure with a doorway in each side. And behind each of these, using the feldspar, granite, prism etc., as keys, they discovered strange lands.... But on that point, the session ended. 

A good first session and I enjoyed listening to the players trying to figure out who The Satanist was, whether he and Uncle Andrew were the same person, how "the Dwellers" had been created, how the different items were connected, what the meaning of the "reflections" was, and so forth. We may find out in the fullness of time.


  1. A very nice feel! If you do manage to continue, I would very much like to see the play reports here. 8^D

  2. David, if somebody purchased your Yoon-Suin book from Lulu, and played it with their friends, and had a great time, and wanted to email you a play report from Canada, how would they do that? I cannot seem to find your email address or contact information anywhere on this blog, with the exception of these small awkward comment boxes. We'd love to give you some Purple Land gameplay feedback but we can't really figure out how on earth to reach you directly...

    1. Thanks Mongolot. That person could email me at jean.delumeau AT gmail.

  3. Intriguing stuff!
    Are you still developing There is Therefore a Strange Land or is it on hold?