Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Face in the Shadows: Alistair Philips (Wildwyck County)

As some of you know, I've begun a series of articles for Fight On! magazine detailing a historical horror setting for use with Call of Cthulhu, GORE, or any other percentile-based rule system compatible with those titles. My second article, one detailing half of the towns, hamlets, and cities located in Wildwyck County, has been submitted for the next issue of FO! Of course, sometimes my brain and fingers produce more material than can fit comfortably within that most excellent publication's page count. The following was excised from the first Wildwyck article in Fight On! #13 due to such size restraints. When necessary, material from that series will be featured here for the edification and enjoyment of those interested in the Wildwyck County setting. Up first: Alistair Philips, a helpful NPC.

Wildwyck County is home to many interesting characters, some of whom can assist investigators seeking to uncover the ‘Wyck’s mysteries. Other parties will do their best to thwart such inquires, resorting to cold-blooded murder if necessary. Alistair Philips is one of the more friendly faces PCs embarking on a campaign set in Wildwyck County might encounter. His voluminous correspondence with friends, acquaintances, and the curious could serve as both an introduction to the mild-mannered historian and draw investigators living in other places to the lands along the Hudson River.

Alistair Philips, 47, historian and author
STR: 8                   CON: 12                DEX: 10                 
SIZ: 11                   INT: 15                  POW: 14               
CHA: 14                HP: 10                   Damage bonus: -1D2

Weapons: none carried; all at base percentages

Skills: Anthropology 35%, Archaeology 40%, Driving 42%, Evaluate 35%, Hear 65%, History 76%, Influence 56%, Language (Dutch) 65%, Language (French) 55%, Language (Latin) 70%, Natural Lore 45%, Occult 20%, Research 85%, Wildwyck Lore 21%,

Alistair Philips is the archivist for the Ashton Historical Society, as well as the author of numerous monographs regarding various aspects of Wildwyck County’s history. His position’s stipend and his monograph sales provide Philips with a modest living, allowing him to dedicate himself to incessant research into local history, the arrangement and maintenance of the society’s archival collection, and, his most favorite pastime, correspondence with a large circle of colleagues, acquaintances, pen pals, and folklorists around the world.

Philips stands 5’ 6” and is of slight build. A small pot-belly, the result of a bachelor’s diet and too little exercise, emerges like a hillock from between his customary red suspenders. He prefers linens suits and soft caps when strolling about town. His hair is red and thinning, and a pair of spectacles sits atop his nose, while another pair of reading glasses protrudes from his shirt pocket. Alistair is prone to headaches and must sometimes conduct research or interviews in a dark room with cold compresses held in place by a scarf wrapped around his head.

Anyone seeking information about Wildwyck’s history will eventually be directed to Phillips as the resident expert on the county’s past. Contact can be initiated by visiting the Ashton Historical Society in person (hours of operation: Mondays and Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 AM to 4 PM; other hours by special appointment), telephone (Philips’ home number is listed), or by mail (either at his home or through the Historical Society). Characters with backgrounds in history, folklore, education, or other related fields who relocate to Wildwyck County will undoubtedly be instructed to make the acquaintance of Philips by others in their specialty; he is quite well known and respected by experts in these disciplines.

Investigators meeting or corresponding with the archivist and author discover he is an affable soul who enjoys discussing the history of his home county to great extent. He willingly puts off other pressing business to indulge in his penchant for pointing out landmarks, recounting legends, and dispensing what would be considered juicy gossip if the subjects of those rumors hadn’t been dead for over a century. Anyone who responds to his impromptu lectures with sincere interest will earn an invitation to dine with Philips at his home on a regular basis. Those who do so gain +1d6% to their Wildwyck Lore scores (see below) after 1d4 months of dining with Philips and examining the old diaries, artifacts, and maps he loves to share with visitors after meals (provided they wash their hands after eating).

While not a devout believer in supernatural phenomenon, Philips has acquired a small bit of occult knowledge and does not discount the odd tale or eyewitness account that he encounters in his research. He won’t volunteer the stories he knows, but if others express interest in hearing such tales, he gladly fulfills their desires. The following are but a sample of the legends and weird stories that Philips can share with investigators pursing such knowledge. Each will be expended on in later articles, and the game master is free to use them as starting points for campaigns set in the ‘Wyck or substitute his own.

  • A surprising number of people have vanished in Wildwyck County, more than simple happenstance can account for. These vanishings extend back to the colonial period, but few realize how long this has been happening. Philips has discovered that the disappearances occur in cycles, rising in frequency every seventeen years—a cycle that corresponds with the emergence of the local cicada brood.
  • An interesting number of “Indian stones” can be found throughout the county. These megaliths are commonly believed to have been erected by the ancestors of the Kettahwohnucks for religious purposes. There are also those who purport that the stones are not the product of the indigenous tribes, but were erected by an alien population that settled in the region at some point in the past. The Celts, Vikings, Egyptians, Phoenicians, and even Atlanteans have all been named the source of these Neolithic monuments at one point or another. Many have strange sigils and carvings on them that some believe give credibility to these more outrĂ© origins.
  • Those interested in ghost breaking might wish to contact Raymond Crowe, the owner of the decaying estate known as “Whispering Laurels.” As last surviving scion of that family, Crowe inherited the estate, a crumbling Gothic Revival mansion with a checkered history. Crowe is in deep debt due to his habit of visiting the track in Saratoga Springs and has been considering using the old estate to replenish his dwindling funds by either selling or leasing the place. Unfortunately, no one wishes to spend much time in the massive corpse of a home.
  • A student who volunteered for an experiment performed by the Department of Oneirology at Bishopsgate College has vanished. Although not an uncommon occurrence in these parts, the disappearance occurred while the student was inside a locked, windowless “dreaming lab” on the college grounds. A police investigation is underway and ransom is suspected as the motive, but there are those who think the culprits may hail from a place unreachable by physical means.
  • Odd lights have been spotted on occasion hovering above the leaning stone known as “Satan’s Lamppost” and local residents never venture near the granite oddity when this spectral illumination is sighted. Many discount the lights as the product of swamp gas, moonlight on low clouds, and even large congregations of fireflies, but those disbelievers suggest these explanations a comfortable distance away from the ancient stone.
  • There is a local boogieman known as “Old Jan” who supposedly haunts the hills and forests of Wildwyck. The legends say he was born hideously disfigured and his ashamed woodsman father kept the boy locked in the root cellar of the family shanty high up in the mountains. When the father died, the boy—now grown to an adult and possessing an animal-like cunning—escaped from his prison and currently dwells in the wild, catching small animals and eating them raw. He also has a taste for human flesh, an appetite acquired when he feasted on his father’s cold corpse after breaking free, and Old Jan lies in wait for campers, hunters, and lovers that stray too deep into the woods and mountains. This legend is existed in one form or another for more than two hundred years old and this is just the latest incarnation of it.

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