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Halloween Haunts: Like All That Lives, We Eat Death: The TTRPG by Emily Flummox


I came home for the first time to celebrate Samhain, one week after someone died there, on that land.


If I were ever to write a tabletop role-playing game based on Halloween, I think I’d forego the use of dice or cards or resource management, all those usual ways by which TTRPGs introduce chance into their narratives.  Instead, I think I would instruct the players to cover up all their clock faces, remove all their watches, turn off phones and computers, and when they wanted their character to do something, they would peek at the time, the ones digit of the minute-hand functioning as a random number generator, a Dadaistic plot engine.

A TTRPG’s rules provide the skeleton upon which the flesh of the plot is built, defining the nature of a game’s conflicts, the qualities the characters use to navigate those conflicts, even the narrative structure of a campaign or session.  Character action, thematic meaning, are then the flesh we build upon this skeleton in play.  This mechanic of using unseen time to adjudicate success would summon up the energy of staying up til midnight, the anxiety of the cryptid hunter hoping to catch a glimpse or a photo of the Great Pumpkinhead, the cyclical nature of a holiday which celebrates the end of all things, again and again and again and again.

Everything is ending, all of the time.

Like all that lives, we eat death.

The story of the fairy who died one week before I came home for the first time, I have learned, starts with a fairy who loved her potions and her concoctions and her mixtures, and the labels she put on them were made of her own memory, invisible to others.  This worked well, while she lived on the Land.

But that alchemist fairy left the Land, as most of those who come to the Land while they breathe eventually do.  Many then come back time and again, as I have after that first gathering, and the time they never leave usually involves them returning to the Land one last time, unbreathing and ashy.  A third fairy took it upon themself to clean the building where the memory-labeled potions were kept, and (in a bit of a flurry of chores, the kind common in rural living) put one bottle atop a fridge, thinking no one would even see it there.

They did not expect the curiosity of partying fairies, who drank the poison in the bottle that night.

I find it fascinating that, on a day when the old stories (or at least, the stories that want you to think they are old) will tell you that the veil between worlds grows thin, many of those who celebrate it pay more attention to the wearing of costumes than to anything else.  I would capture this in any TTRPG I wrote based on Halloween by means of the statistics of the characters, the equivalent of the attributes, skills, knowledges, abilities, advantages, etc., of other games.  Most of those rate these qualities numerically, which makes for easy comparison (a fighter with 18 Strength is stronger than a mage with a 9 Strength), but there is another way.

Mind’s Eye Theater from the 1990s and City of Mists from much more recent years both use lists of adjectives or qualities, with the numerical ratings coming from a count of how many of them apply in any given situation.  In this putative Halloween RPG, I would stress the distinction between the person and the costume which they wear by using a similar method, listing qualities of their character down the middle of their character sheet.

Why the middle?  Because on the left-hand side would be a description of the character themself (what the original form of the World of Darkness system from the 1990s used to call Nature) and on the right-hand a description of the costume the character wears (what World of Darkness once called the Demeanor).  The fun would come from having to reinterpret the descriptive qualities that make up a character’s statistics according to whether the situation calls for the character or their costume.

And then there are those times when the veil is thin, and the two halves of the character come close, and the dead come calling.

That year, the year I first came to Fairyland, a total of three fairies had died.  The community was grieving, is still grieving one of those deaths in many ways (the only one of these ghosts whose tree I have personally fed a bucket of blood on a cold, windy night).  I knew none of this, of course, when I showed up, innocent and twenty-nine years old and finally entering a religious community I had read about, dreamed of, and never thought could exist.

I’ve always been a thirsty ho for community and family.

This was my third attempt, and there is a magick to be found in threes (the character, the costume, and the dead come calling).  First I found the slamily of poetry slam and that balmed my suffering for a while, and then the country’s largest pagan/polytheist/occult convention, which sated the hunger for quite some time but ever left me hungry and unsettled.

The fairies were finally the family I sought, the first time the loneliness faded, and I did live on the Land for some time, years after that fairy died on the Land, just before I came home for the first time.

The fairy about whom I keep talking, the one of the three who died just before I arrived, was known for digging out the crappers in all the Fairylands across the nation, and I think this Land was his last on that tour.  To be honest, I really don’t think she found anything poetic or spiritual in that act, dirty, sweaty, and leaving a languor in your limbs better than any sex I’ve ever had.  No, that is my experience and, I think, not his, but at that first Samhain gathering, in the morning circle of October 28th, they said they needed someone to fluff the crappers and I discovered my hand was in the air.

I worship a goddess I call Boss Lady, because I understand myself to work for her.  Her name means something like “Trash Goddess” or “Holy Poop”, and she often appears to me with the face of this fairy I never met.  It’s quite humbling, let me tell you.

The other fairy who died spent his last years not letting anyone touch him.  He had spirit-scabies, they say, and was only able to frolic with another fairy a few months before his death when that other fairy took the trouble to layer Saran Wrap between them.

We have many different types of ancestors.  These are the dead who make us who we are, theological TTRPG mechanics, chance and Dada skeletons upon which we build the flesh of ourselves.

The ancestors of blood are those most people know, who gift us both genetically and epigenetically, the parents of the parents of the parents of our parents, and all the spreading branches of that tree.  Ancestors of love, instead, draw their descent not from DNA and the fruits of our lions, but from chains of love ~ I once heard a Dominant of mine exclaim, “I had sex with someone who had sex with Harry Hay!” and suddenly understood how ancestry of love works.  Ancestors of land have lived where we have lived, and the eaten ancestors, well . . . you are what you eat, you know.

These dead fairies I’ve been talking about, the one who dug out the crappers and the one who could only frolic with plastic preventing skin contact, these are my ancestors of path.  These are the ones who have walked the world in the ways I have walked the world, before I ever got a chance to do so.

These five types of ancestors would provide the prompts in Halloween RPG for the qualities running down the middle of the sheet, the verbal/statistical veil growing thin over the course of the game.  Each quality would have to be a descriptor of an ancestor of each type, and because there’s a magick in threes, there will be a total of fifteen such qualities, describing three ancestors of each type.

To determine success of any action in Halloween RPG, choose which qualities apply to the situation when interpreted through the lens of either the character’s core or the character’s costume, count them up, and add them to the ones digit of the minute hand of a peeked-upon clock.  Compare the total to a target number, and discover whether you succeed.

And then, as I said, there will be times when the veil gets thin, and the lands on the other side, that afterwards place where our memes overtake our genes, come close and heavy and sharply apple-sweet.

I first came home in October 2011, the year three fairies died in that community, and a week after one of them died during a party from having drunk an unlabeled bottle of datura liquor.  I watched the community sit with their grief and spend all night pondering whether to burn the Stag King’s crown in the story-fire.

A couple of years into my time as a fairy, I brought a friend to the Samhain gathering.  They left their beer at a shrine they did not realize was a shrine, and then went back and drank what they had accidentally offered.

That shrine honored all the nameless dead of that Land, the queers who were shipped to the Land through the United States Postal Service in the 1990s.  The ones whose friends carried them to the sanctuary generally had names; this shrine is dedicated to those sent with a name that wasn’t the one anyone knew on the address label (we know who Pinkflame Shroomcap is, but who is George Stafford?) or sent along by straight family members who had heard that this Land was where you could send the children you didn’t want to admit you had because they died from a disease you didn’t want to admit they had.  What names we were given were written on the lid of the giant jug, and then on a piece of cardboard when that filled, and then on another cardboard when that filled up, and then . . . well, you get the point.

And then a fairy decided to clean up, ignorant of what wasn’t even yet history, and the unknown-named dead became the nameless dead.  This shrine was built to honor those AIDS ghosts, and my friend lost their name by drinking what had been unknowingly offered to them.

I grew up genderqueer with no words for what I was.  I thought I was imaginary.

It was TTRPGs that taught me that even imaginary things are real, the stories we create with each other.

Much like on Samhain ~ or on Beltaine on the other side of the year, when the dead grieve those that (to them) are dying into birth ~ the veil grows thin in this feral communal literature.  The reader and the writer become unified, their difference disappears, and we become so much more.  Our costumes (the characters we play) make us ancestors of ourselves.

There is no better medium for horror, in my mind.


TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: Emily Flummox is giving away four seats at eir professionally DMed TTRPG sessions, either four sessions of a campaign or a oneshot for four players.


Comment below or email membership@horror.org with the subject title HH Contest Entry for a chance to win.


BIOGRAPHY: Emily Flummox, the poet, TTRPG designer/streamer, fiction writer, and editor with 18 names (including Merlin Monroe, Tristissima, & Skunkheart) competed nationally twice during eir decade-long slam career. Much of eir poetry, notably “Sacred Purification Ritual Using Your Own Urine Instead of Water”, focuses on identifying with the divinity of the disgusting. E’s performed eir stories “Civilization Stained These Young Things” and “The Fog of Time Means We’re Everywhere” during the San Francisco Leather Cultural District’s Erotic Storytelling Hour; the former’s been published in Scry of Lust 2.  An excerpt from eir Spiritualist space-fantasy novel Aduality{0≠2;100=108} appeared in Wickedly Abled. Content created by em for various TTRPGs (both game elements e has designed and announcements of streamed games) can be found on eir blog Lucifer’s Subcreations; e can be hired as a professional Game Master/Dungeon Master at StartPlaying.Games. E teaches classes on Kink in Horror and Queerness in Horror with eir sweetheart Sumiko Saulson at the Speculative Fiction Academy.




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