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Saturday, 19 March 2011

Retrospective: Suppressed Transmission

Of course, you know about the Suppressed Transmission?

If you do, then go make a cup of tea and put your feet up with a copy of Foucault’s Pendulum, you know the one with annotations from the Pope. In mean time, come a little closer and I will put you in the picture. Back in 1998, Steve Jackson Games’ Pyramid magazine began publishing a series of columns by Ken Hite entitled Suppressed Transmission.

Following Lovecraft’s dictum that “…piecing together of associated knowledge” opens up “terrifying vistas of reality” each Suppressed Transmission is an essay that placed subjects as diverse as the Roswell landings – all six of them, Shakespeare as well as his plays, variations upon Spring Heeled Jack, Antarctic Space Nazis, and the many colours of the elixir vitae that is Cocoa-Cola under a lens that not only revealed Hite’s mind map, but also his reading habits of the then previous twenty years. With each essay he spins a web of horror, conspiracies, secret histories, alternate histories, and high weirdness that makes connections hither and thither. Hite’s aim is never to validate the pseudoscience, conspiracies, fallacies, and slapdash scholarship that he bases these essays on – and which I suspect he finds to be endearingly risible – but rather to give the reader concepts, ideas, and set-ups that he can base a whole game on.

For example, in “The Sky is Falling,” Hite goes from discussing what the 1908 Tunguska incident was and what it might have been – including the coming to Earth of a Colour Out of Space or the attempted summoning of Azathoth (really? Not seen that in a Call of Cthulhu adventure), to moving the incident to Moscow rather than Siberia and seeing what could happen. Which includes no World War I and a race to Mars between the Red Baron and Eddie Rickenbacker amongst other things… Elsewhere, Hite plays the Kevin Bacon game with Sir Francis Bacon rather the actor in “Six Degrees of Sir Francis Bacon,” explores what happened to Roanoke in “Croatoan or Bust: Finding the Lost Colony,” and gives us the A to Z of all things conspiratorial in “A Conspiratorial Alphabet,” all before leaving us with his “Top Ten Books for High Weirdness in Your Campaign.”

To date, of the three hundred written, Steve Jackson Games has only published the first sixty-eight in two volumes, Suppressed Transmission: The First Broadcast and Suppressed Transmission: The Second Broadcast. Both books are now only available in PDF, but in each case they allow Hite to revisit and reorganise each of the first year’s columns and annotate and cross reference every one. Then apply an index, which means that can you look up something like H.P. Lovecraft (fifteen entries), penguins (four entries), or the Templars (also fifteen entries), just to see how Hite uses them and the places that he takes them to.

In their time, Hite’s columns were a constant draw to Pyramid magazine and ensured that readers would renew their subscriptions time and again. They were considered to be that good and many subscribers felt them to be the best articles to appear in the magazine. Even at their most basic, every Suppressed Transmission is immensely readable. At just three or four pages long, they are easy to read just about anywhere, and they are even just about the right length to read aloud. Their use though is as a veritable well spring of ideas.

Perhaps too many GURPS books are referenced, but most GURPS books are good reference guides too. Sometimes its feels as if Hite is channelling one too many Illuminati games, but then he is saving you an awful lot of research and entertaining you at the same time.

About as fruity a cabinet of cocktails of insanely weird ideas as any gaming reference work deserves to be, Suppressed Transmission never fails to be entertaining and interesting. It is a resource that should be on the shelf of any good referee and just be glad that Hite was channelling this insane weirdness so that you never had too.