Matthew Dawkins reporting in. It’s been some time since my last confession. As many of you will be aware, I’ve been at work developing Onyx Path’s new game, They Came From Beneath the Sea!, an RPG of 1950s b-movie science fiction, horror, and japes. They Came From is intended to be a game you can play to meet any mood or tone, using the framework of one of those archetypal sci-fi classics we know and love. The budget may be low, the costumes may be ridiculously rubbery, and the acting may be poor. But! That’s not too different from most roleplaying experiences, so we should be fine.
My aim with this game is to present a world where within the space of months, creatures from the depths emerge and start threatening our way of life. To the player or Director in need of an analogy, look no further than the reason many such invasion movies came out in the decade they did: the threat of nuclear war was ever present. The panic our heroes feel in these games is the panic they feel when confronted with the Red Scare, the House Unamerican Committee, enforced patriotism, and the real belief it could all end in an instant if someone pushes the big red button. The difference is that the threats are bipedal crabs, brain eater eels consuming our identities, peer pressure forcing every common Joe and Jane to take up arms, and the danger of something more dangerous than a single shuffling aquaterpillar creeping its way up the shore. There’s humor found in a game like this, and we certainly aim for tongue to be in cheek at parts. There’s also a feeling of humanity’s desperation. The writers have successfully put that mood into words in the drafts I’m redlining.
You will receive more information about this game as time goes on, but for now, I present you with an extract from Chapter One (written by Jacqueline Bryk and Larry Blamire, though this section is specifically Larry’s – so blame him for the clowns).
Keep Watching The Waves
Deep sea exploration is nothing new. It’s been going on since 1521 when Ferdie Magellan dropped a line 2,400 feet and didn’t find the bottom. It didn’t get into full swing until the 1870s with the HMS Challenger’s systematic approach to undersea exploration — leading to the birth of oceanography — with lines, dredges and trawls to make measurements and take samples. In the 1930s, Otis Barton’s bathysphere broke ground, or water, and Barton himself recently set a record with his 4,500 foot / 1,372 meter dive in his benthoscope.
Now there have been some pretty strange specimens retrieved from extreme depths, some that could be called nightmare-inducing fish, things glowing in a world of otherwise absolute darkness. But they are relegated and accustomed to those conditions, that enormous pressure and lack of light. They would not do well on the surface, if they could even get to it. And while it’s true that much of the ocean floor remains unexplored, it seems hard to imagine anything vaguely sinister, anything with an agenda, and certainly nothing to suggest advanced intellect.
And so indeed it is something of a shock that the actual alien invasion of Earth comes, not from above, but from below. The monsters are in our very own backyard, our giant swimming pool, where so many go to relax, that “next to final frontier,” the place we smugly thought we knew and rather complacently take for granted, where most of our water is.
They Come From the Sea.
So the question immediately comes to mind: Why? And why now? What could they possibly want with us? What could they want on land?
Quite a bit, actually. More on that later. First, let’s look at who, or what, they are, and how we first become aware.
Like many past civilizations before us, the first to become aware of the danger are pets and circus clowns. The latter might sound facetious, but when circus-goers begin to react listlessly and morosely to their zany antics, it’s the clowns’ heightened sensitivity (possibly brought on by years of pies in the face) that first react to the subtle changes in humanity. For the beginnings of this alien intrusion are not in the form of a sudden overnight onslaught of Things Marching From the Sea. Indeed, this invasion is insidious, not only in its sheer scope and variety of outrageous and horrific lifeforms, but also its clandestine and sinister infiltration into our daily lives.
Keep Watching Your Backs
The sandpits are singing.
You know, the ones out back, just past the yard, beyond the crooked tree on the little knoll. Like the little boy in Invaders From Mars we begin to discover that Mom and Dad are not Mom and Dad anymore. One by one, friends and family are lured out back, to be sucked into that sandpit.
Yes, the first wave of alien attack is subversive: infiltration. The enemy mixing among us. This comes in two basic forms:
- Destruction and replacement
- Takeover and possession
Each results in false humans walking and interacting with us. For the most part it’s systematic and effective, which is why we should be worried. But there are signs. There are things to look for, and that gives humankind some hope to go with our grim determination, science and flailing fists.
For instance, the Crab People, even posing as humans, are compelled to walk sideways. They can’t help it. Evolution-wise, they’re part people — and there’s quite a resemblance — but that sideways thing is just really hard to shake. Plus, it’s difficult to hold the bony face plates under their skin to retain a certain likeness (of the person they’ve replaced) for longer than several hours or so before needing a breather, at which point their wide hideous mandibles open up the entire face and suddenly it’s not Uncle Walt anymore.
Now, the disgusting Brain Eater Eel is easily squished in its natural form. Not so much in a human host. So these things are dangerous. What we need to be on the lookout for, then, is their insatiable appetite and a rather geekish hunger for human cinema. These can sometimes give them away. Of course, this does little to lessen the terror of knowing these creepy things could be beside us in line at the supermarket or Marx Brothers festival.
The third of our notable Identity Crisis Nightmares is perhaps the strangest. The Thaumocs are a form of super-intelligent octopi that are both clever and technologically advanced. How does a brainy cephalopod pass as human? With great difficulty, as the joke goes.
Actually, they ride around in a masterfully designed people suit; a fleshy fluid-filled frame fine enough to fool folks. One shortcoming is the Thaumoc’s lack of speech, causing them to depend on a contrivance that spews small talk, which is what they hear when they monitor and record our human blather. If you meet someone even more boring than usual, with limited direct interaction, there’s a good chance it’s one of them.
Knowing these imperfections should not lead us to a sense of overconfidence, by any means. It is merely meant to balance what has become the highest level of paranoia to ever infect civilized society, even more than the spread of communism. They are survival tips as well as morale booster in the face of things that sometimes quite literally make our skin crawl. The only enemy more dangerous than the one you don’t know is the one you know.
Keep watching your backs…
Feel free to ask questions below, and I will answer what I can!