]Welcome to St Cloud by Miguel Ribeiro (Postmortem Giallo Trilogy) is now available on all our usual platforms.
This 100 page book presents the locations of St Cloud and Lynch Bay, places full of strange and peculiar people, an ancient evil and a perverse dream-logic that twists everything into fantastical, soap-opera pretzels of schemes and intrigue.
This is a systemless book, designed to be used with any system you like, but is presented with statistics for Actual Fucking Monsters.
(Please purchase hardcopy via LULU, rather than Amazon, for the maximum money to go to myself and the author, similarly with PDFs, it is best for us if you purchase via Post-Mort.com, rather than Drivethru). You can also support me and my projects via Patreon).
Our system-agnostic Giallo settings, are collections of characters and circumstances, adventure kits rather than out-and-out adventures. Here’s a bonus adventure by the author – Miguel Ribeiro. Buy our Giallo RPG books HERE. They are more directly useful with Actual Fucking Monsters, but easily adaptable to any system.
So you want to write or run a giallo scenario? Great, there’s never enough edgy and stylish role-playing material and, in this particular case, the scarcity is even more obvious. Apart from Postmortem Studio’s editions, there’s Profondo Giallo, a sourcebook for the Spanish horror RPG Fragmentos, but it lacks an English translation. And nothing else, at least not evidently marketed as such.
The first thing to think about when trying to run an Italian horror scenario is, obviously, choosing an adequate group of players. The themes are mature, and some descriptions may be unsettling for oversensitive people. If you want to avoid trouble, choosing the right players and the right place is the first and most important step.
Giallo movies are usually led by female protagonists, but it doesn’t have to be necessarily so in a role-playing game. Unless you are planning a one-shot and continuity isn’t an issue, having female non-player characters as victims of gruesome murders or savage attacks is the best course of action. I’ve set The Sisters of the Seven Sins in a convent, allowing for the players to take the roles of nuns, but there are other options, such as Vatican authorities investigating reports of demoniacal manifestations and reporters exploring the mysterious narrative unrolling in the convent. A mixed group will allow for the use of typical tropes from both female and male led gialli, thus easing the game master’s work.
The player characters, male or female, can be either investigators or witnesses to crimes. The accidental investigator trope is recurrent in giallo movies, and it adequately fits the transition to role-playing games. Orpheum Lofts, the first giallo scenario I wrote, takes advantage of that theme. The players are supposed to be all residents of the same building and there are already connections presented among the personas, which account for the interference in investigations when something unusual happens. Of course those prepared links between characters are entirely optional. The voyeur/ witness trope can justify implicating any character in a murder mystery.
The alienation and mental illness theme, another trope which punctuates the genre, was in my mind while writing The Memorial, which takes place in a rundown hospital where bizarre things are bound to happen. While there are several doctors and nurses available to choose from, the psychiatric ward was given greater detail than elsewhere in that medical facility. Impersonating medical professionals or patients, the players encounter situations where doubts will arise about if it is a supernatural manifestation or just delusions they are facing. The alienation trope, in which the witnesses’ testimony is considered unreliable by the authorities, comes into play in such cases.
You probably noticed that I’ve chosen enclosed spaces to set myscenarios: a residential building, a hospital and a convent. That’s partly a personal preference, but it is also related to the genre’s characteristics. Unless the characters are professional investigators, being close to the plot’s mysterious occurrences is the only way to maintain their interest while keeping up suspension of disbelief. Fear and suspicion are always solid motivations.
Another of my personal preferences, one that makes perfect sense in a giallo – most likely the reason I gravitated towards that kind of horror – is having an extensive cast of non-player characters. You don’t need to detail them all, but at least put a name tag to them. As the story unfolds you’ll need victims, suspects, hypothetical witnesses and other investigators. Nosy neighbours, work colleagues, close friends or members of the family, reporters, police detectives, doctors, these are all archetypal characters from horror stories who have their placehere. The spaghetti thriller has a defining whodunit narrative structure, with some plot twists that point suspicions to different characters along the plot. The identity of the killer is only discovered at the ending, and it is never the one who was expected to be the guilty party. The trench coats, sunglasses and leather gloves have become such usual clichés for killers, but they were not just an aesthetical formula, they were also the answer to conceal the murderer’s real identity, when they had already appeared onscreen. When I run giallo scenarios, sometimes I use a trick: I don’t decide who the killer is at the beginning. I select a few suspects and the player character’s actions determine which of those the real assassin is.
Even though the social commentary doesn’t need to be transposed from film to role-playing, it’s an interesting perspective, especially if you intend to set the game in the past. Gender roles, sexuality and mental illness were the most frequent controversial themes. I’ve touched on those subjects in my own scenarios, Orpheum Lofts and The Memorial, which feature homosexual, drug addicted and paraphiliac characters. Also women of ill-repute, rapists and other abusers, paedophiles… Quite an assortment of unsavoury characters. The Sisters of the Seven Sins has an added political layer, as it is set in post-revolutionary Portugal of the mid-1970s. And before you assume I’m a right-wing Incel, stewing over my own misogynistic rage in my parent’s basement, let me assure you that’s not the case: I’m a 45 year old southern-European leftist, and a few of the most insensitive ideas in my scenarios were suggest by the unofficial first editor, my “companion” (or whatever is the politically correct way to call them). Anyway, though these subjects are dangerous to pick up right now, they could pay off if your players react in a mature way. Since I’m not a specialist in handling “sensitivity issues”, there’s an academic thesis that expands on those and other themes in a way I certainly cannot. You can find it here: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/4730.
For obvious reasons, a contemporary role-playing game is the ideal for you to use in conjunction with a genre that takes place right now, or in the recent past. Since spaghetti thriller feels a bit dated, for my own scenarios I’ve opted for the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, but that’s not a rule. Setting things in the past surely avoids the ubiquitous smartphones, laptops and tablets, which can easily ruin a horror story, but no one is stopping you from setting gialli in current days. Dario Argento revisited it in Giallo (2009), starring Adrien Brody and Emmanuelle Seigner. In spite of the name, the movie isn’t the perfect showcase, but the time period had nothing to do with that.
And while we’re addressing setting, let’s go into the game choice itself. Lovecraftian cosmic horror RPGs are probably the most common, but they aren’t really good at accommodating spaghetti thrillers. A rules-light, psychological horror game is the ideal, since the menaces are usually human in nature. Supernatural can and does appear in gialli, but it’s always discreet in nature. A psychological horror game with emphasis in drama is most likely the best option. Personally, I don’t like narrative story games, but I suppose they are a good match. For my scenarios I used Actual Fucking Monsters, since the editor and publisher, James Desborough, is also that game’s author. AFM would have been an excellent fit anyway, being rules-light and rather flexible.
Having a soundtrack playing in the background is not everybody’s cup of tea; but if it doesn’t disturb you gaming sessions you should definitely try it. The musical score and sound effects are quite relevant and they will be handy to create the right atmosphere. If you decide to play a soundtrack you may want to pick something by Goblin, an Italian progressive rock band – which has frequently collaborated with Dario Argento – or any of Ennio Morricone’s horror soundtracks. There are very interesting and complete playlists for giallo and other Italian horror subgenres in Spotify and YouTube.
Something that should be remembered is that while there are similarities to slasher movies, these films are much more stylish. The vivid colours and lush décors that are a trademark of gialli aren’t easily translated to something that plays entirely inside the theatre of the mind. Since you can’t have a cinematographer helping you do your job as “director”, you must use your own words to describe them. There’s no need to go into very gory and graphical descriptions, but you should try to set the scenes with an added level of detail. And I don’t mean only the violent sequences, but also the aftermath of crime. When the characters find defiled corpses in macabre murder scenes, take some time to describe the locations and all the elements. Dario Argento would probably do the same.
A Giallo-themed horror RPG adventure context/scenario that can be used with any system, but which is presented with statistics for Actual F*cking Monsters. This scenario takes place in a run-down hospital where nothing is quite what it seems.
System agnostic, but with statistics for Actual Fucking Monsters.
Loosely, and probably incorrectly, that translates to ‘Black Kabbalist’. They’re one of the Hunter groups detailed in the back of Actual Fucking Monsters. The main book doesn’t go into a tremendous amount of detail, but the idea is that this order of Kabbalists and their supporters came about during WWII to deal with supernatural threats to the Jewish people that existed alongside the very human monsters we’re all familiar with.
Some inspiration was taken from 2000ADs ‘Fiends of the Eastern Front’, particularly ‘Stalingrad’, the more modern story illustrated by the brilliant Colin MacNeil.
In the modern age the Schachr Mequbbãl are a black-operations group buried deep within MOSSAD, hunting down Nazi Monsters (many of which were immortal) and new supernatural threats that abound both within and without Israel.
The practice of Kabbalah is forbidden, and said to curse one in the eyes of god, but these select few are willing to make that personal sacrifice for the sake of their people.
I’m not one for ‘sensitivity reading’, this is fiction, but it does occur to me that I know quite a few Israelis and Jews who will be far more familiar with Jewish folklore than I am. Everyone knows about the golem, but I’d like to include some other things. Anyone got anything cool to add as a ‘kickassery reader’?
Magicians can come from many different traditions, but magic is extremely rare. Magicians are simply humans with the capacity to tap into the latent flow of magic.
Magicians must take the following Monster Powers:
Banes: Salt, religious symbols,
painted eyes, gargoyles, mirrors, corn dollies, horseshoes, white
heather, brass, candles, roosters, garlic, gemstones, cold iron,
mistletoe. (Magician’s Banes typically make their magic more
difficult, giving the target an extra die to roll to protect
is not suggested
that Spellcasting become a part of regular play, but a human becoming
a Monster in a quest for supernatural power is a powerful trope
Magicians generate Satiation by performing any
transgressive act, typically within the lore of whatever magickal
tradition they cleave to. Human or animal sacrifice are popular ones,
as are extended acts of debauchery or even taking the other path and
living an ascetic and ritualistic existence.
Magicians have to spend Satiation only when performing
acts of magic, though they can never store more than d12. If a
Monster Power that they replicate with magic requires the expenditure
of Satiation, they lose two levels.
Magicians aren’t limited by their Satiation as Monsters
are, save when it comes to using their Monster Powers and they cannot
starve from a lack of Satiation. The powers they replicate are
replicated at the Spellcasting level and last for a number of minutes
depending on their Spellcasting die type (15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1
hour, 2 hours).
Magicians cannot heal using Satiation as Monsters can.
Should they become a Monster, they lose their Spellcasting ability,
but retain their Dark Magic ability in their new form.
Casting a spell requires a roll of Spirit+Spellcasting
against a d8+d8 difficulty and three actions to make invocations and
to make gestures, or to draw runes or whatever else is appropriate
for their tradition.
Example: Valkyr is a magician from the nordic tradition. Having drawn Satiation from hunting and killing a bear and devouring its heart, Valkyr finds himself confronted by witch-hunters. He hurriedly locks the door and slams the couch up against it, rending his shirt, drawing blood and bellowing a prayer to Tyr and the spirit of the bear for power. The difficulty is rolled at a 5, Valkyr rolls his Spirit d10, Indomitable Will d4 and Spellcasting d4 for a total of 7. A successful cast. He sprouts claws and fangs with a value of d4, ready to help in combat.
Gorehounds: Undead dogs, kept as pets by many Kin. Nature: Predator d6 Trio: Mind d4, Body d8, Spirit d6. Mask: Guard Dog d4, Fighting d6, Tracking d6, Alertness d6 Monster Powers: Drain (Pain) d4, Claws and Teeth d6. Banes: Sunlight d8.
Hafgryr: Descendants of Grendel and his mother. Monster Powers: Armour, Fearsome, Olympian. Banes: Sunlight, Compulsive hatred of humans.
Kikulaluit: Beings from a lost, underground civilisation with white hair and translucent green skin. Monster Powers: Armour, Heightened Sense (Sight), Camouflage. Banes: Agoraphobia, Sunlight. Constant Slippage: Translucent.
Magadon: A form of shapeshifting Indian troll who use their shapeshifting powers to defraud and con others. Monster Powers: Facedance, Armour, Telepathic Reading. Banes: Sunlight, Cooked or non-meat food.
Medusae: Human bodies with twisting snakes atop their head. Their gaze petrifies targets and this is how they feed. Monster Powers: Drain (Petrification), Armour, Dark Seduction. Banes: Their reflection.
Nakani: Native American wind spirits who subjugate and control humans. Monster Powers: Armour, Hypnosis, Speed. Banes: Stale or dead air. Constant Slippage: Always surrounded by whistling.
Ogre: Maneating, hulking brutes. Monster Powers: Armour, Olympian, Claws and Teeth (emphasis on the teeth). Banes: Hunger for child flesh.
Pengallen: A severed head, trailing entrails that can possess different bodies and which feasts on blood. Monster Powers: Parasite, Levitation, Drain (Blood). Banes: Sunlight.
Rakshasa: An Indian vampire with slitted pupils and poisonous claws. Monster Powers: Claws and Teeth, Venom, Drain (Blood). Banes: Sunlight.
Sidhe: Light elves who have adapted to urban living. Monster Powers: Heightened Sense, Teleportation, Armour. Banes: Cold-wrought iron.
Shockers: The ghosts of people who died from electrical shocks. Monster Powers: Insubstantial, Discharge, Drain (Life force – bioelectricity). Banes: Water.
Toxxix: Mutated, toxic-waste humans who have been altered by radiation or chemical waste. Monster Powers: Acid Vomit, Fearsome, Olympian. Banes: Fire, cannot eat non-rancid or non-polluted food.
Fucking Monsters is explicitly NOT one of those games that uses
Humanity as a gauge for anything, you can lift the system directly
out of Nightlife if you do, actually, want to use it. I’ll offer an
option for a different style of Humanity gauging system in a
companion pamphlet for AFM.
Actual Fucking Monsters is explicitly NOT one of those games that uses Humanity as a gauge for anything, you can lift the system directly out of Nightlife if you do, actually, want to use it. I’ll offer an option for a different style of Humanity gauging system in a companion pamphlet for AFM.
If you choose to include ‘Humanity’ in AFM, against all reason and every warning and insistence I give, then fair enough.
Humanity has no meaningful impact on the game, most of the time.
Humans can, themselves, be monsters of the non-supernatural kind and
find ways to excuse, rationalise or ignore the most horrific things
that they do. Nonetheless it has a die-rating, as with Health and
Satiation and if your Games Master chooses to be a bastard, they can
limit your social die rolls to a maximum of that die type.
than having a rating, or a Judeo-Christian morality structure, this
is about how your character manages to live with themselves. You set
a ‘red line’, something that you will not do, starting with the least
objectionable thing you might be able to think of.
you ever cross that line, you get a chance to rationalise your
actions to the Games Master and then roll your Mind die plus Nature
die against your Spirit plus current Humanity die. If you succeed,
you modify your red line to be looser, but keep your Humanity at the
same level. If you fail, you modify your red line to be looser, but
drop your Humanity one die-type.
Monsters that lose all their Humanity become ‘Maniacs’ and their monstrous nature fully erupts. Their Mind drops to d4 and their Body is stepped up by a number of dice equal to what was lost (even going into die multiples). They become an NPC and go on a rampage.
Example: Croen is recently made and despite being a blood-drinking horror, he has set the red line that he will ‘Never kill’. The circumstances being what they are in AFM, he’s soon put in a position where if he doesn’t shoot this shotgun wielding loon, one of his friends will die. He pulls the trigger and the man dies. Croen tries to rationalise this as being ‘Self defence’ and to modify his red line to ‘I will never kill except in self defence’. He rolls his Mind d8 + Nature d6 for a total of 6. While his ‘Humanity’ rolls d12+d8 for a total of 11. He fails to fully rationalise this, but shifts his red line to the d10 level and has lost a bit of his Humanity.
You could also kitbash this system for a Sanity system, with gradual stages of madness.