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Tabletop Game / The Madness Dossier

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Every day the Red King stays asleep is a day that history remains familiar, that humans remain free, that the madness dossier remains closed. And all it costs is the life, the morals, and the sanity of everyone who works for Project SANDMAN.

In full: GURPS Horror: The Madness Dossier, by Kenneth Hite.

The campaign setting of this supplement was originally presented in a shorter form in one edition of GURPS Horror for the third edition of GURPS. Come the fourth edition, it was considered impressive and interesting enough to rate a short book of its own, published in PDF format in 2014. (It can be purchased from the Steve Jackson Games Web site here, or in print-on-demand hardcopy form from Amazon here.) The world it describes appears to be our own, which is horrific because the world in question is essentially a lie — a fiction created in 535 AD as a successful reality-changing revolution against the Anunnakku, mind-warping monsters who are humanity's creators and natural rulers, and who may have been aliens, supernatural, extradimensional, or something else. But now, the Anunnakku want their world and their slave-race back. They just have to become entirely real again.

The PCs in Madness Dossier games are usually agents of Project SANDMAN, an Anglo-American deep secret organisation which is desperately working to reverse engineer Anunnaki mind-control technology and to discover exactly what they are fighting, before they lose. What these “Sandmen” aren't, is nice people; that's not a luxury they can afford. The problem is that the more any human knows about the Anunnakku, the more they think like them — which inherently makes their eventual victory more likely. And the more humanity in general knows about them, the more real they become.

Tropes are mental constructs. Sandmen know a lot about them. The Anunnakku know more.

  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Some Sandmen are fully qualified archaeologists as well as being highly effective field agents. They search for anomalous remnants of the other reality and probe for dangerous weaknesses in the structure of our universe.
  • Amoral Afrikaner: A minority Witsander faction in the South African branch planned to use Anunnaki memetics to keep apartheid working. When the rest of Project SANDMAN found out, they orchestrated the end of apartheid — and liquidated the entire South African branch just to be sure.
  • Anti-Hero: Sandmen fight for humanity using any means necessary, which frequently implies being less than conventionally heroic.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Project SANDMAN uses brainwashing and memory wipes, discredits witnesses, and will probably kill innocents without blinking if there's no other choice. However, they can justify all of this; they are fighting to prevent humanity from becoming slaves to a bunch of monsters who couldn't even see why this sort of thing is a problem. The snag is, even just studying the enemy can sometimes make the heroes more like them.
  • Brown Note: The Anunnakku designed the human mind to be conveniently manipulable, and can induce specific mental effects (which are rarely good for the human) by displaying symbols known as "glyphs".
  • Cat Folk: The ugallu are lion-headed beings with weather control powers who serve the Anunnakku as warriors.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Technically, this setting is at the low end of the Cosmic Horror range; the antagonists probably couldn't destroy the Earth, and have an actual interest in humanity (as slaves at the bottom of their hierarchy). Nonetheless, reality is unstable, the Red Kings are godlike Eldritch Abominations who can probably be slain only by crossing the Godzilla Threshold, the heroes are far from certain of victory and may be driven mad in the struggle, and humanity has a very low place in the universe.
  • Defector from Commie Land: One suggested player-character type is a survivor of the rather brutal Russian psychic warfare research program, who can have acquired some weird powers and an understanding of the true nature of reality. Project SANDMAN will certainly help such people defect and look to employ them; the defector may be entirely willing to help, realizing just how bad their opponents are. This makes them a sort of heroic version of the Renegade Russian.
  • Demonic Possession:
    • The Anunnakku known as êkimmu have no physical form of their own, but take over human victims in a way virtually indistinguishable from classic demonic possession. They seem to be a sort of independent meme or mental subroutine.
    • A few Project SANDMAN agents, known as chevals, have been subjected to radical brain-hacking processes related to Voudoun ideas of spiritual possession. They can trigger secondary personalities with advanced skills and even borderline-superhuman abilities. The result looks much like possession, though the Project would insist that it's no such thing.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: The Red Kings, lords of the Anunnakku and so literal god-kings of the Earth in their alternate history, are generally assumed to be functionally unkillable; they could conquer our world merely by coming into full existence in our reality. Except... in 1961, Project SANDMAN used a French nuclear test in Algeria to close up a dimensional rift and possibly even kill a Red King. Okay, using a nuke is hardly trivial, but still — they basically killed a god (they hope) by political shenanigans. And all it cost was two decades of psychic disruption in human society.
  • Dirty Communists: As noted below (see Red Scare), remnants of the old Soviet psychic warfare program are a problem for Sandmen — and there are some hints that some rather pathetic old psy-war specialists would like to restore Cold War Russian glories.
  • Disability Immunity: Deafness is noted to not disqualify one from combat service in the Project, as deaf warriors can't hear auditory attempts at mental influence.
  • Eerily Out-of-Place Object: When one of these shows up, especially in an archaeological dig or similar, it's a sign that reality is breaking down and an Anunnaki manifestation may well follow.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: Project SANDMAN maintains a historically significant one in the Zimbabwe subduction zone, protected by glyphic wards, bribed officials, the best military hardware untraceable gold and diamonds can buy, and the memetic cover provided by H. Rider Haggard's legacy.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The true Red Kings which once ruled the Earth do not currently exist in our reality, and are not described in the book — but if one gets to manifest, it will be as a vast and terrible monstrosity.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Not literally, but it’s bad enough; if the Sandmen lose, humanity will become a Slave Race to a bunch of sociopathic Eldritch Abominations. Which is only how history was supposed to be before that reality-twisting revolution fifteen hundred years ago, admittedly.
  • Existential Horror: Sandmen have to understand that free will is largely an illusion, personalities can be edited, and reality itself may change at any moment, perhaps eliminating them or turning them into mindless slaves. The answer to "Why does humanity exist?" is "It was made to serve as slaves to uncaring gods". They can fight, and may even win, but there is a cost.
  • Fish People: The kulullû are an aquatic race who act as lieutenants to the Anunnaki leadership.
  • Good Is Not Nice: What Sandmen with still-functioning consciences have to tell themselves, frequently.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The Sandmen can only hope to win if they not only maintain absolute secrecy, memory-wiping and brainwashing any bystanders who blunder into their operations, but also study and employ Anunnaki powers (such as brainwashing). But it’s inherently impossible to use Anunnaki powers without thinking like them. The best that the Sandman psychologists can do is divert callousness and cruelty into fanaticism for the Sandman cause.
  • Hollywood Psych: The science of human psychology, as understood by Sandmen, owes much more to weird beliefs and Rule of Cool than to anything that's respectable in academia. This is deliberate; mind control and other Hollywood-style psychological manipulations are perfectly possible in the setting but derive from Anunnaki knowledge, which has to be kept from the public, so Project SANDMAN systematically discredits such ideas.
  • Immune to Mind Control: It seems to be impossible to render a human being entirely immune to Anunnaki powers; the backdoors the Anunnakku planted in the human brain are just too effective. However, Project SANDMAN is working on various methods for increasing human resistance to manipulation. The snag is, this may make people less human.
  • Infectious Insanity: Anunnaki mental manipulation is sophisticated enough to induce this effect more or less deliberately.
  • Lost Technology: Discovering any remnants of the Anunnakku's weird and often incomprehensible technology is a bad thing, as it's a sign that their reality is breaking through into ours. Still, Project SANDMAN will be extremely interested, because they always want to understand their enemies better.
  • Mass Hypnosis: Anunnaki powers work just fine on large groups as well as on individuals. Sandmen can master some of the techniques involved too, which helps preserve secrecy.
  • Memetics in Fiction: The Anunnakku are masters of memetics, having designed humanity (and their other servitor races) to be easy targets. Project SANDMAN has learned a lot from studying its enemies, and worries when Anunnakku-style memetics appear in advertising, propaganda, or even street art.
  • The Men in Black: Sandmen tend to fall into this pattern, and may well be the source of many stories about the Men in Black. They come close to many of the worst aspects of the trope, but they are the heroes.
  • Mesopotamian Monstrosity: The Anunnakku appear to be lodged in the human racial memory as the gods and monsters of Sumeria, and "monstrosity" is the word.
  • Our Angels Are Different: The šedu are the leadership caste of the Anunnakku, reporting only to the Eldritch Abominations which once ruled the Earth. As they are winged humanoids and were constructed to rule humanity, they are sometimes perceived or described as angelic, though their personalities are utterly arrogant and inhumane.
  • Our Minotaurs Are Different: The kusarikku, or bull-men, are the heavy assault troops in Anunnakku forces.
  • Perception Filter: One of the most common of the Anunnakku mind-control glyphs makes the bearer functionally invisible, or at least unremarkable, allowing inhuman monsters to walk through crowds unnoticed.
  • The Power of Language: The Anunnakku can use language to control human beings. They made us that way.
  • Red Scare: The setting features some leftover Cold War problems with the former Soviet Union. Thanks to disastrous leaks from the precursors of Project SANDMAN, the USSR acquired some knowledge of Anunnakku-style mind control techniques, which went to build a secret psychic warfare program (with a touch of Soviet Superscience). Although Soviet collapse left this program crippled, remnants still exist, working for modern Russia and fending off attempts by The Mafiya to acquire and exploit their knowledge. Fortunately or unfortunately, they don't appear to know much about the Anunnakku (which may mean that they are easily manipulated by them).
  • Renegade Russian: Remnants of Soviet psy-war projects (see Red Scare, above) can be dangerous human antagonists for the Sandmen.
  • Scorpion People: The girtablillû or scorpion-men, are the (more than adequately dangerous) foot-soldiers in Anunnakku forces.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The successful revolution of 535 AD sealed the Anunnakku in the ultimate special container; non-existence. Unfortunately, that containment is breaking down. Individual Anunnakku (or small groups) may appear as "Irruptors" when and where reality glitches badly enough.
  • Shedu and Lammasu: The supplement draws on original sources for its imagery and nomenclature, making its treatment of shedu and lammasu imagery a bit different to some games and modern stories. The kusarikku are centaur-like bull-men, with human heads and torsos on bull bodies, and are hugely strong with powers of temperature control: the šedu are winged humanoids of inhuman beauty who could be taken for angels; and the ugallu have lions’ heads on human bodies and powers based on weather control.
  • Shout-Out: A twisted sort of instance; the Project slang term for their enemies' leaders, the "Red Kings", comes from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, referencing a famous line from that book; “If that there King was to wake,” added Tweedledum, “you’d go out – bang! – just like a candle!”. It is, after all, a pretty horrific idea.
  • Slave Race: Humanity is, or was, the slave race — along admittedly with all the other servitors of the Red Kings, who aren’t big on democracy. We’re property, but it’s important we don’t know it.
  • Snake People: The bašmu have the body of a snake and a humanoid torso, and serve the Red Kings as guardians of important sites.
  • Sonic Stunner: Project SANDMAN has a weird variant sonic weapon, the ikoter, which fires linguistic white noise at an ultrasonic frequency. This works through the linguistic centres of the target’s brain to stun them, render them more susceptible to hypnosis, and cause short-term memory loss.
  • Subliminal Seduction: Subliminal messaging is the kind of thing that works for users who understand how the Red Kings made us. The idea that it doesn’t is largely a lie spread by Project SANDMAN to reduce the risks involved in messing with this stuff.
  • Suppressed History: The entirety of human history before 535 AD is in fact a fake, created to explain the situation from that date onwards.

Alternative Title(s): GURPS Horror The Madness Dossier