Creating The Saanich Cycle – Part 3 – Locations

OK, after a much longer delay than I would have liked – where life got in the way, as it often has a habit of doing – I’m back to working on creating The Saanich Cycle. For those who came in late, this is an attempt to use the city creation guidelines from the Dresden Files RPG to create a campaign framework for Trail of Cthulhu.

Last time, I went through the high level overview section and mentioned that using the city guidelines to create a framework for a mystery game doesn’t always mesh. The city guidelines are designed to create an environment that’s familiar to the players so they can hit the ground running when play starts and know who’s who, what’s going on and where the likely locations for those goings on are.

But in a mystery game, a lot of that sort of knowledge needs to be hidden away from the players at the beginning, so that they’ve got a structure to explore when play starts. It’s through the investigation that the information will come out.

Because of this, the descriptions of some of these locations might seem a bit odd at first. I don’t have the plot of the campaign in mind just yet (I expect that some of it will develop out of the information that I’m creation here; it’s just the way my mind works :), but I can create some recurring locations that will end up being reasonably central to the story arc as it develops.

Anyway, this time around, we’re up to creating the locations for the city. These are set pieces, that can become recurring scenes in the story, in much the same way that a TV series develops a collection of sets that they reuse fairly regularly.

The DFRPG guidelines recommends thinking up a group of locations that have connections to the supernatural somehow, and that would make interesting places to have reappear semi-regularly. For each one of these, we need to create a name and a brief description (only a sentence or two), then decide whether this is going to be a theme or a threat – just like the main citywide themes and threats – and then a quick sentence that sums up that theme or threat. Later on, in the next phase, we’ll also create NPCs that are important to these locations, but we won’t worry about that for the time being.

So, let’s get on with it and start creating some locations.

Name: Victorian Paranormal Society Headquarters
Description: Small office suite, upstairs in an older part of the downtown core. It has several rooms:

  • A “main” office for general administration
  • a meeting and interview room
  • a library and filing room, containing many filing cabinets filled with case notes from past society cases.
  • a small room containing a limited amount of scientific equipment.

Theme/Threat: Theme – Holding it all together. The leadership of the society tries its hardest to keep the different factions together, by empahsising teamwork as best it can. Because there are casefiles for all of the past cases that the society has worked on, the HQ suite is also a repository of knowledge, providing investigators with historical information and details about past weirdness.

Name: Colquitz Centre for the Criminally Insane 1, 2
Description: A large, castle-like, multi-storey brick building, situated in a ten-acre fenced compound. The prison is home to over 100 inmates, who are not necessarily well taken care of.
Threat/Theme: Theme – The Law Takes A Dim View. Investigators who go in guns blazing and end up killing people, guilty or otherwise, will more than likely end up in this institution.

Name: Beacon Hill Park
Description: Beautifully landscaped 200 acre gardens, complete with ponds, streams and a small zoo. It also has several native burial sites, although this is not widely known. Something of a hotbed of paranormal activity, with many strange sightings there.
Theme/Threat: Threat – Not safe after dark. The park is something of a magnet for homeless people, who camp out in the gardens. They’re often desperate, and will mug passers by to get enough money to buy booze. In recent months, there have been several unexplained deaths in the park as well.

Name: Occultist’s Library
Description: Private library in an expensive home. The occultist – who is in his early sixties – has been collecting books and other written information sources for several decades and has a very impressive collection, including many hard to find tomes. However, access to the collection is very limited and the identity of the owner is known only to a couple of individuals within the Society (not the PCs, initially).
Theme/Threat: Theme – Knowledge comes with a price. Getting access to the library is going to cost the PCs; they’re going to have to share what they know with the occultist, or they are going to have to owe the occultist one or more favours for the future. The knowledge that he has stored in his library may also cost the investigators some sanity.

Name: Curiosity Shop 3
Description: Cramped little dusty shop, tucked away in a corner of the downtown area. Full of all sorts of bizarre items, which the owner knows all the stories about. Sometimes, there are surprisingly useful – or surprisingly dangerous – items for sale in the shop, if you know what you’re looking for and are trusted by the owner.
Theme/Threat: Theme – Maybe you’ll get what you’re looking for… The curiosity shop is something of a mixed bag; it may have some odd artifacts in store, or it might be a wild goose chase. It’s also slightly inspired by Pelgrane Press’ Bookhounds of London, so the shop may be able to source items that would be hard to come across otherwise, including books of forbidden knowledge.

Name: Underground Tunnels
Description: For years, there have been rumours of a network of tunnels under downtown Victoria. Some people claim to know others who have been in them. There are some who even believe that the network is in the shape of a giant pentagram and they’re used by Satanists for black magic rituals.
Theme/Threat: Threat – The hidden menace underneath the city. At the beginning of the campaign, the existence of the tunnels is still going to be speculation, because no one that the PCs know will be able to prove that the tunnels actually exist. At least one of the Victorian Paranormal Society members is going to be obsessed with locating and mapping the tunnels, believing that they are the key to understanding what’s going on in the city.

Name: Tod House 4
Description: An older house in Oak Bay. People staying in the house have described feeling the presence of someone being there, but not being able to see anyone. Recently, there has been an increase in poltergeist activity in the house, which has been scaring the current residents.
Theme/Threat: Threat – The spirit world is angry for some reason. I think this would be a great story to start the campaign with, as it would set the scene for how the ghosts are becoming far more malevolent in recent times. However, whether I use this location early on, or save it for later remains to be seen.

Name: Old Opium Den
Description: Until the early days of the twentieth century, opium was legal in Canada, and there was a solid trade for it, especially in the Chinatown district in the downtown area. Victoria was the largest centre of opium refining outside of Asia until 1908, when opium was made illegal in Canada. This old opium den saw a lot of use in the late nineteenth century, and remained in use after opium was made illegal. But as demand died out, it fell into disuse. Sensitives who visit this old den say that they can feel the presence of the old addicts who got high here.
Theme/Threat: Theme – People imprint their emotions on locations. I like the idea of this happening and want to explore this as part of the game story – that not only do people remember, but under the right conditions, places and objects can remember things too, but there is a cost for recovering that information.

Name: Ross Bay Cemetery
Description: large garden cemetery not too far from the downtown area, Ross Bay Cemetery is the final resting place of many of the province’s politicians. Most people find the cemetery creepy during the day, and it’s even worse at night. Ross Bay Cemetery has also had several ghost sightings. Several people have seen apparitions in the cemetery after dark, and here are also rumours of the grounds being used for Satanist rituals.
Theme/Threat: Threat – The dead centre of Victoria. Cemeteries are places that creep many people out. The graves and mausoleums of the Ross Bay cemetery will be no exception to this and there may be important things buried along with some of the bodies, so there will be the moral questions of whether or not the characters are prepared to do whatever it takes to get what they need.

Name: Newspaper Archives
Description: The Daily Times (established in 1884) is one of Victoria’s two newspapers (the other being the British Colonist, which was started in 1858). The Daily Times has a collection of every single newspaper going back to their first issue. Access to the stacks is generally restricted to those working for the newspaper, or local historians. People with the right connection can get access to the stacks for a limited period of time.
Theme/Threat: Theme – There’s a lot of history here, and who knows what’s buried in it? Newspaper archives are going to be a valuable resource for figuring out clues, and gaining extra information about particular cases, so it makes sense to create this as a location now.

[1] Yes, this place really existed and was actually named that. I kid you not. The building’s architecture is really cool. I found a geocache hidden on the front gate in 2007, although by that time, it had been renamed to the Vancouver Island Regional Correction Centre, although it was more commonly referred to as the Wilkinson Road Jail.

[2] When I first thought this one up, I just wanted to have it as a regular prison, where investigators who break the law end up. The PCs may have to go there to investigate former members of the society who have been incarcerated. But I’ve also realised that prisons typically tend to be haunted, so we may end up with a ghost problem in this location as well. It does double duty, which is also neat.

[3] I’m going to have to come up with a better name for this place, but it will do for now.

[4] Tod House actually is a well document case of a haunting, although that was not until the 1940s. It’s worth reading up on.