Monday, 26 January 2015

Review: KEN WRITES ABOUT STUFF - VOODOO (Parts 1 and 2)

Anyone who's into gaming and loves a giant scoop of weird history with their games knows Kenneth Hite.

Ken has contributed an awful lot to the gaming world over the years, including a large volume of material for GURPS, the beloved SUPPRESSED TRANSMISSIONS column for Pyramid magazine, and a wealth of Lovecraftiana. Contemporary gamers might know him best for the excellent podcast he does with the equally-formidable Robin Laws, KEN AND ROBIN TALK ABOUT STUFF. (Seriously, if you don't know that one, you're just not paying attention. Go listen to it right now and then sit in the corner thinking about what you've been missing.)
If you're not listening to this, you might be a bad person. 
Ken has written a lot of stuff that I loved, including the "Four Colors" system of alternate history design for WILD TALENTS, his delicious Osprey book on all things Nazi and weird THE NAZI OCCULT, the pulpy genius that is THE DAY AFTER RAGNAROK, and of course all the boffo stuff he's been writing for Pelgrane Press's TRAIL OF CTHULHU line, especially the delightful BOOKHOUNDS OF LONDON. I think the next biggie we're expecting from Ken is the DRACULA DOSSIER, which is going to be ten pounds of awesome in a five-pound bag.

Ken has also recently started writing a series of monthly, shorter articles called (appropriately) KEN WRITES ABOUT STUFF that give you a brief injection of Hite-ian awesome. The articles aren't as wide-ranging as the old SUPPRESSED TRANSMISSIONS columns, preferring to keep a tight focus on one subject that maybe isn't big enough for a whole sourcebook by itself. The articles have talked about a wide variety of topics, including DIE GLOCKE (a piece of Nazi occult lore that's treated very briefly in his Osprey book), MOON DUST MEN (about government investigators covering up UFOs), and a number of articles about Lovecraftian monsters. They tend to have a bit of crunch to add something to your game, especially if you're a Gumshoe player, but the main event is that delightful history-through-a-glass-darkly material that Ken does so well. If you're reading about history So Weird It Might Be True or So Weird We Wish It Were True, "it might be Hite".

In this two-part article, Ken gives us a quick introduction to the world of Voodoo. This is a big topic that can (and has) fill up whole sourcebooks, but this is an excellent precis of some of the major ideas that will come up in a game that features voodoo. Ken gives us some historical background on the origins of voodoo, highlighting the difference between the magical practice and the religious, and showing us how it's branched off into many different cultures with their own unique beliefs and practices. It's easy to get lost in the topic when there are nine or ten ways to spell it, and many names / identities for each of the spirits (which Hite calls "Invisibles", for clarity) that exist in voodoo, but by the end you'll know your houngan from your bokkor. 

The first book is half background, and half mechanics for using voodoo magic in Gumshoe games. There's enough here that you could use the ideas easily with Your Favourite Game, though, which is what I plan to do for the New Orleans detective game I'm planning. The main thing here is that the delicious flavour is all there, and it's plenty rich and spicy.

The second book examines the most important Invisibles you're likely to encounter, detailing the domains they preside over, the offerings likely to attract their attention, their symbols, and (importantly) what a chewal (a person possessed by that Invisible) might look like. Like Hite's treatment of the Cthulhu Mythos in Trail, there are options given here so that you can define the Invisibles any way you like for your game -- including a Lovecraftian angle, for those who like that stuff (and who doesn't?).

The KWAS series are bite-sized chunks of awesome, and the Voodoo series is no exception. I find they're just about the right length to digest in a single sitting, and full of amazing ideas that will make anyone's game into a flavourful occult gumbo. They're inexpensive (at about $4.50 apiece for a new issue), but you can trust me on this -- you're going to want them all, and $25 for a whole year of Ken Hite cool is a bargain. You can get them through DriveThruRPG or the Pelgrane Press webstore.

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