Events and Catastrophes at Dinner


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Thomas Rowlandson - Dinner - WGA20169

Characters in Ghastly Affair who have any contact with High Society will eventually be invited to a formal dinner party. In the game’s Ghastly Age (1765 – 1820), such events are ostentatious displays of wealth that last for hours. As with fashion (and most other things), the practice in France is taken as the model for High Society across Europe. The meal is presented in 3 to 4 “stages”, with each stage consisting of up to 20 different dishes artfully arranged on the table along with appropriate decorations. Diners are served (or take) whatever food they like from the selection laid out. A stage is left on the table for around 15 minutes before it is cleared by the servants. The first stage will always include one or more large tureens of soups (along with fish, birds, and small meat dishes), the second one or more roasts with various vegetables and sauces, and the last stage will be desserts. If there is a fourth stage it will usually be a mixture of hot and cold dishes. The wines are brought (or passed) around the table, with the host often pouring the best ones himself. In addition, there may be one or more cups (coups) of wine or liqueur served to all the guests at specific times before and during dinner.

A formal dinner just before the French Revolution could be served as late as 10PM. After the Revolution (at least in France), the tendency is towards dining much earlier, around 6 PM. Since there are long waits between stages of the dinner, guests are expected to display their skill at conversation in the intervals. Guests may even retire to drawing rooms between stages.

Dances and salons in High Society often include a dinner, often with another meal served as late as 1 AM. If there is no other entertainment arranged, guests will retire to drawing rooms after dinner to drink coffee, play cards and converse, possibly late into the night. Guests may even be invited to view the host’s cabinet of curiosities!

Naturally, many of the incidents listed below are serious breaches of etiquette, loaded with dramatic potential. Some could easily be the cause of duels.

d20 Events and Catastrophes at Dinner

  1. One of the dishes tastes either especially good, or particularly horrible. However, everybody else but the Player Character holds exactly the opposite opinion!
  2. There is a cry for help from an adjoining room. It is a servant being assaulted? Or does the voice belong to a restless ghost that haunts the house? Why do only the Player Characters seem to hear it (or care)?
  3. One of the dishes that the host is especially proud to present is spoiled and will cause food poisoning if consumed. If the PC can taste the spoilage, will they eat it anyway to prevent a breach of etiquette?
  4. One of the wines is especially good, and everyone comments on it. Perhaps it is a fabled vintage that is supposed to be impossible to acquire, yet the host host seems to have an ample supply.
  5. A footman or lackey stumbles with a platter, and the food tumbles onto the ground. The heartless guests at the table will almost certainly not help him in any way, and will probably ridicule him. Will he be motivated to take brutal revenge at a later time?
  6. A prominent guest with powerful (and dangerous) friends becomes so drunk they fall of their chair, looking so ridiculous that characters may have to Save versus Charisma to avoid spontaneously breaking out into laughter.
  7. A diner’s sleeve (or elaborate hair!) catches fire from the candles on the table. Think quick!
  8. An obviously drunk man starts insulting the clothes of the people near him, including the Player Characters.
  9. A Player Character sees a rat or other vermin. Note that even the grandest châteaux and manor houses of the Ghastly Age will have rats.
  10. One of the diners is so attractive and /or well-dressed that those attracted to their gender barely touch their food so they can look at them.
  11. One of the diners eats little, but seems to be sizing up several other guests. Are they an assassin? A blackmailer looking for evidence of scandal? Or is it the Devil himself, preparing to make someone an offer they can’t resist?
  12. Somebody has spiked the punch-bowl with laudanum. Was it the host, a guest, or the servants?
  13. Somebody has taken an extremely unpopular political opinion, and obnoxiously defends it.
  14. A Player Character finds a note surreptitiously slipped into their pocket (or reticule), arranging an assignation at a later date. Of course, the other party is someone shockingly inappropriate.
  15. A servant makes a mistake, and somebody begins loudly berating them.
  16. Someone begins choking, perhaps a known enemy of the host only invited out of social obligation. What do the PC’s do?
  17. An insult results in somebody being stabbed with a fork. This may easily escalate into a duel.
  18. Somebody begin loudly criticizing the food, and proclaiming the superior skills of their own cook.
  19. A diner spills wine or food all over the extremely expensive outfit they had made just for this event. Were they intentionally bumped, are are they just clumsy?
  20. Several of the diners seem to be sending each other coded messages through the tapping of their fingers on the table. Are they members of a secret society, clandestine lovers, or just mutually bored?

Random Incidents at the Dance


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Thomas Rowlandson - A Ball at Scarborough - Google Art Project

As indicated in the Ghastly Affair Player’s Manual, dancing is an important social activity for people of all social classes during the Ghastly Age (1765 – 1820). Even ordinary working people consider dance lessons to be a necessary expense. Upper class people frequently host dance parties in their homes, and have memberships at exclusive urban assembly rooms (such as the famous Almack’s of London). Middle and working class people patronize public dance halls (Paris had well over 600 of them in 1796), and attend dances held in taverns. Dances last long into the night, and a ball that concludes before 1 AM is considered to have ended early.

Even at upper class gatherings, the dances (and accompanying music) of the Ghastly Age are much livelier than will be the case at fancy balls in Victorian times. Dance steps are often intricate and hard to master, and the dances are very much considered performances for the spectators. Many of the dances are for groups rather than couples. A single dance can last for 15 to 20 minutes before the dancers have a chance to rest. The rules of etiquette are also different than will be the case later in the 19th century. For example, dance cards are not yet in common use during the Ghastly Age. Ballroom floors are often crowded and very hot, smelling like a mixture of heavy perfume, sweat, and burning candles. Beside the dancing and there will always be people resting, talking, and playing cards along the outer perimeter of the room.

Although the table assumes the late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century setting of the Ghastly Affair RPG, it can obviously also be adapted for use in games set in slightly earlier or later time periods.

d20 Incidents at the Dance

  1. A well-dressed woman stumbles and falls, knocking down several other dancing couples. Is she sick, dying, or just clumsy? No matter the truth, the unfortunate lady will be immediately be the subject of vicious ridicule communicated through the Language of Fans.
  2. A bizarrely dressed man seems to believe he dances well, but moves awkwardly.
  3. Two women sitting together on the perimeter begin arguing (over a man, fashion, or the souring of their once-intense “romantic friendship”).
  4. A man starts taking liberties with his partner, and her husband challenges him to a duel.
  5. A man standing on the perimeter leers with predatory eyes at the dancing women. Is he a creature of darkness looking to sate his unholy appetites, or just an ordinary lecher?
  6. A musical instrument breaks, throwing the dancers off.
  7. An older gentlemen suffers a stroke or heart attack from the strain of dancing.
  8. A man starts inquiring about his new wife, who has gone missing from the room. Meanwhile a newlywed woman is making similar, more discreet inquiries about her missing husband.
  9. Someone who was previously known as a terrible dancer astounds everyone with their new-found skills. How could they have learned to dance so well so quickly?
  10. An obviously drunk man breaks etiquette by requesting dances from women to whom he has never been introduced.
  11. Someone begins passing around a small metal box containing hashish sweetmeats.
  12. The chandelier falls, possibly injuring (or even killing) one or two couples. Was it an accident due to neglect, or deliberate sabotage?
  13. Someone bursts into the room, screaming that a murder (or other crime) has been committed.
  14. A woman breaks etiquette by rejecting a dance with one man, but accepting another man’s request for the same dance.
  15. The host and/or musicians introduce a bizarre (or scandalous) new dance. During the Ghastly Age this could be the shockingly erotic Viennese Waltz, where couples hold each other close as if they are about to make love on the dance floor!
  16. A scandalously inappropriate couple (such as a duchess and a common soldier) is dancing. In a place like 18th century Venice (where any self-respecting woman is expected to have a cavalier servente or cicisbeo), this could even be a married couple!
  17. A women breaks a heel while dancing (if the dance is during the Decadent Era before the French Revolution), or sprains an ankle (if the Bloody Era after the Revolution).
  18. A woman experiences a wardrobe malfunction, accidental or intentional. Note that some 18th century French gowns were cleverly constructed to occasionally expose the breasts of the wearer, who might then feign shock and embarrassment.
  19. Men begin fighting over who will get to ask particularly pretty woman to dance. This could result in them going outside to duel (or fist-fighting right on the dance floor if they are working class).
  20. A couple breaches etiquette by dancing every dance together.

Breaking a rule of etiquette will naturally require a Charisma Check to see if the break is considered a serious Faux Pas that causes the rule-breaker to be labeled “Gauche”. Succeeding at the check means that the rules are considered to have been broken well and with style, and the rule-breaker will therefore be considered fashionably scandalous – much to the confusion of less charismatic people ostracized for exactly the same behavior!

A Preview of Art From the Illustrated Ghastly Affair Presenter’s Manual


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Here’s a sneak peek at the art in the upcoming illustrated version of the Ghastly Affair Presenter’s Manual, set for release next month! This preview includes a full-page image from artist Stacey Kaelin, and three silhouettes from author Daniel James Hanley.

Available Now: the Illustrated Ghastly Affair Player’s Manual, with all the information you need to play a character in Ghastly Affair. Get it on Amazon and CreateSpace.






Coming Soon for the Ghastly Affair RPG


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The Illustrated Ghastly Affair Presenter’s Manual is coming soon!

Filled with advice, adversaries, historical information, and expanded rules for running The Gothic Game of Romantic Horror!

Written by Daniel James Hanley, with editorial contributions by Wendy Rosalsky. Featuring illustrations by Stacey Kaelin, and Daniel James Hanley.

Available Now: the Illustrated Ghastly Affair Player’s Manual, with all the information you need to play a character in Ghastly Affair. Get it on Amazon and CreateSpace.

What is “Romantic Horror”?


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Johann Heinrich Füssli 014

Ghastly Affair is the “Gothic Game of Romantic Horror”. But what exactly is “Romantic Horror”? The “Horror” part of the phrase is generally understood, but how can “Horror” also be “Romantic”? The question is perhaps further confused by the thee meanings of “Romantic” – one relating to love, the second relating to literary and artistic “Romanticism”, and the third relating to the historical period sometimes called the “Romantic Era”. In the case of Ghastly Affair, all three meanings are intended.

In the 18th century, the word “romance” was used to indicate what would be called “fantasy” today. A story that had fantastic and supernatural elements was deemed a “Romance”, and thus the original Gothic novels were (and are) called “Gothic Romances”. Romanticism was a historical movement of writers, artists, and musicians who promoted imagination, and free expression of personal truth. Literary Romantics included the poets Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Byron, and writers such as Novalis and Chateaubriand who followed Goethe. Beethoven was the premier musical Romantic. Artistic Romanticism was epitomized by the works of Friedrich, Turner, and Delacroix. The great Romantic artist E.T.A. Hoffmann composed music, wrote, and drew. Whereas 18th century Classicism valued order, symmetry, rationality, restraint, and the mundane world, Romanticism concerned itself with catastrophes, irregularity, emotion, freedom, and the supernatural. Classicism promoted the power and perfectibility of humanity – Romanticism instead emphasized the power and perfection of Nature. Romanticism also had a distinct tendency towards the morbid. In many cases, literary Romanticism was just a polite cover for writings that would otherwise have been tarred with the disreputable label of “Gothic”. Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, a cornerstone of Romantic poetry, is really a hallucinatory story of supernatural horror in verse. The modern Horror genre in fact is a development from the Gothic genre so heavily intertwined with Romanticism. It isn’t so much that Gothic is Horror plus Romance, as modern Horror is Gothic minus the Romanticism.

Love, to the Romantics, was the greatest force of all, and staying true to love was more important than life itself. Love and death for them were often the two heads of a single beast. The most thrilling kiss is delivered on a precipice, under threat of fatal punishment, in defiance of some terrible authority, because one obeys the supreme authority of Desire. The monsters that move through the pages of Gothic novels are the rampaging incarnations of desire – terrible and irresistible. The Horror of Ghastly Affair is Romantic, not only because it concerns itself with the dark corners of desire, but also because it works through the themes and motifs of Romanticism. It is the simultaneous stirring of terror and attraction, which erupts in an irrepressible expression. Characters in Ghastly Affair may find themselves bound in love to monsters of every kind, whose monstrosity itself is magnetic. They exist in a world where reason breaks down, and the shadows are alive with incomprehensible things. This world of horrors is filled with lovely people, places, and thing, some possessed of a beauty so extreme it terrifies. Romantic Horror is being overcome with the feeling of arousing panic, of being uplifted by fear, of inviting the lovely darkness to consume you.

Ghastly Affair in Actual Play


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Caspar David Friedrich 066

Here is a great example of Ghastly Affair in actual play.

This play-by-post game features a nice mix of Horror and Romance, with great writing and role-playing from all. Tricorne hats off to everyone involved!

Playlists for a Night of Romantic Horror


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Appendix II of the illustrated Ghastly Affair Player’s Manual contains a list of classic Gothic and Romantic literary works, inspirational artists, and suggested movies. In that spirit, here is an essential playlist of ten songs that compliment the themes and motifs of Ghastly Affair:

  1. Sadeness (Part I) – Enigma
  2. Spellbound – Siouxsie and the Banshees
  3. Don’t Fear the Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult
  4. Stand and Deliver – Adam & The Ants
  5. Bark at the Moon – Ozzy Osbourne
  6. Love Bites – Judas Priest
  7. Total Eclipse of the Heart – Bonnie Tyler
  8. N.I.B – Black Sabbath
  9. Bad Romance – Lady Gaga
  10. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Iron Maiden

And here are fifteen classical works to play as you read the illustrated Ghastly Affair Player’s Manual. These pieces also make great soundtracks for Affairs.

Danse Macabre – Camille Saint-Saëns (Composer)
Der Erlkönig (The Erlking) – Franz Schubert (Composer)
Der Freischütz (The Freeshooter), Overture – Carl Maria von Weber (Composer)
Der Tod und das Mädchen (Death and the Maiden) op.7 no. 3 – Franz Schubert (Composer)
Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night) – Felix Mendelssohn (Composer)
Mephisto Waltz – Franz Liszt (Composer)
Moonlight Sonata – Lugwig van Beethoven (Composer)
Night on Bald Mountain – Modest Mussorgsky (Composer)
Piano Sonata No 2 (Funeral March) – Frédéric Chopin (Composer)
Requiem in D Minor – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Composer)
String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor (Death and the Maiden) – Franz Schubert (Composer)
Symphonie fantastique – Hector Berlioz (Composer)
Symphony No 5. (First Movement) – Lugwig van Beethoven (Composer)
The Isle of the Dead – Sergei Rachmaninoff (Composer)
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor – Johann Sebastian Bach (Composer)

The Illustrated Ghastly Affair Player’s Manual Is Now Available!


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The long-awaited, illustrated edition of the Ghastly Affair Player’s Manual is now available as a print-on-demand book through Amazon and CreateSpace!

GhastlyAffairPlayersManualCoverPromoGhastly Affair is the Gothic Game of Romantic Horror, set in a macabre world of terror and desire. Play out stories of love and death, where deceased paramours won’t stay in the grave, cursed noblemen wander the moors as wolves, and young women are trapped in the dark halls of ancient castles. Beware the highwayman that terrorizes the roads, or take him as a lover instead!

Experience the Ghastly Age, a darkly romantic take on the years when the Marquis de Sade lost his freedom, Marie-Antoinette lost her head, and Napoleon lost an Empire. Aristocrats play twisted games of seduction and betrayal in glittering palaces, while ordinary people starve in the streets. Some take arms against the creatures of darkness, while other battle with words in the salons and coffee houses. Restless souls haunt ancient abbeys, while immoral Libertines haunt the ballrooms of High Society. Live a life of romance and horror in a time of revolution, war, and natural disasters.

The rules of Ghastly Affair utilize the familiar terms and concepts of Old-School Role Playing Games, but with a modern twist. Characters are defined by six Basic Abilities, a Character Class, and Level. The basic system is simple: roll a twenty-sided die to obtain a number lower than the rating of an Ability. Character Classes include such classic Gothic tropes as the Bandit, Grave Robber, and True Innocent. Each Class has its own flavorful array of Special Abilities and Weaknesses, and can also be customized with free-form, player-defined Assets and Afflictions.

Magic is dark and dangerous in Ghastly Affair. Magicians use Invocations to manipulate minds, perform Ceremonies to summon Demons, create Talismans that protect the wearer from harm, and employ Pacts that grant power at a cost. Mad Scientists invent strange drugs and bizarre machines that twist the laws of nature. Anyone can use a Magical Ritual to gain love or treasure, if they are willing to suffer the awful consequences. And the Devil himself waits for those desperate enough to barter their very souls.

The illustrated Ghastly Affair Player’s Manual contains all the information needed to be a Player in the Ghastly Affair RPG. It includes complete rules for creating and advancing characters, with nine Gothic Character Classes (and optional rules for playing Vampyres and Werewolves). Guidelines are given for situations ranging from flirting at the masquerade ball, to fighting supernatural horrors. Plus, extensive information on the culture, clothing, objects, and attitudes of the Ghastly Age is woven throughout the text. If you already have the Free PDF version, this illustrated, full indexed edition will be a beautiful and useful addition to your gaming table!

Coming Soon: The illustrated Ghastly Affair Presenter’s Manual, filled with advice on presenting stories of Gothic Horror and Romance, a full selection of Creatures and Adversaries, a detailed chronology of the Ghastly Age, and much more! Download the free PDF version of the Presenter’s Manual to help run you game until the release of the book!

Please note: Ghastly Affair emulates the shocking world of the original Gothic novels, and is therefore intended for mature readers.

Purchase on Amazon:

Or get it directly from CreateSpace:

See the Downloads page for Character Record Sheets and Quick References for Ghastly Affair.

Great Stuff From Other People


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If you like what you see on the Engine of Oracles, here are some other Gothic and Horror gaming blogs and projects I recommend:

Over at “Ynas Midgard’s RPG Blog” the author is developing Grim Tales, a dark fantasy campaign based on European fairy tales and folklore.

Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque” is a Gothic feast run by an expert on the genre. One of the original blogs blending OGL gaming with authentic Gothic sensibility, from someone who really knows what he’s talking about. The highly recommended free downloads are stuffed with dark goodness.

Tales from the Haunted Jukebox” is a gem of a blog that presents the world of 50’s horror novelty songs as an RPG setting! It’s teenage werewolves, rock and roll ghouls, and hot-rods driven by Dracula! A truly great idea that deserves some exposure. Also from the same author is “Great & Small”, a game of animal fantasy in development. The “Creepy Crawlies” setting of the game is a Gothic world where nocturnal animals protect humanity from the real monsters that lurk in the darkness.

Wine and Savages” is filled with Gothic and Regency-era materials for the Savage Worlds system. The authoring is currently developing “The King is Dead”, a darkly romantic Savage Worlds setting that takes place is an imaginary 18th-century setting where vampires rule as nobility. The “VARGR” adventure has been released for the setting already.

The “Aeons & Auguries” blog is a great source for ideas and Old-School style random tables. The recent series of posts inspired by the “Xor” setting, first proposed on the “Elfmaids & Octopi” site, presents a cornucopia of body-horror and bio-mechanical nastiness reminiscent of David Cronenberg movies like “eXistenZ” and “Videodrome”.

The Ghastly Affair Player’s Manual – An Update and Art Preview


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The long-awaited release of the illustrated Ghastly Affair Player’s Manual is close at hand! In a few short weeks you’ll be able to relax with a copy on your favorite chaise longue, while you imbibe an ancient vintage from the skull of a former lover. Or you could just get together with some friends and play the game instead! Until then, enjoy this preview of the cover, as well as three of the gorgeous full-page illustrations by artist Stacey Kaelin.

Ghastly Affair is the Gothic Game of Romantic Horror, where players live shocking stories of desire, death, and the supernatural against a dark and decadent backdrop of elegance, depravity, and social upheaval. Experience a time when a lady’s hand fan is a weapon in High Society, and monsters of every kind await the unwary.

Images marked “Copyright, Stacey Kaelin 2016” are used under license from the artist. See more of Stacey’s work at:

The light is more lovely for the darkness around it.