#TTRPG – Wightchester Preview – Firearms

YOU CAN READ ALL OF THIS ON MY PATREON, FOR AS LITTLE AS $1 A MONTH

Firearms

The fourteenth century was the time in which gunpowder weapons first saw widespread use in Europe, beginning with cannon and simple explosives. By the seventeenth century things had progressed a considerable way from those early, dangerous weapons.

The matchlock was the oldest form of firearm still in use during this period. Prior to the matchlock weapons were fired by directly applying a match or burning taper to a powder-strewn hole atop a cannon or hand cannon – somewhat awkward and necessiting one-handed aiming of a rather cumbersome weapon. The matchlock held a burning taper or match within a mechanism which, when the trigger was pulled, touched it to a flash-pan of priming powder which would, in turn, ignite the charge. Matchlocks were susceptible to the weather, spilled powder from the flashpan, misfires and other issues but remained in use, in the form of muskets, right through the English Civil War and its aftermath.

The wheellock was a development from the matchlock, using a spring-loaded wheel, scraping against a fragment of pyrite (or similar material) to generate sparks, which would then ignite priming powder, and in turn the main charge of the firearm. The wheellock was rapidly replaced by the snaplock, snaphaunce, doglock, and finally the flintlock, all of which used flint and steel – and sometimes primer powder – to ignite the main charge.

The final evolution of this firing mechanism, and one that would be used for two whole centuries before being discarded, was the true flintlock, first developed in 1610 and used by the elite forces of the New Model Army, typically in the form of carbines and other cavalry use firearms, due to the relative simplicity and reliability of such a gun (many were water resistant and weren’t at risk of spilling their primer powder).

Because of the slowness of reloading weapons, even the more efficient flintlock, a number of innovations were made to compensate. Weapons with multiple barrels were constructed, which could be fired one shot after another, all at once, or even in a rapid volley, one shot after another. Barrels could be clustered together to fire a devastating volley, spread out to shoot in a broad spread or mixed with close-combat weapons such as hammers, axes, swords and knives. Some even had revolving barrels, able to fire multiple shots and even of having their revolving drum swapped in and out – an early version of a magazine. Some gunfighters would wear multiple, holstered pistols, drawing and discarding (or sheathing) the pistols as they were expended and reloading them all before the next battle…

#TTRPG – INVADERZ! (¡En español!)

Un juego ideal de jugar para echarte unas risas, o para aquellos días en que no todo el mundo tiene ganas de algo serio, lo suficientemente simple para jugar hasta borracho y lo suficientemente divertido para jugar cuando no lo estas.

¡ARRODILLAOS ANTE LA ELITE KAPUIYA!

Versión Electrónica!

Versión Impresa Aquí!

This is a TEST to see if there is a worthwhile market in the Latin world for my games. So a lot is riding on whether this reprint sells well. Please let your Spanish-speaking gamer friends know about it and get it out there.

#TTRPG – Wightchester Preview – The Rise of Science and the fall of Superstition

YOU CAN READ ALL OF THIS ON MY PATREON, FOR AS LITTLE AS $1 A MONTH

The Royal Society was founded in 1660 and immediately gained the new King, Charles the Second as its patron. The Royal society grew out of the Invisible College, a looser collection of natural philosophers associated with the Rosicrucians (itself a rather opaque and possibly fictional esoteric order). It was also influenced by The Republic of Letters (made up of philosophical penpals) and other, similar, fledging societies and academies around the world. It was, however, The Royal Society that set the standard and which became the future model.

Largely made up of physicians and natural philosophers, many from amongst the idle-rich, gentleman scholars of the time, The Royal Society, in its earliest years, was made up of the giants of the New Science. Discovery after discovery came along in a rush, experiment after experiment, bringing on European science, mathematics and medicine in leaps and bounds.

Despite being one of the nails in the coffin of superstition, many of its most enlightened fellows were also enamoured of superstition or turned aside by their religion. Newton was a genius, no doubt, but also wasted a great deal of effort on alchemy and ritual magick. He even ceased progress on his understanding of gravitation because of his belief in God and a mechanistic, ordered universe. Without his superstition, he may have given us relativity many years ahead of Einstein.

In the world of Wightchester, Newton is the star of The Royal Society, his open mind and superstition allowing him to fuse mysticism with science in his attempts to understand magic and the undead, even stooping to the most unnatural experiments. Only his genius and closeness to the King gives him immunity to the prosecution and torture that awaits most other experimenters.

Some of the most important members of the society in this period include:

William Ball

A founding fellow, and the treasurer of The Royal Society until 1663, Ball was well known for his observations of Saturn, and may have even discovered the Cassini division before Cassini. Injured after a bad fall in 1660, he suffered from ill health ever-after, though this didn’t stop him having a clutch of children with his wife, Posthuma. In reality he was forced to step back from science because of his ill health and having to manage his estate. In the world of Wightchester the abnatural events have given him hope of miracles, of a cure for his infirmity, and he has returned to his studies with particular interest now moved to comets, like the ones that heralded the rising dead.

Jonathan Goddard

A skilled physician who tended Charles the First during his incarceration, and who was present for the death of Cromwell, Goddard was also a wealthy shipbuilder and a frequent collaberator with other natural philosophers. His experiments with Hunyades in distillation inform his current work in Wightchester’s era, trying to extract and distill the essence of what raises the dead, to isolate it so that it can be subjected to proper experimentation…

#TTRPG – Wightchester Preview – The Early Modern Period

YOU CAN READ ALL OF THIS ON MY PATREON, FOR AS LITTLE AS $1 A MONTH

The Early Modern Period

The Early Modern period runs from around 1500 CE through to around 1800 CE. It encompasses a period of great change, the earliest aspects of industrialisation, the widespread use of gunpowder and the advent of genuine science as a discipline. Wightchester is set in 1667, the year after the ‘Annus Mirablis’, a time after The Restoration and The English Civil War, a year after the last major gasp of the Black Death, a time that was already one of upheaval, even without the interference of the supernatural.

Our timeline combines these real events with our fictional city, and the powers of the supernatural alongside the ever-advancing capabilities of science.

Military Tactics

As we are concerned with England, we are primarily concerned with the advances in tactics that came about during The Civil War. A large part of what won the war for Parliament was Cromwell’s creation of The New Model Army and these innovations would last beyond Cromwell and the Commonwealth, and would spread beyond England.

The New Model Army was a professional, full-time military. It was not connected to any single, particular area and was expected to travel anywhere in England, Ireland, Wales or Scotland. Its leadership was based upon merit, not station, and lords and nobles were banned from being officers within it. It was recruited from military veterans, and filled out with conscripts who shared certain political or religious points of view, allowing them to unify in common cause. Without loyalty to Crown or to Parliament the New Model Army was unfettered, but also free – as it happened – to prop up Cromwell’s dictatorship.

Standard gear and centralised planning meant that the New Model Army was (relatively) well paid, equipped and fed. Especially when compared to the patchwork levy deployed by the Royalists. At the same time a common man, who was brave and clever, could advance in the ranks, while amateurs of ‘good breeding’ were often removed from positions of leadership. The rough, common, and frequently drunken, nature of the army had the added bonus of scandalising the nobility.

The New Model Army made extensive use of elite horse troops, with regiments of horse acting with extreme discipline and dragoons armed with flintlock carbines at the very cutting edge of the technology of the time. This cavalry could move fast, reload at speed and was able to hold their nerve far more stongly than the royalists.

This cavalry was supported by massed ranks of pikemen and matchlock-armed soldiers, who could unleash devastating volleys of fire.

The footsoldiers were, in turn, supported by artillery.

Beyond their elite and technologically advanced regiments of horse and their common cause and professionalism, the main advantage of the New Model Army was in its logistics. Provisioning and pay was seen as paramount, and on extended campaigns each man carried seven days of rations and one sixth of a six-man tent (six men forming a ‘file’).

This professional, disciplined military would dictate the shape of the small, professional, meritocratic nature of the British military, though the leadership would be replaced by ‘donkeys’ in the intervening years up to the first world war.

Religious Upheaval

In England in this period, and before, religious upheaval was more the norm than the exception. The Church of England emerged in the same period Protestantism was rapidly expanding and, perhaps, made England more receptive to reformation and democratisation of faith.

Part of the reason for the English Civil War was the perception of Charles the First as being a ‘papist’ and revulsion and hatred for Catholicism ran rampant. Catholics were blamed for the Great Fire of London, Jews were subjected to abuse and pogroms and anything more exotic was simply misunderstood or dismissed as heresy.

The gilded nature of the Catholic Church and the dissolute nature of the monarchy in the time of Charles the First led to a serious backlash. Wealth was looted, radical protestants formed the core of the proto-socialist revolutionary movements and during the Commonwealth era dancing, theatre and other forms of ungodly behaviour were banned under the aegis of puritanical religion.

With The Restoration came a backlash to the backlash, a riot of colour, noise and celebration. Many who had fought in the Civil War were still dour and disapproving, many of them leaving to form their own, more godly communities in the New World.

It was a time of cults, heresies, the wedding of political and spiritual concerns and of terrible religious hatred. What witchcraft and heresy went on in the shadows must have been truly extreme, given what went on in public.

Political Upheaval

Ever since the arrival of The Black Death, Europe was subjected to political upheaval. Lords were forced to allow serfs to travel and settle, craftsmen were able to demand more in exchange for their services and more power was devolved. Not to the people, of course, but to lesser nobility and aldermen from amongst the expanding middle class. The horrendous truth was that the mass death of their fellows was of great benefit to the survivors.

This trend continued with each return of the plague, the rise in literacy and education, the democratisation of religion and the ever-expanding middle class, finding its ultimate expression – at the time – in the proto-socialist, agrarian movements and religious cults that arose. Some of these persist, even today, in radical and puritanical sects of protestantism.

This would, perhaps, culminate in the French Revolution, but in our period the greatest expression, and the greatest disappointment, was the rise of Cromwell and the Parliamentarians. Cromwell successfully united various radical groups under his banner, and those who supported Parliament over the Crown.

Combining this unified movement against privilege and domination, Cromwell – like so many revolutionaries – failed to live up to his promise or the radical demands of many of his followers. Instead Cromwell would set himself up as a dictator and would attempt to create a new dynasty by installing his son as his successor. That did not go well, resulting in The Restoration and the ascent of Charles the Second to leadership of Britain.

As with the much earlier Magna Carta, while the King returned to the throne, royal and noble power was never as strong again, setting the stage for the constitutional monarchy system that rules the UK even today, with the Queen reduced to a purely ceremonial role.

Even so, in the period that Wightchester is set, many disaffected radicals remain, along with religious and political communes.

Baptists

The Baptists were a radical religious movement at the time. Today we associate them with established, fundamentalist churches – primarily in the United States – but at this time they are mostly still to be found within Britain. The Baptists began from a seed of Puritan separatists from Holland. Their beliefs were primarily centred around the practice of baptism, and the idea of a general and universal possibility of redemption stemming from faith, rather than works.

Despite their fellow radicalism, the Baptists were soon divided between Calvinist (Particular) and non-Calvinist (General) factions. Both expanded rapidly through a period of religious liberation in the 1640s, finding many new members amongst artisans, farmers and in the New Model Army. Both were virulently anti-tithing and against education.

The Particular Baptists hove to Calvinist predestination, and were absorbed in a desire to be respectable and well-regarded, whereas the General Baptists were more strongly evangelical and anti-clerical. The Baptists – both wings – ended up being more moderate and cooperating with Parliament, but this moderacy did not save them from repercussions in the post-Cromwell world…

#TTRPG – Wightchester Preview – Introduction

Winchester Cathedral

YOU CAN READ ALL OF THIS ON MY PATREON, FOR AS LITTLE AS $1 A MONTH

Wightchester was once ‘Whitchester’. ‘Whit’ meaning ‘white’ and ‘chester’ from the Roman ‘castrum’, meaning ‘fort’. The place was once known, then, as ‘white-fort’ or ‘white castle’, the ‘white’ of its name coming from the chalk downland upon which it was built.

The town grew up around the Roman fort, with its walls being reinforced, expanded and rebuilt in the years following the retreat of the Romans and the descent into the Dark Ages. The Romans were not the first to settle in the area, though their villas and evidence of their presence remain everywhere in the city and the surrounding area – for those who know how to see.

In prehistoric times the large number of flints and the proximity to water led to several ‘mines’ being dug to extract the flint, with these unnatural caverns being re-used as burial chambers, which are occasionally stumbled upon by farmers and amateur archeologists.

These early, neolithic, structures and tribal hunting grounds eventually developed into the fortified settlements, burial mounds and standing stones that can still be seen dotting the landscape, and on from that the development of hill forts during Britain’s iron age. The remnants of these bygone ages are still turned up from time to time, usually in the form of imperishable stone arrowheads.

When the Romans came, the site of Whitchester was the site of a moderately sized set of standing stones, subsidiary to the not-too-distant Stonehenge, and a sizeable hill fort that was part of a network of defences belonging to the Belgae tribe. The Romans invaded, destroyed the temples as a demonstration of their power – using fire and water – and built their own garrison atop the hill fort of ‘Gwynbryn’ (White Hill). By the third century this fortress gained a true, stone wall and sprawled over more than one-hundred acres of land.

In medieval times the city shrank, but remained something of an urban centre, despite the decline. In the ancient chronicles it was known as ‘Caergwyn’ or ‘Gwyncaestre’ the second of which would eventually be corrupted into the form ‘Whitchester’. It was during this time (beginning in 685) that the Cathedral began to be built, though this construction was disrupted by both the Norman invasion of 1066 and the great importance being given to other Cathedrals. As such, Whitchester Cathedral ended up being constructed piecemeal, giving it a schizophrenic appearance, and wasn’t finished until 1527…

#RPG – Giallo Series Additional Resources

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.

PDF CHARACTER GUIDES

SPOTIFY PLAYLISTS FOR BACKGROUND MUSIC DURING PLAY

#TTRPG Giallo in RPG: The strange case of the unusual dice

Guest blogger: Miguel Ribeiro

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.

PURCHASE MIGUEL’S GIALLO TRIOLOGY AT POST-MORT.COM

#TTRPG – Giallo: A Feast of Blood and Colour

Guest Blogger: Miguel Ribeiro

If you are a film buff or a horror aficionado chances are you’ve already come across several giallo movies. Otherwise, unless you’re Italian, it’s possible you haven’t even heard about them. Violent, sexy, stylish and deliciously kitsch, characterized by flashy décors, extreme close-ups, grandiose soundtracks and gruesome murder scenes, these are among the most “problematic” – to use an expression unfortunately associated with art and entertainment – productions in movie history. If you add black leather gloves, big knives, Mackintosh wearing killers and awful dubbing to the list of common tropes you’ll probably identify the genre, even if you do not recognize the name. Spaghetti thriller, as it is also know, hasn’t been that popular for a long time, but left its mark in mainstream horror.

The word “giallo” (plural “gialli)means “yellow” in Italian and, originally, it referred to a collection of cheap paperback crime novels, most of them translations of hardboiled and murder mystery classics – like Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen and Raymond Chandler – published by Mondadori Editore since the late 1920s, and which had garish yellow covers.

In the late 1960s the term was internationalized, thanks to its film iteration. Mario Bava, one of the most famous filmmakers who came to be associated with the genre, directed the first giallo movie, La Ragazza che Sapeva Troppo (The Girl Who Knew Too Much, 1963). Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Lamberto Bava, Ruggero Deodato, Enzo G. Castellari are some of the other well-known names connected to giallo. Luchino Visconti has also been added to the category by a few critics due to the film Obsession (1943) and, if you accept that, he’s certainly the most reputable director on record to this day.

To define giallo isn’t easy. More than a genre, in the usual sense of the word in movie theory, it is a concept defined only by common tropes that includes movies which are catalogued into different categories, such as thriller, crime drama, murder-mystery, slasher and horror. Depending on who does the classification, you may even find cannibal horror and spaghetti western among the classics. Sexuality, violence, voyeurism, hallucination, dream, delusion, alienation, paranoia are the most common themes and they appear, with different degrees of relevance, in most gialli.

There is an obvious connection to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960). Hitchcock was also Brian De Palma’s main influence, and De Palma directed Dressed to Kill (1980). The famous thriller starring Michael Caine combines elements taken from the Master of Suspense himself with cues from Italian horror. Quite a lot of the stylistic elements and tropes in Dressed to Kill, from voyeurism to sexuality, including psychosis, art, music – and if that isn’t enough, razor blades and black leather gloves – gave rise to an American version of giallo. It’s still a relevant work and influenced other directors, but some of the traits were lost along the way.

Another thing you may have noticed about these movies is the title: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Blood and Black Lace, Five Dolls for an August Moon, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, The Perfume of the Lady in Black. Some of these sound like thriller titles, but none seems remotely kindred to American slasher flicks. There’s a certain lyricism about spaghetti thrillers, rather common in other Italian cinema, which seems a little odd when associated with such displays of violence. The passionate way of handling horror is amongst the finest details added to the genre by European filmmakers.

And since the clichés are what makes the giallo movie, let’s expand on that a bit. The first true gialli were produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a time of social turmoil and change. Sexual liberation was still associated with feminism at the time, and the eroticization of film was hanging on a thread, trying to keep balance between the expression of male desires and fetishisms and what today would be named female empowerment. In other European countries where there was a movie industry (mainly France), certain controversial themes were already being explored but, considering these are mostly Italian productions, and that Italy still was – in part due to religious constraints –, a conservative society, there was a breakthrough behind the gialli. Naked female bodies and sex aren’t the only contentious features. Homosexuality, mental illness, drug abuse and criminality are part of the issues on which Italian horror presented social commentary.

The sexploitation trope shows up in two major variants: having a female or male protagonist usually defines how the sexualisation will work in the narrative. In spaghetti thrillers the protagonists are primarily female and, while that doesn’t mean there will be no violence directed at women, at least we know for sure that, until the very end, the star will not die. Since in a female led film there are much more opportunities for eroticism other than the violent murder scenes, nudity usually abounds. There are certainly further defining traits in movies with a woman protagonist other than nakedness. As an example, the male stars commonly have the role of witness or investigator, while women are often the targets of psychotic killers. That’s not always like that, though. Sometimes the villain is a woman, as is the case of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and The Killer Nun (1979).

When a man leads the cast – like in Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Deep Red (1975) – it is likely that he will be witness to one or more ghastly homicides. In male ledmovies, the protagonist is ordinarily a foreigner, and that’s another important trope, related to the outsider role. On the one hand, this was the chance to internationalize the genre, by hiring American, British and French movie stars, such as Karl Malden, David Hemmings, John Saxon, Donald Pleasance and Jean-Louis Trintignant. Even when the protagonist isn’t a foreigner, he is normally outside his milieu, as it happens with the journalist played by Tomas Milian in Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972). On the other hand, having a foreigner character helps solidify the alienation trope. There’s a cultural and linguistic barrier but, more than that, when the crime investigation starts, the authorities tend to distrust the outsider’s testimony. In female led movies, the doubts arise from their own traditionally related female weaknesses, like a tendency to overdramatize or having hysterical reactions to shocking events.

The voyeurism trope sometimes gets mixed up with the outsider one. That’s what happens in Deep Red – a seminal work by Dario Argento – in which David Hemmings plays jazz musician Marcus Dally, who witnesses a murder from afar. When the characters themselves aren’t witnesses to crimes we, the spectators, are. Every spaghetti thriller has at least a murder scene in which the audience is invited to watch a grisly homicide while it happens, from a first or third person view. The voyeuristic approach isn’t just fetishist; it is profoundly connected to the inner workings of the genre. Rarely are the characters police officers or detectives. That’s another sort of production, the poliziotteschi, influenced by gritty French and American action movies of the ‘70s (like the Dirty Harry and Death Wish series). In gialli the authorities are usually portrayed in a bad light, as corrupt, aggressive, contemptuous, incompetent and distrustful. The disdain for authority figures’ deductive ability is also part of the social commentary so frequent in Italian horror.

The already mentioned violence is ubiquitous in the genre. The crimes are commonly dreadful affairs and the murder scenes more graphic than contemporary American counterparts. Violence is increasingly sexualized, taking advantage of the social upheaval of the time. Unlike what happens in Psycho, the shower scenes in these films reveal more than they conceal. It’s quite possible gialli take the lead among the most disturbing horror and thriller productions of the same period. Perhaps it is not a disadvantage that this is a niche, or it would be more likely to be “cancelled” nowadays. Nonetheless, psychological horror is as important as violence. Unlike other Italian horror subgenres of the epoch, this one doesn’t thrive on gore.

Although special effects play a very small role, gialli rely heavily on visual impact. Lurid colours, bright neon, lush décors, impressive façades and plenty works of art, all have a part in creating the adequate mise-en-scène. The use of close-ups of objects and body parts, bizarre camera angles and disorienting framing and editing fuels the atmosphere of delirium and confusion. At the same time there’s also an obsession with luxury, present in other genres of the 1970s. Locales are carefully chosen, there’s a notorious prevalence of Art Déco architecture and house interiors are lavishly decorated. Some scenes take place in decaying buildings, but even those are rather stylish.

The musical score is also an important factor. It mixes several styles, from lounge music to progressive rock, there’s always great care in the soundtrack choice and the way it is intertwined with sound effects to breathe life into the whole ambiance. The esteemed Ennio Morricone authored several scores, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971), Cold Eyes of Fear (1971), Cat O’ Nine Tales (1971), What Have You Done to Solange? (1972) and Spasmo (1974) among them. The progressive rock band Goblin had a prolific collaboration with director Dario Argento that encompasses Deep Red, Suspiria (1977), Phenomena (1985), Sleepless (2001) and they also recorded musical scores for other Italian horror directors like Joe D’Amato (Beyond the Darkness, 1979).

Selected giallo filmography:

Ossessione/ Obsession (1943), La ragazza che sapeva troppo/ The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963), 6 donne per l’assassino/ Blood and Black Lace (1964), Orgasmo (1969), L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo/ The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Il rosso segno della follia/ Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970), 5 bambole per la luna d’agosto/ Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970)/ Il gatto a nove code/ The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971), 4 mosche di velluto grigio/ Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), Una lucertola con la pelle di donna/ A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971), Cosa avete fatto a Solange?/ What Have you Done to Solange? (1972), Non si sevizia un paperino/ Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave/ Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972), Il profumo della signora in nero/ The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974), Spasmo (1974), Profondo Rosso/ Deep Red (1975), Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro/ Eyeball (1975), Suor Homicidi/ Killer Nun (1979) Sette note in nero/ Seven Notes in Black (1977), Lo squartatore di New York/ New York Ripper (1982), Tenebrae (1982), Phenomena (1985), Morirai a mezzanotte/ You Die at Midnight (1986), Delirium (1987), Opera (1988), The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)

MIGUEL’S YELLOW BASTARDS GIALLO TRILOGY OF RPG SCENARIOS IS AVAILABLE VIA POST-MORT.COM

#TTRPG Postmortem Giallo 0003: The Sisters of the Seven Sins RELEASED!

The third in our Giallo mini series, TheSisters of the Seven Sins provides an Italian-style pulp adventure centred around a band of nuns who are not, quite, what they seem.

A system agnostic game setting for a variety of potential adventures, with placeholder stats for Actual Fucking Monsters.

Hardcopy

PDF

#OSR – A Lapidary of Wond’rous Stones RELEASED!

PRINT

PDF

People of older times believed that gemstones and minerals had power, without even having to be enchanted. These properties were laid out in a ‘Lapidary’. This booklet collates these ideas and makes suggestions for their use in OSR or D&D style games.