we are currently translating the FHTAGN rulebook and game world into English. You are reading a page that is in phase 1 of 3 of the translation. The text is a raw version and will most likely change. Please feel free to continue browsing the site or just come back later. You are also welcome to follow our Twitter account @FHTAGNRPG for news and updates.
Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!
As long as there have been mysteries in the world, people have tried to figure them out and to share and preserve their knowledge about them. This need can unite a wide variety of people who have stumbled upon the unnatural by chance or through obscure research. They come together, organizing themselves into a loose network or a tightly structured hierarchy. New members are recruited. Goals are set and pursued. Sometimes the goals are achieved. And sometimes not ...
The player characters may belong to such an organization, however it may be formed and whatever its goals may be. For players and game masters, this organization forms the framework of a campaign. The campaign framework is the scaffolding to which the individual elements of the campaign can be attached and linked together: Scenarios, patrons and patrons, adversaries and allies, retreat locations, and more.
This chapter explains how a campaign framework works and how the game master creates the appropriate framework for her particular campaign. It also introduces the FHTAGN Network as an exemplary elaboration of a campaign framework. It is suitable for getting into the game quickly without much preparation. The FHTAGN Network is also the campaign framework used as background for the official FHTAGN scenarios.
use of the campaign framework
For the game master, the campaign framework is a tool to solve certain narrative tasks in a simple and elegant way. At their core, these tasks can be divided into three groups:
- Create tasks and conflicts for player characters.
- Provide support for player characters.
- Introduce new player characters.
In the following, we will take a closer look at these three points. In addition, there is one overarching function that every organization automatically brings to the table. If the player characters have a plausible motive for engaging in the organization, then they will have a motivation to engage in unnatural horror. This motivation is difficult to achieve otherwise, since the healthy human mind recoils from cosmic horror and prefers to protect itself through ignorance. The habits, fixed rules, or social obligations in an organization can lead people to engage with the unnatural much longer and more intensely than is ultimately good for them. Narratively, the campaign framework thus supports the development of the downward spiral.
tasks and conflicts
The simplest and most obvious function of an organization researching or fighting the unnatural is to give the player characters direct assignments. If the organization is of a certain size, or at least has widespread information channels, then almost any scenario can be started simply by an order from the organization. This gives the game master enormous flexibility in choosing scenarios, since there are few restrictions on locations, at least in more modern settings: Missions in a dilapidated castle in Germany, a Tibetan temple, and an Arctic research station can be assigned one right after the other without straining the inner logic of the game world.
The nature of the possible assignments depends only on the setting and the exact type of organization. The way of commissioning, that is also of entering a planned scenario, can vary. From the mere transmission of a rumor announcing strange and suspicious occurrences in a certain place to a militarily explicit order to track down and eliminate a certain mythical creature, anything can happen.
The organization itself can also become the subject of scenarios. There are several ways to do this.
Internal conflicts and intrigues: The organization may face internal problems. Causes and course depend greatly on the nature of the organization. The player characters may join a faction or interest group, try to remain neutral, or actively work for the unity of the organization. The end result could be the splitting of the organization, splinter groups, or the Annihilation of a faction. Or perhaps it is an ongoing, long-term conflict that does not fundamentally change, at least over the course of the campaign, but serves as a constant source of small skirmishes and intrigue for the game master.
Competing organization: it could be pursuing similar goals with very different means or a different worldview. The two organizations could be fighting for the same resources (e.g., new members or the favor of a funder) or trying to carry out the same missions in parallel. As a result, the player characters would feel the competition directly during their missions. Direct attacks on the other organization are also possible, of course, and can lead to scenarios that have nothing to do with the myth at all.
Threat to the organization from the unnatural: This possibility is especially obvious in the advanced stages of a campaign. If the player characters or other members of the organization have somehow caused trouble for the Unnatural, it is quite possible that someone (or something) will get the idea that they need to eliminate this threat. Depending on the campaign, cults are the main possible threats, but so are intelligent, organized races like the Mi-Go or Deep Ones. If the organization has been active for some time, this situation can also exist at the beginning of a campaign.
Organization as Mystery: Is explored by the player characters. To do this, however, the game master must create the organization in such a way that the characters themselves are initially unaware of its nature. Knowledge of the organization and its background only slowly assembles into a picture like a puzzle over the course of the campaign. A detailed example of this is the FHTAGN Network, described in detail later.
If the player characters are members of an organization and are to execute missions for it, then the organization has an interest in ensuring that the missions are successful. To this end, it is helpful if the player characters are provided with the necessary equipment, transportation to the mission site, and other members of the organization for support if needed. All of this can be provided by the organization if needed.
This option, in turn, makes it easier for the game master to get started in many scenarios. For example, transportation to a remote plot location is no problem and costs no time on game night because it is paid for by the organization or the transportation is provided directly with the player's own funds. Hardly any group of player characters has all conceivable skills. If a skill not available in the group is absolutely necessary for a certain scenario, then a corresponding non-player character can be casually introduced as a specialist via the organization. The same applies to unusual or very expensive equipment.
Information can also be obtained and provided by the organization to the exact degree that the game master deems useful and beneficial to the story.
With all of these options, however, the game master must keep in mind the credibility of the campaign framework. She should not provide support that is unlikely for the chosen organization or setting. For example, a rather small organization should not be able to continually provide the most expensive equipment for the player characters without good justification. In particular, if the player characters are actively asking for support, the game master should act cautiously. Players often tend to want to exploit a source of resources to the utmost. The game master should discourage this by consistently applying the rules for requesting favors (see the FHTAGN rulebook), which can cause the bond with the organization to drop in strength if used frequently. Another way to prevent rampant exploitation of support is to make it clear what the player characters need only as a mission progresses. By then, they're already in the thick of the action and don't have the opportunity to get the perfect equipment. A lack of equipment goes hand in hand with a lack of security and thus supports horror at the game table.
In certain campaigns, it also makes sense for the organization to award rewards for successfully completed tasks or missions. These rewards can be purely at the narrative level such as medal awards, higher ranks, or additional rights within the organization. They can also be rewards with rules mechanic implications, for which the game master can also introduce her own recreations for interstitial scenes if needed. Free stays in the organization's own sanatorium or hospital or exotic special training are just a few examples.
new player characters
In longer campaigns, the protagonists of the story may change for various reasons. The reasons may be within the game world: player characters die, go insane, or can no longer work with the rest of the party due to other narrative causes. Other reasons for character changes may be outside the game: players leave the group and new players join, or players become game leaders and vice versa. In all of these cases, you need reasons for old player characters leaving and new ones joining. These reasons are easy to obtain with an organization that, in a sense, always has a supply of new potential player characters through its members. The organization simply decides to choose a slightly different composition of the team than before for a new mission. The reasons for this usually do not need to be elaborated at all. New characters can be created entirely from scratch, as mutually determined by the player and the game master - the player character may have previously worked in a different part of the organization, or may have been newly recruited by the organization. Alternatively, a previously appeared non-player character may be used.
player characters in the campaign framework
Usually, the game master is clear at the beginning of the campaign what the central elements of the campaign should be and what the campaign framework is. Under these circumstances, it is possible and almost always useful for the player characters to be created to fit this background and, of course, the chosen setting. The game master should therefore give clear guidelines as to which player characters are appropriate. Alternatively, she can give the players as much information about the campaign framework in advance so that they can decide for themselves which characters are appropriate.
Professions: The possible professions usually follow casually from the type of organization chosen. A military organization will consist mainly of fighters and a few technicians and medics. A Masonic lodge, on the other hand, will have more middle-class professions, such as businesswoman, lawyer, diplomat, or religious representative. If certain professions or skills are necessary for the planned campaign, the game master should specify them here.
Bonds: If a player character is to be a member of the organization at the beginning of the campaign, then he should also have a bond to it. See the section Bonds to the Organization for details. All other bonds can generally be specified without special consideration of the campaign framework.
Motivations: A motivation can be an important element in explaining why the player character is a member of the organization, and therefore why he is involved with the terrible mind-destroying mysteries in the first place. General motivations such as "I serve my country," "I want to be a good and active community member," or "I keep peace and order" can create a strong connection to organizations whose goals run in the same direction in each case. As the game progresses, such motivation may be replaced by mental disorder. The removal of motivation can also disrupt the relationship with the organization, which can lead to interesting game dynamics. Thus, the game master should work to ensure that each player character has at least one appropriate motivation. This is also recommended in the case that the characters are not yet members of the organization at the beginning of the game and possibly their players do not know anything about the organization yet. If the player characters find out about the organization later, the connection will feel more natural and the players may even actively work towards it.
Facets: In principle, some facets can have a similar function in relation to the organization as motivations. However, the possibilities are much more limited. Perhaps the game master can develop her own facets for the player characters, adapted to the campaign framework.
If already existing player characters are to be integrated into a new campaign framework, the FHTAGN Network is a good choice for this purpose, since it can bring together any characters in the network without much effort.
At the beginning of the campaign, the game master should think about what kind of intermediate scenes in the campaign framework would be useful or could or should have a special meaning. It might be useful for the game master to go through all of the recreational activities (see FHTAGN rulebook) and think about how each of them might play out. The game master could also design her own pastimes that are related to the campaign framework (see also the Bonds to the Organization section below).
Player characters may also want to leave the organization at some point. Whether and how this is possible at all, whether the very attempt is tantamount to a death sentence or whether the organization doesn't care at all, depends on the chosen organization and the role of the player characters in it. The way out can be the occasion for many other scenarios. And once they leave the organization, the game master has numerous options as well. The player characters could be hunted by the organization. Or they may join another organization that they may have met before. There may also be a grouping of others who have left or been expelled from the organization. Such a grouping might contact the player characters and actively try to recruit them into their ranks. Perhaps this grouping has completely different goals than the organization or is in competition with it. Or maybe they are just stranded souls who have already looked too deeply behind the veil, have become socially isolated and stigmatized, and are on the fringes of society.
bond to the organization
To ensure that the campaign framework also has a direct impact and meaning for the players and does not only provide for the narrative part, the embedding of a player character in the organization is represented by a bond. This bears the name derived from the corresponding campaign framework. Analogous to bonds within the group (see FHTAGN rulebook), the following rules apply.
A player character's SAN test determines how the bond develops. The SAN test is due when an organization mission or scenario has been completed, or some other point in the campaign has been reached that ends a story arc. This is up to the game master to decide.
If not yet bonded: If the player character does not yet have a bond with the organization, he will receive the bond now. Its value is equal to half of his CH value. Also, the player character immediately loses 1d4 points from any bond inside or outside the group.
If a bond already exists: If the player character already has a bond with the organization, its value increases by 1W4 points. Furthermore, a bond inside or outside the group decreases by 1 point.
If the bond drops to zero: If the bond to the organization drops to zero, the player character is eliminated. The narrative consequences of dropping out depend greatly on the nature of the organization and can range from ignoring the player character to ordering his immediate execution.
Calling in favors: To obtain equipment or money, or to request other benefits, player characters with their bond to the organization can call in a favor under the normal rules. For anonymous organizations, a test is due on the current bond value × 5.
Very large, highly bureaucratic organizations, or organizations that emphasize extreme secrecy, can be very anonymous to their members. Individuals do not play a major role. Rather, the bond represents the value of usefulness that the player character has to the organization. Accordingly, the charisma of the player character does not matter much. For implementation to the rules, this means that rolls on bonds are not made against CHA × 5 but against the current value of the bond × 5. Also, there is no maximum value for the bond, meaning the value of the bond can exceed the charisma of the player character. If the bond to an anonymous organization is already determined during character creation, its value at the beginning is equal to CH / 2. The game master decides whether an organization is anonymous in this sense.
TYPES OF CAMPAIGNS
There are different ways in which a campaign can be played. The type of campaign will determine the importance of the organization as a campaign framework and how detailed it should be. The following sections provide some guidance on this.
Episodic Campaigns: An episodic campaign is one that consists of individual scenarios that are largely independent of each other. The individual scenarios all have basically the same initial situation, with the player characters going about their normal lives - whatever that may be - until a special event sets the events of the scenario in motion. By the end of the scenario, the immediate dangers have been eliminated and the puzzles solved as much as possible, so the next scenario can begin again with the standard situation. Such an episodic campaign has basically the same structure as many older television series. Episodic campaigns are particularly well suited for the mystery game mode because they also reduce the longer-term aftermath of a scenario. The inter-scene gameplay mechanism is most suitable for campaigns with clearly delineated scenarios.
In an episodic campaign, a campaign framework is very useful on the one hand because it can reliably generate the particular events that serve as the starting point for an episode. In addition, depending on how it is shaped, it can also define part of what constitutes normal life between episodes. This sets the zero point of the scenarios, so to speak. Organizations that shape the everyday lives of the player characters are particularly well suited here. For example, the organization could be the player characters' employer at the same time, or it could be a club or ideological community where the characters spend their free time.
On the other hand, the organization does not need to be elaborated in great detail for its function as a campaign framework, as long as it does not itself become the subject of a scenario. It is enough if the game master and the players have a rough common idea of the organization's appearance and function. The organization then appears mainly between the scenarios, or at their beginning and end. Of course, the organization can be defined and developed as well as desired during the course of the campaign via intermediate scenes or its role in individual scenarios.
Sandbox campaigns: Sandbox refers to campaigns that are largely devoid of individual, detailed scenarios. Here, the game master provides the world as a background, including threats, challenges, and tasks for the player characters. Ideally, however, the players are left completely free to decide in which direction to take their player characters' activities. They follow their own motives and the game master lets the world react to the actions of the player characters. In addition, she should always make offers to the players, which can trigger activities of the characters, but do not have to. For the players, a sandbox offers maximum freedom to do what they want to do within the chosen setting.
For a sandbox campaign, the game master must have a very good overview of the game world and its possibilities. However, it usually makes little sense to elaborate on individual elements of the world (plot locations, antagonists, specific plots, etc.) in too much detail, because there is a high probability that the player characters will simply ignore them and do something completely different. The game master must be good at improvising at first. Only when it becomes clear from the course of the story or the players' expressed interest that a particular place, cult, or whatever will play a major role should the game master take the time to elaborate.
The organization that will serve as the campaign framework is, of course, also an element of the game world. For them, however, what has been said before applies only conditionally. If the function of the campaign framework is to be preserved for the game master, then she must ensure that the organization becomes a constant companion for the player characters in any case. However, because of this, the game master must also expect the characters to take a closer interest in the organization. In practice, this means that the campaign framework should be worked out in detail in a sandbox. This doesn't necessarily have to be done right at the beginning of the campaign, but can happen over the course of a few sessions. But since the game master, unlike in an episodic campaign, has limited influence on when and how intensively the player characters engage with the organization, she had better be well prepared.
Buy campaigns: there are numerous ready-made campaigns for horror TTRPGs available for purchase, especially those set against the backdrop of the Cthulhu mythos. These buy campaigns usually bring their own campaign framework, that is, they have elements that connect the individual scenarios and lead the player characters from one to the next. So an additional organization as campaign framework is not necessary here or could even be disturbing. However, it can be quite interesting to modify or extend the given framework with building blocks mentioned in this chapter. This is especially useful if the campaign also uses an organization as a framework. For example, the game master can consider whether she would like to make the organization itself more of a focus of the action, or whether she would like to incorporate other scenarios into the campaign that are not provided for in the campaign.
Single scenarios and short campaigns: a single scenario or one-shot is a scenario that stands alone and is not played as part of a campaign. Obviously, a campaign framework is not mandatory if no campaign is played at all. But an organization can also serve as a hook for individual scenarios. Especially if the players are already familiar with the basic principles of an organization, such as the FHTAGN Network, almost any scenario can be started with its help. The same is true for short campaigns that may consist of only two or three scenarios.
Of course, it is also possible to make the organization itself the subject of a one-shot. In this way, the game master can give new players a first impression of the organization or give experienced players a different perspective on it.
DESIGNING AN ORGANIZATION
No matter what kind of organization is to be used for the campaign framework, there are some questions the game master should always think about. She can also take inspiration from the events in the scenarios and the actions of the player characters, so that the network and the story told match.
- Appearance: behind what facade is the organization hiding? What is the structure of the organization? Is it what it appears to be? Is it informal or hierarchical? Does it affect the work or leisure of the player characters?
- Motivation: what are the player characters' motivations for joining the organization? Money, knowledge, drugs, power, desperation?
- Communication channels: how does the organization communicate with its members? Does it award contracts?
- Background: Who is pulling the strings in the background? Who or what is really behind the organization? What is the organization's purpose? Are its goals real or is there something else behind them? Are there internal conflicts or intrigues? Does it have competitors or enemies? Is the organization fighting the myth or is it itself a mystery? How long has the network been around? How and when can the player characters get closer to the truth?
the fhtagn network
You need the network.
The network needs you!
curiosity kills the cat
Via a private message on an Internet forum for conspiracy theories, Laura had found the installation instructions for an obscure app called FHTAGN. She didn't know exactly what had prompted her to actually follow these instructions, which didn't inspire much confidence. In any case, the app was now installed on her smartphone. For two days, all she had seen when she opened the app was a black screen. She had even typed messages into the input field herself, but without any reaction. Just as she was about to uninstall the app again, it came back with a notification:
In your mailbox you will find a yellow scarf. Wear the scarf tonight. Come to the bus stop "Rangierbahnhof" at 11:30 pm. There you will meet like-minded people. You will recognize them by their yellow scarf. In the bushes behind the bus stop you will find a bag. It contains everything you need to uncover the truth. Memorize this message well. It will be erased in 3:00 ... 2:59 ... 2:58 ... 2:57 ...
Was this a game? Some kind of geocaching? She would never fall for something like that ...
At 11:45 p.m., Laura was creeping around the old marshalling yard with three complete strangers. Soon they had found the strange man-sized hole in the ground marked with a cross on the map. It smelled of decay. The four figures tied their yellow scarves over their faces, switched on their headlamps and carefully descended into the dark depths.
The FHTAGN Network is an organization that is used as an example to show how a campaign framework can be designed. It is also the organization used in the official FHTAGN scenarios of the present (development level 8).
The characteristic feature of the FHTAGN Network is that the player characters receive mysterious messages via a smartphone app with clues about unnatural occurrences and sometimes quite unusual orders. Those who complete such missions can hope for assistance from the FHTAGN Network in their own investigations - usually through helpful coincidences that may not be coincidences at all. And such coincidences can be life-saving in some situations.
The manifestation of FHTAGN is that of an unusual online community in a small social network. At the beginning of the campaign, neither the players nor the player characters know what exactly the organization is, what its goals or background are. At first, they probably don't even know that it is an organized network at all. The player characters are slowly drawn deeper and deeper into the FHTAGN Network, peeking behind the veil piece by piece.
FUNCTION OF THE NETWORK
The FHTAGN Network performs each basic function described in the Function of the Campaign Framework section. Since the nature of the network, its goals, background, and so on are initially unknown to the characters and their players, part of the campaign will probably also deal with the network itself (organization as mystery). The missions that the player characters receive may be unusual and bizarre or simply incomprehensible to the characters. It could be the acquisition or transportation of an obscure item, the prevention of a last-minute event that no one could have actually foreseen, the rescue of a person, or the blowing up of a building. For another example, see the box Preparations .
Characters: a unique feature of the FHTAGN Network is that any player character with any profession can be part of the organization. Finally, the particular background that the game master has come up with is unknown to the players. Therefore, a seemingly completely random selection of types and professions can potentially make sense later in a campaign.
In a typical campaign using the FHTAGN Network, the bond to the network is not defined when the player characters are created. After all, the player characters only come into contact with the network during the course of the initial scenarios. For the FHTAGN Network, the rules for an anonymous organization apply, i.e., the bond does not have a maximum value and instead of rolling against CHA × 5, the dice are rolled against bond × 5.
Motivations and facets, like professions, can be set arbitrarily for entry into the FHTAGN Network. Entry into the FHTAGN Network should be presented positively by the game master. Perhaps FHTAGN rescues the player characters from a sticky situation. Or grants helpful resources for the personal advancement of a player character or the entire group. It should be clear that participation in FHTAGN does something to the player characters. They are part of a special community into which they become more deeply immersed. At some point, the player characters become so deeply involved in the network that they have either developed their own motivation to be part of it, or they can't leave the network at all.
Campaign Types: The FHTAGN Network can be used for episodic and sandbox campaigns as well as one-shots. For the game master, FHTAGN has the special feature that she doesn't even have to have the network worked out at the beginning of the campaign. Since the players do not know anything about the background of the network at the beginning, the game master has time to elaborate the background. Spontaneous entry into a campaign, e.g. from a single scenario, is thus particularly easy.
For short campaigns or one-shots, the aforementioned elements of the network are quite sufficient: mysterious missions, a smartphone app, and so on. For playing a longer campaign, however, it is worthwhile to elaborate the FHTAGN Network in more detail and adapt it to the game situation. The game master determines exactly how the network is designed in her game reality, what purpose it serves, how long it has been active, and who is pulling the strings in reality.
Because these questions are answered differently in each game round and in each campaign, players cannot rely on anything they think they know about the FHTAGN Network. There will always be another secret behind it. And secrets are precisely what give a horror TTRPG its appeal. Because man's greatest fear is the fear of the unknown.
It was already 10:10 pm. Markus had to hurry. He only had five minutes left to deposit the sports bag in the bushes. Why did the guy with the envelope have to be so late, too? Now the envelope was safely stowed in the sports bag along with the headlamps, the shovels, the embalming fluid and a whole lot of obscure stuff. Now all he had to do was place the bag in the desired location, behind the bus stop.
Ever since he had first gotten involved in these things, he had kept getting orders like this. It was worthwhile to fulfill these orders, he knew that. It had already saved his life several times to find the right tools at the right time quite by chance. Moreover, he experienced all kinds of pleasant coincidences after each of these jobs. So favors were returned. And as a parcel delivery man, he could easily collect things on the side and place them elsewhere. Today he was late.
He had to hurry. Lives were at stake.
The strange messages and orders can reach the player characters by different ways of communication. In the present, it is convenient to use modern electronic communication. For this purpose, the mysterious FHTAGN app is introduced here. Of course, completely different and much older ways of communication can also be used in the present, such as newspaper advertisements, phone calls, or a letter in the mail. For more details, see the section Modifying the FHTAGN Network. However, for present day play, electronic communication is generally assumed.
The FHTAGN app: It all starts with a mysterious smartphone app. Player characters may encounter the FHTAGN app in a variety of ways. Depending on the background of the player character, different possibilities present themselves.
- An unnatural event leads to an encounter with another user of the app. This person passes on the app.
- The player character learns about the app in an internet forum about paranormal phenomena (or about esotericism, conspiracy theories, preastronautics, etc.) or a corresponding chat and downloads the installation file from an ominous FTP server.
- The player character comes across the app while roaming the darknet.
- The player character finds a data medium (e.g. USB stick, SD card or CD) and downloads its contents to find out who owns it. The player character may even find the disk in his mailbox or as an insert in a magazine.
- The player character (accidentally?) clicks on a link in an email or messenger message and the app installs. This message can be tailored to the player character. Perhaps the link is from a like-minded person.
- Scanning a QR code sticker in a creepy location will install the app.
- The app simply appears on the smartphone, perhaps just at the right moment to warn the player character of an acute, impending danger.
- The first mission comes a different way. After the player character survives an unnatural encounter, he receives an official invitation to the network.
- The player character comes across an invitation to the FHTAGN Network and mistakes it for a scavenger hunt or the next big augmented reality game. For the player character, it's a new opportunity to finally get out of the house and use their smartphone to solve puzzles or collect cuddly monsters in the real world.
There are different versions of the app. Depending on the version number and the user, the app may therefore have a different design and different functions. However, there is a text output for messages in each variant. So a basic version might just consist of a black screen with green text. Under the heading FHTAGN, the news then follows in straightforward pure text form. At the same time, however, there may be a version with a graphically elaborate interface. Both versions can appear simultaneously.
In order to be able to install an app on popular smartphones, the manufacturers of the operating systems take different approaches. In most cases, they use their own distribution platform, which supplies the product and thus provides its own ecosystem of applications. In many cases, the manufacturer does not want applications to be installed outside of its own sales platform and even prevents it technically.
For the respective application store to accept an app, it must adhere to certain technical and legal framework conditions. Each app is therefore subjected to a test. Only if all criteria are met is it published. Nevertheless, as the IT news of recent years has shown, the introduction of harmful applications into the application stores is not uncommon. This is done by exploiting security holes in hardware or software, or by deliberately manipulating company employees. In the case of open platforms, where users can install applications even without an application store, the matter is of course much simpler. Here, the control mechanisms do not even exist and any app can be offered for download.
Therefore, one possible explanation for the existence of a FHTAGN app can simply be that it is a completely normal app on the outside. Depending on how it is characterized, it is freely available for download in the relevant category of the application store (or an open platform).
The FHTAGN app provides a communication channel that sends messages to its users through a whole chain of encrypted, ever-changing servers scattered around the world. Such channels are now state of the art and virtually untraceable even by specialists and intelligence agencies.
The next layer in the stealth of a FHTAGN app is that it uses what appear to be perfectly correct security certificates and encryption mechanisms. Behind these mechanisms are the mathematical methods of cryptology (i.e., the science of encryption and decryption). The current state of their research and application is usually subject to the limits of human understanding. However, for what is behind the veil of FHTAGN, this limit may be completely insignificant. Even if all tests on mathematics or computer science succeed, or the player character has chosen cryptology as special training, the facts behind the FHTAGN app may not be explained at all, or may be inadequately explained. This realization alone may be the beginning of a downward spiral.
It is possible that the darknet becomes a means of research or the subject of a player character's communication toward FHTAGN. The Darknet itself is a network of computers and services that exchange encrypted information and whose pages cannot be found through normal search engines. As a rule, access to the darknet requires a special program and a computer science skill of at least 40%.
By the way, the messages received cannot be copied out of the app. The screenshot function of most smartphones does not work with the app either. The messages eventually disappear without a trace just as they appear.
Later, the game master can add more features as a reward for completed missions or if necessary for the campaign. If there is no longer a need for a user to use a particular function, or if a user proves to be unworthy, her usage rights will be restricted accordingly.
Text input: The user can not only receive messages from the network, but also send messages to the network herself. This function can be used, for example, to request favors or equipment. Whether and how the network responds to the input depends entirely on the situation and the game master. In any case, the user cannot expect the network to openly answer all her questions. Direct communication with users usually serves to lure them deeper down the rabbit hole.
Messenger: Messages can also be sent to other members. Each member is assigned a seemingly random sequence of numbers as a username, which is not known until the messenger is accessed. If you know the number of another member, you can send them an encrypted message via the app. Sometimes messages take a long time, sometimes they don't arrive at all.
One should always be aware that the network is pulling the strings and, if necessary, will restrict or block this type of functionality: after all, the player characters are following the task of FHTAGN and not the other way around. So, if the communication of the player characters is in the sense of the network, there may be a chance of success. If the player characters turn against the network, it will not support them, on the contrary ...
Media player: image files, sound or video recordings can be viewed within the app, but cannot be exported from the app. Again, the corresponding media files disappear.
Map: The app provides the user with helpful maps that show more details than an ordinary navigation app. Perhaps this is how the app guides the user to other members of the network, or shows her a safe house, equipment depot, or no-questions-asked doctor.
In addition to being a smartphone app, FHTAGN can also make an appearance on other electronic devices. Tablet, TV, smartwatch, PC or laptop are all obvious platforms through which a player character from FHTAGN can be contacted. The FHTAGN software can also be represented as a kind of virus that leads to progressive integration of the player character as engagement in the FHTAGN Network increases. Even social networks or the preferred e-commerce platform are not immune to FHTAGN. It is conceivable, for example, to order items for the next job, including delivery to one's own front door. For a player character, the complete penetration of his everyday life can easily take on frightening proportions.
Hack or Delete: At some point, player characters are likely to try to understand how the app works, trace messages back to their source, or even hack the app. The game master will then need plausible reasons for the mysterious behavior of the apps used (see Technical Background). Whether and what information the player characters receive depends on the nature of the campaign and is left up to the game master. If the mysterious player character of the app and the network is to be fully maintained, then all activities in this direction must eventually come to naught.
The player characters may also simply want to get rid of the app. But deleting it can become a problem. The app can become so deeply embedded in the operating system that it simply cannot be deleted: The right software button for it is missing or it is there, but nothing happens when you click on it because the permissions have been manipulated accordingly in the background. And even if the app has been deleted, it may reappear the next time the smartphone is restarted or the next day.
Mysterious messages: At the beginning of each scenario, each player character receives a message from the network that leads them into the scenario. The initial message should be well thought out and carefully worded, as it must motivate the characters (and players) to engage in the unknown and put themselves in lethal danger. Typically, such a message might look like this.
At the wastewater treatment plant.
5 gallons of gasoline; white chalk;
Everything else can be found in the
Bushes next to the north gate.
You and 3 others know about it.
It must be stopped!
The following information types are typical for the orders of the network:
Time: While the time could also be specified in absolute terms, the variant with a timer offers several advantages. Apart from the drama of a countdown, specifying a relative time is much easier for the creation of a campaign and its reusability or transferability to other circumstances. The countdown simply always refers to the player character's "now" and is typically displayed in days, hours, minutes, and seconds.
Location: The location can be specified, for example, via a geo-coordinate, a classic address or a pure description of the way or place. But it is just as possible that the user only gets a photograph of a prominent landmark from a certain perspective and has to find out the position herself. The faster action is required, the more accurate the location information. If the game master has difficulties with a realistic representation at this point, she should rather use less concrete and complex descriptions. "On the overpass at the old marshalling yard" should be quite sufficient for the players.
Fellow players: The network informs its members how many other members have also been informed. This serves to help the player characters find each other more quickly and hopefully then work together. If necessary, an identifier is also provided.
Resources (optional): If certain resources are needed, the network indicates what the player characters should get. These may be obscure and dangerous things, as long as they can become useful in the course of the scenario. Sometimes the network also gives hints about what should be done with the items. This is especially the case if it is a pure transport or support mission. However, it is also possible that the requested item serves as an identification marker or must be worn for permanent protection. In these cases, too, the network informs the player characters about the use of the aids.
Hints (optional): It is possible, but not always necessary, to give the player characters a hint at the beginning about what they should pay attention to. Hints can also be used to motivate the player characters. Message additions such as "Only you can stop it!" or "Otherwise innocent people will die!" can further emphasize the urgency of the mission. Otherwise, a clue can be anything that can normally be viewed or listened to on a smartphone: Sound recordings, videos, photos, documents, maps or obscure program functions such as a detector for electromagnetic fields.
ON THE MEANING OF FHTAGN
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.
All over the world, cultists independently use this eons-old, non-human ritual chant to pay homage to the Great Old One. Like a persistent mental virus, the chant creeps into the minds of those who are aware of the Great Old Ones' existence. Once it has taken root there, it cannot be forgotten. Knowledge is irreversible. Cthulhu fhtagn is still muttered even by those whose minds have been crushed by the weight of the unnatural.
The meaning is usually rendered something like this, "In his house in R'lyeh, dreaming, waits the dead Cthulhu." But this is only a very superficial approach to unnatural concepts that cannot be put into human language. Therefore, the meaning of the linguistic sign FHTAGN can only be incompletely and roughly outlined. Most likely, FHTAGN is associated with the following concepts, among others: (to) wait (until the stars are right); to follow a (time) plan; to keep watch (over one's domain); to be eternal or timeless; to rest or sleep; to dream or have Seek Vision.
Because of the mentioned aspects of meaning FHTAGN corresponds quite exactly to the essence of the secret society presented here, whose members are always waiting for the next mysterious message, for the next oracle saying out of nowhere, in order to act when the stars are right.
BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
How long the FHTAGN Network has been in existence is unknown. Its name, appearance, organizational structure and communication channels may have already changed several times. The network adapts to the situation and the spirit of the times. Who is behind FHTAGN is known only to a few, and these people are either untraceable or silent about it. It quickly becomes clear to newcomers that someone is pulling all the strings of the network - someone who coordinates the network's information and resources with seemingly unnatural precision.
So who is this "someone"? What is the network really for? Are the player characters actually working for the right side? How do the player characters handle learning the truth about the FHTAGN Network? These are the central questions around which an FHTAGN campaign will revolve sooner or later. At the latest after the first survived scenarios, the player characters will start asking a lot of questions. For a one-shot it is usually not necessary to think too much about the background of the network, but for a campaign it is essential. The following backgrounds are conceivable, for example.
- A powerful wizard wants to collect knowledge/artefacts.
- A Seer wants to prevent his Seek Vision or make it come true.
- An experienced myth hunter (e.g. Dr. Henry Armitage) wants to organize resistance.
- A cult is working on a dark long-term ritual.
- A hacker collective wants to uncover the truth.
- An Artificial Intelligence has detected a pattern and can predict certain Mythos incidents.
- An elder deity wants to eliminate its adversaries.
- The Mi-Go experiment with human behavior.
- The Yithians are repairing a timeline (but maybe not our timeline).
- A religious order fights the - from its point of view - evil. This must not only have to do with the myth.
- Fanatics follow a Seek Vision.
- An entity from the Dreamlands is preparing its coming in the Waking World.
It is, of course, possible to just play along and come up with a background for the FHTAGN Network only as the campaign progresses. However, if the mystery of the FHTAGN Network is to be a central theme of the campaign, it is advisable to think about it beforehand. This will also allow the game master to distribute the puzzle pieces of the big picture among the individual scenarios. The game master can increase the tension of her campaign by surprising revelations and twists. The image the player characters have of the FHTAGN Network can thus change radically over the course of the campaign.
EXAMPLE: CAMPAIGN PROCESS
In an FHTAGN campaign, the revelation of the unnatural truth about the network could proceed in the following five acts, for example, in the style of classical tragedy:
Exposition: the player characters receive mysterious messages about the FHTAGN app. They follow up on the clues, meet other people who feel the same way, and somehow survive their first encounters with the unnatural. Sooner or later, they feel part of a secret organization that helps them protect humanity.
Conflict: In the course of the next cutscenes and scenarios, the player characters have to do more and more doubtful things as well. They get doubts, but probably justify the means with the end.
Turning point: The player characters find out that an artificial intelligence is coordinating the network's resources. However, that still doesn't explain why this artificial intelligence can so accurately predict seemingly random events.
Delay: Evidence is mounting that the artificial intelligence was built by people from the future to repair some damage to the timeline. But who are these people and what exactly is the network designed to change?
Catastrophe: The player characters learn that the network was not set up by humans. In fact, the Yithians are behind it. And they are working on a timeline in which the future of humanity looks very bleak. Can the player characters still foil the plan?
transforming the fhtagn network
The basic ideas of the FHTAGN Network cannot only be used for an online social network in the present. Instead, they can be used in many other settings at other development levels. From the game master's perspective, two main points need to be adapted to the setting: the appearance of the network and the way the characters communicate with the network. When playing in the present, other manifestations can serve to present FHTAGN to the players in a different mask.
In historical settings, there are no individual real-time communication options as there are today through smartphones and other electronic devices. If such capabilities are not available to every player character, communication with the network may differ from character to character. This is especially likely if there are significant differences in social standing between the player characters. For example, the fine English lady may receive her messages through her bridge club, while the kitchen maid is more likely to get a note slipped to her by a street urchin. For established groups whose members already know each other and have worked together more often, it is sufficient to inform only one group member. The network can then probably trust the group members to alert each other.
As a consequence, different communication channels can lead to different player characters also perceiving different manifestations of FHTAGN. When the characters communicate about this, it can make the situation even more mysterious and opaque than it already is. And, of course, this may be just as intended by whoever is pulling the strings in the background.
The background of the network is largely independent of the setting. The comments in the Background and Backstory section on the FHTAGN Network in the present apply universally. Only in the case of exemplary backgrounds, those based on modern high technology cannot, of course, be used in historical settings. Unless the game master wants to include time travel in her campaign as well ...
The name FHTAGN is timeless (usable from ES 0), quite open in meaning and therefore universally applicable. It should be usable in most settings. But if a game master already wants to set her own accents by an alternative name she can of course do that (see Names of organizations).
forms of appearance and development levels
The self-designation of the FHTAGN Network depends on the chosen façade or form of appearance and the time period and should be adapted accordingly. For example, the term network does not fit a Victorian-era campaign, where lodge or society is more appropriate as a self-designation. If the player characters work for an international logistics company, Corporation fits quite well, but if FHTAGN acts as an activist group, Initiative or Project would be more appropriate. The following list identifies such self-designations and the development level at which they can be used. All designations can still be used at later development levels, but are sometimes perceived as old-fashioned or outdated there.
Gathering (ES 0): A usually informal gathering of diverse individuals to pursue a particular cause or purpose together. Also called a covenant in a religious context.
Alliance (ES 0): In an alliance, different partners come together to achieve a common goal. These are not necessarily equal and usually such an alliance or pact is based on a contract.
Conspiracy (ES 0): A bond formed by the desire to do evil things. Such an intrigue or conspiracy is based on secrecy and secrecy.
Order (ES 2): This life community organized by a mostly religious institution submits its life to a common regulation (order rule) and pursues a common goal. In many cases, solemn vows are taken to become a member of a religious order.
Renegades (ES 2): This term refers to apostates from a religion or an existing value system. Especially when a strong faith aspect is used as motivation, apostates can also be used as a synonym.
Circle (ES 3): A social group that distinguishes itself from others by characteristics such as dress, appearance, worldview, origin, or standing. The members of a coven have their own norms and values, and usually a group-specific distribution of roles. A coven can take many forms, from a small religious community (sect) to a spiritualist or occult coven to a cultural minority.
Lodge (ES 4): The members of a lodge association separate themselves from the public and keep quiet about internal matters. They are united by a common philosophy, and admission to the lodge usually takes place only after an examination. Well-known lodges are the Freemasons, the International Grand Lodge of Druidism or the Rosicrucians.
Society (ES 4): Two or more persons pursuing a common interest or goal. A society can have a wide range of rules and organizational forms, such as a club, association, or fraternity.
Project (ES 6): In this usually temporary association of different people, the focus is on a specific work content or a specific goal. In the arts and culture scene in particular, a new beginning or something outside the box is often referred to as a project.
Corporation (ES 7): The corporation (enterprise or concretely group of companies, AG, GmbH and so on) means companies in different size. This can be a global corporation that is so large that subunits can lead their own lives or are so anonymous that any machinations within the framework of FHTAGN seem plausible. Or it means the small, but elitist company, which realizes mysterious orders for unspecified customers.
Initiative (ES 7): An interest group formed on the basis of a specific social, economic or ecological cause with the aim of changing the causes of a circumstance that is usually perceived as negative.
Network (ES 8): The network is the standard term for FHTAGN in the modern era. Behind it is a common technical platform on which the participants of the network interact. Therefore, they can also be called a social network or online community.
The respective self-designation can then also be used individually in the game to speak inconspicuously about the organization in public. For example, followers of the FHTAGN order can simply talk about the order in public, and members of a society can ask each other on the street, "Did the society send you, too?"
The appearance, or image, that player characters have of FHTAGN can also change over the course of a campaign. What may have been just strange instructions from their employer at the beginning may transform as the player characters have encountered others affected, helped each other, and understood that there are terrible truths behind them. They are then more likely to feel that they are part of a secret society.
Names of organizations
The name FHTAGN is used in official publications for the described organization in all its varieties. The game master may consider her own name for entirely different organizations - or if she does not want to use the name FHTAGN for some reason. Ideally, the name will fit the setting linguistically and have some (possibly non-obvious) meaning that hints at the story, goal, or nature of the organization. If the game master doesn't want to go to this trouble or spontaneously needs a suitable name, the following list offers a few examples that fit any setting.
Together with the name of the organization's manifestation, exciting names can be devised for your own campaign. Be it the Toth Inc, the Mandatum Lodge, the Enki Project or the Order of Amduat - the possibilities are numerous.
In no other time is the number of possible manifestations and facades of FHTAGN as great as in the present. Basically, any possible manifestation can be chosen. The following are examples of some alternatives to FHTAGN as a mysterious social network that are particularly appropriate for the present.
The secret society: the player characters see themselves as part of a small elite group that possesses secret knowledge. This can be an esoteric brotherhood, or a religious cult, or a group of conspiracy theorists who exchange information over the Internet.
The game: the player characters take part in a game for which they have signed up. At least, that's what they believe at first. It could be a puzzle game from an online platform, where prize money beckons the winners. Or maybe they stumbled across an augmented reality app on the darknet.
The employer: The player characters pursue their profession. Maybe in the military or the police. Maybe it's an office job at a small company or government agency. Or maybe they work for a giant global corporation. In any case, they receive increasingly strange instructions from their superiors.
The action: The player characters see themselves as members of an activist group and avant-garde, whether social, artistic, political or religious. The actions performed ostensibly serve the public goals of the activists. On closer inspection, however, certain connections can be divined that point to a distant, quite different goal.
Particularly in the present with its manifold possibilities, the change of FHTAGN's facade during the campaign also suggests itself. What started as a game on an online platform may lead to the installation of the FHTAGN app and its social network in the next step. After a few scenarios, it could in turn become a group of conspiracy theorists or activists.
THE GOLDEN TWENTIES
The classic setting for cthuloid horror TTRPGs is the 1920s and early 1930s. This is where H. P. Lovecraft had his most important creative period and most of his stories are therefore set at this time. Even though Lovecraft's stories were mainly set in the USA, Germany and Europe may be the more obvious place of action for the German-speaking roleplayer.
The 1920s in Germany are marked by political unrest, the activity of both left-wing and right-wing extremist groups, and social misery, hunger, and unemployment after the lost First World War. On the other hand, the economy also took off from the mid-1920s. It therefore makes sense to place the network in such a (supposedly) political or social context. This context defines not only the appearance of the network, but also the nature of the network's initial contact with the player characters.
In contrast to the modern era, the motivations of the player characters in the 1920s are probably much more touched by existential problems. It is therefore even stronger to place the establishment of contact in a context that is comprehensible and believable for the player characters and to orient it to the background of the characters. The first contact does not necessarily have to be made in the same way for all player characters, but it makes things easier.
The FHTAGN Network might just be the player characters' employer.
Odd jobs: times are tough and ordinary player characters try to stay afloat with day labor jobs. These can include anything from heavy physical labor to janitorial work to running errands. The jobs start out harmless and become more and more obscure as they progress. But the client himself is only a middleman who doesn't even know the background. The motivation to stay on is likely to be high, however, because everyone depends on a regular income and the jobs alleviate the worst of the hardship.
Criminal organization: Whether during Prohibition in the U.S. or in the postwar years in Germany: Wherever there is need, criminal activity is not far away. Such an organization offers many opportunities to drive the player characters inconspicuously into the clutches of the FHTAGN Network. And maybe even the boss of the gang himself doesn't know who he's actually dealing with.
Scientific mission: this can bring appropriate player characters into contact with the network. In the 1920s, the mechanization of the world is progressing massively: assembly line production, the automobile industry, radio and aviation are just a few examples. An unusual project or experiment for scientists or engineers in free enterprise or at the university may be only the beginning of a spiral of bizarre events.
Government or police: player characters from this environment may be set on an extremist group or a circle of conspirators. But ultimately, something else entirely is behind the activities that need to be monitored and, if necessary, prevented. The player characters are left to their own devices, since in the end no one is supposed to know about their original assignment.
The FHTAGN Network could present itself as a political conspiracy, to which secrecy and secrecy naturally fit particularly well.
Party or political group: Politically engaged player characters are given small missions designed to advance their persuasions. These seem relatively harmless at first, e.g. small errands, but grow into more and more bizarre actions in the course of time. In the end, there is something completely different behind them than the player characters expected.
Rallies: Politically interested player characters might read the call for a rally - where, after all, they are the only ones present, save for an ominous client or a pinned note with an initial order. Again, there appears to be a political organization behind this, but the player characters do not (yet) belong to it.
Military: Within the military, the first tasks of the FHTAGN Network can initially be presented to the player characters as official tasks. As they progress, the orders are likely to raise significant doubts about the motivation and background of those giving the orders, and after all, no one knows who is supposed to have given those orders.
Various social groupings beyond politics and work could also serve as context.
Nightlife: The dazzling nightlife of the Roaring Twenties, with its cafés, vaudevilles, dance bars, and theaters, offers bored upper-class player characters the opportunity to come into contact with the FHTAGN Network - be it through the mysterious beauty at the bar, little notes, or crazy bets that no one later knows who put in place. An appropriate establishment could also serve as a meeting place. Perhaps the aforementioned establishment can only be reached at night through a mysterious door that leads to a secluded back room ...
Patron of the Arts: On the one hand, artistically inclined player characters have a particularly hard time in economically hard times. On the other hand, the 1920s were also a heyday of art and culture. The network could therefore present itself as the extended arm of a patron of the arts or a wealthy benefactress. An aspiring actress might be hired by a mysterious patron for very special interludes, while a struggling writer might be lured with extraordinary experiences in hopes of overcoming writer's block.
Reform movements: Free-body worship, "back to nature," naturopathy, and dietary reform - the reform movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries have not a few adherents and also provide a good context for the FHTAGN Network. Dedicated activists do many things to advance "their good cause."
In the 1920s, several avenues lend themselves to the FHTAGN Network's anonymous communication with player characters. More so than in the digitally linked modern era, it may be important to provide a place for the player characters to meet on a regular basis.
Telegrams: The player characters receive anonymous telegrams giving them assignments. If they investigate, no one wants the telegrams sent.
Newspaper ads: These are addressed directly to the player characters. The ad department claims the ad was never commissioned and the printer has no idea how it got into print.
Advertising pillar: Posters on one of the many advertising pillars seem to address the player characters directly with strange messages. On a later inspection, of course, the poster has disappeared and the owner of the pillar (who rents out the advertising space) knows nothing of a corresponding client or poster.
Cinema: The player characters attend a late-night cinema showing where they are the only audience. Instructions appear on the movie screen that seem to be addressed directly to them. When the player characters check the reel, they discover that the projectionist has dozed off and the reel, of course, does not contain the relevant passages.
Illuminated advertising: one of the newfangled forms of advertising that light up the city at night carries an unusual message that only the player characters seem to notice. This variant is suitable only for very short messages that tell the player characters a place or name, for example. The next time, of course, the neon sign displays something completely different or has disappeared altogether.
Mailbox: Letters or notes with information can also be thrown into the player character's mailbox or slipped under their door. In doing so, either no one can ever be observed or the person delivering the note has only been commissioned to do so by someone. The client cannot be determined (at first). Maybe the notes are written in a secret script, for which the player characters get the code in the beginning.
Principal: They receive orders directly from a principal, but the principal is only the middleman of the middleman ...
Radio: from the late 1920s, the more and more widespread radio also lends itself to transmit messages after sudden noise.
Slips of paper with instructions: The player characters are slipped a folded piece of paper with instructions at a local nightlife establishment - a speakeasy (U.S. only), an opium den, a brothel, or a seedy dance bar.
Phone: The player characters get phone calls when they are at their favorite bar or restaurant. On the phone they receive messages from a stranger with a distorted voice.
Contacting the network themselves is not easy for the player characters. So, it remains for them to follow the instructions or ignore them. To make contact after all, they could stick posters on the advertising pillar themselves or use a previously established dead letter box, for example. Whether the player characters can figure out over time who the messages are coming from is up to the game master and her personal metaplot.
THE END OF THE 19TH CENTURY
The second half of the 19th century is characterized by strong social contrasts. Different countries provide many different backgrounds and settings for variations of the FHTAGN Network.
In Great Britain, Queen Victoria rules, giving the Victorian Age its name. The British Empire is at the height of its global power. A strong social divide separates miserable workers from privileged aristocrats. The double standards of the time are evident between rigid evangelical sexual morality on the one hand and mass prostitution on the other. Technical innovation meets the pronounced enthusiasm for romance, mysticism and seances. Opium dens, street children and Jack The Ripper meet the revival of the Gothic novel with Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Bram Stoker's Dracula. The Empire's numerous colonies also allow the game master to incorporate travel and missions around the world with ease.
The German Empire has been ruled by Wilhelm II since 1888, so the era is also called the Wilhelmine period (1890 - 1914). The period is characterized by the rise of the working class in the context of industrialization, migration to the cities, poverty and tenements on the one hand, and dominated by the aristocracy and the military on the other. The latter in particular gains strength, and the military's code of honor influences society all the way into the middle classes and the working classes.
The Gilded Age (ca. 1870 - 1900) in the USA was also characterized by contrasts. On the one hand, there is economic growth, industrialization and progress, especially in the long-developed east of the U.S., culminating in world wonders such as the first skyscrapers or the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893. At the same time, there is the Wild West - including clichéd smoking guns, gold prospectors and cowboys - because the land grab in the west of the vast continent is not completed until 1890 with the closing of the frontier and the end of the Indian wars. Socially, strong contrasts exist between the poor immigrants from southern and eastern Europe arriving in large numbers during this period, the former slaves living in squalid conditions on farms in the southern states of the United States, and the established "old immigrants" from western Europe.
FORMS OF APPEARANCE
The majority of social groups of this period are strongly centered on people of exactly one social class, occupational group, gender, or origin. Thus, especially in the 19th century, it is appropriate for player characters to perceive FHTAGN in different manifestations, as described above. Alternatively, the game master must ensure that all player characters are from the same social group, or choose one of the few manifestations that are actually independent of the social role of the characters.
The following exemplary manifestations are particularly suitable for the 19th century.
Spiritist Circle: The player characters can be the members of one of the spiritist circles popular at that time. The orders and messages are transmitted by the medium during the joint seances. The medium can be one of the characters or a non-player character. In the latter case, it is up to the game master to decide whether the medium actually receives the messages through occult means or from a mundane source. Contacting the "spirit" need not be done through a medium, but could also be done through a Ouija board or similar technique. This alternative is useful if none of the characters play a medium and no non-player character is to be a member of the coven. The spiritist coven is one of the ways in which almost all player characters can participate, regardless of standing or gender. However, some player characters will have to be careful not to let their membership in the coven become public.
Secret Lodges: Similar to Freemasons, secret lodges are by their nature very well suited as a manifestation form for FHTAGN. They have extensive and bizarre rituals, a strict hierarchy, and at the same time, marked secrecy regarding their goals, their methods, and their members. It is only by slowly climbing the hierarchy that player characters learn backgrounds and other members, and begin to understand what is really behind the lodge and its rituals.
Fraternities: These often had political goals in addition to maintaining tradition. However, player characters who belong to a fraternity can also use the fraternity's network to start or further their careers. The "old men" require the completion of a strange task beforehand for the recommendation to the new, well-paid position. And even when the longed-for position is achieved, new favors are always called in.
Dreams and Seek Vision: All the player characters have very real-seeming dreams and Seek Vision. Be it in the context of a drug intoxication in one of the opium dens that flourish in port cities from Hamburg to London, in a fever dream during a serious illness, or even as a symptom of mental illness. Subsequently, they have such dreams recurrently even during their normal night's rest. When they pursue the Seek Vision, they come across the Lodge of Dreamers, whose members are all familiar with corresponding phenomena. The dreams contain messages and instructions, but they can also establish a link with the dreamlands. This manifestation fits any player character without any restrictions.
Clubs: Meetings in exclusive clubs were very common, especially in Great Britain, and especially a gentleman often spent a lot of time in his club. Mostly these were strictly separated by gender and class. But this new book club is open to all and the books read there are often of obscure origin. And sometimes notes with strange messages and instructions fall out of the books ...
Many of the ways of communication of the 1920s also work in the late 19th century. The telegram is the main means of communication of the time after the letter. The telephone was just invented and has little practical significance, depending on the year and place. Occultism is modern in many places and therefore supernatural forms of communication are perceived quite differently than in modern times.
Street children: These ragged figures in a slum deliver messages to the player characters orally or written with clumsy hands on small pieces of paper. The person giving the message always remains in the shadows and none of the children has ever seen his face. Due to their large numbers, the children may well be able to resist violence or even in turn force the player characters to execute certain tasks.
Occult Ways: Messages are conveyed to the player characters in occult ways - be it through the words or automatic writing of a medium, through glass moving or through a Ouija board.
Business Cards: Messages are delivered to the player characters on the back of business cards delivered to their homes, or they are delivered verbally by their own or other people's servants. The names and addresses on the business cards do not exist (or no longer do), but may contain other hidden clues, such as in the form of an anagram. The calling cards are only ever delivered when the player characters are not at home.
Letters: The player characters receive letters without a sender with the orders. The mysterious writer signs only with initials, with "A friend" or not at all.
Slips of paper: Simple slips of paper with instructions and messages can be delivered to the player characters in a variety of ways. They can be found between the pages of old tomes in the library or in a newly acquired antiquarian book. Or they may have been served with the whiskey or port at an upscale society club - the butler is clueless or stubbornly silent. Or perhaps a player character finds the note unexpectedly in his own jacket pocket and has no idea how it got there. The possibilities are endless, but no matter how seemingly randomly the player character came across the note, it is always addressed directly to him.
Mysterious Person: A mysterious stranger, apparently of high standing, makes bizarre insinuations, gives strange hints, and challenges the player characters to do things that seem absurd. The player characters initially fail to pursue her and clarify her background.
Military: Player characters who hold a military rank - even if only in the reserves - receive orders from their superiors, who in turn also give them orders from their superiors. In accordance with the established code of honor, orders are not questioned in the military.
Dreams, Seek Vision or Apparitions: The player characters are given bizarre messages and orders in them. The supernatural form of the message is of course immediately clear here, but can be considered quite within the realm of possibility at this time.
Advertising: In addition, anonymous telegrams, newspaper advertisements or posters on advertising columns are also possible (see The Roaring Twenties).
Even in Victorian times, it is not easy for the player characters to contact the network themselves. The most likely way is through dead letter boxes, but street urchins or letters via postal service can also convey questions and messages to the network. In all these cases, however, the network must open the possibility. Occult ways can be quite independent of this, but have their own difficulties. The game master can also introduce other members of the network as contacts, especially if they belong to completely different social classes than the player characters themselves. As always, it is up to the game master if the player characters can figure out over time who the messages are coming from and what is behind them.