The following was excised from a KGB black ops facility by CIA deep cover operatives in the winter of 1971. It is an incomplete fragment of what is apparently a much longer work, and it is uncertain how, if at all, the Soviets intended to use or had used its contents or, indeed, who the author is. It is the advice of this translator that this file is some kind of fiction or the rantings of a lunatic. There is, however, far too much associated KGB and CIA documentation to discount it entirely. Something was going on here, though what is terrible to contemplate.
What is often misunderstood is this: all sorcery is black sorcery. There is no other type. The flashy tricks and dramatic swoops of the stage illusionist are charades, nothing more. Likewise, the mentalist and the so-called psychic are nothing but talented charlatans and liars. Sorcery—true sorcery—is dirty and abhorrent to so-called cultured men. This I know.
The irony of black sorcery is that it is as old as God Himself. Its power derives from His own, at least in part. We may not cast back the waters of the Red Sea, nor may we transmute staff into snake; these miracles are beyond us, just as they were beyond Pharaoh. We know, however, a deeper secret. It is one more subtle and every bit as powerful.
Sorcery is the power of Life and Death.
The great Gift given to the world by the Almighty and wielded by Jesus over the body of Lazarus is the power which we manipulate, though to a much lesser degree. If Eden were the great bonfire that began it all, that which we toy with is but the sputtering embers and errant sparks of that great conflagration. Still, with sparks one may do much, if one is clever.
Sorcery involves the viscera and fluids of living creatures to be enacted. If you are opposed to shedding of blood and disturbed by the touch of dead flesh, you will never be a sorcerer. Indeed, one should not wish to be a sorcerer at all; it is no blessing. Perhaps in the courts of ancient Egypt our skills were esteemed, but now we are reviled, abhorred, or simply denied. Only upon the tiny island of Hispaniola can you find members of our order practicing their art openly, and even then they are met with derision. The societies of mankind deny what they know is true—life is a power beyond the simple physics of anatomy. Were it not, every doctor could bring life where there is death; every scientist would have a Monster like Victor Frankenstien’s.
I am one of the last, true necromancers. I write this to explain myself and my work, but I do not seek your forgiveness or pardon. I have done nothing wrong. Raising the dead is no crime if the cause for which they are raised is just, and I am a just man. Or I was a just man until recently.
My captors—these wretched, drab bureaucrats who fawn in Stalin’s wake and worship the fiction of their Party—they have made me do what I would not have done otherwise. I have created things for them and I know that they will be misused. I have given eternal life to the unworthy and the vicious; I have raised the innocent to obey the guilty. These are crimes, but I will make amends. I have all the time in the world, though they refuse to believe it. I was old when Tsar Nicholas II was a boy, so what do they know, these children of Lenin?
It may come to pass, however, that they will somehow destroy me. If this were to happen, it would be unwise for me to leave this world without laying out the weaknesses of those things which I have created. Heed me well:
Your enemy is not the servants—what the bokor of dark Haiti call zombi—for, while they have many uses, their power is brief and worthless without direction. No, it is the masters you must fear—those who have never passed the lychgate or similar after their deaths, those bodies that still live. They are the lych [editor’s note: this word originally written in the Latin alphabet; it is presumed the author was not satisfied with its Cyrillic equivalent for reasons I can only infer. It should be noted that the word is most probably derived from the Old English ‘lic,’ meaning ‘corpse’ or ‘body’ and nothing more], and they are the only ones besides our Lord and those who have passed into His Kingdom who have achieved eternal life. This life, though, is a shadow of its former self.
The lych persist in this world in full possession of their mind and willpower (so long as the one can maintain the other), but they rest within a body that is physically dead. They are sorcerers almost without exception or, at the very least, they know something of sorcery otherwise they will not be long for this world. They should not be underestimated under any circumstances.
You cannot murder a lych. They are already dead. Stab them and they will only bleed insofar as their blood is still present. Shoot them and you create a hole and nothing more. Cut off their head and their body and their head will seek to find one another. They do not feel pain, or at least not strongly—many come to miss the sensation; it drives some mad. Break their bones and you damage their vessel, but you do not harm their resolve or their intelligence.
It has been suggested that the lych may be killed by fire or by utterly obliterating their body. This is only partially true. Destroy the body and you rob the lych of his vessel, but his spirit will not dissipate. He will lurk and fester in the place where he was struck dead—for an eternity, if need be—until he is either truly released from this life or a new vessel presents itself. This is most easily accomplished with another dead body. It may be accomplished otherwise, as well. Possession is a very risky endeavor for the lych, but bears with it proportional benefits. I digress, however—more about possession later.
The lych is sustained by the captured essence of his life force. This is contained in his phylactery or phylacteries, known also as zombi to the bokor of West Africa, though this should not be confused with the servants the lych often employs. The process for preparing a phylactery is long and complex and requires much blood. It is a process I will not share with you, nor with my captors. What is important is that the phylactery or phylacteries are the only true weakness of the lych and their only bond to mortality. If it cannot be found and destroyed utterly, the lych can never truly depart this world for his final reward or punishment, as is appropriate to his actions.
The weapons of the lych are numerous and mysterious, and vary according to individual. To list them all here would be pointless—there are always exceptions. I have mentioned their sorcery, and that is enough for you to know their power. They have spent many mortal lifetimes perfecting their arts, and they are more skilled in them than any other save another of their kind. In general, it is enough to know that the lych have power over the dead and the living, the spiritual and the physical, and can learn and do much with the simple application of certain rituals. Their intelligence is their weapon, and it is a potent one.
Of their weaknesses, however, I can speak more directly. I have already mentioned the phylactery, but this is as much advantage as it is weakness—a lych may hide his phylactery anywhere on the Earth, even many thousands of miles from himself, and make his foes despair in hoping to defeat him. There are those lych who have buried theirs deep in the darkness of continental forests and jungles, never to be found again, and lived for ages without fear of compromise. The lych who wears his phylactery about his neck is a fool, but few of them are fools.
The greatest weakness of the lych is his body. It is dead, rotting, and weakening with every passing day. If they sustain injuries, they never heal. If they contract diseases, their body falls away to rot around them. This is of great concern to the lych, as he is then less able to blend into society and also less physically capable of interacting with the world. The ancient Egyptians embalmed their immortal high priests so that this rotting process would slow itself, and most modern lych do so as well. This, however, leaves them gaunt and thin—very corpselike in appearance and physically weak—but enables them to live in relative stability for long periods. They will cover up their gaunt appearance with make-up and wigs (the lych loses his hair very quickly) and wear concealing clothing. They will also seek to avoid infection and exposure to bacteria with ruthless attention, as the simple germs common mortals encounter on a daily basis are sufficient to devour the lych’s body. They will need to moisten their eyes and tongues often to prevent them from drying out and withering (though it should be noted they do not need these organs to see or be heard). Finally, they will avoid bright sunlight, as even minor burning from the sun is irreversible and leads to further complications. The lych values his body, even though he does not need it to persist—it is his primary tool for interacting with the world, and he spends much of his time caring for it.
There are those lych who seek to maintain some of their vitality through the consumption of fresh blood. This has its uses for a lych, as he is typically in need of fresh blood to engage in sorcery (which can, in turn, be used to delay his gradual decay). This habit among some is undoubtedly the origin of the so-called vampyr, but the lych is considerably more dangerous, if physically less potent.
Another important weakness of the lych lies with purified salt. Salt is an element that connects humanity with God and is a symbol of His various covenants with the faithful throughout time. Salt, particularly if pure and consecrated, interferes with the connection between the lych and his phylactery. If you were to make a ring of pure salt around a lych, the body would fall inert and the spirit banished back to his phylactery, as the link cannot pass a barrier of pure salt. Likewise, a lych may not pass onto consecrated ground. It should be noted to the fanatical that this is not an indication of the wickedness of the lych, but rather a regrettable fact of their existence. Throwing salt on them does not hurt them anymore than it would hurt a mortal person.
As a final caution, those who would combat the unrighteous lych must be made aware of certain misconceptions about the living dead. Holy water and holy symbols are of no worth against them, except perhaps as psychological weapons. Running water does not stop them anymore than it stops another man (though the embalmed lych is a poor swimmer and usually too weak to cross any great breadth of water). Burning them destroys their body, but has no effect on their spirit (though it should be mentioned that those lych that are embalmed with certain alcohol-based chemicals will occasionally explode as much as burn—be warned). With proper sun protection, a lych has no compunction walking about during the day, and even direct sunlight, though bad for their body’s long-term duration, does not harm them. To rely upon these superstitions in your battle against the lych is to court your own death.
That is enough for today. My captors are coming—I can smell them. I am interested in how they will choose to motivate me this time; they have given up on torture, of course. There are still things they cannot make me do. What evil they have compelled me to commit is only a fraction of my potential; I only hope they do not suspect this. I hope I am strong enough to endure longer than this new Union of theirs. I must be, even if I must live on as a spirit in this dismal place forever.
There are a lot of horror RPGs out there and around this time of year is when all the GMs out there start breaking them out. I’ve run more than a few in my day (I ran a whole Ravenloft campaign way back in the day), and I’ve had my mix of successes and failures. By success, of course, I mean the games were actively freaky and frightening. By ‘failure’, I mean everybody merely had the same good time they had during all other RPGs. That’s okay and everything, but let’s face it–if you’re playing or running Call of Cthulhu, you intend for it to be a frightening/thrilling experience.
There is a colossal hurdle to overcome, however, when trying to make an RPG scary. It is, quite simply, this: your friends are not afraid of you. They just aren’t, and they particularly aren’t while sitting back on your couch, popping Doritos, and googling stuff on their iPhone. Ain’t gonna happen. You can write the creepiest module in existence, practice your Vincent Price impression for years, and place the PCs in the most intolerable peril ever and they won’t bat an eyelash. Why? You aren’t scary.
So, what to do? Below, I have a set of simple rules to follow that will help. The thing that will help the most, however, is to be a good storyteller and a good performer–commit to your creepiness and don’t let up or break character. The more engrossed you are in the adventure, the more engrossed they will be. This doesn’t just go for horror games, but it is a place where it is especially important. Beyond that, you have the rules, as follows:
Rule #1: Silence, Please
Horror RPGs don’t work without everybody cooperating. Since everybody, presumably, wants to be freaked out, this shouldn’t be a problem. The idea here is for everybody to be quiet when not speaking for their character and to remain focused on the action. No googling on their iPhone (in fact, turn the phones off!), no chatting about their days, no having a sidebar about the kind of pizza to order. Quiet. Silence. Focus. Nothing is scarier than playing with volume in a game–lower your voice to draw them in, to have them straining to hear the words, and then shout the climax to their utter surprise. You can’t do this if Bill is in the corner watching YouTube videos.
Rule #2: Setting and Mood
Try to play somewhere dark and, preferably, quiet (as per Rule #1). Candlelight or a fireplace is best. Music should be creepy and should fit the mood. If you’re going to order food, make sure it is done and the food is there before the game starts. It’s okay for folks to eat while you are playing, of course, but don’t get interrupted by the pizza guy–it breaks the spell, as it were, for everybody to stand up and fumble around for cash (plus you’ll probably have to turn on the lights). Setting the mood helps Rule #1 actually happen and gets people into the zone. The more they play along, the better things will go.
Rule #3: Screw Mechanics
Horror RPGs work best with very, very simple rule systems. Roll one or two dice and have done, move on. Don’t ever break the flow of action to handle rules, and never stop a scene to roll dice. Roll dice before or after the scary, never during. If possible, don’t roll dice at all. Dice don’t make things scary and they break the mood to pieces, so use them sparingly. If you can handle it, have the GM roll the majority of the tests him- or herself and describe the results. Horror RPGs aren’t about your awesome dice rolls–they are all about the story and the mood. Of couse the PCs should get to make some rolls, sure–this is a game–but don’t let it interfere with the scary.
Rule #4: Show don’t Tell
A venerable rule for writers, but not necessarily so venerable for GMs. In a Horror RPG, a vampire is not ‘a vampire’. A vampire is a pale, handsome man with a plastic smile and eyes so dark they seem like pits. His handshake is cool, hard, and with no sign of a pulse–like shaking the hand of a store mannequin. The zombies that are chasing you? Describe their smell. Describe the sound of their bloody feet spattering against the pavement as they shamble closer. Your gun doesn’t do ‘7 points of damage’, it rips a bloody hole through the fleshy part of the alien’s bat-like wings, releasing a stale odor of something cold and ancient that tingles at the back of your throat. Now, its beetley head and compound eyes swivel from the child half-eaten by its gory mandibles and, in a way that chills your bones, you know that it sees you. And it hates.
Get the idea?
There are probably other rules I’m not thinking of, but these are the main ones. Folow them, and I guarantee your game will be creepier and your players will have a great time. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.