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Pretending to be People is a Horror Comedy Actual Play podcast detailing the misadventures of three police officers in the fictional town of Contention, Missouri.

The podcast begins on Chief Maggie Cook's birthday, where a strange, unmarked gift disturbs her to the point of tears. In the subsequent few days, officers Clark Bishop, John Lee Pettimore IV, and Keith Vigna receive a series of reports leading them into a conspiracy featuring murder, a strange black goo, bizarre technology, and a councilwoman's missing dog.

Pretending to be People is run a using modified version of Delta Green; many rules are used sparingly, or eschewed entirely. In addition, GM Zach incorporates elements from other games, most notably Pulp Cthulhu. Season 1 began in November 2018, and currently features over 100 episodes of content of roughly 40 minutes to an hour in length. The crew released several non-Contention-related episodes, both as part of the regular podcast and on Patreon. Four recap episodes detailing the plot of episodes 1-96 were also released.

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The latest story arc of season 1 began on June of 2021, so now's as good a time as any to start listening.

Given the amount of content in this podcast, the potential for unmarked Late Arrival Spoilers is quite high. Proceed at your own risk.

Pretending To Be People provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Keith's childhood was chock-full of emotional abuse, primarily based around him being pointedly neglected in favor of his brother.
  • The Alcoholic
    • Dave from Akron is a humorous example of this, claiming that "any day of the week ending in 'Y'" is a good day to get blackout drunk.
    • Judge Ephraim Courtland is a serious example of this, having abandoned all semblance of humanity, be it moral or social following the death of his wife.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: A subtle example, but Gerald Fingerson's apparent fondness for cashew chicken is an actual reference to a variant of cashew chicken from Springfield, Missouri, the home of the podcast creators. It differs from the original recipe in that it's deep-fried.
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  • Ambiguous Disorder: We just don't know what the hell is wrong with Keith. Luke, Keith's player, says that he prefers to play characters with bizarre behaviors, and that Keith is comparatively normal compared to some of his previous characters.
  • Ambiguously Human: Wolf the Dog is arguably ambiguously canine. He howls like a dog, rummages through dumpsters at night like a stray dog, and is represented as a dog in most fanart. However, he also has a pet dog, named Wolf, and appears to have a job and a boss. Given his apparent powers, he may be both human and animal.
  • Amusement Park: Splashylvania, a Dracula-themed water park, serves as the setting for the Residue's first on-screen attack.
  • Anti-Hero: Keith and John both regularly engage in illegal activities, ranging from drug use, to drug trafficking, to outright murder.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: The upper-crust of The City certainly are, at any rate. Cannibalism is just one of the many horrors they commit.
  • Artifact of Doom: The small steel balls in the game are both interesting and capable of brutally murdering humans they contact.
  • Badass Normal: The Contention PD may alternate between idiocy and amorality on a regular basis, but they're able to go toe-to-toe with things far above their cosmic weight class and survive.
  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: An odd example where the torture is accidentally self-inflicted. A misused spell that causes an agonizing "healing" process is the last straw in causing Keith to go back in time, murder Silas Cole, and take his place.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Beans family is one of the oldest families in Contention. Its most morally-upstanding surviving member is Keith, a coke-snorting weirdo with a Lack of Empathy.
  • Bilingual Bonus
    • Those affected by the Number Plague begin chanting a two word phrase before killing themselves. This phrase ("tawil aleaql," or "طويل العقل"), Google Translates to "long minded."
    • The Circle of Knowledge's mind-control experiments revolve around a flower whose name sounds like "Sanfera Blom". While spelling is difficult to parse out in an audio medium, this may derive (very loosely) from "Without Will" in French and "Flower" in Dutch.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Most factions in the series have done truly reprehensible things. Some of them just happen to have the world's best interests at heart.
  • Black Sheep: Keith is one to the Beans family.
  • Blob Monster: The Residue is an amorphous blob.
  • Blood Lust: Spectators in the Den of Sin will gleefully lick up any available blood, be it from the contestants, the staff, or their fellow spectators.
  • Blood Sport: Part of the Glass Syndicate's wheelhouse.
  • Body Horror: Happens remarkably often in the series, including to player characters.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Wolf the Dog exists in-universe, but also addresses the listener to give recaps of previous episodes, commentary on the players, and announcements for the show's subreddit, Patreon page, etc.
  • Butt-Monkey: Keith Vigna tends to receive the short end of the stick in life. This is often directly due to his own incompetence or moral failings.
  • Cannot Cross Running Water: The Residue can be repelled by water. Well, most of the time anyway.
  • Cool Car: For a given value of "cool," at any rate. Drew Andrews drives a Mini Cooper.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Ferguson Beans and Bruce Robin, owners of BAR Corp, like to play a little fast and loose with ethics. Ferguson, in particular, is a cocaine trafficker on the side and brags about exploiting loopholes in election law.
  • Creepy Twins: Rich and Dick Nickles are an adult version of this, taking a nigh-erotic fascination with blood, regardless as to whether it's from random strangers, each other, or themselves.
  • The Chosen One:
  • The Conspiracy: As might be expected in a Delta Green game. At minimum, there's the Glass crime family, Myriad, and the Circle of Knowledge. At best, they're all morally ambiguous.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Remarkably common in the series.
    • Victims of The Juice Box get crushed by a Descending Ceiling.
    • Those infected with the Number Plague engage in obsessive, often-graphic manners before violently killing themselves in the most readily available way possible.
    • The silver balls find new hosts by slicing into the backs of their necks, ripping out their spinal column, and burying into their brains.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: While not explicitly stated, none of the cyborgs we see in the series seem particularly friendly. Oddly, this may not apply to the silver balls, as John Lee Pettimore doesn't seem out-and-out evil.
  • Don't Look at Me!: The Residue apparently only attacks people who look at it.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The black goo, aka "The Residue," has supernatural power and some form of consciousness.
  • Eldritch Location: Whatever the magic camera takes photos of, it appears to be this. Given that the Scrap Pit appears to exist outside of time, it may also count as a rather strange example.
  • Embarrassing Initials: Subverted. Both Calm Comfy Campground and the Contention Critter Coalition are spelled with the letter C.
  • Empowered Badass Normal:
    • Oz "Mayhem" Wolf is a cage fighter involved with the Glass crime family, who displays no explicit signs of superpowers. In at least one fight, he's equipped with technology that boosts his prodigious strength to superhuman capacity.
    • As time goes on, the player characters start to show signs of this.
  • Enfant Terrible: While growing up in Calm Comfy Campground, Maggie Cook was this.
  • Descending Ceiling: The Juice Box uses one of these to act as "human garlic press".
  • Fish People: They work for Marvin Glass as security.
  • Fratbro: Brett, the strange young man in the Glass compound, dresses and acts like the douchiest of frat-boy stereotypes. He is also apparently an experiment by the Glass Syndicate's scientific crew to do...something.
  • "Freaky Friday" Flip: A magical radio in the series has the ability to swap minds between two bodies.
  • Gambit Pileup: There are, at minimum, three shadowy organizations in the series, each with their own plans and motivations. In the middle of this there are three nimrods who are trying to figure it all out. This trope is inevitable.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: As fitting for a Delta Green game. Most notably, Alfred Glass was rendered a blubbering idiot after seeing...something involving John Peters' gun.
  • Good Is Not Nice: While it's hard to say which, if any, major players are truly good in this series, it would be easier to count the people who are both good and nice.
    • Ferguson Beans is described as "trying to help the world out in his own way," but also as "a "total dick."
    • Clark Bishop may be a mostly-upstanding person, but his Hair-Trigger Temper often leads him to erratic, violent behavior. His prior traumas don't help.
  • Good Ol' Boy: John Lee Pettimore IV, along with his extensive (and potentially slightly inbred) family.
  • Hanging Judge: Judge Ephraim Courtland turned into this after the death of his wife.
  • Historical Domain Character
    • Ursula, one of the witches in Marvin Glass' compound, is Ursula Kemp, of the St. Osyth witches. The historical account is also quoted in-show.
    • American politicians Paul Simon and Robert Byrd are mentioned as playing a role in the Circle of Knowledge.
  • Horror Host: Wolf the Dog serves this role fairly well.
  • Human Notepad:
    • The player characters are branded with the names of various characters, which are crossed off as they go through different time loops.
    • John Peters has the word "FOOL" branded on his forehead. This is also branded on the version of Keith that went back in time. Germaine Glass, by contrast, has the word "FRIEND" branded on his forehead.
  • Humanoid Abomination:
    • Marvin Glass is demonstrably inhuman in his appearance, speech, and morality.
    • His fellow men in black also fit the bill.
    • As the podcast progresses, John and Clark both seem to take on traits of this.
  • Humongous Mecha: Planet Juggernaut
  • Jerkass
  • I Banged Your Mom: Ferguson Beans paid the mother of Bruce Robin, his colleague, for sex so that he could tell him this. It ended poorly.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Early in the campaign, the Contention boys utterly fail at most of their rolls to pursue a potential lead, culminating in Clark flying a drone into himself. Faced with their own incompetence, they decide to sit down on the sidewalk, sobbing.
  • Jump Scare: Elevated to an art form by the podcast. Marvin Glass is quite fond of them.
  • Kaiju: The Gigantumbrapithecus is difficult to describe, other than the fact that it's huge.
  • Kudzu Plot: The campaign is decidedly non-linear, has multiple parties with their own shadowy intentions, and surrounds mysteries of world-ending proportions. A tangled, perplexing plot line is less of a bug and more of a feature.
  • Large Ham: A number of NPCs fit the bill.
  • Large Ham Announcer: Mick and Nick Nickles from The Scrap Pit.
  • Large Ham Radio: Radio DJ Wolf the Dog is decidedly larger-than-life.
  • Lighter and Softer: The Contention Creek Critter Coalition arc features adorable animals on a mission to rescue Keith's dog. Only one person dies in the game itself, and the ending is bittersweet instead of a Total Party Kill.
  • Made of Iron
    • The cyborgs in the series are able to take a lot of punishment.
    • Clark Bishop eventually gets a buff to his toughness after dying.
  • Mad Scientist: Silas Cole, the founder of Contention, was both a brilliant inventor and a paranoid madman.
  • Mechanical Abomination: The small silver balls found in the series are sentient, inexplicable, incredibly violent, and are inhabited by human-like consciousnesses which allow them to pilot their victims.
  • Mechanical Monster: The aforementioned balls may also be this, as the precise natures of some balls' agendas or powers are unknown.
  • The Men in Black: Agents of Myriad are often dressed in black suits. They also possess translucent skin, bizarre warbling voices, and eldritch power.
  • Mind-Control Device: The Circle of Knowledge uses a dart gun with a toxin that makes its victim extremely suggestible. It appears to be derived from a pheromone produced by the flowers growing in The City.
  • Mind Virus: The Number Plague appears to transfer itself via perception, whereupon it begins manipulating the victim's behavior, ultimately culminating in their death.
  • Mobile-Suit Human: Victims of the silver balls become this. By extension, John Lee Pettimore IV is one such example.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Wormfingers, a Mad Scientist working for Marvin Glass.
  • Mood Whiplash: The show often veers wildly from horrific imagery from the GM to irreverent humor from the players themselves.
  • No Indoor Voice: Dave from Akron.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Francis Beans has a solid grasp on medicine, cybernetics, the supernatural, and eldritch math. She presumably learned these from her likewise-omnidisciplanry teacher, Dr. Wormfingers.
  • Phlebotinum Rebel: Marvin Glass was once a member of Myriad, but turned against them out of a combination of boredom and spite.
  • Physical God: Whatever Wolf the Dog may be, he is quite powerful.
  • The Pig-Pen
    • Wolf the Dog is also quite enthusiastic about the contents of dumpsters, dirt-covered mushrooms, and anything that has a goodly amount of "stank" on it.
    • Judge Ephraim Courtland never bathes, never cleans, and will gladly wear a hat that has been repeatedly used as a vomit receptacle.
  • Psychic-Assisted Suicide: Victims of the Number Plague begin engaging in bizarre, obsessive behaviors, then begin chanting, then kill themselves with whatever is most convenient.
  • Sadist: Marvin Glass and Francis Beans take great delight in hurting others.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: This appears to be the motivation of the Overseer.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: John Peters' actions in the series appear to consist of going into a coma, having visions of the future, racking up massive gambling debts, and stealing from major players in the world. We only see him after he dies, and yet he sets up a sizable chunk of the game's subplots.
  • Spanner in the Works
    • The Contention boys are probably a major example of this. Due to a combination of supernatural aid, personal motivations, and sheer incompetence, they tend to mess up a number of peoples' plans.
    • John Peters appears to have been this as well. His actions kicked off a better chunk of the events in the series, which as of now resulted in the death of Marvin.
  • The Sociopath
    • Ann Love, aka "Agent Karen" is a constantly-smiling, unrepentant murderer whose gleeful, magically-enhanced slayings of others actively undermine missions she's on.
    • Marvin Glass is a Sadist with a distinct Lack of Empathy, who claims to have turned against Myriad due to a combination of boredom and his disdain for taking orders.
  • Soul Jar: The Balls can contain human consciousness and animate the bodies they possess. John Lee Pettimore IV is shown to be one such person.
  • Spooky Photographs: Whatever the Camera takes photos of, it's both otherworldly and unpleasant.
  • Stable Time Loop: The series features several. One is keeping the player characters alive. Clark Bishop and Keith Vigna use them to their own ends.
  • Straight Gay: Gary Daley and Harry Clinker, owners of the Daley Pho and Clinker's (a bar and day care), are long-time partners.
  • Super Mob Boss: Marvin Glass
  • Theme Tune: Most episodes use Kudzu's "No Backbone" as their theme.
  • Total Party Kill: As befitting a game based on Call of Cthulhu
    • The Contention Woods story arc ends in the deaths, and largely horrific ones at that, of the intrepid teenagers.
    • The Numbers Plague arc ends in a similar fashion. they got better.
    • The Old Contention story arc ends with one player character dying horribly and the others being banished to a strange, infinite void.
  • Void Between the Worlds: There appears to be a vast extraplanar space of inky nothingness in the world that exists outside of time. The Camera appears to be able to take photographs of it.
  • Was Once a Man:
    • Doug Jacobs and Agent Trent Chad were both transplanted into the body of Salem, a house cat.
    • An agent of K-Cell was turned into a raccoon at one point.
    • Other creatures in the podcast are implied to be examples of this, particularly agents of Myriad and Marvin Glass.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The Residue can be repelled by water. What's more, it can be absorbed and contained by vacuum cleaners and fish.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Circle of Knowledge's leadership can generously be described as this.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Agent Kennedy of the FBI uses a bad Irish accent when first meeting our heroes. She soon drops it.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Strange armies of children feature prominently in the series. They serve as goons, participants in rituals, contestants in blood sports, and test subjects for fatal experiments.
  • Wretched Hive:
    • The Den of Sin, a social club/sporting arena for The City's rich and powerful, fits this to a T.
    • To a lesser extent, the Scrap Pit serves as a coliseum catering to a more general audience.
  • X Meets Y: Clinker's is a combination dive bar and day care.
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