In 1984, 16-year-old Taylor Hartley went missing from their home in Hugo, MN. Weeks of searching and investigation by local authorities turned up almost no evidence of what happened to them.
In addition to the normal sorts of things one would expect to find in a teenager’s bedroom, Taylor also left behind a large box full of Trapper Keepers, each of which contained extensive notes for the fantasy roleplay game, World of Dungeons. Collectively, these notes—which detail a strange and terrifying fantasy world—have come to be known as The Golden Shroud Campaign, due to the fact that many people report having dreams and night terrors involving a woman wearing a golden burial shroud over her body.
As the years went by, people began to believe The Golden Shroud Campaign contained clues about what happened to Taylor—that the mystery of their disappearance could be solved by closely studying the maps and monsters therein. Some even believe that Taylor had learned something about the very nature of the cosmos itself, and that playing The Golden Shroud Campaign is a sort of cipher that can be used to unlock deep, otherwise-unknowable mysteries.
In the Internet Age, the urban legend surrounding The Golden Shroud Campaign has taken on a new life. Over the years, people have managed to get their hands on different parts of the campaign, and as they play through them, they share their experiences on a forum for so-called “lifters” (as in, “lift the shroud”). Perhaps together they will learn what happened to Taylor Hartley; perhaps, if they explore every corner of the campaign world, they will uncover darker truths.
Rumors that the world of The Golden Shroud starts to bleed into the real-world as you play are, of course, utter nonsense...
Starting in May, I’m going to run a special series on Gauntlet Hangouts called The Golden Shroud Campaign. During each 4-5 session series, players will be participating in two different stories: the story of the shrouders, a group of modern-day people who are playing The Golden Shroud Campaign in order to learn more about the mystery surrounding Taylor Hartley’s disappearance; and the story of the pre-generated characters they play in Taylor Hartley’s campaign world. The series will use Cthulhu Dark to tell the story of the shrouders and World of Dungeons to tell the story of the campaign world. Mechanics in the the World of Dungeons portion will allow players to uncover an emergent mystery related to Taylor Hartley’s disappearance. Over the course of each series, the world of the Golden Shroud will eventually seep into the modern-day world of the shrouders, which will eventually drive them mad or destroy them, as you would expect in Cthulhu Dark.
I have several motivations for doing The Golden Shroud Campaign. The first is that I just love this kind of nerdy shit; the combination of Dungeons & Dragons, Twin Peaks, and Lovecraft is just too irresistible for me. This series combines my two loves in gaming——horror and dark fantasy——and just generally plays to my strengths. My hope is people who participate in this series are going to remember it for a long time, and I love giving that kind of experience to people.
The second is related to the production of the Fear of a Black Dragon podcast, which I co-host. I had been running old school modules on Gauntlet Hangouts in order to support that show——we don’t discuss a module unless either myself or my co-host Tom has played it——but it was getting to be a bit of chore. Given the open table nature of how we organize games, I found myself increasingly dissatisfied with these disjointed adventures that didn’t connect up in any way. With The Golden Shroud Campaign, I can use old school modules as the basis for the adventures inside the world of the Golden Shroud, while the shrouder meta narrative is the thread that runs through all of them. Also, because the shrouder story is the main story being told, and we only zoom into the Golden Shroud story at key dramatic moments, it means I can more easily cut the fat from some of these modules (like all the boring “getting the job” or “traveling to the dungeon” parts) and just do the good shit.
Finally, and related to the above, I think this campaign will be a good way of leaning into the open table nature of Gauntlet play. Each set of shrouders will have a complete story told by the end of a series, but the World of Dungeons characters will live on. This means returning players can jump into a new series, which will be about a new group of shrouders, but can just play their old World of Dungeons character. The in-fiction justification here is that the World of Dungeons characters were pre-generated by Taylor Hartley, and so anyone who plays in his world will be playing one of those characters.
I think all of this is pretty clever, but it could end up being a complete disaster. Fortunately, our culture on Gauntlet Hangouts is to do this kind of wild, experimental play. Even if it’s a total mess, it will at least be a total mess we did together. I guess we’ll find out how it goes in May!