WHISPERS IN THE DOORSTEP OF THE MOUNTAIN OF MADNESS
A Cosmic Horror Dark Comedy Micro RPG for 3-11 players
By Dave Seidman Joria
RPGs are funny; even though players know they are playing fictional characters, and thus are not at risk themselves, they will still act cautiously. There is a strange paradox of embodying adventurous characters who live dangerous lives, yet they still want to shelter them and be cautious.
So I had a strange idea: what if player death wasn’t something to be avoided, but embraced.
Thus, I’ve made a MicroRPG using a new, untested system:
The Inevitable Doom System
1d6s, paper, writing utensils. (The setting below also requires lots of slips of paper).
The players should collectively create a team of 5-10 playable characters. A small group of players (2-4) are encouraged to create 2 or 3 pcs each, while a large group of players (6-10) will only create one character each.
Each player creates a character with a name (don’t get too attached; they’ll be dead soon enough). They get to pick one stat to specialize in; this is the Specialty.
Examples: Mind, Body, Soul, Gut; Quick, Clever, Forceful, Flashy, Careful
Also, pick a Personality Flaw: ex. Vain; Too Curious; Never Back Down from a Fight
Equipment: Each player has two packs:
A basic pack, with generic things.
A specialty pack: filled with any special items related to their specialty.
Players don’t need to declare their items beforehand; they just naturally have them unless they are used up or lost.
The game consists of multiple Encounters; each encounter includes some obstacle or threat facing the team. At each Encounter, the GM will ask: What does your character do?
Each player will pick at least one of their characters that they control. They will decide how they react, and share it; this may be said aloud, or written down and then said aloud, depending on the scenario (see below).
The GM decides the order of actions (use common sense) and asks the player to roll a specific number of one-sided dice (d6s).
- If the action matches their specialty, they roll 1d6.
- If the action does not match their specialty, they roll 2d6.
- If the action is particularly dangerous (ex. Jumping off a cliff; Punching an Elder God), the GM may ask them to roll 3 or more d6.
- No 6s: If a roll consists only of dice with the values 1-5 (no 6s), the character survives. Depending on how they roll (low good, high bad) or the difficulty of the action, the GM can decide if they succeed effortlessly, or at some cost (ex. Costs include: they use up their rations; they lose all specialty items; they’re injured; they trigger a random encounter).
- At least one 6 is rolled: If the character rolls at least one natural 6, the character meets their Inevitable Doom.
If more than one character rolls a 6 in the same encounter, the PC that rolled highest dies. In case of a tie, they both die! Horribly. Or suffer something worse than death (let the player pick).
The player is encouraged to come up how the character dies; if a cause of death is not clear, the GM is encouraged to help. (If a good reason isn’t obvious, see “Stupid Deaths” below).
Sidebar – The “Me First” Rule! – If another player INSISTS their character die instead (as it fits they story better), they can volunteer to die instead.
If there’s at least one surviving member of the party, they managed to overcome or sidestep the obstacle of the Encounter and move on to the next Encounter.
Continue going through all encounters until all characters are dead. Bonus: Players pick the favorite death (not including their own).
Sidebar – Spread the Love – In some scenarios, a player with no surviving PCs may have nothing to do. If so, players with 2+ characters are encouraged to share their survivors. (This is not the case in the following scenario, where players without characters are still involved as Whispers).
SCENARIO – WHISPERS IN THE DOORSTEP OF THE MOUNTAIN OF MADNESS
The following scenario is half “man-vs-nature” struggle in the Antarctic, and half cosmic horror. It’s also a parody of Lovecraft (with hopefully none of the racism).
Material – 1d6s, slips of paper (or 1/2 or index cards)
Pass around the random question chart.
Each player rolls, picks that question, and writes a brief (1-2 word) answer.
- What’s a word that makes you squeamish?
- Name an animal whose name starts with the same letter as your last name?
- What’s the dirtiest word you would say in front of your grandmother?
- What did you eat for lunch?
- What is your favorite color?
- What’s something you feared as a child?
The GM keeps these slips and sets them aside, these the Back-up Suggestions.
Decades ago, a strange pyramid was reported in the Antarctic, hidden inside a mountainous crater. A team went to find it, and never came back. It was assumed to be an optical illusion and a fool’s errand.
But now, the year is 1980. New reports of the pyramid are circulating, captured by spy planes and fuzzy satellite pictures. It could be a natural phenomenon. It could be the breakthrough of the century. It could be your doom.
You are the team sent to find out if the pyramid is real. Oh, and by the end of the game, every one of you will die.
Players will create characters as above. Suggested Specialties for this scenario:
A basic pack: generic items for surviving the Antarctic: rations, flashlight, rope, radios, etc.
A specialty pack: filled with any special items related to their specialty (ex. Science has instruments and satellite phone; Action has a rifle and dynamite; Occult has dowsing rods and wards; Heart has med kits and pictures of family, etc.).
Sidebar – For suggestions on the Scenario, see the Suggested Encounters Table
During the first encounter, the GM will ask players to react to the Encounter. However, the players will write their reactions on slips of paper; these are called “Reaction Slips.” After everyone is done writing, the players reveal what they wrote and roll.
After the end of the first encounter, the GM collects all Reaction Slips to the side, but does NOT discard them.
Starting with the 2nd encounter, the teammates start hearing unearthly voices in their head.
The GM will describe the 2nd encounter as they did the 1st. The players will write their responses and keep them hidden.
The GM, however, will also submit a suggestion slip; this is called a Whisper. A Whisper can come from a discarded Reaction Slip, from a Backup Slip, or from the GM themselves.
The GM then picks a random player; they give that player the slip. The player shuffles their Reaction with the Whisper, picks one at random, and follows the action on it. If it is the Whisper, the PC must attempt to do the substituted action, rolling like normal. Once a “Whisper” has been used by a player, discard it completely.
If the PC’s action did not kill the PC but did not clear the obstacle, the GM may ask that the PC complete their original intended action, rolling as normal. Alternatively, the GM may just decide that the obstacle is cleared (ex. Another pc might have resolved it during their action).
Using the Backup Slips: A GM may give a Backup slip as a whisper. These are vaguer than normal; when these are revealed, the PC treats it as a dangerous threat, rolling 3d6. Using the slip as inspiration, the player and GM should work together describing the dangerous, compulsive action the PC took (if they survived), or the bizarre threat that killed them (if they died).
Ex. The PC reveals a Whisper Backup Slip that says “Red.”
If they live:
- The player may decide that their character became enraged and ran off on their own.
If they died:
- They might explain how they exploded (at some badly cooked shoggoth?)
- They hallucinate the color red, causing them to walk into a chasm
- They get crushed from a falling red Chevy Corvette (nothing’s too weird for this game.)
3rd + Encounters
The GM continues with the adventure. They may give out an increasing number of Whisper slips (i.e. 2, 3, 4) with each encounter until at least 1 player is dead. The GM should do their best to give out whispers evenly, avoiding hitting the same person multiple times in a row.
Special Scenario Rules – Voices from the Dead
When a player dies, they are not out of the game; just like the GM, they are now passing Whisper slips on to the players. They can do one of the following:
- Pass out a used Reaction Slip. (This can be a slip that was written by any PC; if it is from their dead character, it is quite flavorful).
- Roll a D6: on a roll of 1-3, they write a harmful action, inspired by the dark forces of the mountain. On 4-6, they write a helpful action (at least, what their dead character would think of as “a good action”)
The GM and dead players should distribute the slips as evenly as possible between the living players.
The following are inspired by Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness; however, do not be afraid to stray all you want.
- Lost in the Artic snowstorm – Your transport breaks down partway to the mountain.
- Climbing the mountain – Scaling the frozen icy mountain to the peak.
- Opening the Cyclopean Door – Before you stands a massive door, too large to be made by humans. It is covered in eldritch language. How do you open it? SHOULD you open it?
- Albino Cave Penguins – You encounter giant, flesh eating Albino Cave Penguins, with electric tentacles.
- Falling Stalactites – Your encounter with the penguins has loosened the ceiling, and you must run to avoid being impaled by falling icicles.
- Cave In – There’s a cave in, and the way before you and behind are blocked by rock and ice.
- Don’t Wake the Sleeping Elder Thing – You find a lair of sleeping elder beings, which looks like frilled cucumbers.
- Shoggoth Attack – A giant, indestructible Shoggoth, the slug-like rebel servant of the Elder Things
- Mental Barrage – You come to the realization that humans were crafted by Elder Ones to serve as a food stock for their Shoggoth workers. Everything you know is a lie!
- Albino Cave Penguin Cult – Turns out the Cave Penguins were secretly cultists all along! They are not happy you interrupted their summoning.
- Elder God Awakens Returns – An Old One has returned, risen from the frozen wastes! (Pick one: might be Yog-Sothoh, or Cthulhu; maybe both, and they’re having a slap fight. If any PCs aren’t dead by now, have them roll a fist full of d6s).
Random Encounters (To Throw in when Flavorful)
- The Group is Split – How will you find each other?
- Dark, Cold and Hunger – You have lost your rations and are starting to grow hungry and cold
- Sudden but Inevitable Betrayal – One of you is Secretly a Mi-Go, come to collect your brains.
- Lost Something Vital – You lose something vital to the mission (ex. A key, a map, your satellite phone to signal the rescue team). How will you recover it?
- Injured – Someone’s leg is badly hurt. Can you save them?
Need a Stupid Death that can be used anywhere? Here are a few:
- Alien Possession – Your mind and body functions are taken over by a Yith. Sadly, the Yith doesn’t realize that you need to breath, and you suffocate to death.
- Ghouls – A pit opens beneath your feet, and you fall into a cavern of ravenous ghouls. (I hate when that happens).
- Existential Crisis – You suddenly remembered that you don’t exist. You instantly cease to be.
- Glowing Rock from Out of Space – You are crushed by colorful meteor that happened to land on your exact location. You are dead (or, worse still, become mutated into a half-dead monstrosity that serves as the next Encounter).
- Finally Caught You – The grizzly, ghoulish hound that has been tracking you for years finally catches up with you, tracking you all the way to Antarctica. It tears you apart in seconds. Guess you shouldn’t have stolen that Jade Amulet from that grave all those years ago!
- Light Reading – You pull out your “Necronomicon – Pocket Edition” and read a few pages before your mind dissolves.
- Grizzly End – By some strange compulsion, you pick a fight with a polar bear. You lose badly. How the polar bear wound up at the SOUTH pole shall remain a mystery.
Got a chance to try it out? Any feedback? Please let us know. Until then, Game on!
-Dave Seidman Joria