Real-World Ghost Stories and "A Different Kind of Terror"

Hello All,

So, our most recent vs. Ghosts Adventure: The Lights of Sand Island, from Jennifer Povey (author of Call to Arms: Horses & Mules for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game), for the vs. Ghosts rules-light RPG, has been kind of scary to work on -- but not because it's a ghost story.

Instead, I've been "scared" working on it because, as opposed to other vs. Ghosts Adventures, its completely set in the real-world, using real-world locales, and real-world events, ones which don't have "ghost stories" or "urban legend" traditionally attached to it (like we did when Ben Dowell wrote vs. Stranger Stuff Adventure: The Mad Gasser, which was based on tales of The Mad Gasser of Mattoon).

There have always been wrecks. That’s why we have lights. There have been a series of ships run aground on Sand Island. Survivors all say the same thing - that they saw the lights for Duluth Harbor and steered for them, only to realize too late they were terribly off course, usually just before the ship hits the rocks. It’s costing small fortunes and many sailors now don’t want to go out. The rumors that there are wreckers — but who benefits if they are? Or, is it some kind of haunting?.
vs. Ghosts is a roleplaying game in which players suit up to battle strange hauntings in their neighborhoods while dealing with the mundane non-believers that try to prevent you from doing your job. All you need are friends and two decks of normal playing cards!

Reading that description, you can figure out that this adventure is set on Lake Superior, specifically on the Western tip of the lake, near Duluth, Minnesota -- or more precisely, in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin. 

Now, other adventures are set "in the real-world" and the like, but we're kind of experimenting with a thing I am building more clearly into vs. Præternatural (yes, it's still in development) -- the use of real-world resources to help immerse the players.

A video preview of the adventure, available on YouTube AND on our Facebook Page

If I were running a game using The Lights of Sand Island, I'd jump online and have the player's go through all the motions needed to "book a trip" and use all the existing resources thy can find that "fit" to try to "solve the mystery." Now, I wont always do a blog all about them, collecting the resources, BUT here's some key links with my annotations:

The Apostle Island National Lakeshore on

The main action takes place here, and the characters may even be employed specifically by the National Park Service. They will need, if they wish to travel to Sand Island, take advantage of real-world resources like getting a camping permit via the NPS.

Duluth, Minnesota & Bayfield County, Wisconsin

The main action also takes place in and around Duluth and Bayfield County. Duluth is called out in the adventure as "the closest large city" and, assuming the characters aren't from the area, is likely where they fly into, where they may have heard of before, etc. There are numerous small communities in and around the Apostle Islands, all part of Bayfield Country, so a bit of research and you can easily get maps, names of hotels, even the local diner's menu online if you try hard enough.

Sand Island, The Sevona Wreck, and The Sand Island Cottage

Not to ruin (SPOILERS!) the adventure for anyone, but the main action revolves around a real-world shipwreck that occurred in 1905. Something especially interesting about this particular wreck (in addition to being a popular dive for beginners) is that pieces of the actual ship were reclaimed and used to build a cottage (sometimes called Camp Stella) on Sand Island. 

That's from a historic post card from Camp Stella

Without even giving you any more specifics, a clever GM can easily see a dozen ways this would work well as an incredible place for story -- but then comes in my "fear."

The Fear of Disrespect

So, a problem with setting your game in "the real-world" is that you possible tread on something sacred and/or special to real people. Its one thing to include secret organizations running the US Gov't, or to have a base hidden behind Mt. Rushmore or some other famous landmark, but its another to choose what is potentially a very private story for some people (like say "deaths of sailors at sea") and make it a public thing for "playing with."

On the other hand, and the mindset I feel we approached the topic, we're also trying to shed light on an little piece of overlooked history, a little overlooked National Park (I grew up near enough the Apostle Islands that I've been at least once with my family as a kid), and a part of a America (the midwest, the Great Lakes, etc.) that just isn't featured in "popular media" enough.

Regardless of all that -- I sincerely hope you enjoy this adventure. There's so much ripe material for gaming, and so much that CAN be done. Really, you should consider this an exercise in trying to find the extraordinary in the overlooked world right around where you live. What "urban legends" are next door to you? What did you grow up being told about "that house on the end of the road" or that "abandoned monument." 

Gaming is an exercise in shared storytelling and imagination. Let yours run free for a bit and see what you find. 

Lucus Palosaari on DriveThruRPG, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ & LinkedIn -- and now on Amazon!

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