The Esoterrorists, a scattered and ill-organised group of occultists and outright mad men, work tirelessly to tear down that barrier between worlds to loose the floodgates to ultimate power.
Unfortunately, this very act will open our world to the monstrosities that linger beyond, pounding and tearing to get through.
But, how do the Esoterrorists hope to break down the barrier, and what is the Membrane?
The Esoterror Summoning Guide is a 44-page PDF, written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan. Published by Pelgrane Press for use with The Esoterrorists setting, the use of the GUMSHOE system means that you can port elements you like across to other games with the same mechanics.
Rather like a Spotter’s Guide to Esoterror Activities, the Guide provides an overview of the whole business of summoning and its impact on the Membrane. The document has the appearance of a carefully recorded and typewritten set of notes on jotter paper, outlining Ordo Veritatis intelligence and procedures. Pictures appear as sticky taped press cuttings, sketches and photographs. Throughout the text, mechanics and specific GM-focussed advice and notes appear in styled boxed asides.
The Guide breaks information up into four different sections:
- The State of Play: the Ordo approach to handling the increasing threat of Esoterrorist rituals
- The Membrane: Ordo intelligence and understanding on the nature and resilience of the barrier that keeps the Outer Dark at bay
- Summoning Techniques: the primary approaches Esoterrorists take to summons and Ordo countermeasures
- Negotiating With The Dark: dealing directly with Entities of the Outer Dark
The final 10-pages of the Guide breaks with the ‘reality’ of the document in presenting an adventure, ‘Cell Death‘.
The prevalence of Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan across the gaming hobby means I sometimes have to take a step back and re-centre myself before I start reading! As I’ve read material for The Laundry recently (covered in my review of Cultists Under The Bed and written by Gareth), the business of cultists, ceremonies, summoning intervention procedures and CAPITALISED CODENAMES had me wondering whether I’d picked up the right book.
However, I needn’t have worried myself. The Esoterrorists represent a fundamentally scarier bunch of people, compared to the crackpot secret societies and covens of The Laundry-verse. They embrace terror, violence and focused malignancy against humanity in general; the Ordo Veritatis (also referred to as the Ordo or OV) struggle to contain them and barely hold them in check.
The State of Play outlines the procedural approach and methodology the Ordo have taken over the years in dealing with the intensifying Esoterror threat. This brief, indeed truncated, overview outlines five strategies – in order of increasing desperation – formalised in 1979 by the Ordo to contain the Esoterrorists. Deterioration in the balance of power between light and dark means the OV has already abandoned the first two, frankly overly optimistic, strategies and moved on to the somewhat resigned course of diminishing levels of containment.
If truth be told, the Ordo have at best circumstantial and fragmented understanding of the membrane that shields humanity from the Outer Dark and the hungry, alien entities that lurk beyond. The Membrane outlines what information the player characters might have access to or glean through research. Actually – and cautiously – you could provide a fair amount of the material in this book to the players, rather like a training manual… though it probably won’t save them.
The section provides theories and weakly supported hypotheses on the relationship between Esoterrorists and the membrane. It suggests possible reasons for the variable strength of the barrier, considers the membrane from a historical perspective, and postulates on how both active and passive interaction with humanity causes fluctuations in its ‘thickness’.
On the matter of Summoning Techniques, the Guide loosely categorizes various methods. None of the methods involve any of the mumbo-jumbo ritual paraphernalia of Hollywood (invariably an Ordo Veritatis propaganda technique to weaken the Esoterrorists). Esoterrorists prefer disturbing and nightmarish acts, designed to rend the fabric of the membrane through an upswell of anguish, fear, and a sharp dislocation of normality.
The chapter considers rituals that depend on focussed bursts of negative emotions to puncture the membrane, as well as the more subtle and complex undermining of belief through the proliferation of horrific folklore imagery and urban legend. Sometimes lesser creatures of the Outer Dark already exist in our world and simply need require locating, contact and some sort of deal.
A GM could easily use the techniques described in the Guide to transform the more commonplace and uninteresting sorcerers and ritualists of your own campaign world – whatever their milieu. Players blasé about necromancers and madmen set on world domination with their necrotic blasts and pentacle-tortured demons might think again if you threw a few fanatical and dangerous Esoterrorists at them with a healthy dose of Unremitting Horror.
Each of the methods includes one or more Case Study examples, which make for interesting reading, described how the method works, and I found got me thinking about left field stuff you read in papers, magazines and online. Sites about urban legends will become your bookmark target of choice after reading through this.
Penultimately, Negotiating With The Dark provides half-a-dozen pages of advice on making direct contact with entities from beyond the membrane. Really, it all boils down to avoiding it at all costs – but it’s useful to learn why and this provides some thoughts on staying out of trouble. Essentially, unless you already have the odds stacked heavily in your favour, don’t. Just don’t.
Before the veil out, Cell Death transports your player’s characters to Rome to face a new challenge. Lucio Mancini is dying, riddled with cancer – but he also claims to be a magician and a terrorist, and he wants to speak. The Ordo team face a threat that requires they head back across the pond to the States – and get a chance to exercise some of their new found knowledge and expertise on matters of a summoning nature.
The Esoterror Summoning Guide packs a lot of material into the page count, not only the theory, the history, and the practice, but also a spot of fieldwork. The Guide is not a spell book or a some kind of grimoire of the unnatural, and while I say you might share it with the players, I do so with reservations.
Because, most importantly, The Esoterror Summoning Guide is a fine and well-written tool for the GM to take the mundane business of monster summoning and turn it into something unexpected. Players jaded by their fantasy adventures – or even their Mythos experiences for that matter – will find the threat of the Esoterrorists all the more powerful when they realise not even the Ordo itself really knows what’s going on. With the information at your fingertips in this Guide, you can challenge the characters with the chilling truth of the unknown and the very real prospect that not even Containment remains an option…